Mark Ruffalo replaced Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/Hulk in the MCU. This Fan Theory Explains Why The Hulk Changes His Appearance
A new fan theory finally explains why Edward Norton’s Hulk in The incredible Hulk it is different from Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk. While characters in the MCU have changed actors before, the Hulk’s actor switch is by far the biggest example of it. While there is no official explanation, one theory (via Reddit) perfectly explains why Bruce Banner changes in the MCU after The incredible Hulk.
Although Edward Norton was meant to play the Hulk and Bruce Banner in the MCU, Mark Ruffalo ended up replacing the actor who left the nascent Marvel Cinematic Universe due to some conflicts with the studio. Ruffalo has played the character ever since in all of the green giant’s appearances. The MCU has never had an in-universe explanation for this actor change, as with other actors who were also replaced, leaving it open to speculation. However recent revelations in the MCU make some of these theories much more possible.
Variants do not always have the same appearance in all universes
Phase 4 of the MCU has introduced us to the multiverse, with movies like Spider-Man: No Way Home Y Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness bringing Marvel characters from different series to the MCU. As Loki explains, these alternate versions of characters are known as variants. The variants come from different but similar universes in which a series of events lead to massive changes in that universe’s history.
These variants do not necessarily have to be performed by the same actor, with various variants of Loki being performed by different artists. All of these recent developments from Marvel Studios have led to a new theory that Edward Norton’s Hulk/Bruce Banner is a variant. In a nutshell, the events of The incredible Hulk takes place apart in another offshoot of the well-known mainline, in an alternate universe where the events are the same but some of the characters look different. While this theory is plausible on its own, there is actually some evidence to support it.
What if…? supports the theory
This theory would be supported by the animated series What would happen if…? from Disney+. In episode 3, What if… the world lost its mightiest heroes? The deaths of the Avengers are shown as they are eliminated one by one at the hands of an unknown assassin. Remembering the events of The incredible Hulk, with one major twist: Bruce Banner looks like Mark Ruffalo, not Edward Norton. This lends credence to the idea that there may be universes where these events take place with Bruce looking like either actor. Another case of change of appearance involves the change of appearance of Abomination between The incredible Hulk Y Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings. While Abomination looks similar in both movies, there are a few changes, like the characteristic fins, making it look more like its comic book counterpart.
However, not all the characters in The incredible Hulk they look different in the MCU. William Hurt plays General Ross in The Hulk, as well as in other Marvel Studios movies. Due to the similarity of the story and many of the characters, it is very possible that Edward Norton’s Hulk is a variant of Mark Ruffalo’s. If we add to that the stories that opened in that movie were abandoned, and references to that movie have never been made, and that nothing more was heard of characters like Betty Ross or Samuel Sterns (whom we saw a prequel comic before of the premiere of The Avengers), or that Banner was no longer retired in the mountains to learn to control his anger, when Black Widow recruited him in The Avengers (2012).
Many timelines in the multiverse feature events identical to the main MCU timeline, and theory states that The incredible Hulk is just another example of this. While obviously not what the creators originally had in mind, this theory would make a fun retcon to explain why Bruce Banner looks different between movies. Until then, though, this is the best explanation for why Edward Norton’s Hulk is so different in The Incredible Hulk.