The Incredible Hulk Dilemma in Avengers: Endgame

So, I was re-watching Avengers: Endgame the other day for the first time since I saw it in the cinema and I seemingly stumbled across a problem. You see, initially I came out of Endgame loving the film, specifically as an ode to the original six Avengers… well, at least four of them. I went on record stating how much I loved and respected what the filmmakers did with the characters of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton. Although, I also said that I didn’t like what the movie did with the characters of Thor and Bruce Banner. Since then, I’ll admit I was wrong to think the film’s depiction of Thor was rough as now I place that characterisation of the God of Thunder almost on par with the other four heroes. However, I still find myself disliking what Endgame did with Bruce Banner and, of course, the Hulk.

Granted, I really liked the concept of Professor Hulk – the perfect combination of brain and brawn – and enjoyed his placement in the film. Yet, what I didn’t like was how clumsily the character was put together and how minimal of a character arc he had in comparison to the other five Avengers. Banner’s conflicted relationship with the Hulk has been one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most compelling character arcs from day dot. His internal struggle with the Hulk bubbling into films like Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War have been some of those film’s best elements. So then to see in the penultimate concluding chapter of the franchise, Banner to have sorted his on-going problem and to explain it over pancakes was just so… anti-climactic. And just like that, one of the MCU’s most fascinating characters was reduced to a five second comedic exposition dump. The incredible arc of Bruce Banner was over before the film had even started.

For the rest of Endgame, I found Banner to be either one of two things: a source of comedy or just an exposition machine. Even his decision to activate the Infinity Gauntlet at the end of the film didn’t feel like a strong enough sacrifice as a result of his lack of character arc. In a world, like the MCU, where a real sacrifice is losing your life, losing your kingdom or losing your loved ones, Banner just “losing” an arm wasn’t enough to constitute a real sacrifice or conclusion to a lacklustre arc. All in all, Banner was one of the most disappointing elements of Endgame.

So, what I suggest is an Endgame rewrite – to really reinvigorate the character of Bruce Banner and give him a finale on par with Stark, on par with Rogers, on par with Romanoff, on par with Barton and on par with Thor. In this rewrite, I will just be focusing on Banner as a character and not be changing anything else about the film (because the rest of the movie is kind of perfect). I want to give Banner a real progression in his character that will feel like a completion to his role from previous films. Most importantly, I want to give him a sacrifice that will matter in the long run of the MCU. So, without further ado, here is how I would rewrite Bruce Banner in Avengers: Endgame.

The Character Arc:

Bruce Banner begins Avengers: Endgame exactly how he did in the real film – on mission with the Avengers to kill Thanos. I have no problem with how the film opens and utilises Banner as a part of the team in the Hulkbuster armour. Where I officially want to start this rewrite is after the film’s five-year time jump.

Scott Lang has just returned from the Quantum Realm with an idea for the Avengers to build a time machine. After Tony Stark turns down the offer to help the team, Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff get back in contact with Banner. It would seem when we catch up with Banner after the time jump, he has been living the life he has always wanted as a perfectly normal human being. Banner has not transformed into the Hulk for five years now with not even an inkling of the Hulk entering his mind. In a rather selfish fashion, Banner has left behind his life as an Avenger and settled in a world without the stresses of half the population. The Snap, quite literally, has been a blessing in disguise for Banner. Although, acknowledging how the Snap has simultaneously brought misery to people like Romanoff, Banner decides to join the Avengers again to help build the time machine.

After he and Stark synthesize the time machine, Banner joins Rocket in re-recruiting of Thor. Again, Banner is confronted with how the Snap has ruined the lives of other people, unlike his own. Seeing Thor and the Asgardians doing it tough, Banner gets his second dose of how badly the Snap has affected the world.

During their time heist planning process, Banner approaches Romanoff on the subject of their failed relationship. Romanoff tells Banner the worst part about their breakup was his self-centeredness and how he was selfish enough to leave her high and dry even though they agreed they would be monsters together. She also continues to tell Banner what she’s been doing in the last five years, trying to keep the Avengers alive and stop the world from falling to pieces, all whilst Banner has been off living some dream life. Although Banner tries to defend himself, Romanoff leaves the conversation by sharing with Banner her new mantra she has been living her life by: “whatever it takes”. Romanoff suggests Banner also adopt the mantra.

We then enter the time heist segment of the film which rolls out in the exact same way as it did in the actual film, including the death of Romanoff on Vormir.

After the time heist, when the rest of the team learn of Romanoff’s death, Banner becomes so enraged that he feels the Hulk inside him for the first time in half a decade.

