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Why the Hulk could be more important than you think in Avengers 4

Avengers: Infinity War is one of the biggest movies of 2018, and for good reason: the special effects are a sight to behold, the storyline is filled with well-acted emotion, and co-directors the Russo brothers juggled a jam-packed, star-studded cast of characters without overwhelming everyone in the process.

All that being said, Infinity War did leave several characters sidelined. Ant-Man and Hawkeye were both completely absent — even if Hawkeye seems set to reappear as Ronin and Ant-Man has clearly become a candidate for his own major role in Endgame at this point — and after an opening sequence in which he was soundly thrashed by Thanos, so was the Hulk. Clearly one of the top threats to Thanos' mad rampage across the galaxy in search of the Infinity Stones, Hulk's larger-than-life personality remained conspicuously absent as the Avengers struggled to stop the Mad Titan before that dreaded snap. But the big guy almost certainly won't be out of action for long — in fact, here's why his storyline in Avengers: Endgame will be more important than you might think.

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Raw. Green. Power.

Anyone who's seen 30 seconds of the Hulk on screen is aware that the guy's primary weapon is his pure, unadulterated rage. The angrier Hulk gets, the stronger he gets — which made it that much more surprising when Hulk got smacked down in a few seconds by Thanos during the opening moments of Infinity War

It's the only straight-up whooping Hulk's received in the MCU, which is probably why if you watch the footage carefully, you don't really see a Hulk "green with rage" — you see one who's surprised by an unexpectedly powerful opponent, then swept away by Heimdall before he has a chance to recover from the initial shock.

By the time Hulk's ill-fated brawl with Thanos is really over, he hasn't had a chance to show off his greatest attribute: his raw green power. Here's a brute who can go toe-to-toe with Thor (even if he needs a little help at the end), and if the final moments of Infinity War tell us anything, Thor is another of Thanos' greatest threats. This leaves the outcome of a Hulk vs. Thanos rematch unknown … and that battle looks to still be very much in the cards.

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Inner demons

The Hulk we saw in Infinity War was pretty clearly struggling with some inner demons — a nice change of pace from the status quo, in which Bruce Banner is left to deal with them all instead.

Many fans felt Hulk was afraid to come out after his initial encounter with Thanos ended so poorly. As it turns out, there was a lot more going on; as co-director Joe Russo explained on the Infinity War commentary track, "I think ultimately it's that he's tired of playing hero to Bruce Banner." One way or the other, his unwillingness to participate was built into the story, leaving us all waiting for a resolution to the mystery in Avengers: Endgame.

Whatever was actually going on in Infinity War, the Hulk seemed to be going through some pretty deep stuff as the plot played out. This is only a good thing for the MCU: As fascinating as Bruce Banner's struggles can be, the onscreen Hulk has been a one-dimensional character for too long. This twist should add some extra dimension to a character that's been little more than a big green wrecking ball for so many years.

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Split personality or control issues?

Banner solves problems with science; Hulk smashes. That fascinating dichotomy has made the character a favorite of comics readers for decades, but it's difficult to balance onscreen (as anyone who's seen the two Hulk standalone movies could tell you). But the line between those personalities has started to blur a little recently in the MCU.

When Thor ran into his "friend from work" on Sakaar in Thor: Ragnarok, for example, he'd been the Hulk for two straight years, thrilling crowds as an unstoppable gladiator and living the comfortable life of a celebrity. We see Hulk talking; he and Thor even have a conversation.

This may not have been just a one-off event, either — instead, it now looks like the prelude to the separation of Hulk and Banner into two different personalities fighting for control over a "host" body. In Ragnarok it allowed us to start to get to know the Hulk a bit more, before it was all bottled back up in Infinity War. Avengers: Endgame seems all but certain to see Hulk finally make that reappearance we're all waiting for.

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde unite!

In a 2018 interview, Mark Ruffalo said the characters of Bruce Banner and the Hulk are "headed for a showdown." That showdown never occurred in Infinity War, leaving the door wide open for the warring personalities to clash in Avengers: Endgame — and paving the way for the Hulk to reemerge and have a potentially huge effect on the story arc.

