Since The Avengers in 2012, Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner has always been a kindhearted, mild-mannered scientist with an angry side where he turns green and smashes things. But after fusing together the “brains and the brawn” offscreen for Avengers: Endgame, Banner may have put things in motion for him to become one of the most dangerous villains in all of Marvel Comics: the Maestro.
One Marvel fan posted a theory to the r/FanTheories subreddit on Thursday all about how “Hulk’s body/power is affecting Banner’s mind like a psychoactive drug,” redditor u/IAmTheDos writes. “This will slowly corrupt his mind, leading him to become the Maestro in the future.” In the comics, the Maestro is a version of Hulk from the far-future that has Banner’s intelligence. After nuclear fallout destroys most of Earth, he’s driven mad by the radiation.
Here’s the post in its entirety, which points out that despite Professor Hulk being played mostly for laughs in Endgame as he dabs for some kids and gives Scott Lang tacos, it’s really unsettling that Bruce Banner sort of murdered the Hulk and stole his body.
The version of Banner-Hulk that we see in Endgame is cheery and totally chill in a way we never saw of Banner in his human form. Is it possible that Professor Hulk’s mind is truly being corrupted and he’ll eventually become a horrible villain? Maybe. At the very least, something doesn’t feel quite right about him — especially when Professor Hulk talks about the Hulk in the third-person.
“For years, I’ve been treating the Hulk like he’s some kind of disease, something to get rid of,” he says. “But then I start looking at him as the cure.” Calling it “the cure” does almost make it sound like a drug, right? Perhaps the short-term effects lead to his sunny disposition, but over the long term it might become different, especially after he suffered the injury from using the Infinity Gauntlet.
Bruce Banner was always jittery, anxious, and nervous — probably because he was afraid of accidentally transforming into the Hulk all the time. But 18 months in the “gamma lab” offscreen allowed him to fuse these two aspects of his personality into one.
If they’re sharing one unchanging form now, then why does it feel more like a happy Bruce Banner is piloting Hulk’s superpowered green body instead?
Mark Ruffalo said years ago that Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame are ostensibly a Secret Hulk Trilogy, but the eventually story arc feels offputting by the end, maybe even sinister.
The way Hulk talks about Banner and vice versa in Thor: Ragnarok make them seem like two distinct identities rather than aspects of a single psyche. Banner can’t believe two years have passed when he finally transforms into his human form. This implies that while one of them is in control, the other is just in some kind of psychic stasis where they have no awareness of what the other is doing. We saw something similar after the Avengers: Age of Ultron opening, when Banner worries he may have killed people.
In The Avengers and Age of Ultron, Hulk felt like little more than a dangerous, overpowered weapon that Banner brought out for the big battles, but Thor: Ragnarok gave Hulk a dimwitted yet incredibly charming and funny personality. So much of that personality was fueled by blind rage, and if Endgame communicates anything clearly about the new Professor Hulk, it’s that all that rage has evaporated — and so has Hulk as we knew him.
By the time we reach Endgame, Professor Hulk is totally blissed out as he cracks jokes about time travel. He can’t even muster the rage to properly smash things when time-traveling back to the Battle of New York, instead halfheartedly denting a car as he mumbles. Most viewers laugh here, but it’s actually a dark moment once you realize the real Hulk doesn’t exist at all anymore, it’s here.
“I think I preferred you either of the other ways,” Valkyrie says to Professor Hulk when he visits New Asgard Endgame, and I’m inclined to agree with her. Was the Incredible Hulk just the Maestro’s first victim at the end of the day? If it happens, we’re probably a long way from seeing it. But even if it doesn’t, something just doesn’t sit quite right with Professor Hulk.
Avengers: Endgame is currently in theaters.