World War Hulk is a 2017 film set within the Earth-11584 continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is the third and, to date, final installment of the Incredible Hulk films, the 8th film in Phase 3 and the 23rd film in the MCU. The film is a joint production between Marvel Studios and Universal, due to a rights sharing agreement. Mark Ruffalo reprises his role as The Hulk, with further appearances from several other cast members of the MCU including Robert Downey Jr and Benedict Cumberbatch. The film was a huge success, earning more money in worldwide box office than both of its predecessors combined.
The production of World War Hulk was kept a closely held secret until late 2015, only being shown in press releases as "Untitled Marvel Film" for much of its pre-production. This was to avoid plot spoilers for The Incredible Hulk, which helps set up the plot for World War Hulk. The decision to forgo a larger "Planet Hulk" story as well was made to help make the events contribute to overall theme of Phase 3, which was seeing our heroes "at their lowest respective points" before Infinity War the following year.
All major actors reprise their roles in this film, with Keith David and Mark Hamill being tapped to provide voicework for Warbound members Korg and Meik respectively. Filming on the production began in June of 2016, wrapping in October of the same year, with filming delayed due to conflicting schedules.
The film begins with a flashback to several years earlier, inside the ruins of Tony Stark's Malibu home. There, Tony is approached by fellow scientist Reed Richards, surprised to see him both due to the recent issues he and his family have had. Reed explains he was summoned here by an anonymous source, and he wanted to make sure Tony was alright. Pretty soon, they are joined by Thunderbolt Ross, fresh off his debacle with the Thunderbolts team, as well as Nick Fury and, surprisingly enough, Black Bolt. As the five are still deciding why they are there, a portal suddenly opens up, with Doctor Strange exiting it. He explains why he summoned them here. As the recently "appointed" Sorcerer Supreme of Earth, he has been examining the future of Earth throughout billions of timelines. His examination has led to one conclusion: Earth may in fact be doomed by an apocalypse several years in the future, and there's nothing they can do to prevent it. Stark doesn't believe in fate, aghast that anyone would even think such a thing, while Fury also chimes in on his side. Through sign language, Black Bolt agrees with Strange, saying that the seers they have on Attilan have also predicted some kind of impending doom for the Terrans.
Strange explains that there is a chance they can survive this whole affair, but it's going to be a difficult one to navigate. One thing though, is key: They have to deal with the Hulk. Failure to do so will lead to utter ruination. Again, this causes Stark to balk, but he does eventually admit to Ross and the others that he is uncertain if the protective measures that Bruce has created to try and contain the Hulk will work if the Hulk truly took control of his power. Fury proposes another theory that SHIELD had been working on: Sending the Hulk off world. Using a craft of Reed's design, built with Vibranium owned by the Inhumans (since their other source of Vibranium wouldn't have anything to do with selling it to SHIELD), with Tony's theoretical hyperspace engine design and deep space tracking systems, they can send Hulk to a world where he can live out his days in peace. Ross is still insistent on using the Hulk as a weapon, but no one thinks it's possible. Tony is reluctant to go ahead with the plan, but is eventually convinced by Reed and Fury to do it, as a last resort. Black Bolt informs them he will leave a Vibranium store with Reed to build the craft, while Tony has JARVIS begin searching for a habitable planet. Strange nods and says that this is a good first step before leaving.
Several months later, we see the end of The Incredible Hulk 2, where Hulk is destroying Las Vegas and several SHIELD agents while trying to be contained by She-Hulk. He is eventually led to the space craft that is then launched from the underground Area 51 launch site, taking off into space. He gets the message from the group of heroes who explain why they did this, and Hulk's anger only increases as he is unable to destroy the Vibranium shell of the ship, or the encasements for the electronics. As the engine kicks in, though, Hulk is able to do enough damage to throw the engine out of alignment, and cause it to head in a slightly different direction. It passes through some kind of wormhole, which nearly knocks out the Hulk as he is tossed about. The ship eventually comes to land on a small world, where Hulk is greeted by several soldiers, who inform him he will serve the Red King now, as the opening credits role.
