Bizarre things about Hulk and Black Widow's relationship

With 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron, writer/director Joss Whedon surprised fans by pairing Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) with Bruce Banner, a.k.a the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). 

Their relationship didn't go far in the film. As is always the case in real life, murderous rampages brought on by psychic assaults and epic battles with armies of robots got in the way. By the time the credits rolled, Black Widow was helping Captain America pick up the pieces with a new group of fresh recruits, and the Hulk was on his way to the darkness of space and ultimately to the premiere action scene of Thor: Ragnarok

The romance wasn't something anyone predicted, at least not before Avengers: Age of Ultron went into full swing and viewers started wondering about the shots of Black Widow touching hands with Bruce Banner's more monstrous half. The story has no equivalent in the pages of the comics. Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff have barely any connection with one another in the source material, other than that they've both been members of the Avengers. 

But calling their pairing surprising isn't just a comic book purist's complaint. Forget the comic books ever existed — look only at the movies, and still there's so much about the idea of these two being together that's just plain strange. Reviewing them should convince you of everything that's bizarre about Hulk and Black Widow's relationship.

Their first date didn't go well

Lies, betrayal, violence, and fear. These are words which you probably won't want to use when — on your first double date with a new romantic partner — someone from the other couple asks, "So how did you guys meet?" But it's exactly those words that describe the first onscreen meeting between Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff. 

In the beginning of Avengers, Black Widow is abruptly pulled off an assignment in Russia to recruit Bruce Banner to help find the stolen Tesseract. S.H.I.E.L.D. has apparently known Banner has been in Calcutta for a while, and located him even though he doesn't look anything like Tyler Durden anymore. Romanoff hires a little girl to lure Banner to a shack away from the city, under the false pretense that her father is sick. Once Black Widow's trap is revealed, she uses her sex appeal and lies to draw Banner closer. She tells Banner that there's no one outside waiting for him, and that — as far as she knows — Nick Fury's interest in him has nothing to do with "The Other Guy." Soon enough, we learn both claims are untrue. 

Banner is far from innocent himself. He purposely frightens Romanoff, appearing enraged just to get her to show all her cards. She pulls a gun on him and the supposedly nonexistent S.H.I.E.LD. soldiers materialize with high-tech weaponry. 

Both Romanoff's actions and Banner's are understandable under the circumstances. But they're not exactly the foundation to build a lasting relationship of love and trust. And can we take a moment to deal with the fact that future Avenger Black Widow needed to lure a guy into a shack, so she hired a little girl to lie shamelessly to the guy who turns into a giant green monster when he's upset?

Their second date was worse

We've had a lot of screen time with Black Widow. Not only have we seen her in all the Avengers flicks, but she was an important part of Captain America: The Winter SoldierCaptain America: Civil War, and Iron Man 2. She even got a little screen time (literally, as in her face was actually on a little screen) in Thor: Ragnarok. So we know Black Widow well enough by now to know she doesn't get easily flustered. We've watched her battle her fellow Avengers, easily deal with the incredible shrinking Ant-Man, stroll through secured facilities taking out bad guys like a bored Jason Bourne, trade bullets and blows with a cybernetic assassin, and play pod-racing with alien scooters over the streets of New York City — and we've seen her do it all while staying cool under fire. We've only seen her completely lose her cool once, and that was during her first encounter with an enraged Hulk in Avengers

When Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk aboard S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Helicarrier, we get a little glimpse of Joss Whedon's skill with directing horror. Romanoff hides from the Hulk in the ship's bowels, but once he finds her, she doesn't have a chance on her own. In one of the more visually memorable parts of Avengers, the Hulk crashes through the Helicarrier after Black Widow, eventually backhanding her into a wall before being interrupted by Thor. 

Afterwards, we see Black Widow shaken. Even though the battle is continuing throughout the Helicarrier, Widow is sitting and clearly recovering from her terror. It's the only time we've seen her like this in all of the films. We've seen her scared, sure, but even after seeing her in battles with armies of robots and getting choked out by Bucky's metal arm, we've never seen her utterly traumatized except in this moment. It seems absolutely insane to think that the man who inspired this trauma — in a team full of handsome and mostly single men — should be the one she's drawn to. 

