One of the biggest questions for MCU fans right now is what exactly is in store in Phase 4 once Avengers 4 has finally hit theaters. Marvel Studios has remained understandably coy about everything, as fans are left to create their own theories about what will happen to certain fan-favorite characters. It feels like no one is guaranteed to survive the trip to Phase 4, but one of the characters who sits in a unique position is the Hulk. The Green Goliath is not beholden to any solo films of his own, making him one of the most versatile characters on the MCU roster, and that’s exactly how Marvel should keep it for Phase 4. Forget solo films, Hulk should be a team-up only hero.
The movie rights for the Hulk aren’t exactly ordinary. As it’s now understood, Universal and Disney co-own the rights, with Universal’s approval needed for Marvel to make a Hulk standalone film. But Marvel can put Hulk into a movie where he isn’t the top-billed name. That’s how he can show up in Avengers movies or the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok. It’s a weird legal tightrope that’s relatively easily walked… unless you’ve been dying for a Hulk solo film, then you might be out of luck. Hulk actor Mark Ruffalo has gone on the record saying that there will “never” be a Hulksolo film, putting a lot of the blame on Universal.
Getting a Hulk solo film is not exactly as impossible as it might have once been even just two years ago. There’s a certain wall-crawling MCU character that is in a similar boat — his movie rights shared between two rival companies — yet he just had a blockbuster smash hit that resulted from Marvel and Sony working together. You’d think that Spider-Man: Homecoming would at least prove that something good can come out of studio collaboration and that Universal would at least be interested in exploring the idea (not that they are in nearly as desperate a situation as Sony was).
But here’s the thing: we don’t need a Hulk standalone. What we’re currently getting is already the creme de la creme of Hulk movies.
If his first two solo films are any indication, the Hulk is a difficult character to nail on film. While Ang Lee’s Hulk at least goes for broke in style points, both it and The Incredible Hulk are largely forgettable movies. This could be chalked up to not having found the right creative team, but it’s hard to fill 120-something minutes with a story focused solely on the struggle of Bruce Banner. It’s a tough dynamic when your main character actively tries not to do the thing the audience all wants him to do. The Hulk seems to be best in small doses. He was a fan-favorite character in The Avengers, and it’s partly because the movie used him sparingly, then went big when he did Hulk Out.
Placing the Hulk as a side character in other people’s movies is the formula that’s working right now. Though Thor: Ragnarok is not in theaters yet, the footage shownwith the Hulk looks fantastic and his relationship with Thor seems incredibly fun. The Hulk is not the most interesting character in the MCU and letting him own it as a side character seems to be the way to go. And this doesn’t mean that Hulk storylines can’t still be adapted onto film. Planet Hulk, one his best-known storylines, partly serves as inspiration for Ragnarok, meaning fans still get the Hulk-in-space goodness they’ve craved. There’s also the side benefit of the Hulk getting to do things that he never would otherwise on his own. Watching the Hulk fight Surtur is a lot more interesting than him punching a red version of himself.
As far as Phase 4 goes, assuming Bruce Banner isn’t dead, there are a number of things that Marvel can do with the Hulk. A lot of it depends on the unannounced slate of the films that Marvel is working on, but the Hulk could always show up in Spider-Man: Homecoming 2 or maybe a future Guardians of the Galaxy movie. The MCU is usually at its best when it pairs off its characters and lets them interact, so there’s a lot of value in letting the Hulk remain a guest star. If Marvel thinks they’ve got a solo film that’ll work then more power to them, but they’re already doing all they need to.