Back in present day, we see the scene from the end of Spectacular Spider-Man again, with Stark ditching Peter to head to Avengers Tower and confront this new threat. In Four Freedoms Plaza, the Fantastic Four are returning from a clean-up mission working with SHIELD when Reed sees the ship overhead, and he quickly follows suit at heading towards Stark's location, leaving the rest of the team (especially Susan) agape. At the Sanctum Sanctorum, Doctor Strange is meditating with Wong nearby commenting on the ship's arrival. Strange remarks that he foresaw this possibility, and opens a portal to join with the others. At Avengers Tower, Tony, Reed and Strange meet up with Nick Fury, who is their only connection to Black Bolt and the Inhumans due to Fury's status as the former head of SHIELD. However, before they can make contact, the ship hacks into a live video feed, showing the Hulk surrounded by several members of his Warbound Clan, including a rock monster named Korg and an anthropomorphic insect named Miek. Hulk, in much better English than they can remember, explains that two years prior in Earth time, he was sent away to another planet. However, he explains his ship passed through some kind of vortex in space and time, sending him both back several years into the past and to a different planet. After conquering that world, he has now returned with his Warbound to seek revenge on those who exiled him. He claims to be merciful, offering the world 24 hours to turn over Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Stephen Strange, Nick Fury and Thaddeus Ross. If they do not, then the consequences will be the same as this man. He holds up the beaten form of Black Bolt, before the video feed cuts out.
In the Tower, Stark is approached by Pepper Potts, who demands to know what in the world is going on (having previously commented off-handedly in Iron Man 4 why Bruce wasn't being invited to the wedding). Tony appeases her by saying he'll explain it later, as he enlists Fury to help him get some tech online. Doctor Strange says he has to meditate on this before he can get drafted into anything else, and promptly leaves. Reed says he has given the schematics to Tony for the gamma suppressors that Samuel Sterns developed, and that is probably their best option at this point. In the meantime, he'll take the Fantastic Four and try to deal with Hulk with violence if it comes to it. Pepper again demands to know what Hulk meant by his exile, and Tony starts to tell the story.
On Hulk's ship, he is speaking with Korg and Meik concerning the fate of Attilan, and why he didn't destroy the city as he had planned. Hulk explains he won't punish the entire city for the sins of its leader, which Korg accepts, but Miek seems a little perturbed by it. Hulk reminds them both that they've seen too much death. We get a montage of scenes of Hulk on a planet called Sakaar. A wartorn planet filled with several different factions, Hulk was drafted as a soldier into the army of a tyrant known as the Red King. With Hulk as his fighting force, the Red King quickly swept all of his competitors off the planet and subjugated them. This whole time, due to constant battle and tension, Hulk never reverted back to Bruce Banner, and over the course of several years gained more intelligible speech in the process. We do see a scene in Hulk's sleep, where he and Banner come to an understanding; until Hulk can get back to Earth, they are better off with him in control than Banner. As time moves on, Hulk moves up in the ranks, slaughtering rebellions against the Red King's Army in the process. However, he becomes friends with several of the other officers in the army and, when he is betrayed by the Red King who fears his growing power, Hulk forms his Warbound clan and sets out to destroy the Red King. Cutting back from flashback, Hulk is alerted to the incoming Fantasticar and the Fantastic Four. Elsewhere, Jennifer Walters, AKA She-Hulk, has seen Hulk's broadcast, and immediately sets out for Avengers Tower.
On board the ship, Sue and Ben grill Reed over what is going on, and he briefly explains the circumstances surrounding the Hulk's departure. They are aghast that he would instantly be a part of such a decision, but Reed assures them that it was the only way to avoid a greater cataclysm, according to their source of information. Further discussion is dismissed as they board the Hulk's ship, fighting off the low-end soldiers sent their way. Quickly though, they are overcome by the generals in Hulk's army, namely Korg and Miek. Hulk himself also frays into battle, briefly fighting with the Thing, before subduing the whole team. He orders Sue, Johnny and Ben thrown into a dungeon on the ship, while he himself takes Reed for something special he has planned. The gathered Warbound cheer out Hulk's name in celebration. This triggers another flashback, as we see Hulk storming the castle of the Red King on Sakaar. There is a lengthy battle, as the Warbound take heavy losses from the Red King's army. A singular battle between the monarch and the Hulk is at a stalemate, when Hulk rallies his reserves (including a mental pep talk from Banner) and manages to finally slay the King. As Hulk stands on the balcony of the Red King's fortress, being pronounced the new ruler of Sakaar. He turns and sees a beautiful woman standing behind him, one of the many women the Red King had enslaved over the years, who introduces herself (sounding oddly like Betty Ross) as Caiera. We cut back to the ship, and the Hulk stares at Reed, anger evident on his face, telling him that he will suffer.