But that's not all. As mentioned earlier, Infinity War co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo also made it clear on the home release commentary that after getting a genuine taste of freedom on Sakaar and then losing it again, the Hulk is sick and tired of being used as Banner's "get out of jail free" card. 

Between Ruffalo's remarks about a Hulk/Banner showdown and the Russos' statements about the Hulk's motivation, Avengers: Endgame may finally be the point when the MCU gets its first taste of Professor Hulk, the character that was created in the comics when Hulk and Banner united into a single personality combining Banner's brains and Hulk's brawn. The possibly leaked Avengers: Endgame concept art showing a different-looking Hulk seems to back this theory up.

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The last scientist

After Infinity War ended, the number of big-brained heroes with the capability to help engineer a comeback for Endgame got perilously thin. Thanks to Ant-Man and the Wasp, we know that Hank Pym and his family are gone. Shuri is missing and Tony Stark is lost in space. All things considered, having a scientist like Bruce Banner around may be even more valuable than having the Hulk. Maybe the latter staying out of sight is just what the team needs.

This suggestion has been given even more weight since the trailer for Endgame appeared. The clip ends with Scott Lang appearing at Avengers HQ after somehow having extracted himself from the Quantum Realm. It's not an unreasonable assumption that Banner would be there with Black Widow and Cap, and if so, it would doubtless make him by far the most qualified person to help figure out Pym's machine and possibly use it to… oh, perhaps travel back in time? The scenario is tantalizingly possible at this point.

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The harder they fall

Pride goes before a fall. And if anyone can be expected to be prideful, it's the guy who owns six Infinity Stones and holds the fate of the universe in the palm of his gauntlet. That said, the opening scene of Infinity War could ultimately play a major role in why the Hulk could be a crucial element in Avengers: Endgame. After all, nothing strokes your ego quite so much as landing a handful of well-aimed punches that topple your opponent's champion in a few seconds.

Thanos had more trouble fighting Iron Man and even Spider-Man on Titan than he did with the Hulk, so the Mad Titan has to be confident that the jade giant is more a molehill than a mountain. He brushed him off of his sleeve once before. No doubt he could do it again. No doubt…

But, as we know, Hulk is a wild card that could be pulled out at any moment, and could prove to be surprisingly difficult to fight, even for the likes of Thanos. Of course, if Hulk was an obvious solution to the problem, there would be no point in going to see the movie — so you can add "Hulk wild card" into the solution box along with Ant-Man, Captain Marvel, Thor, time travel, and any other theories you've already got in there.

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Infinity Gauntlet 2.0

Speaking of other Avengers: Endgame theories, some fans have suggested that Tony Stark will end up going back in time — and gathering up other versions of the Infinity Stones along the way — to build his own Infinity Gauntlet. And if Stark goes about trekking through time and pulling together the Infinity Stones to undo the consequences of Thanos' galactic purge, it stands to reason that somebody with a lot of "oomph" is going to be needed to wield the darn thing once it's made.

This idea becomes even more appealing when you take a Professor Hulk scenario into consideration. If the Hulk and Banner join forces and then don an Infinity Gauntlet to boot, it's awfully hard to imagine that it wouldn't be a powerful enough combo to put Thanos completely out of commission once and for all.

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A one-armed Hulk?

As we sift through potential Hulk storylines after the Infinity War fallout, it's worth mentioning the rumor that the big guy could end up losing an arm in Avengers: Endgame. It isn't like a Marvel hero hasn't lost a limb before, but how could that end up happening here? One doesn't just go around losing arms by doing nothing… and we've seen the Hulk's appendages under tremendous strain in numerous fighting scenes throughout the years. Why an arm? Why not a leg?

Three words: Stark's infinity gauntlet.

If the Hulk were to take on Thanos, gauntlet versus gauntlet, it would stand to reason that one of the primary victory conditions would be the removal of the opponent's gauntlet… by whatever means necessary. So, when you take all of these pieces and put them together, you get a picture of both Banner and Hulk, united as Professor Hulk, wielding an Infinity Gauntlet against Thanos and somehow, in the process, losing an arm. Wild conjecture? You bet — but so is everything else surrounding Avengers: Endgame at this point.