The hunter and the hunted

The United States military was the Hulk's first foe and arguably remains his most persistent one. The monster became a subject of mad obsession for powerful officers like General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross; Major Glenn Talbot, who was always jealous of Betty Ross' love for Banner; and countless other officers who either genuinely wanted to stop what they saw as a genuine threat, saw a victory over the Hulk to win them an extra star on their collars, or sought to unlock the secret of the Hulk's power in order to weaponize it. As a result, the Hulk spent plenty of time scattering crowds of scared soldiers, dodging missiles, and tearing through tanks.

The Black Widow is no cigar-chomping general barking orders, but she is a part of a structure that Bruce Banner has come to know all too well. That's why when she appears in that shack with her joke about how Calcutta wasn't the best place for Banner to avoid stress, in spite of her alluring smile and her flattering outfit, Banner knows exactly the kind of person he's dealing with. He's dealt with them before and it's likely he'll deal with them again. Fury may not have sent Black Widow to kill Banner, but if that had been Fury's goal, Romanoff is precisely the kind of person he would send, and Banner knows it.

Which makes Banner's eventual closeness with Romanoff so strange. Sure, by the time Avengers: Age of Ultron opens, Banner has won some (soon to be destroyed) trust with the the world, but he knows better than anyone else how quickly that can change. Were their relationship to go further, Romanoff might be put into the position of having to assassinate Banner (or to attempt to, at least).

The Abomination

Not only is Natasha Romanoff exactly the kind of assassin who would be tasked with killing Banner if that call was made, it's possible she has connections with the man who proved the Hulk's most challenging foe — Emil Blonsky, a.k.a. the Abomination.

Admittedly, it's a stretch, but it's not outside the realm of possibility that Romanoff and Blonsky have some kind of connection. When he's introduced in Incredible Hulk, we learn Blonsky was born in Russia. Presumably, Blonsky moved to England and joined the Royal Marines before he could ever be a part of Russia's military, so there isn't necessarily a reason to assume he would have known Black Widow when she was killing for the Russians.

However, two things make a Romanoff/Blonsky connection a tantalizing possibility.

First, while Black Widow may trust her teammates, she obviously doesn't trust them with everything. When she battles Bucky in Captain America: Civil War, she says — so only she and he can hear — "You could at least recognize me." The only other time we've seen them interact was during their fight in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In most likelihood then, Romanoff and Bucky knew each other when they were both killing people for the Powers That Be in Russia. And if she's connected to Bucky, who else could she be connected to?

Second, Nick Fury sent Black Widow to recruit Banner. Could it be that he chose her because she had already gotten to know someone who was big and green and could bench press oil trucks?

She chose the Other Guy

In case you didn't know, Hulk and Banner don't like each other very much. They don't consider each other the same person, and they don't like it when they're valued for the attributes of the other. Though largely played for laughs, the scenes in Thor: Ragnarok that showed first Hulk and then Banner complaining that Thor was really a friend to one and not the other were absolutely accurate to how the characters have been portrayed in the comics.

And when you think about that, a scene that was treated as a victorious one in Avengers: Age of Ultron seems much darker. When Banner frees Black Widow from Ultron's prison and suggests they run and go into hiding, Black Widow lures Banner in for a kiss and then pushes him back down a hole, triggering his transformation into the Hulk. She tells Banner, "I adore you, but I need the Other Guy."

When you think of the feelings Banner and Hulk have for one another, the emotional and physical torture they go through during the transformation (which Black Widow witnessed firsthand in Avengers), there's no question: what Black Widow does is a horrible betrayal. You can argue it's a justified betrayal, but it's still a betrayal. Bruce Banner becomes the only Avenger whose choice about being in Sokovia was taken away.

What would the wedding night be like?

There is one very big question Natasha Romanoff, or any woman considering getting romantically involved with Banner, would need to ask herself. As the oft-repeated X-men cliché hopes, could any such woman hope to "survive the experience?"

When Banner and Betty Ross are hiding out in a motel in Incredible Hulk, the close quarters and raw emotions get things hot and heavy. Luckily for Ross, Banner, and both the owner and any other guests of the motel — Banner is wearing a heart monitor on his wrist when they start making out. Before things get too far, Banner cuts things off because the heart monitor starts beeping at him. Getting "physical" with Ross, he soon learns, doesn't seem to be an option while he's sharing time and space with the Other Guy.