Back at Avengers Tower, Tony is putting finishing touches on a larger version of the gamma suppressor, trying to converse with Nick Fury about what the right decision to make should have been. Fury reminds Stark that he was initially against the decision; it was the others who convinced him of this plan's viability, including Ross (who still hasn't shown up). Stark admits that he regrets the decision he made, but confesses that he has to own up to it now, before continuing his work. They hear on a tracker beacon that Johnny Storm had surreptitiously snuck aboard the Warbound's ship that the Fantastic Four have been captured, and Reed has been taken somewhere else on the ship from the other three. His message is interrupted by She-Hulk, who barges in demanding to know what the hell is going on. She says that she didn't go public with what SHIELD had done to her cousin, at the request of Stark, because they had told her it was a plan that Bruce had come up with before hand. Stark tries to explain that it was for her protection, which earns him a gamma sized slap across the face. She says that on the next visit to the ship, she is going with them, whether they like it or not.
In the throne room of his ship, Hulk is deep in thought and has a conversation with Banner in his mind. The two argue over the next step for "vengeance," Bruce arguing with Hulk that he has already exposed them for their actions, and that innocent people do not need to suffer. Hulk reminds Bruce that innocents have suffered because of their actions, lest they forget what happened to Caiera. This silences Bruce for a moment, and the scene transitions to another flashback on Sakaar, showing Hulk and his Warbound launching an assault against rebel forces loyal to the former Red King's army. The army, having captured Caiera, fights hard and actually manages to damage Hulk. But he only gets angrier and angrier, the gamma energy pulsating off of him at times, before he shatters their fortress into rubble with little more than his fists. Within the ruins, he finds Caiera unharmed, and is calmed by her presence (though not transforming back into Banner). The surviving remnants of the Army swear fealty to the Hulk via Korg, but Miek advises that they show them no quarter. Hulk disagrees, sparing their lives, much to Miek's chagrin. Back in the present Miek disturbs Hulk from his meditations. He tells Hulk, referring to him as Green King, that there has been no movement by the rest of the Earthlings to try and turn over their targets, and that perhaps they should capture them themselves. Hulk says no, to give Earth the full 24 hours, and Miek slowly sulks away, ordering a guard when he is out of earshot to send a patrol down to the city and find their quarry. The guards do as they are told, using some kind of salvaged scanner to find lifesigns, headed in the general direction of the Sanctum Sanctorum.
Inside the Sanctum, Doctor Strange and Wong are reading through books trying to find any kind of way to hold off Hulk spiritually (Wong even suggesting binding him to the spirit Zarathos, but Strange dismisses that as a really bad choice). They are disturbed by Hulk's soldiers, and have to fight them off to save the Sanctum. Eventually they do, capturing one of them alive and taking him to Avengers Tower. The soldier starts to explain himself to Stark and the gathered company of heroes, but doesn't reveal too many details. Stark announces they have the gamma suppressors loaded into his newer Hulkbuster armor. They divvy out plans, Strange and he will go after Hulk directly, while Fury and She-Hulk fight through the guards and free the Fantastic Four. Jennifer says she is going after her cousin as well, and Fury volunteers to take out the soldiers alone, if he has to. Strange turns the Time Stone over to Wong for safekeeping, and the four of them leave on a Quinjet for Hulk's ship.
They arrive on Hulk's ship and split up, with Stark and his group running immediately into Korg and his soldiers, while Miek heads off Fury to try and stop him. While the fight is taking place, Hulk from his throne room orders the ship to land in an unused baseball stadium nearby. Stark and his group take heavy hits from Korg and the shock troops under his command, but She-Hulk manages to break free of them and distract Korg, telling the other two to go after Bruce. Korg takes notice at the name Bruce, but says nothing, instead fighting She-Hulk at a standstill. Elsewhere, Fury and Miek do battle, the Insectoid more than a match for the One-Armed Spy. However, through his cunning and guile, Fury is able to get past Miek and free the other three members of the Fantastic Four. They head for the bridge/throne room, where Stark and Strange have arrived as well.
