The MCU Repeatedly Exploited Hulk’s Strength For 1 Purpose

The Hulk — Bruce Banner’s brawny, adolescent-minded (until recently) alter ego — is capable of rendering any formidable foe lifeless. Packing 1,400 pounds of muscle, a blow from the Hulk should send any villain flying through the air like a swatted fly, which is often the case…until it is not. Hulk is strong and resilient, inconquerable and frightening until another character needs a quick route to supreme threat territory in the MCU. 

Hulk MCU
Hulk MCM London Comic Con 2017 | Ollie Millington/Getty Images

Unfortunately, the Hulk has become the MCU’s Worf, contributing to what is known as the Worf Effect in hero-villain oriented narratives. The Worf Effect refers to a common plot device — a tendency to illustrate a character’s strength by having said character beat and bludgeon an existing character who is already known to be immensely powerful.

The problem: the more often the same character becomes a punching bag to illustrate another character’s dominance, the more likely the character with a so-called unbeatable reputation becomes the butt of every joke, transitioning from the inconquerable hero to the understood weakest link. 

The effect is named after the first Klingon warrior to appear in Stark Trek, who was supposed to be a commendable warrior in combat, but faced defeat so many times that he surrendered his reputation. As for the Hulk,  the character has been beaten by Avengers and villains alike to show his counterparts’ superiority. In short, he’s been exploited for this singular purpose relentlessly throughout the saga, and the frequency has stripped the character of his dignity. Let’s review the history.

Hulk vs. Tony Stark in ‘Age of Ultron’

Remember when Hulk needed to transition back to Bruce Banner in Age of Ultron, as he was causing too much destruction? Tony Stark flew in to save the day and, from inside the Hulkbuster, beat the Hulk up quite easily. 

Ages away from the end of the Infinity Saga, this scene proved that Tony Stark’s modern technology was an equal rival to Hulk; meaning, any other technological pros capable of wielding immense powers should have no problem bringing down the Avenger. Grab a big metal fist and Hulk is done for. 

Thor defeats Hulk in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

Remember when Thor comes up against Hulk in Ragnarok; when the god of Thunder stops playing it easy, as he doesn’t want to hurt his friend, the competition seems to dissipate, as Thor seamlessly emerges triumphant. 

The problem here: if a bunch of the Avengers can defeat the Hulk, what will happen when a villain — who is capable of taking on Thor and Iron Man — comes up against Hulk? Hulk won’t be any competition. 

Thanos picks Hulk up over his head and throws him in ‘Infinity War’

Though Hulk is beating up Thanos at the start of their battle in Infinity War, Thanos begins to fight with strategy (in addition to force), and the Hulk stands no chance. In common Worf fashion, Thanos lifts Hulk up over his head and tosses him across the room. 

This powerful visual is one of the most common ways to display a new character’s superiority, yet, once again, Hulk had to be the character the writers used to establish Thanos’ dominance.

Hulk became the MCU’s Worf and, throughout the saga, never really stood to challenge the mightiest foes without a ton of assistance from the Avengers. In reality, he should have been quite capable all by his lonesome; however, in sculpting other strong characters and augmenting their competence, Hulk lost his.