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Deleted Infinity War scene brings Hulk and Black Widow back together

The train of post-release Infinity Saga content keeps a-rollin'. 

Disney recently released a limited edition Blu-ray set of the entire Infinity Saga, which includes a whole bunch of extra content, like deleted scenes from the 23 films that comprise the first three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

One deleted scene in particular features a brief interaction between Hulk and Black Widow in the midst of the Battle of Wakanda during Avengers: Infinity War (via ScreenGeek). The clip doesn't have any audio — probably because it's a single, completely unfinished take — but we can see Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) warily approaching Hulk (which is just Mark Ruffalo in his mocap suit), with a wrist-mounted shock weapon raised in anticipation of attack. Ruffalo-as-Hulk speaks gently and appears calm, which disarms Natasha and causes her to lower her weapon. That leaves a lot to speculate on, since there's no audible dialogue.

It's interesting to know that, at some point well into production, Infinity War directors Joe and Anthony Russo intended to dig a little bit deeper into what was left unsaid between Bruce and Natasha — you know, before abandoning that thread in favor of sticking to the complex team-centric narrative that leads to confronting Thanos (Josh Brolin). It also means that the Russos considered something different for the Hulk/Bruce conflict that kept Hulk off the field during the Battle of Wakanda and out of the majority of the movie. 

Addressing the complexities of the bizarre relationship between Hulk and Black Widow more directly, however, seems to present more problems than it fixes, which is likely why it didn't make it to the theatrical cut of Infinity War.

The A-plot of Infinity War is too big for Black Widow and Hulk

For starters, Avengers: Infinity War is a huge movie. It's a simple thing to say, but it needs to be reiterated when talking about abandoned subplots. In all the extra information that has poured out since Infinity War and Endgame were released, the Russos and others from the production staff have underlined the fact that, while they came up with a ton of extra stuff they wanted to include in the films, runtime was an extremely precious commodity that eventually demanded all their energies be reprioritized toward the two halves of the conflict with past and present Thanos. Adding a subplot that dealt with Natasha and Bruce's relationship, which blossomed in 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron, into the mix likely would have taken Infinity War off track and distracted from the already mammoth main story.

Natasha's fate as a linchpin

The biggest kibosh on the idea of revisiting Bruce and Natasha's relationship with any depth in Avengers: Infinity War is the fact Natasha dies in Avengers: Endgamesacrificing herself on Vormir during the Time Heist. In earlier drafts of the film, Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye was supposed to throw himself off the cliff in exchange for the Soul Stone, and that idea could have simultaneously existed when the Russos were including the now-deleted scene with Hulk and Black Widow in Infinity War. Circling back to the two heroes' romance in Infinity War would make sense if the directors kept Black Widow alive through Endgame, as that reconnection could actually go somewhere meaningful. 

However, if you change the sacrificial lamb in Endgame from Hawkeye to Black Widow, you have to abandon any narrative framing around Bruce and Natasha in Infinity War, as audiences would wonder what value exists in rekindling anything just to have her to die in the next film. It doesn't seem a stretch to say the last thing the Endgame team would want is to leave the audience distracted mid-film by thinking about the Bruce-Natasha scene in Infinity War and feeling even more hurt over the abandoned subplot. 

Additionally, if the moment between Bruce and Natasha wasn't cut out of Infinity War, there's a risk of her death coming across as motivated in some why by her relationship with him. That's no good. People already questioned the validity of killing Natasha at all in Endgame (though it's worth mentioning the Russos pitched the plot point to their women colleagues and got a green light), and tossing a romantic relationship to a story in which the man survives creates more potential avenues for controversy. 

The deleted Infinity War scene is a relic of old priorities

It's important to recall that the whole Bruce-Natasha chestnut is actually something the Russos inherited from Age of Ultron and, most specifically, director Joss Whedon. (They've said so themselves, calling the relationship between the two Avengers a "Whedon decision," though they've done their best to be diplomatic about it.) Everything about what transpired between the characters was, for better or worse, an extremely Joss Whedon thing to do: deconstructing a tough-as-nails woman to be vulnerable and weak before a man over something inherently linked to her gender identity — which, in this case, was Natasha's infertility. Whedon has insisted that Marvel demanded he cut the scenes that would have redeemed the relationship's apparent pointlessness and given it more heart, but frankly, nothing washes away the fact that Whedon made this explicit directive and it ended up in the final cut of Age of Ultron.

It would have been one thing if the relationship between Hulk and Black Widow had simply been a ham-fisted romance, but attaching that kind of sociopolitical baggage (and its resultant critical reaction) to it just makes the entire situation unpleasant to revisit. Approaching their relationship in any way is poisoned at the roots by this fact; Whedon opted to make the thesis, the commonality between them, entirely based on having Natasha equate them as monsters. What's more is that Natasha is presented a monster specifically because she was involuntarily sterilized as part of her training as an assassin — something she deeply she hates about herself. Bruce's monstrosity as the Hulk is also a thing he hates about himself, so it has always felt like the two were loving each other over the things they inherently loathed about themselves. What a great emotional bedrock to build on!

Still, you can't not address Bruce and Natasha's relationship before the end of the Infinity Saga if they're going to share screen time — and they do in the final cuts of both Infinity War and Endgame. In Infinity War, there was only one way to summarize the entire situation, and the Russos did it flawlessly through a single line of dialogue: Sam (Anthony Mackie) turns to Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) and mumbles "this is awkward" as Bruce and Natasha nervously confront each other for the first time in several years. That's it. It's uncomfortable for everybody — fictional characters, cast and crew, and audience alike. That's all anybody can do when it comes to Bruce and Natasha, and it's all anybody should do.