Given the Jade Giant’s stellar turn in ‘Thor: Ragnarok‘, it’s natural to look back at his prior appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, either to try and discern clues to where the character might go next or simply to enjoy those films once again. Where the Hulk is concerned, that inevitably leads to 2008’s ‘Incredible Hulk’. To the extent that any film could be described as such, that one sometimes seems to be the red-headed stepchild of the MCU. This, one imagines, is largely due to the recasting of the title character (with Mark Ruffalo replacing Ed Norton for ‘The Avengers’) but also to the fact that it not only has yet to receive a sequel but that the film also left a number of dangling plot threads that have yet to be addressed elsewhere.
Chief among those dangling threads is one Dr. Samuel Sterns. Played by Tim Blake Nelson, the good doctor was exposed to a sample of Banner’s gamma-irradiated blood late in the film, setting up his transformation into the villainous Leader (of which we saw at least the beginning on screen). At the time of the film’s release, this seemed like a fairly straightforward way of setting up the Leader as the villain for the presumptive sequel. Of course, it has now been nine years and such a sequel has yet to materialize. So what of the Leader? Has he been forgotten or are there plans in place?
Well, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has recently addressed exactly that question:
“It is an embarrassment of riches of places we could go or characters we could reprise or bring back now that we’re… I think ‘Ragnarok’ is our seventeenth MCU film. And you would be surprised how many… it’s come up. It’s come up. Just finding the right place. And as I said, if you can’t do it right, don’t do it or do it later, and the notion of “Hey, I’m here too! Next!” is not interesting to us. Abomination is in a prison somewhere too.”
Taken at face value, Feige presents an argument that’s pretty hard to argue with: “He’s out there. He’s an option. But there’s no sense in bringing him back just for the sake of bringing him back.” That being said, it’s equally hard to wonder if there isn’t more to it than that. After all, despite Mark Ruffalo’s version being arguably the breakout character from ‘The Avengers’, Hulk has been used fairly sparingly since 2012, appearing only in supporting roles rather than additional solo films. This, in turn, is often credited to the fact that Universal still holds distribution rights to future Hulk movies. The question then becomes one of the extent to which that affects Marvel’s ability to use characters from that film. While there may be some confusion on that point, the simple fact that William Hurt was able to return to the role of Thaddeus Ross for ‘Captain America: Civil War’ suggests that the situation with Universal is not a serious impediment.
‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is now playing in theaters. The Hulk will next be seen in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, which has a theatrical release scheduled for May 4, 2018.