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'Avengers: Endgame' Final Path — The Journey of the Hulk

The Hollywood Reporter's 'Avengers' countdown series continues with predictions for Mark Ruffalo's fate as Bruce Banner.
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
The Hollywood Reporter's 'Avengers' countdown series continues with predictions for Mark Ruffalo's fate as Bruce Banner.

Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, Thor, Hawkeye, Captain America. The six founding Avengers are on a collision course with destiny in Avengers: Endgame, an adventure from which one or more of them may not walk away. As the end of the line draws near for the original heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Hollywood Reporter's Josh Wigler offers up predictions in a new series of Final Path columnswith all eyes on the six aforementioned Avengers and their deadliest enemy yet, Thanos. Up next: Bruce Banner.

"Thanos is coming!"

In his first scene of the film, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) served as the veritable Paul Revere for Avengers: Infinity War, warning the people of earth about the arrival of the Mad Titan. A very useful moment, without question. Since then? He's been… less than helpful. Perhaps it's not entirely the good doctor's fault. For whatever reason, Bruce Banner and the Hulk have not been seeing eye-to-eye as of late, with the man's hulking alter ego refusing to come out to play ever since suffering a rare loss at the hands of Thanos. His potential return in time for the final fight stands out as one of the biggest question marks heading into Endgame.

Kidding, of course. Obviously, we're going to see the Hulk return in Endgame. It's more a matter of when and how — and in those regards, we have some thoughts. Read on for a look back at Banner and the Hulk's journey throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far, and what we're expecting to see from them in Endgame.

Name: Doctor Bruce Banner, occasionally the enormous green rage monster known as the Hulk.

Powers: Superior intellect, highly irradiated and irrationally angry alter ego capable of ridiculous feats of strength.

Defining Quote: "That's my secret, Cap. I'm always angry."

First Appearance: The Incredible Hulk, the 2008 stand-alone movie that serves as the second entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's unrecognizable from the rest of the MCU for a long list of reasons, not the least of which is Edward Norton inhabiting the Banner role, before it was handed off to Ruffalo.

Worst Appearance: Also Incredible Hulk… self-explanatory, with all due respect to Mr. Norton. But it's not the worst Marvel Studios offering, even if it feels like it's from an alternate universe. It's more a testament to the power of Ruffalo's turn as Banner, and Marvel's evolving understanding of how best to handle the "Other Guy."

Best Appearance: It's a tossup between The Avengers, given that it's Ruffalo's debut (images of Hulk swinging Tom Hiddleston's Loki around like a rag doll will never get old), and his recent turn in Thor: Ragnarok. It's the closest thing to Planet Hulk comic book fans are ever going to get, thanks to the Hulk's new gig as an intergalactic gladiator.

Last Appearance: Are we talking about Banner, or are we talking about Hulk? After an unexpected beatdown courtesy of Thanos (Josh Brolin), Hulk retreated into hiding within Bruce, refusing to come out even in great times of need during Infinity War. The Jade Giant's stubborn withdrawal didn't get in the way of Bruce's ability to join the fight, however, as he suited up Hulkbuster style and hit the Wakandan battlefield. Bruce was last seen with his allies, shocked and dismayed in the aftermath of the infamous snap.

Best Friends: A lonely man by nature and by theme song, Bruce's friend list has grown considerably since his enlistment in the Avengers. He and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) hit it off instantly as the team's foremost brains. There are still some faint echoes of romance in the air between Bruce and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), too, though perhaps time (and audience backlash) has moved those feelings off of the playing field for the time being. Most recently, Bruce and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) became quite close, thanks to their intergalactic adventure across Thor: Ragnarok.

Worst Enemies: General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt), the father of Bruce's long-lost love Betty Ross (previously played in the MCU by Liv Tyler, though not seen since the all-but-forgotten Incredible Hulk), who wants few things more than to capture and study the Hulk. With that said, as Endgame looms, Bruce has bigger fish to fry: Thanos, for one, as well as the Hulk himself, as the two sides of Banner's personality remain at war.

His Most Heroic Moment: Refer back to the defining quote, the pivotal moment in The Avengers. After struggling with his irradiated anger issues throughout the film, Bruce finally embraces himself as the Hulk, "suits up," and punches a Leviathan straight in the face and out of commission. There have been other moments of heroism along the way, but Banner's first moment of acceptance as the Hulk takes the cake.

His Biggest Mistake: Hulk and Bruce's worst mistake is an ongoing one, and a mysterious one at that: the shared inability to work with one another. As the world falls apart all around them, the most powerful member of the Avengers is sitting on the bench, right when he's needed most. (Good thing Brie Larson's Carol Danvers is on her way to join the fight; the good guys need a heavy-hitter, and stat.) With his genius intellect, Bruce still can't figure out exactly why Hulk is hiding out. He needs to get to the bottom of the answer — and fast.

Final Predictions: The good news about the big mistake: it's going to get solved. Maybe not quickly, but by the end of Endgame, Banner and Hulk will be one again.

The first scene in Infinity War culminated in Hulk and Thanos' first brawl, with the Mad Titan walking away as the unlikely victor. If the fight scared Hulk into retreat, then the fight is the only thing that's going to bring him back out. There's a need for Endgame to respond to the first fight, and given the likely trajectory of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there's every reason to expect Hulk will win in round two against Thanos. Indeed, as the Avengers prepare for their grudge match, and as everyone gets ready for their respective roles, Hulk better get ready for his: he's going to be the man who delivers the game-winning punch.

If that's the good news, what's the bad news? Well, here's some more good news: the bad news is only bad if you prefer your Bruce Banner well and fully tortured. If you care about his well-being, our final prediction for the man is a positive one: Bruce and Hulk will go their separate ways by the end of the next Avengers. In the comics, the two co-pilots of the same human vessel have moved on from each other on more than one occasion. As Endgame stands to put the original Avengers era to rest, we're expecting a similar parting-of-the-ways between Banner and Hulk, perhaps thanks to some untapped powers in the Quantum Realm. A fully untethered Hulk has the chance to become more powerful in the fight against Thanos than if he were tied to Bruce; perhaps that's part of the way the Mad Titan falls.

What happens to Hulk after he leaves puny Banner's body? More on that in our last hope. For Bruce, here's hoping the man sticks around the Marvel Cinematic Universe for quite a while. There are a few fun possibilities to consider. He could join Iron Man on a space expedition, as we predicted for Tony's fate in our first Avengers: Final Path column. It certainly wouldn't be his first time traveling off-world; in fact, maybe it paves the way for a fun Ragnarok follow-up, once again riding shotgun alongside the God of Thunder. If he stays on Earth, perhaps Bruce could continue on with Natasha in the first Black Widow solo film, serving as her eye in the sky on her spy missions, if not as a romantic foil. Then again, there's one last possibility we really hope to see come to light…

Last Hope: For Banner's loss of the Hulk to be another character's gain. As the MCU evolves past the point of the original group of Avengers, the door is wide open for Marvel to go all in on a new Hulk — specifically, Amadeus Cho, the genius teenager who has taken on the Hulk's mantle in the comic books. He was kinda-sorta teased in Incredible Hulk, though it's best to move on from that version (besides, Martin Starr already has an MCU gig on the Spidey side of things), and take a swing at a new series of films with Ruffalo's Banner mentoring a totally awesome new Hulk.

Follow THR.com/HeatVision for more on Avengers: Endgame, in theaters April 26.

  • Josh Wigler
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