Planet Hulk: a comic that should be a movie

Rob looks at why one Marvel comic book run is a sure-fire Hulk-smash in the making...

In the wake of 2012’s summer smash Avengers Assemble there was one character everyone wanted to see more of: Hulk. Not only did the CGI/mo-cap portrayal of the jade giant hit the right notes, but Mark Ruffalo’s performance as the wry genius Bruce Banner was incredible too.

While Ruffalo’s Banner brought the dead-pan sarcasm, the beast itself got the biggest laughs of the movie thanks to two hilarious face-offs with Asgardians. After sitting through Ang Lee’s Hulk (which lots at the site love, but then lots of people don’t) and Louis Leterrier’s slow-moving The Incredible Hulk, Whedon and Ruffalo’s take on the character finally presented what most fans wanted – emotional beats for Banner coupled with great comedy and action for his huge green alter-ego.

However, while bashing out another Thor or Cap movie was always going to be comparatively easy, choosing the direction of a new Hulk franchise is a much more difficult task for Marvel Studios.

We’ve already seen two movies in which the Hulk faces off against General Ross and swoons over his daughter Betty, albeit without Ruffalo. Surely an attempt to follow The Avengers with more of the same would feel like a bit of a cop-out?

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While Kevin Feige and co are probably weighing up several options for the green giant, there’s one fan-favourite comic book run which seems like a popular choice – Planet Hulk.

Why it would work

In a cinematic universe where the Hulk has been established as more powerful than everyone else on the planet, drawing inspiration from Greg Pak’s decision to exile the character off-world could be a great way the freshen up the character.

In separating the Hulk from the rest of mankind, Planet Hulk dumps the jade giant in an ancient Rome-like alien planet where his powers are weakened, but gradually return throughout the narrative. What comes next is a dramatic series of huge action sequences; the Hulk must fight for his freedom in the gladiatorial arena whilst the planet’s leader The Red King attempts to seek vengeance on him after an embarrassing public battle.

Despite stating repeatedly that he just wants to be left alone, the Hulk comes to befriend a strong selection of supporting characters, including a love interest for Hulk and a feisty insect that goes from innocent idiot to vengeful beast. These brand new roles could open the door to more great casting by Marvel and help further widen the MCU.

Having defeated all the tests the Red King can throw at him, the Hulk manages to escape with his new warbound comrades, setting in motion a military coup plot which later sees Hulk helping to overthrowing the Red King.

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This whole plot of the Hulk regaining his powers, fighting off various gladiatorial challenges and helping dismantle an evil government could make a cinematic feast of epic set pieces and huge fight scenes. Surely an earth-bound Hulk movie would be a bit underwhelming in comparison?

There are plenty of big emotional beats for the rage monster too as he falls in love, struggles with his inner Banner and eventually sees the new world he has come to love destroyed by the very ship that brought him there. Seeing these emotive moments on screen could be a great way to add some depth to this new take on the character, rather than re-visiting old plot-points.

Planet Hulk could also help establish a whole new phase of Marvel movies by leading into World War Hulk. In this sequel an enraged Hulk returns to earth seeking green-fisted vengeance on those who sent him off-world in the first place. All the Avengers trying to stop a justifiably pissed-off Hulk could be a welcome change to the usual superhero dynamic of squeaky-clean heroes versus obvious villains.

Potential problems

There are many factors which could make this production difficult, not least the fact that Bruce Banner only appears in a few fleeting moments throughout the narrative. He features in the prequel series Peace in Our Time, then briefly appears in a dream sequence and later shows up for mere seconds to meet Hulk’s new love interest Caiera during their wedding.

Actual screen-time for Ruffalo would be a problem then, but it’s something Marvel could probably work around. In a word where Captain America barely keeps his mask on for five minutes, and a handy way to see inside Iron Man’s helmet has been invented, creating a way to see more Banner in a Hulk story is surely possible. Marvel would only need to expand on those dream sequences and romantic scenes and drop in a few newly-written moments.

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A bigger issue though, is the fact that this whole narrative takes place at a different point in Hulk’s timeline. Banner seems to have a fair amount of control over the Hulk in the Marvel cinematic universe currently, and both are generally regarded as heroes. Contrastingly, the Hulk seems to be in control in Planet Hulk and the world has turned against the jade giant. He is trusted so little that the Illuminati think it best to give him the ultimate deportation. The Illuminati also haven’t been established in the Marvel cinematic universe at all, which poses another problem.

Again, both these problems could be worked around. With distrust in S.H.I.E.L.D. becoming a central theme in the Marvel cinematic universe through Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the spy agency could easily fill the role of the Illuminati in a film adaptation. A bit of fiddling would also be needed to shift the Banner-Hulk dynamic, but wouldn’t need to eat much screen time.

Seeing as Marvel has mainly built this theme of S.H.I.E.L.D. as being untrustworthy through the new releases of Phase 2, it is completely plausible that they could generate mistrust in Hulk through Avengers: Age Of Ultron and some background references in Phase 3. This could then culminate in the events of Peace In Our Time as an extended post-credits sting for Avengers 3.

As with the recent animated adaptation, some character changes would need to be made. The Silver Surfer appears to face the Hulk and his friends in the arena, but isn’t a Marvel Studios property. Splicing in an alien character from the MCU would be fairly easy though. Expect Marvel to either ignore this scene altogether or weave in an Asgardian or anyone from Guardians Of The Galaxy instead, which could be a great opportunity for an unexpected cameo.

There would also be problems with budget as Marvel studios attempt to build a whole alien world filled with many CGI characters. However, having seen multiple realms in Thor: The Dark World and the ambitious concept art for Guardians Of The Galaxy, it looks like building a whole planet filled completely with aliens is exactly the kind of thing Marvel are building towards.

Will it ever happen?

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“Well I’m really not supposed to comment, but no, that’s nonsense”, retorted Joss Whedon when queried about the possibilities of a Planet Hulk movie. 

The fact that Marvel Studios is currently deliberating how to create a solo outing for Ruffalo and Whedon’s popular take on the Hulk is undeniable. Now that he has been established as the strongest force on earth, sending him off-planet for a while is surely one option on the table at Marvel Towers.

Injecting Ruffalo’s wry performance into the Planet Hulk story, or something similar to it, is surely one of the stronger options on said table. The aftermath of Planet Hulk with World War Hulk, the creation of Red Hulk and the introduction of Hulk’s children could also open many doors on-screen Hulk appearances for years to come – definitely something Marvel would want to invest in.

With Captain America 3, Thor 3 and Ant-Man already queued-up for Phase 3 of the Marvel cinematic universe though, there’s only really one slot left before Avengers 3 presumably drops in 2018, with Doctor Strange currently looking like the top tip.

Seeds also haven’t been sown (yet) during Phase 2 for any ill-feelings towards Banner or the Hulk, so it would be a huge surprise if he got booted into space at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

It seems more likely then, that if Marvel Studios is planning Planet Hulk, this is how it will go down: we’ll see the Hulk go a bit too far in Avengers: Age of Ultron, leading to some hints in other Phase 3 Marvel cinematic universe  properties that S.H.I.E.L.D. are working on something huge and shifty, before calling on Banner in Avengers 3, only to see him exiled at the end of the film, allowing Planet Hulk a core slot in Phase 4.

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Whether it’s this property or another though, there will surely be a new Hulk movie in Phase 4. So expect some big-screen smashing in approximately 2019.

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