Now, it's possible that's changed. As we saw both at the end of Incredible Hulk and in Banner's classic "I'm always angry" moment in the final battle of Avengers, Banner has more control over his transformation than he used to. But that control is far from perfect. We saw him change during the Helicarrier assault in Avengers, as a result of Scarlet Witch's psychic assault in Age of Ultron, and of course Banner had no control over (or even any knowledge of) remaining the Hulk for two years as was revealed in Thor: Ragnarok.

Considering all that, how could Black Widow or Banner consider risking it? Black Widow risked it in her best friend's house! While his wife and kids were there! That could, at the very least, get her kicked off Hawkeye's holiday card mailing list.

Banner is a liability

Black Widow is a professional assassin, an expert at hiding in plain sight. As viewers saw in Captain America: The Winter Soldier when Widow and Cap were on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. (who they did not yet know had been Hydra-fied), knowing how to get even trained professional soldiers off her scent with only a few moments' warning was second nature to the former Soviet agent. If you were on the run, if you needed to get off the grid, Natasha Romanoff would be a good friend to have.

But Bruce Banner? Not so much.

In the wake of the Hulk's rampage and the ensuing battle between Hulk and Iron Man, Banner knows he'll have to go back on the run. When Banner tells her he has to go, Black Widow responds, "And you assume I have to stay?"

How could Romanoff consider going on the run with Bruce Banner? For their dreamed-of love affair to work, they would have to hide themselves and remain hidden, while remaining ready to drop everything and run at any given moment. Could Black Widow live that way? Sure. But how could she live that way with Bruce Banner? They would need to keep a low profile. They would need to go unnoticed and keep cool heads. How could a guy who changes into a giant green monster whenever he gets too upset keep a low profile? How could he go unnoticed? How could Bruce Banner ever be anything to Natasha Romanoff but a cinder block chained to her ankle?

What did Nick see?

At the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Romanoff asks Nick Fury if he foresaw the romance developing between her and Banner. His answer is a little vague, but he implies that he saw the potential. He tells her, "You never know. You hope for the best."

So what was it Nick Fury saw in Banner and Romanoff to make him think they might pair off? A simple matter of the old cliché that "opposites attract?" The fact that both Banner and Romanoff saw themselves as monsters?

More important than what he saw is the question of why he would act on it. How would Fury benefit from Banner and Romanoff getting romantically entangled? Did he think it would help keep Banner in the fold; that without Romanoff to anchor him, Banner's departure from the Avengers was inevitable? Did he hope for Romanoff to be a failsafe — an easy way to take out Banner if he needed to?

We may never know. But we do know he did it for a reason. Nick Fury is calculating, and the idea of manipulating both a master assassin and a man who occasionally turns into a green monster is inherently dangerous. He wouldn't do it if he didn't think it was important, or because he thought playing matchmaker was fun.

Black Widow = the Bane of the Hulk?

The Hulk's departure at the end of Age of Ultron wasn't exactly a mystery, though the question of why he did it was never precisely answered either. There were plenty of reasons for him to go. Whatever his reason was, at the time it seemed unselfish. It seemed like he was doing it for Romanoff and his friends in the Avengers at least as much as he was doing it for himself. But the events of Thor: Ragnarok shine a brand new light on the end of Age of Ultron.

We know that Hulk failed to change back to Banner for two years after Age of Ultron. We also know that for most, if not all, of that time Banner had no control. He tells Thor that in the past, he'd felt like both he and the Hulk had some control over their actions as the Hulk, but that for the two years between Age of Ultron and Ragnarok the Hulk was solely in control and that Banner had been "locked in the trunk."

If that's true, it wasn't Banner's choice to leave Romanoff, the Avengers, and Earth. It was the Hulk's choice. And if that's the case, then it seems clear he did it to remain the Hulk.

We know Black Widow had figured out a way to "lullabye" Hulk back to Banner. We know it was the video recording of Black Widow that triggered Hulk to finally change back to Banner in Ragnarok. So it may be that, ironically, while it was Natasha who pushed Banner down the hole and summoned the Other Guy, the Other Guy left Earth not in spite of Natasha, but because of her. Because he wanted to remain the Hulk, and he didn't want puny Banner's bizarre relationship with her to put him back to sleep.