Hulk confronts his "jailers" as he calls them, condemning them for what they did to him and the people of Sakaar. Stark tries to say they had no idea that he would wind up on an inhabited planet, but Hulk counters by saying the chance was always there. Fury asks how he is able to speak so much more fluently, and Hulk admits that he hasn't been Banner for what amounts to several Earth years. He also says he would have been content to remain on Sakaar as well, something that gets a shout in his mind from the voice of Banner. Hulk ignores that voice and steps to do battle with Stark, Strange and the other Fantastic Four members, broadcasting the video feed to the whole planet. Even for Hulk, the battle is difficult, as he is constricted by Sue and Strange in order to try and get Stark to use the gamma suppressor on him. However, his growing anger and rage, barely below the surface just moments earlier, becomes definitely noticeable when Stark asks him why he came back at all.
In flashback, we see a brief era of peace on Sakaar, with the last vestiges of the Red King's Army having sworn allegiance to the Warbound. Hulk has married Caiera, who is with child, and has seemingly found peace with himself and the people, so long as he remains in control. However, the engine on the ship that sent him here long ago suddenly ruptures, causing a massive explosion within the palace on Sakaar and slaughtering thousands, including Caiera and Hulk's unborn child. Hulk's anger and rage explodes in the flashback upon seeing this, and we cut back to present day where the same happens. He overpowers his attackers, particularly Strange and Stark, and knocks them down. He calls for Korg to bring in Reed and Black Bolt, after having obedience disks attached to Stark, Strange and Fury. Miek brings in the other two, Korg still not on the bridge to Hulk's annoyance. Hulk declares that he will take his captors back with him to Sakaar, provided he doesn't dump them off at a gladiatorial games first. It is at that moment that Korg is thrown into the room defeated, and She-Hulk enters after him.
Hulk is immediately taken aback by his cousin's appearance, and the momentary lapse in concentration is all Banner needs to try and take control of his body again. Hulk begins rampaging about as Banner tries to trigger the change back into himself to undo what Hulk has done to stay in control this long. She-Hulk frees the others from their disks, while Miek vainly tries to stop her, unsure of what is happening. Banner finally regains control of his body, reverting back from the Hulk form. Tony tries to approach him, the rest of the Warbound stunned into silence, not having seen this happen before. Bruce immediately lashes out at Tony for what he did, but maintains control over his anger. Miek tries to question him, and Bruce explains that he is the Hulk, just the other form of him. Miek suddenly loses control and says it cannot be, and slaps Banner into the wall of the ship. The other assembled heroes try to stop Miek's assault, but Miek says that this is not the leader he willingly followed, the Worldbreaker, the man he tried to bring out by eliminating Hulk's one weakness. Banner suddenly stops Miek's punches, Hulk's voice coming through, as Miek admits it was him who set off the bomb on Hulk's ship, causing Caiera's death. Hulk's rage rises to unparalleled heights. Banner transforms back into the Hulk and grabs Miek, slamming him through the hull of the ship, all pretense of civility lost from his mind. Gamma energy seems to pour off of him, a side effect of absorption of the radiation on Sakaar and his own anger. Stark is stupefied, but eventually driven to action. He reconfigures an orbital platform with the specs of the gamma suppressor, a tactic he had begun before the fight began, and begins its conversion. Meanwhile, the other heroes again try to stop Hulk from getting to New York and destroying it outright, but are having little success. Even Black Bolt's voice isn't enough to stop Hulk from continuing to grow in strength, and unleashing his rage on a nearby neighborhood. Eventually Jennifer seems to get through to him temporarily and stall him just long enough for Stark to fire his orbital disruptor, draining the energy from him and stopping him cold.
