One of the first trailers we saw for Captain America: Civil War brought back a familiar face from the early days of the MCU, from their second movie in 2008. It was General Ross, from The Incredible Hulk (starring Ed Norton). Up until this point, the only thing from that particular movie that made its way to the rest of the MCU was the Hulk himself (in The Avengers) and a brief reference to General Ross in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Sure, they referenced the super soldier serum and S.H.I.E.L.D. in that movie before the first Captain America came out (and Tony Stark had a cameo), but being that Incredible Hulk was one of the lower-grossing MCU movies, a lot of the stuff they introduced got pushed aside. Later, we found out why.
I’ve always said that one of the reasons The Incredible Hulk didn’t do as well at the box office was because of the abysmal Ang Lee version, simply titled Hulk. Comic book fans were curious about this whole movie universe that Marvel was building, but mainstream audiences stayed away because the other Hulk movie sucked. They wanted something like the old TV show and instead got Hulk’s daddy issues and a lame battle with Hulk dogs. When the better version came out, the taste of that other movie was still in their mouths. So, they stayed away from a Hulk movie that blended the original comics and the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno TV show very well while setting up better films.
Then, when The Avengers came out, THAT was when Hulk made his comeback, as he was one of the standout characters. Joss Whedon managed to make him funny without compromising who he is, the angry monster. The “rag doll” scene between him and Loki remains one of my favorite scenes in an MCU movie. (On a personal note, I met my wife the day The Avengers came out, and this scene was the first time she heard me laugh out loud.)
We know that Hulk will make his next appearance in Thor: Ragnarok and that he will team up with Thor. Fans are hoping for elements of the Planet Hulk and World War Hulk storylines from the comics in this film, which will take place mainly off-planet. We know that there is some kind of legal matter over Marvel sharing the rights with Universal (producers of the Ang Lee version) that would make a solo Hulk movie more expensive, not to mention the cost of keeping a CGI character on the screen for an extended period of time. The same reason the last TMNT movie focused on the human characters so much, as this film centered around four hulking monstrosities that couldn’t possibly be stealthy ninjas. I suspect Mark Ruffalo will shrink down to Banner or hide in the shadows a lot in Thor 3.
So, between the extra cost of CGI and the rights dispute with Universal, two characters from The Incredible Hulk have gotten brushed aside. Betty Ross, Hulk’s love interest/General Ross’ daughter, and Samuel Sterns, fellow scientist who, in the comics, turns into iconic villain The Leader.
Now, a hero’s girlfriend in a movie can very easily be written out of a series. James Bond has had twice as many “girlfriends” as he’s had movies. (cough…cough…Jane Foster.) Maybe there can be some dramatic reunion down the road, but they were apparently setting The Leader up to be the villain in a follow-up. And the last time we saw Samuel Sterns, he was on the ground with some of the gamma serum he had made from Hulk’s blood dripping into his head. His head was pulsating like a heart and a smile was spreading across his face as a knowing nod to the audience that he would be the villain in the sequel.
And he wasn’t. They never made another solo Hulk film or included him in anything else. Hulk will most likely not be in Civil War, and it’s unlikely that The Leader will show up in whatever planet or dimension that Thor: Ragnarok takes place. Now that General Ross is returning to the MCU, would you like to see a future Hulk movie (Phase Four? Five? Six?) where Bruce Banner is reunited with Betty Ross and fights The Leader? Let me know in the comments below.