Avengers: Endgame is packed to the brim with surprising moments, but few of the film’s many twists were more unexpected than its introduction of Professor Hulk.
Building off the conflict in Avengers: Infinity War that prevented him from turning into the Hulk, Endgame introduced Marvel fans to a version of Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner living permanently in harmony with his big green self.
In the film, Bruce explains that his unexpected transformation is the result of him coming to terms with the Hulk, an 18-month journey that involved him learning to see his superpowered alter ego as not a disease to be cured, but as the cure itself. It was a neat, if unsatisfying explanation.
A new fan theory, however, argues that Bruce’s transformation in Endgame may have come about through very different means than we’ve been led to believe. If correct, this theory may also help explain one of the biggest mysteries from Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Major Shang-Chi spoilers ahead.
Bruce Banner & The Hulk — What if… the reason Bruce Banner was able to turn into the Hulk permanently without losing control of his own body and mind in Endgame wasn’t that he and his alter ego had come to an understanding, but because the Hulk was no longer there to wage war? A recent Reddit post by u/_LongLongMan speculates that the Hulk may have been one of the beings snapped away by Thanos (Josh Brolin) at the end of Infinity War.
If the Hulk and Bruce are literally two separate beings trapped in the same body, there’s a chance the former could have been snapped by Thanos, and that no one would have even noticed. With the Hulk gone, Banner would have had a much easier time becoming his superpowered self, as the Hulk’s consciousness wasn’t present to compete with his.
That may, in turn, explain why we just see Bruce Banner and not Professor Hulk during Shang-Chi’s mid-credits scene.
Bruce Banner’s Return — At the end of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina) are led by Wong (Benedict Wong) through a portal to discuss the hero’s newly acquired rings. The film’s mid-credits scene depicts the conversation that follows, which counts two of the world’s mightiest heroes, Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) and Bruce Banner, among its participants.
But while he’s still wearing the sling he had on at the end of Avengers: Endgame, Bruce isn’t in his Hulk form in Shang-Chi. Marvel fans have been left, understandably, confused about that, especially considering Bruce spent (almost) the entirety of Endgame as his Hulked-out self.
After all, if Bruce had learned to live permanently as the Hulk — and seemed happy to continue doing so — why isn’t he still in his Hulk form in Shang-Chi?
If this theory is to be believed, it’s possible Tony’s snap at the end of Avengers: Endgame may have made it impossible for Bruce to stay in his Hulk form. Why? Because it brought the Hulk’s actual consciousness back to his body and, therefore, meant he had to resume competing with his alter ego for control.
The Inverse Analysis — Until Marvel reveals the full context behind Bruce’s appearance at the end of Shang-Chi, there’s no way of knowing whether or not this theory is actually correct.
But it’s certainly an interesting possibility to consider, if only because it’d open the door for Marvel to investigate the divide between Bruce Banner and the Hulk more deeply than it has done before.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is in theaters now.