As Marvel revealed in secrecy, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings retconned Hulk’s Avengers: Endgame transformation. Phase 4 was a surprise to many Marvel Cinematic Universe fans who anticipated the return of Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk.
In Shang-post-credits Chi’s scene, he made an unexpected appearance, but his presence was even more of a surprise. Ruffalo appeared in Bruce Banner’s human form, a marked contrast to his recent transformation into the Smart Hulk.
Bruce Banner’s struggle for power over the Hulk has occupied a significant portion of Hulk’s MCU narrative. In Thor: Ragnarok, the Hulk took charge initially, but in Avengers: Infinity War, he eventually retreated after his battle with Thanos. Hulk’s most incredible transformation did not occur until the beginning of Avengers: Endgame.
During Thanos’ five-year time span, Bruce transformed into the Hulk. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings dispelled the notion that the Smart Hulk would continue to take this form in the future. Many people were perplexed by Marvel’s sudden turn of events, but it’s now clear why.
After Avengers: Endgame, the future of the Smart Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was up in the air because of the permanent damage he sustained from using the Infinity Stones. Bruce’s personality could shine through despite Hulk’s monster side being suppressed, as evidenced by this injury. That also meant that Smart Hulk didn’t have a lot of conflicts to deal with.
Bruce Banner’s feud with the Hulk had been set in stone, and Bruce’s human form had no say in the matter. According to an expert from The Story of Marvel Studios: The Making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel changed Shang-Chi because the studio has always wanted Bruce Banner to be an essential part of Hulk’s character. Because, as excellent as we thought the comic was, Bruce Banner is not a part of Planet Hulk, says Feige:
“We never even considered doing Planet Hulk because, as cool as we thought the comic was, Bruce Banner is not a part of Planet Hulk.” And Banner has always been an important component of the Hulk storytelling the studio wants to explore.”
Marvel Studios’ desire to keep Bruce Banner central to the Hulk’s narratives comes as no surprise. Even though Mark Ruffalo has fully embraced the motion-capture aspect of playing Hulk, it’s safe to assume that he doesn’t want to be in a mo-cap suit all the time.
Hulk will have to deal with his anger issues more by being more like his usual comic self. The possibility of Shang-Chi undoing Smart Hulk’s transformation, combined with Marvel’s interest in Bruce Banner and the Hulk, could fuel speculation about the possibility of a World War Hulk movie.
However, Shang-Chi and Marvel show how nave the Smart Hulk transformation was. For the Hulk to use the Infinity Gauntlet and undo Thanos’ snap, this was done. Hulk’s story had no long-term plan, so Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Marvel’s plans evolved to the point where Smart Hulk was no longer required.
In the end, even if She-Hulk does explain how Hulk went back to Banner, the original Smart Hulk transformation still feels out of place in the context of the MCU as a whole.