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Classic redemption

The Hulk can be a lot of things: a petulant child throwing a tantrum, a raging monster destroying everything in sight, a tool in Banner's back pocket. But he isn't a villain. Still, it's undeniable that he displayed some unbelievably selfish behavior during Infinity War. When Thanos' lackeys attacked NYC and kidnapped Dr. Strange, Hulk refused to play ball. Then, when the forces of good and evil fought and died across the plains of Wakanda, and with the fate of the universe literally at hand, Hulk once again sat out. This was two major strikes against a character that, while not the most conventional "good guy," has still come through as a genuine Avenger and superhero time and again.

All of this is to say that Hulk won't strike out in Avengers: Endgame. It only stands to reason that one way or another, the green machine will get a chance to redeem himself, and when the final showdown comes, you can bet he'll be there, front and center.

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It's all about the arc

We may not know much about what Marvel has planned for whatever happens after Infinity War. But we do know the MCU writers are far too detailed and organized to just throw some stuff in there and see how it works, and Hulk's carefully developed story arc really is one of the most compelling — and crucial — elements of Avengers: Endgame. Mark Ruffalo made it clear that we've been watching an entire Hulk story going on in the background throughout Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame.

What this means, in other words, is that we're preparing to witness the last third of that arc — the part where the story climaxes, the hero faces his greatest fears and triumphs, redemption is earned, and victory is won. Treasure that movie ticket when you go to see Avengers: Endgame, because you're not only seeing the conclusion of the Infinity War and the culmination of the first grand chapter of the MCU, but also the Hulk's "unofficial" trilogy as well.

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The second MCU character... ever

Of course, Hulk's overall story isn't brand new to the MCU by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, Mark Ruffalo's donning of the green mantle may have come a little bit later on in the process, but Hulk's first appearance in the franchise actually took place way back in 2008's The Incredible Hulk — yes, the one with the green machine being played by Edward Norton, and this was a key starting point for the MCU's depiction of the legendary emerald giant. The film hit theaters just two short months after Iron Man, the movie that started it all. This makes Hulk the second major character in the MCU, which would mean that his greater story arc started before Cap, Thor, and the rest of the crew.

While it may have felt a bit out of place, this seemingly one-off Marvel film did work its way into the intensely interconnected fabric of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, chiefly through several appearances of key figures — including Tony Stark, whose cameo in the ending scenes provides one of the first major crossover moments between Marvel films and at the same time alludes to the Avengers initiative to come.

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Connections to Infinity War and Beyond

The Stark cameo was important, but it might not be as meaningful as the appearance of General "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt). Ross was a key player throughout The Incredible Hulk, and he reappeared in both Civil War and Infinity War after being promoted to Secretary of State. But Ross isn't the only Hulk cast member that might make their way into the final stages of Phase 3. His daughter Betty (Liv Tyler) has been rumored for quite a while now to possibly be making an appearance, too, with some fans even postulating that Banner's tearful scene in the Endgame trailer may possibly be fueled by the knowledge of losing her.

Betty ended up being a pivotal factor in helping to tame Hulk's anger — a role that has since been taken up by Natasha Romanoff — and if she were brought back into the picture it could create quite the interesting love triangle. However, if the folks at Marvel are seriously considering a Betty Ross comeback, along with all of the drama that it would unpack, it'll have to wait until the finger snap is reversed, as director Joe Russo definitively confirmed her fate when asked if she was a victim of the snap with the terse response "Gone."

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Avengers 4: The Hulk's gateway to closure

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has given fans an oddly endearing version of the Hulk — one that gave fans a real connection with the character after a couple of frustrating false starts. And for a few movies now, that character has been struggling mightily, with everything from identity issues to an apparent resignation from (or at least apathy to) his role as an Avenger.

Those struggles have taken Banner and the Hulk to some unexpectedly far-off places — and prevented fans from seeing the big guy whoop bad-guy butt the way they expected to in some instances — but they also kept the character front and center throughout Infinity War. Hulk's arc left us hanging at the end of that movie, but fans can be fairly certain that this still-developing version of the green goliath will play a pivotal part in Avengers: Endgame — and finally find a measure of the closure both sides of his personality have longed for all this time.