With the need to wrap up a massive, 10-year interconnected story arc and shooting both films back-to-back, it became necessary for certain storylines to be shifted around between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. A few characters meant to appear in the former didn’t appear or reappear until the latter, and other storylines were shifted around completely.
Such is the case with Bruce Banner and The Hulk, who were the focus of quite a bit of fan speculation thanks to their storyline not quite making sense or being resolved in Infinity War. So much so, in fact, that some fans even speculated that it was Loki masquerading as Bruce Banner the entire movie and that’s why he couldn’t transform into the Hulk.
As it turns out, the reason for the ambiguity is because Hulk was supposed to have a fairly different arc during the movie, with Bruce and Hulk coming to terms with each other and learning how to coexist by the end of Infinity War but the decision was made to bump that reconciliation to Endgame. Now, a deleted scene showing the original transformation into Smart Hulk that was supposed to happen in Infinity War has surfaced:
In it, Natasha and Sam are moving through the jungle of Wakanda when Hulk emerges from the trees ahead. Sam and Natasha brace themselves – “You wanna take this one?” asks Sam – and Nat cautiously stretches out her hand to sing the lullaby that calms the Hulk, only for Hulk to extend his hand and greet her in perfect English, “Hello, Nat.” The CGI stops there and the rest of the scene is Mark Ruffalo in the mocap suit. He goes on to say, as Smart Hulk, “No, it’s okay. We worked it out. In fact, I’d say it’s gone from worst-case scenario to – well, I don’t know if it’s best-case, but at least it feels very, very manageable,” before asking how the greater fight is going with Thanos and his minions.
It’s not fully clear why Marvel decided to shift the Smart Hulk storyline to Endgame. Perhaps it’s that it was a big reveal and pivotal character moment for an OG Avenger and with so much happening at the end of Infinity War, they wanted the focus to be on the loss and sacrifice of the characters. Perhaps it’s that they wanted the struggle of Bruce Banner and Hulk to reconcile to happen in the aftermath of those events. Each Avenger had to go on their own personal journey of moving through grief to acceptance, and Smart Hulk served as a foil to Natasha and Steve Rogers, who never fully let go of the grief or accepted it. It was certainly an interesting turn of events that Bruce Banner, who had always been the Avenger the least at peace with himself, became the one most at peace with himself in the events of Endgame.
Or perhaps it even sets up Hulk for something greater, like the elegant if improbable fan theory that Hulk is primed to be the main villain of Avengers 5 after the events of Endgame. Stranger things have happened. Regardless of whether or not we ever see Hulk again in the MCU, it’s interesting to ponder the storyline that might have been had Smart Hulk been introduced as originally intended.