With all the Infinity Stones in their possession, the Avengers debate who will activate the iron gauntlet. Banner, who quietly stands on the rim of the debate, recalls what Romanoff told him – “whatever it takes” – and makes a calculated decision. Placing his selfish behaviour aside, Banner steps forward and suggests he activate the gauntlet. The Avengers refuse to let him go through with it as they believe it will certainly kill him. Although, Banner theorizes that if he transforms into the Hulk at the right time, the ‘other guy’ will be able to absorb the gamma radiation and still be able to click his fingers. The only downside is that if Banner transforms in such a vulnerable state after Romanoff’s death and in such close proximity to high levels of gamma, he may never be able to return to his human form. If Banner does this, he will either die or permanently become the Hulk forever – the ultimate sacrifice for Banner. Begrudgingly the Avengers agree to let Banner carry out with his plan.

Before fitting the gauntlet, Banner turns to Stark and mutters, “11 years ago, you told me that the Hulk saved my life. I didn’t know why then, but I do now. I was made for this”.

As the gauntlet is applied to Banner’s arm (whilst Craig Armstrong’s “Main Title” music from 2008’s The Incredible Hulk swells), Banner tries to transform but struggles as the gauntlet takes hold of him. Near death, Banner manages to erupt into the Hulk whilst savagely tearing down the room the Avengers have under lockdown. In a split moment, Banner manages to take hold of the Hulk (his pupil turns from green back to brown) and within his second of consciousness Banner and the Hulk work in unison to snap their fingers.

Banner passes out and wakes up in the hazy orange Soul World (the same one Thanos visited after snapping his fingers in Avengers: Infinity War). At first, he panics but then Banner hears behind him someone say “the suns getting real low, big guy”. Banner turns to find Romanoff standing outside the house he first met her in back in 2012 Calcutta as the sun falls behind it. He follows her into the house as she apologises to him for not getting the chance to say goodbye. Though Banner, interrupts her to tell her that he’s sorry for not saying goodbye back in 2015 when he left her, their relationship and the entirety of Earth. They embrace and agree that neither them are truly monsters. Romanoff asks Banner, “what did it cost?” and Banner replies “just you and me”. She smiles and repeats “just you and me” (a call back to their first meeting in Avengers).

Banner wakes back in Avengers HQ, where, from his perspective the team stare down at him in shock. As Barton receives a phone call from his wife, Thanos bombs Avengers HQ and before the audience get to see what Banner actually looks like, the heroes are thrown beneath the rubble.

Whilst Stark, Rogers and Thor fight Thanos above ground, Rhodey and Rocket are drowning beneath the rubble of Avengers HQ, trying to stay alive long enough for Lang to save them. Suddenly, the rubble trapping Rhodey and Rocket is lifted as a ginormous silhouette holds the building off the two – Rhodey and Rocket stare in shock.

When Giant-Man bursts from Avengers HQ to join the rest of Captain America and his army, Rhodey and Rocket also fly out from the rubble with a new addition to the team. Landing front and centre, side by side with the rest of the Avengers is the Professor Hulk – the perfect merging of brain and brawn. The gamma radiation did in fact permanently fuse Banner and the Hulk together, but Banner is not yet completely in control – he’s angry, vulnerable and ready for a brawl.

The battle goes down the same way as it did in the original film, but towards the end of the fight, as Rogers and Thor fail to subdue Thanos and even Carol Danvers is thrown to wayside, the Hulk emerges for his rematch. As Stark scrambles for the Infinity Stones, the Hulk holds off Thanos, but the fight doesn’t go as well as the Hulk hoped. It’s only when Thanos begins delivering the same strategic punches he did in Infinity War against Hulk that Banner begins shining through. Slowly, Banner takes control of the Hulk as the two work together to strategically outwit Thanos to the point Thanos must use an Infinity Stone to fend off Professor Hulk, as he did with Danvers.

However, Banner technically wins the fight – not just with Thanos but with himself. Finally, Banner has merged completely with the Hulk and his sacrifice finds a benefit.

In the aftermath of the battle, Banner receives a chance to sit in on Stark’s eulogy with Pepper, Morgan, Happy, Rhodey, Steve and Thor, in ode to his good friend (or “science bro”). In the final scene of the film where he helps send Rogers back to the past, he tells Rogers that his current mental and physical state is unchangeable as he is now permanently an infusion of Banner and the Hulk. He also though admits that he likes who he is now and is eternally grateful to Romanoff for making him the man he has become – both the scientist that is Banner and the Avenger that is Hulk. Best of both worlds.

