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I Keep Thinking About Those Unexplained Hulk Reveals in Shang-Chi

 

Wearing a purple shirt, Mark Ruffalo smiles as Bruce Banner in Avengers

In the mid-credits scene for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Shang-Chi, Katy, and Wong are consulting with holograms of Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) and Bruce Banner (Hulk) as they analyze the all-important ten rings. Bruce is in one of his customary button-downs, and his arm is in a sling—presumably a lasting injury caused by the effort it took to Snap the Infinity Gauntlet.

Mark Ruffalo’s performance as Banner has long been one of my favorite in the MCU, so I was paying close attention to this unexpected cameo. I was relieved to see that he was back in his human form, and not the cartoonish hybrid “Professor Hulk” of Avengers: Endgame.

Mark Ruffalo appears as Bruce Banner/Hulk in the mid-credits of 'Shang Chi'

Bruce Banner in ‘Shang Chi’

In Endgame, the Hulk/Banner hybrid explains that the two had finally reached a sort of equilibrium form—a hulk-like brute body that retained Banner’s intellect. Here’s how “Professor Hulk” (a name gleaned from the comics) explained it in Endgame:

“For years I treated The Hulk like he’s some kind of disease—something to get rid of. Then I started looking at him as the cure. Eighteen months in the gamma lab, I put the brains and the brawn together. And now look at me. Best of both worlds!”

However, the way that Bruce looks in Shang Chi reveals that at some point between the Snap-back after Thanos and Shang-Chi’s adventures, something has caused Bruce Banner to revert back to human form. What happened? We don’t know! But I can’t stop thinking about it.

When I pointed out Bruce’s return to “normal” to the friends I saw Shang-Chi with, they said they’d forgotten all about Professor Hulk but were now doubly intrigued by what might have occurred in the interim. And it doesn’t seem incidental that Bruce was in those end credits. To further add to Hulk-related shenanigans in Shang-Chi, earlier on we see Wong in a cage match situation at Xu Xialing’s club, where he is fighting the Hulk villain The Abomination.

Abomination had previously visited the MCU as the bad guy in the pre-Ruffalo, Edward Norton-starring The Incredible Hulk (2008), played by Tim Roth. After being held by S.H.I.E.L.D. in a top-secret cryo-cell, by 2024, Abomination appears to have been released from captivity and is apparently surviving on his own merits. But what was even more surprising than the sight of Abomination is that it seemed that he and Wong were on friendly terms.

The Abomination fights with Wong in Xu Xialing's club in 'Shang-Chi'

Abomination fights Wong

They had agreed not to hurt each other too badly in the fighting tournament, and afterward, Abomination follows Wong through a magic portal to depart Macau, as though they’re hanging out (or living somewhere?) together. Wong even calls Abomination “Emil,” for Emil Blonsky, the man who would become Abomination after exposure to super-serum and radiated Hulk blood. They’re on a first-name basis? Tell us more!

The inclusion of two important Hulk-related reveals in Shang-Chi is not an accident. What’s likely happening is that the MCU is gearing us up for the Disney+ series She-Hulk, which will star Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk. In the comics, Walters is an accomplished lawyer and the cousin of Bruce Banner. Ruffalo has been confirmed to appear on She-Hulk in some capacity—we don’t know the extent of his involvement with the show, and whether that will mean a brief appearance or a much larger role.

From a practical standpoint, it makes sense to utilize Ruffalo’s fine acting skills in human form, rather than having him in a motion capture suit and having to go through the time and cost of turning him into the silly-looking Professor Hulk, who has hard to take seriously.

While Ruffalo has been seen on the She-Hulk set in a mocap suit, what we learned from Shang-Chi could mean that he’s doing a scene fully reverted back to the Hulk. Then again, we don’t know the time period She-Hulk is taking place, so it’s also possible that the show may involve the story of how Bruce becomes Bruce again. I’m dreading that there might be a very tragic element here, and that the after-effects of having used the Infinity Gauntlet could be taking a serious toll on both Bruce and the Hulk.

The Hulk looks sad with his arm in a sling at Tony Stark's funeral in Avengers: Endgame

Sad ‘Professor Hulk’ in Endgame, arm already in a sling

As an MCU Hulk fan, I have to say that I personally prefer when their identities are “separated” and there is the constant push-pull between them. Watching Bruce Banner struggle to reconcile the different parts of himself is a lot more interesting than seeing a Hulk in glasses.

We still have so many questions! Why is Bruce back in human form in Shang-Chi, and what happened to the Professor Hulk situation? Does this mean Bruce’s accord with Hulk has ended and he’s back to dealing with the “monstrous” side of himself? Is Abomination a good guy now, or at least pretending to be? Is he teaming up with those Avengers that remain, as the World Security Council considered doing before Tony Stark put a stop to that idea? Could we be getting more Tim Roth in the MCU, perhaps even in She-Hulk as well? All of these prospects are exciting and have the potential to surprise.

Mark Ruffalo looks surprised as Bruce Banner in Thor: Ragnarok

Tell me all of your Hulkish thoughts in the comments.

(images: Marvel Studios)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.