Shang-Chi reverses Bruce Banner’s Smart Hulk transformation from Avengers: Endgame; here are possible reasons how — and why — that happened
Warning: Contains SPOILERS for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Bruce Banner isn’t Smart Hulk anymore after Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, but it’s unclear how, or why, the Marvel Cinematic Universe reversed his transformation. After a decade of portraying Hulk as a mostly mindless, rage-filled monster, Avengers: Endgame changed the character in a dramatic way. Bruce Banner’s brain and Hulk’s brawn were combined together to create Smart Hulk. It was this version of Hulk that reversed Thanos’ snap and brought back half of all life across the universe, and it was assumed this would be his form for the foreseeable future.
Marvel Studios’ plans for Hulk after Avengers: Endgame slowly came to light once it was confirmed he would return in the She-Hulk Disney+ show. But, it turned out that MCU fans didn’t have to wait that long to see the Jade Giant again. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings surprisingly included a cameo from Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. He appeared alongside Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Wong (Benedict Wong) in Shang-Chi‘s mid-credits scene as they tried to figure out where the Ten Rings come from. The cameo was even more surprising, though, because Ruffalo’s return wasn’t as Smart Hulk. Bruce Banner’s regular human state was featured, and he still has his arm in a sling from the events of Avengers: Endgame.
The MCU’s decision to reverse Bruce’s Smart Hulk transformation is unexpected considering it only occurred in his last MCU appearance. But, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings doesn’t have the time to explain how and why this transformation happened. So, here is a breakdown of how Bruce could’ve reversed his Smart Hulk transformation and what that might mean for his immediate MCU future.
Bruce Banner’s Smart Hulk Explained
After his arc in the previous Avengers movies, Bruce Banner transformed into Smart Hulk in Endgame. The MCU spent the first two Phases focusing on the struggle between Bruce and Hulk for control: The end of The Incredible Hulk showed him starting to get some control over when Hulk would come out, while The Avengers came close to putting Bruce completely in control of Hulking out. Avengers: Age of Ultron continued this trend by showing how Bruce worked with Black Widow to create the lullaby that helps ease Hulk’s transformation back into Banner.
Thor: Ragnarok was the beginning of the MCU’s three-film Hulk arc that culminated with Smart Hulk. Hulk gained some intelligence during his time on Sakarr, but he then refused to come out again after Thanos easily defeated him in Avengers: Infinity War. This led Bruce to spend plenty of time after Thanos’ snap in a lab figuring out how to bring his brain and Hulk’s gamma form together. It isn’t known exactly how Bruce pulled off the Smart Hulk transformation, but the result speaks for itself.
How Smart Hulk Became Bruce Banner Again
Since Smart Hulk is the MCU’s version of Professor Hulk from the comics, storylines involving that transformation could help explain how Bruce reversed his Avengers: Endgame before appearing in Shang-Chi. One intriguing option presented in the comics is that the Smart Hulk form had a failsafe to prevent the usual Hulk from manifesting. This mental failsafe was triggered whenever he got too angry and would instantly transform him back into his Bruce Banner form. The comics used this explanation before when Betty Ross was shot, resulting in Hulk’s brain being in Bruce’s body so he couldn’t do as much damage. Shang-Chi‘s Bruce Banner is still clearly a genius, but the failsafe explanation could still work. Perhaps after the events of Avengers: Endgame and the pain that came with Tony Stark’s death, the real Hulk was on the verge of taking over, triggering the failsafe to put Bruce back in control.
There are also other possible explanations for Smart Hulk becoming Bruce Banner again based on the comics. Bruce could’ve sought the council of Leonard Samson to break the mental melding of himself and Hulk. Samson once helped cure Bruce of his gamma exposure and used that to transform himself into a gamma-enhanced individual. Marvel could bring back Ty Burrell’s The Incredible Hulk character to tell a similar story in theory. The MCU could also use someone like Samuel Sterns aka The Leader (Tim Blake Nelson) to reverse the Hulk transformation. He’s as knowledgeable about Bruce’s gamma radiation and Hulk transformation process as anyone, and he should be smart enough to crack the code after being exposed to Bruce’s blood.
Why Bruce Banner Isn’t Smart Hulk Anymore
With so many possible explanations for how Smart Hulk becomes Bruce Banner again, the next question raised by Ruffalo’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings appearance is why. One of the most likely explanations is that Bruce has lost his gamma radiation somehow. The comics repeatedly take away Bruce’s gamma radiation so he can’t turn into the Hulk anymore, so the MCU could finally do the same after Avengers: Endgame. It could even be a problem caused by Hulk’s snap potentially. He’s not exactly fit to fight crime after that event anyway. There’s also the chance that Bruce chose to leave his Smart Hulk form to try and heal himself. He’s still wearing a sling in Shang-Chi, but it is possible that the damage done to his arm by the Infinity Stones is easier to treat when he’s in his Bruce form instead of Smart Hulk.
Bruce reversing his Smart Hulk transformation could also be explained because he might not need to be in that form anymore. He spent his time during The Blip being one of the few active superheroes, but Phase 4 is introducing Hulk’s replacement. The impending debut of Jennifer Walters aka She-Hulk (Tatiana Maslany) could give Bruce the assurance that the world will still be safe without him being Hulk. After more than a decade of saving the world, he might be ready to retire too and serve as more of an advisor to the Avengers than an actual member. It might even be less of a conscious decision on Bruce’s part and an unforeseen side effect of how Jennifer becomes She-Hulk if the blood transfusion origin from the comics is followed in the MCU.
Shang-Chi Sets Up Banner’s She-Hulk Return
Now that Shang-Chi was the first Phase 4 project to use Bruce Banner, the movie now becomes set up for She-Hulk in some form. The setting of the upcoming Disney+ show is not confirmed (and Shang-Chi‘s place in the MCU timeline is confusing itself), so there is the chance that She-Hulk could actually take place before this appearance. This could allow the series to properly explain how and why Smart Hulk reverted to Bruce Banner. Even if She-Hulk is set after Shang-Chi, the show can use flashbacks to explain what led to Bruce Banner’s return so soon after Avengers: Endgame. This will be necessary if Smart Hulk’s absence is the direct result of She-Hulk’s emergence.
Determining the exact connection between She-Hulk and Shang-Chi is made a bit more difficult because so little about Hulk’s role in the show is known. Set photos teased that Mark Ruffalo will play Banner’s giant green self at times. This could point to more of Smart Hulk in the series. There is also speculation that She-Hulk will show some of Bruce’s traumatic upbringing, which has ties to Hulk’s manifestation in the comics. Exploring Bruce’s psyche could be used to show why he stopped being Smart Hulk prior to Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Since She-Hulk won’t be released until 2022, there is plenty of time to debate Bruce Banner’s transformation.
MORE: Shang-Chi End-Credits Scenes Set Up 5 MCU Movies & Shows
- Eternals (2021)Release date: Nov 05, 2021
- Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)Release date: Dec 17, 2021
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)Release date: Mar 25, 2022
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)Release date: May 06, 2022
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever/Black Panther 2 (2022)Release date: Jul 08, 2022
- The Marvels/Captain Marvel 2 (2022)Release date: Nov 11, 2022
- Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)Release date: Feb 17, 2023
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)Release date: May 05, 2023
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