It has been nine years since the last Hulk standalone movie, The Incredible Hulk, starring Edward Norton, but since Mark Ruffalo debuted as the Hulk in The Avengers, fans have been hoping that another solo movie would be heading our way. Unfortunately, due to legal reasons surrounding the character, we might be waiting a while, like indefinitely. The character of Hulk is owned by Universal Studios, the same way 20th Century Fox owns the X-Men.
While a standalone movie may not be coming, a major story arc featuring the Hulk is set infiltrate the upcoming franchise films as a workaround, according to Ruffalo himself. In an interview with Cinemablend for Thor: Ragnarok, Ruffalo talked about a special plan he is working on with the president of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige.
So basically, Kevin [Feige] pulled me aside before this, and said, 'If you were gonna do a... if we were going to do a standalone Hulk movie, what would it be?' And I said, 'I think it should be this, this, this, and this and this, and ends up like this.' And he's like, 'I love that. Why don't we do that in the next three movies, starting with Thor 3 and then we go into Avengers 3 and 4.' And I was like, 'That sounds great!' And so we are at the beginning of this arc.
If it really does turn out that Ruffalo and Feige are working on a major arc for the Hulk, then there is one story that stands out as prime for adaptation: World War Hulk.
Plenty of the foundation for World War Hulk has already been laid. Back in 2015 in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Iron Man uses his famous Hulkbuster armor from the comic to fight the Hulk when he returns for his revenge.
Not only that, but the prequel to the comic, entitled "Planet Hulk", where Hulk is shot into space and becomes a gladiator on an alien planet before becoming the planet's king, is already taking place in Thor: Ragnarok with Hulk already on Sakaar when Thor arrives.
In the comics Hulk is shipped off to space by a group of heroes, including Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and Mr. Fantastic. While they seem to be changing up that story in the MCU by having Hulk ship himself off at the end of Age of Ultron, it seems that the setup for Planet Hulk is still progressing much the same way it did in the comics.
So how does Marvel get from Hulk as a gladiator on Sakaar to a full world war in these next films? As Ruffalo said, what's to come will happen in three different phases. The first phase will take place in Thor: Ragnarok, then the rest of the pieces will fall into place during Avengers: Infinity War and the untitled Avengers 4.
The whole point behind World War Hulk is that Hulk believes everyone has betrayed him, so he must get his revenge. These next two Avengers films as part the story arc provide plenty of room for this story to culminate. A manipulative character like Loki or Thanos, could convince Hulk to lose all trust in the Avengers, which would lead him to possibly return to Sakaar and recruit his Warbound to take over.
The bottom line is, if Marvel is truly setting up a possible World War Hulk storyline down the road, if done right, it could be just as climactic as the narrative for Captain America: Civil War. The concept of World War Hulk relies heavily on the premise of Hulk vs. everyone else, and with the MCU capable of handling a huge roster of characters in its films, an adaptation of this story could end up smashing it out of the park.
Thor: Ragnarok flies into theaters November 3, 2017.