When Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner set off for exile in a space-capable quinjet at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, long-term fans of the Marvel comics always wondered if they were being fed a giant Planet Hulk-shaped easter egg.
The 2006 graphic novel sees the not-so-jolly green giant tricked into leaving Earth on a shuttle by a superhero council known as the Illuminati. Shocked by their comrade’s propensity for freewheeling ultra-violence, Iron Man, Doctor Strange et al intend to send Hulk off to an uninhabited planet where he can happily smash stuff for decades without causing any harm to intelligent life; instead, he finds himself enslaved as a space gladiator after crash-landing on a hostile planet ruled by the evil Red King.
Part Conan the Barbarian, part Planet of the Apes, Planet Hulk is a much-loved episode that shows off all of Marvel’s flare for outlandish, cosmic storylines. But the chances of a full movie based on the comic were always slim, firstly because this version of the great jade lunk never leaves Hulk mode (so no screen time for the excellent Ruffalo), and secondly because Marvel has contractual issues with putting a solo Hulk film into production.
This week’s reports in the blogosphere that the studio might use elements of Planet Hulk for its new Thor movie, Ragnorak, puts an entirely different spin on matters, however. We’ve known for a while now that Ruffalo is due to join Chris Hemsworth’s Son of Odin for some kind of cosmic buddy movie – Marvel having seemingly wised up to the fact that multiple superhero combos should not be the exclusive preserve of the Avengers movies – but the prospect just got all that more tantalising.
The last we heard of Thor, he was also heading off into space to track down the puppet master behind Earth’s recent travails. The idea of both superheroes thrown into an alien gladiator ring and forced to prove their mettle against the gnarliest beasts in the universe somehow has a lot more going for it than Thor: The Dark World’s pointless battle against moody space elves.
Hemsworth’s last solo outing lacked the epic pathos of 2011’s Kenneth Branagh-directed Thor, even with the last-minute addition of extra scenes featuring Tom Hiddleston’s fabulously evil Loki. Prior to recent revelations, the God of Thunder seemed to have slipped down the Marvel pecking order to the point where even the next Ant-Man movie had more hype, especially following Paul Rudd’s superbly funny Giant Man cameo in the excellent Captain America: Civil War. But fusing in the best bits of Planet Hulk seems to solve multiple problems. Thor gets a new buddy to bounce off/get smashed by, and Hulk gets the chance to explore one of the greatest episodes in Marvel’s recent back catalogue without being forced to use all the comic book’s more outlandish chapters.
In the graphic novel, Hulk even ends up marrying and fathering a half-Hulk, half-alien son, which is probably more than even the increasingly far-out Marvel cinematic universe can handle. The monstrous superhero also returns to Earth, in a sequel called World War Hulk, with a gaggle of weirdo alien companions in tow, bent on vengeance against Tony Stark and his pals.
The latter episode makes for enormous fun at the comic book level, but would surely be hard to make stick on the big screen, especially as we’ve already had one recent mighty superhero smackdown courtesy of Civil War. Moreover, it seems unlikely that Marvel would want to pitch Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man as a villain again so soon after the powersuited titan’s uncomfortably priggish turn in the Russo Brothers’ film.
Jeff Goldblum’s recently announced Grandmaster looks the most likely candidate to take the place of the Red King and sit in cruel judgment over Thor: Ragnarok’s gladiator battles, should reports about Planet Hulk’s inclusion turn out to be true. The new movie, which What We Do in the Shadows’ Taika Waititi is directing, is also being pitched as an “intergalactic road movie”, so why shouldn’t Hulk and his hammer-wielding companion take a little alien-smashing detour while they’re doing the grand cosmic tour?
This casts no more light on what Cate Blanchett will be doing in the movie, as the newly introduced Hela. But since she’s playing an Asgardian death goddess, and Ruffalo has said she is going to kill Thor and the Hulk, it’s possible the gladiator arena might not even be the most terrifying offworld abyss the unlikely duo visit on their space travels. Might she drag them down to meet Thanos himself, the apparent author of all Earth’s mightiest heroes’ pain? Either way, Thor: Ragnarok is suddenly sounding like a movie we might be prepared to venture into hell itself to see.
This article was written by Ben Child, for theguardian.com on Friday 3rd June 2016 18.26 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010