In the aftermath, Stark remains director of SHIELD, but both Happy and Pepper seemingly aren't speaking to him at the moment given the revelations. There is fraction within the Fantastic Four over Reed's issues, Black Bolt returns to the Inhumans, and Strange surveys the damage from a portal in the Sanctum Sanctorum after the Sakaarans had left, saying that this was "the only possible way to try and avoid what is coming." In the middle of it all, Hulk is taken into SHIELD custody, placed under a constant gamma suppressor and kept under a lock and key in the form of Banner. Bruce stares defiantly into the camera, his eyes a mixture of his own and Hulk's green, a tiny tint of Red forming in them, as we cut to black.
[We fade in on a few months later, as Tony is in Avengers Tower coordinating with SHIELD and construction crews throughout New York with rebuilding efforts.]
Stark: Have Coulson come in here to give me an update on the tracking mission we have going on.
[Tony hangs up a phone and takes a swig from a water bottle, when a ribbon of rainbow colored energy comes crashing through the top of the tower. A palm blaster from an Iron Man suit almost instantaneously appears on Tony's arm as he turns around and is surprised by what he sees.]
Stark: Thor? What the hell are you...what's this about...
[Thor, Loki, and a creature holding a hammer like Thor's turn and stare at Stark surprised. It is Thor who finally speaks.]
Thor: Stark. We need to make preperations. He's coming for Earth.
Stark: Excuse me...who's coming.
Thor: Thanos. His name is Thanos. And we have to be ready for him.
[Tony raises an eyebrow at this name as we cut to black.]
Summary of Changes
World War Hulk is a wholly original film within the Earth-11584 universe, with no corresponding film in the mainline MCU.
- Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk- A former scientists who, due to an overexposure of gamma radiation, becomes a super-strong monster whenever emotionally agitated. Due to events prior to the film, Banner has remained Hulk for several years, making him more intelligible than he used to be as him.
- Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man- The acting director of SHIELD and one of the architects of the plan that sent the Hulk into space.
- Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange- The sorcerer supreme of Earth, and one of the architects of the plan that sent the Hulk into space.
- Malin Akerman as Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk- A former lawyer who, due to a blood transfusion from Banner, gained super strength and endurance. Has been operating as an underground freelance hero since The Incredible Hulk 2.
- Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury- The former director of SHIELD and one of the architects of the plan that sent the Hulk into space.
- Matt Bomer as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic- The leader of the Fantastic Four who has incredible powers of elasticity and was one of the architects of the plan that sent the Hulk into space.
- Adrien Brody as Black Bolt- The king of Attilan and leader of the Inhumans, an off-shoot of humanity. One of the architects of the plan that sent the Hulk into space.
- Keith David as Korg- One of the generals of Hulk's Warbound Clan that comes with him to gain vengeance on the people of Earth. Keith David provides the voice of Korg, with motion capture provided by an unknown actor.
- Mark Hamill as Miek- One of the top lieutenants of Hulk's Warbound Clan that comes with him to gain vengeance on the people of Earth. Hamill provides the voice of Miek, while also performing some of the motion capture for the character.
In addition, William Hurt, Dean Norris, Benedict Wong, Tom Holland, Logan Lerman, Katheryn Winnick and Gwyneth Paltrow all reprise their respective roles within the MCU. Nathan Jones plays the Red King, the ruler of the Sakaarran Empire where Hulk winds up. Liv Tyler voices the role of Caiera and provides motion capture work for the character, despite her previous character of Betty Ross dying in The Incredible Hulk 2. Chris Hemsworth briefly appears as Thor in a post-credits scene, as well as Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Stan Lee cameos as a pet shop owner from Spectacular Spider-Man, the first time he reprises a cameo role.
World War Hulk received strong reviews when it was released, surpassing the reviews for both of the previous Hulk films released in the MCU. Review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes scored the film at 85% with an average rating of 7.0/10 based on 367 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads "Though it can sometimes be burdened by its large cast of characters and non-linear storytelling, World War Hulk is a thoroughly enjoyable, and surprisingly emotionally effective, entry into the larger MCU." Critics praised the performance of Mark Ruffalo and the direction of Colin Trevorrow, while somewhat criticizing the film's low energy climax and downbeat ending.
The film was a strong performer at the box office, grossing over 62 million dollars in its opening weekend to finish first over horror film It. The film would go on to a Domestic Box Office Total of $303.2 Million Dollars and a Worldwide haul of $673.1 Million, surpassing both of the previous Hulk film's worldwide box office takes combined.