“We have a Hulk.” It used to mean something.
It seems like just yesterday the Hulk was the strongest there was. Remember him swinging Loki like a rag doll and riding Chitauri spaceships into the ground? Those days are past. Now Bruce Banner is suffering from performance anxiety – a severe case of fighter’s block. Ever since his beat down by Thanos (pre-Infinity-Gauntlet, mind you) Hulk has refused to come out. Call it the last straw for Hulk, who has been reluctant to transform as an ever-growing line of embarrassments have accumulated.
Hulk served at the hands of the Grandmaster in ‘Thor: Ragnarok‘, acting as a gladiator. He was a winning gladiator, sure, but one who had to submit to a master. Adding further insult, his winning streak ended when he lost to a hammerless Thor. This marked the second time Hulk was outmatched by a fellow Avenger. Iron Man took him down in ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron.’
Since then, both Tony Stark and Thor have only become more powerful. Iron Man is now nanotech with various upgrades and hulk busting armor still at the ready. Thor has embraced his Godhood, no longer needing his hammer, Mjolnir, to summon the storm, and has forged a more powerful weapon to boot. Oh, and then there’s Captain Marvel. She was last seen taking out an armada in space by herself. At best, Banner is the third strongest Avenger even if he can bring out “the other guy.” Third strongest of those not killed in ‘Infinity War’, that is. A fight with Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch, or Vision might not go well for the green guy either.
Where does that leave Banner’s obligatory come-to-Hulk moment? I’d say anti-climatic. There’s nothing Hulk could do that any of the aforementioned Avengers could not…unless, of course, Hulk returns with a substantial power-up. His strength is a function of his anger, so a sufficiently angry Hulk could hit the power level needed to make him special again, but what could anger him so? The death of his love interest, Black Widow? We can be pretty sure that will not happen considering her movie is finally in the works.
Bruce might as well take a gamma ray bath. He’ll need it to stay relevant.