//SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVEN’T SEEN “AVENGERS: ENDGAME”!//
So Friday marked the release of “Avengers: Endgame,” the most anticipated Marvel Cinematic Universe film since we first caught a glimpse of Thanos during the end-credits of “The Avengers” in 2012.
Many great things came from Endgame. (Some not so great, but that’s largely forgivable because of the overall quality of the film.)
Going into this film, I was anticipating a major moment for the Incredible Hulk; but before I begin, let’s have a recap of what Bruce Banner experienced in “Infinity War.”
At the beginning of IW, we find Thanos’s ship, Sanctuary 2, reigning fire upon the Statesman — just blowing it into oblivion! Thanos and his forces have successfully surrounded the Asgardians. Their defeat was imminent.
When we enter the ship only to find Thanos towering over a defeated Thor. Emerging to curry a favor — really to distract Thanos and his thugs — Loki steps forward ready to offer the one thing that has led Thanos to the Statesman: the Tesseract.
Thanos, who acknowledges the offer, can’t help but scoff at Loki’s optimism…
“Your optimism is misplaced, Asgardian.”
To which Loki replies with, “Well, for one thing, I'm not Asgardian. And for another... We have a Hulk.”
The Incredible Hulk — the champion of Sakaar — leaps towards Thanos with the rage that can only be matched by the surrounding destruction on the ship! Thanos is caught off guard, but for a moment before he quickly regains control of the situation and beats the Hulk into submission…
The Hulk is successfully defeated — and we would never see this same Hulk again because Thanos beat the Hulk so badly that he refused to appear to save anyone ever again, including Banner. As far as we can tell, the brutish Hulk is gone for good.
Fast-Forward to Endgame
Don’t get me wrong, I liked Professor Hulk. I think what’s great about Professor Hulk is that he is — like several of the other characters in Endgame — the hyperbolic form of both Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk; which is exactly what you want at the conclusion of this eleven-year saga.
But here’s what I thought was missing (— and there was a convenient moment for this in Endgame, which I’ll get to shortly): we missed what could have been enjoyable/appreciative moments that led to the transformation of Professor Hulk.
Here’s what I would have done based on the outcome of IW: you keep Banner as he was at the beginning of Endgame — “wounded.” The Hulk’s unwillingness to emerge from his subconscious is a measurable obstacle of his character. You keep him that way even after the five year jump when Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff and Scott Lang seek him out to create the time machine. (Don’t get me wrong - Professor Hulk had a lot of great moments when they first find him in the diner; however, the first half of the film is pretty solemn and you could probably still create some humorous moments with “Regular Sized-Man” Banner.)
We even keep Banner as his normal self during the the time traveling sequence, but here’s where it could get interesting—
Romanoff’s Death: A Soul for a Soul
Again, this film had a lot of great moments, including the obstacle ahead with Romanoff and Barton on Vormir. Seeing the two of them fight for the ultimate sacrifice was truly touching, albeit for completely different reasons.
Barton wanted to be the one to sacrifice himself, but that wouldn’t have been as fulfilling as Romanoff’s death. He was emotionally fraught after losing his entire family (as was evident when he assumed the identify of Ronin and waged war against malevolent individuals across Earth) — so any form of Barton suicide would be construed more along the lines of selfishness rather than selflessness. Romanoff, on the other hand, was mentally prepared to fulfill the sacrifice. While Barton lost his family, Romanoff still had Banner to lose; especially since Banner was perceived as her beau ever since “Age of Ultron.”
So Romanoff goes to Vormir to complete the mission. You could even have Banner there helplessly witnessing her fall; which would torment his already-tortured soul.
And here’s how you make it interesting: Banner himself is in the midst of his own soul searching (so is Hawkeye, but hear me out—) he can’t even come to terms with the Hulk, who still refuses to come out to the service of Banner (or anyone for that matter) ever since he was on the receiving end of an ass-whooping compliments of Thanos. It’s truly a crisis for a superhero like Bruce.
You could even maybe offer the idea that the Hulk is perhaps — I don’t know — gone. For good. Maybe it’s even a horrific insecurity of his.
But Romanoff’s death could change that, especially with her influence over the strongest Avenger—
The absence of Romanoff offers a different type of soul searching for Banner (— something that was ultimately hand-waived, in my opinion. I would err on the side of budgetary or running time constraints more so than creative.) With this soul searching comes with a need Banner has to fill the void, a void which must be eventually be filled by some of his emotions.
The typical expectation is that Banner would fill this void with rage or anger.
But this is Endgame, which means we need something different. Something more spectacular.
Here’s how I would have brought it over the top: as I said previously, we keep Banner human throughout almost the entire film. The Avengers successfully retrieve all the Infinity Stones, and apply the stones to the new glove (—compliments of Tony Stark.)
Who is going to wield Infinity Gauntlet 2.0? Banner, of course, but here’s my spin on it—
To the surprise of everyone, now is when you introduce Professor Hulk. You could even have some moments to show the struggle Banner experiences after Romanoff’s death — a death which makes him even stronger than before, hence the merging of the two of them in order to coexist as one.
And thus Banner would have completed his character arc: a Soul for a Soul. The Hulk would re-emerge this time not through anger, but with love—
And then we would also have a scene of Banner pommeling Thanos for a moment. Maybe he says more eloquently, “Remember me?” (Obviously, he wouldn’t because it’s Thanos from the past; but that could be a comical moment.)
(Oh, by the way— I believe Professor Hulk’s hyperbolic form goes back to 2012 when Tony reminds Banner that he needs to strut…)