With Captain America: Civil War recently landing in theaters, only one of the three main Avengers with his own film franchise (sorry, Hulk) will have yet to complete a trilogy of solo films. Not to worry, though, Marvel fans. The God of Thunder is set to take to the big screen for a third time when Thor: Ragnarok hits theaters on July 28, 2017, and by all accounts, he won’t be alone when he comes sweeping audiences into the world of Asgard once more. He’ll be bringing a friend along: a big, green and angry friend. Yup, for those who haven’t heard, the Hulk himself (i.e. actor Mark Ruffalo) will be tagging along for the film.
Last we saw the character, Bruce Banner’s alter-ego was flying off into parts unknown during the climax of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Fan speculation had long centered on that film ending with the Hulk travelling to space, perhaps laying the groundwork for a Planet Hulk film or a run-in with the Guardians of the Galaxy. However, the powers-that-be at Marvel opted for a more ambiguous ending for the emerald giant. At this point, it remains unclear exactly how much of Thor: Ragnarok takes place on Earth, but given the Asgardian plot at the center — and the previous film’s cliffhanger ending regarding the throne — it’s a safe bet that much of it will occur right within Thor’s homeworld. Although casual moviegoers may have mixed feelings about the Hulk travelling to other realms, the storyline has plenty of comic book precedence and fits the current state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a number of reasons.
First off, a Hulk appearance in Thor: Ragnarok keeps the fan-favorite character involved in the larger MCU storyline. Presumably, nearly all of Phase Three will be building up to the two-part Avengers: Infinity War, which will likely involve nearly all the characters audiences have met to date. Hulk doesn’t have a scheduled appearance between Age of Ultron and the 2018/2019 release of Infinity War. From a business perspective, three to four years is a long time to not feature one of the marquee players of the MCU, and Ruffalo has said that the long-rumored sequel to The Incredible Hulk may be “even further away“.
Plus, since neither Thor nor Hulk factor into Civil War (in fact, they seem to be the only MCU mainstays not present for that film), pairing them up in Ragnarok is an easy way to keep both connected, while raising audience interest in the new film with a mini-team-up of established heroes (a la Captain America: The Winter Soldier). After all, the Thor films are among the lowest-grossing entries in the MCU, and a Hulk-sized boost could only help.
Moreover, adding Hulk to fight alongside Thor is an even more exciting prospect when one considers the probability that the two powerful heroes will almost certainly come to blows at some point during Ragnarok, even according to Ruffalo himself. Fans already got a taste of these two in battle during The Avengers, and — while it’s intriguing to wonder what circumstances would lead them to fight now that they’re established allies — the possibility for a memorable action sequence is too enticing to ignore. Just because Captain America and Iron Man get to go mano a mano in their own film doesn’t mean that Thor and Hulk shouldn’t have the opportunity to follow suit.
Reports have already indicated that Ragnarok features the darkest script Marvel Studios has ever produced, and setting whatever cataclysmic events the plot inevitably features against a “buddy film” with Thor and Hulk combining their significant forces to prevent even further disaster could be an effective way of lightening the tone of the film. After all, despite his perpetual inner conflict, the Hulk is a crowd-pleasing character known for eliciting more than his fair share of cheers whenever he shows up onscreen. Even if Asgard is in shambles by the time the credits roll, the Hulk inherently adds a bit of levity to the proceedings that keeps the otherwise humorless Thor — his fish-out-of-water moments in the first film aside — from becoming too dry a protagonist. We don’t even know exactly how much Loki will factor into this upcoming film. So some character may be needed to keep Thor’s ego in check.
Thor: Ragnarok has the chance to become the standout entry in the franchise, and with Hulk along for the ride, it can also help to propel the MCU forward, bridging the gap between its Earth-bound stories and cosmic tales like Guardians of the Galaxy. In that way, the film’s inclusion of the Hulk could be a key move toward Infinity War and further uniting the disparate plot threads of the MCU. Here’s hoping that whatever happens when Thor returns to the big screen in 2018 that the trilogy-capper delivers a thrilling ride that will remind audiences just how great comic book cinema can be when it’s done right.
Follow Robert Yaniz Jr. on Twitter @CrookedTable
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