So, there you have it; an altered version of Bruce Banner a.k.a. the Hulk from Endgame. The character arc he has taken in this revised version actually sees the character tilter into the majority of his traits, relationships and fears from previous MCU films. In a way, when we meet Banner in the first Avengers, he is a little selfish – for good reason. He avoids interactions, tries to weasel out of situations and never appears comfortable working with others. In Age of Ultron, when faced with a real relationship, he freaks out and leaves his lover without any further explanation. In both Ragnarok and Infinity War, Banner and Hulk continuously try to avoid giving too much power to the other, out of a selfish fear that the other would gain complete control. In this new version of the character from Endgame, I tried to complement those previous arcs by having them lead to a single sacrifice the character was going to have to inevitably make.

In Endgame, all the main Avengers deal with grief differently; Steve attempts to help people who are also suffering; Natasha attempts to keep alive the only family she knows; Tony devotes his life to his daughter after losing his surrogate son (Peter Parker); Thor turns to drinking; and Clint becomes a murderer. The only character who should find complete and utter joy in the aftermath of the Snap is Banner. Not to say Banner doesn’t find contentment in the original cut of the film, but in my version he finds joy in the one place he has been searching this whole time. It doesn’t make entire sense that Banner would think just to merge with the Hulk as his cure, as that is not what his mental character arc has led to. What Banner has been attempting to do all this time is find solace as a “normal” human being – not as some hybrid. And without half the population, I feel Banner would have taken the Snap as a sign that he does have a chance at a normal life, without the stress of the world bringing out the worst in him – bringing out the Hulk. Truthfully, Banner should, on a subconscious level, be the only hero who could live comfortably in Thanos’ idealistic world – he doesn’t need the rest of the universe. They never wanted him, so why would he now need them?

So, it would then make sense that after all his fellow Avengers make insane sacrifices to set things straight that Banner would finally remember what it means to be an Avenger and take on a sacrifice that would truly mean something to him. Not only is activating the gauntlet a suicide situation, but, most importantly, to Banner its risking becoming the one thing that has continued to ruin his life over and over again. Losing his contentment would be, in my opinion, Banner’s greatest fear that trumps that of even death. Think of it similarly as how the Hulk lost his own contentment in Ragnarok after two years without Banner. That scene in Ragnarok, when the Hulk is forced to transform back into Banner, is the exact mirror of the moment and decision making I am trying to include here. This sacrifice means something because it is Banner giving into the nightmare completely.

Upon also utilising past relationships of Banner’s to make this arc work, like say his romance with Romanoff, the rewrite also makes the quote “whatever it takes” more prominent in the storytelling for Endgame. I also think having the reveal of Professor Hulk in the final battle makes more sense as a piece of entertainment. Having him just pop up in a coffee shop is just… kind of bland. But having him first appear at the end where you have Captain America lifting Thor’s hammer, all the heroes returning from the dead, Giant-Man erupting from Avengers HQ, Pepper in an Iron Man suit, Steve yelling “Avengers Assemble!” and Captain Marvel destroying Thanos’ ship would just add to a more satisfying nerdgasm of a finale. And then having him properly face off against Thanos in a showdown… like come on, why did that not happen? I just think the revelation of Professor Hulk towards the end of the film would have been genuinely more fulfilling as a final applause worthy moment to round out the film. Also, being as though the Hulk was last seen at the beginning of Infinity War, having such a major gap in between appearances would have allowed for a more awesome reveal, factoring into the long wait.

Lastly, too, using the “Main Title” theme from The Incredible Hulk for his final transformation was a MUST, for three reasons:

  1. Marvel do not reuse themes as frequently as they should.
  2. The use of it would create a fulfilling full circle for the character’s first and final transformation in the Infinity Saga.
  3. That theme was one of the best themes Marvel has ever made for their heroes… they should, at the very least, own it!

But anyway, that is all just my opinion.

I really like Marvel and want them to succeed. I also really like the Hulk and wish to see more of him. However, I like these two elements best when they are actually working to make something fulfilling… not subpar. To think Endgame was the finale of a decade of filmmaking, allowing characters like Tony, Steve, Thor, Natasha and Clint to shine, but not having Bruce – arguably the best element of the first Avengers – just fall by the wayside was… disappointing. I would like to think some Marvel executive has read this post and will hopefully beef up the Hulk’s role in later MCU movies. I would love to see Marvel take another shot at a Hulk movie before they do something like She-Hulk. I think the character of Bruce Banner is endlessly fascinating and deserves a lot more. Although, I am not getting paid millions of dollars to come up with these ideas… so who cares, am I right?

 

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