The latest Marvel movie, Avengers: Infinity War, is all about change on a seismic scale. But for Bruce Banner, it’s change on a more personal level. Throughout the film, Banner (Mark Ruffalo) struggles to once again become the big green rage monster he once famously, and effortlessly, did in 2012’s The Avengers. (“That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always angry.”)
So what happened to the Strongest Avenger? As it turns out, the answer was already revealed in last year’s Thor: Ragnarok. Just in reverse.
Minor spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War ahead.
At the beginning of Infinity War, mere moments have passed since the post-credits scene of Thor: Ragnarok. Now, Thanos is here, killing Asgardians for the Space Stone. But for one moment, the good guys had a Hulk, who fights an epic, cosmic boxing match between himself and Thanos. While Hulk gets the upper hand, Thanos turns the table and pummels the former Avenger.
Heimdall (Idris Elba), Asgard’s badass gatekeeper, uses the last of his energy to teleport Hulk to Earth. He lands in the Sanctum Sanctorum, the home of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Wong (Benedict Wong). But when Earth’s sorcerers find him, the Hulk has transformed back into puny Bruce Banner. For the rest of Infinity War, Banner can’t “Hulk out” again. It seems being the Hulk for too long got to Banner’s head.
In Ragnarok, Banner finds out he’s spent two whole years as the Hulk, which effectively changed his body chemistry (though director Taika Waititi doesn’t bog audiences down in the specifics). “If I turned into the Hulk again, Banner may never come back,” he tells Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in the film. Later, when the Revengers are fighting Hela on the Bifrost, Banner steps up as the Hulk, knowing he may never turn back again.
Being thrown across the galaxy may have allowed Banner to return, but now it’s the Hulk who can’t show up. Whether it’s because Banner’s gamma radiation isn’t letting him, or because the Hulk just doesn’t want to, is anyone’s guess.
Much of Banner’s problems start with the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015. Hoping to atone for his sins as the Hulk and to never put anyone else in danger, Hulk/Banner willingly exiled themselves away in a Quinjet. Between Age of Ultron and Ragnarok, the Quinjet landed on Sakaar, where the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) made the Hulk his star gladiator.
Unfortunately, when the Hulk is actually needed for a just cause, he’s nowhere to be found. More than any previous Marvel movie, Infinity War emphasizes the clashing egos between Banner and Hulk, whose relationship is less man/werewolf and more Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, something the Marvel films never quite got right.
Luckily, Banner survives Thanos’s genocide brought about by his possession of the Infinity Stones. While Banner and Hulk may never get along, here’s hoping they’ll finally find some harmony in Avengers 4 next year.
Avengers: Infinity War is in theaters now.