WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Marvel's Avengers: Infinity War, available now on digital HD.
Marvel's Avengers: Infinity War is a relentless, action-packed ride in which virtually every hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe gets time to shine, the Incredible Hulk was absent for a vast majority of the film. Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner played a significant role, of course, warning of Thanos' arrival on Earth and later joining the fight in Wakanda, but his alter ego didn't appear after the opening scene.
After a swift, brutal defeat at the hands of the Mad Titan aboard the Asgardian refugee ship, the Hulk disappeared. When Banner tried to coax "the big guy" back out, the Green Goliath refused to answer the call, leading many fans to speculate he was frightened and traumatized after his first encounter with Thanos.
However, as the Infinity War creative team confirms on the movie's digital release, that's not the case: The real reason the Hulk didn't emerge is because he was tired of mopping up Banner's mess.
Co-director Joe Russo referred to their relationship as "dysfunctional," in which the Hulk is "tired of playing hero to Bruce Banner." In other words, Hulk isn't scared, he's just had enough of being Banner's lackey.
"This is an interesting journey that we went on with Banner, trying to decide how to move him forward in the Marvel Universe," Russo said in the commentary over the early New York City street scene in which the Hulk refuses to emerge to fight Cull Obsidian of the Black Order.
"What makes him unique as a character is that there’s a host body being fought over by two distinct personalities who hate each other, and who both want control of the host body," he explained. "And so we thought an interesting direction to take him in is, what if Banner, who typically uses the Hulk to solve crisis situations, what if the Hulk were no longer interested in solving those problems for Banner?"
As stubborn a decision as it may be, the Hulk has indeed been seen as the go-to solution by his human counterpart, and it seems he's calling time out on this selfish behavior. In 2012's Avengers, he was brought out to stop the Chitauri; in 2015's Age of Ultron, he was summoned to take down Ultron's army. It's worth noting that in Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok, we got hints that the Jade Giant was fed up when Banner made it clear Hulk did not want to revert to his human form.
That certainly comes full circle in Infinity War, which aligns with Hulk not wanting to be exploited any longer. Truthfully, even if Banner could control him, he's merely being deployed like a weapon, only to be placed on the shelf until next time there's a crisis.
Screenwriter Christopher Markus referred to the street scene " the beginnings of Bruce’s issues," because even when Thanos came to attack Wakanda for the Mind Stone, Hulk didn't want to be used as a last resort (although it did seem some footage was shot where he broke out of the Hulkbuster to battle). As the commentary here confirms, however, it's all part of a deeper story for a character who wants to be more than the Avengers' muscle.
With Avengers 4 giving the Hulk a suit and possibly making him an official part of the team, fans are waiting with to see how he arrives at the point that he wants to return to action. With the Hulk, it's now more about the journey than the destination, and an added bonus that we've got a second round against Thanos just over the horizon.
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Avengers: Infinity War stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Bettany, Anthony Mackie, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Tom Hiddleston and Josh Brolin. The film arrives Aug. 14 on DVD and Blu-ray.