The hype for Marvel’s newest blockbuster has been building ever since it was first announced in late 2014. Following the immense success of Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige unveiled the MCU’s Phase III movies, extending the release schedule until late 2019 at the time.
Captain America: Civil War is the first of the Phase III films; by the time this phase is over, we’ll meet new heroes like Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange (coming to theaters this fall), receive much-anticipated sequels like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Ant-Man and the Wasp, welcome back everyone’s favorite web-slinger with yet another rebooted franchise, and ultimately lead to the final battle against the cosmic villain Thanos, in Infinity War Part I and Infinity War Part II.
One of the movies on the MCU schedule for next year is Thor: Ragnarok. The Thor franchise is Marvel’s least profitable, but it seems as if the Marvel brain trust has caught onto something: team-up movies. Phase III is chock-full of these, and Ragnarok will be no exception. Mark Ruffalo will reprise his role as the Incredible Hulk alongside Chris Hemsworth’s God of Thunder in this 2017 sequel.
But if you’ve seen Avengers: Age of Ultron, you know that both of these characters were left at the end of that film with a lot of loose ends still hanging around. For lots of fans, one of the most glaring of these is: Why aren’t Hulk and Thor part of Civil War?
While this seems like a fairly simple answer, it’s actually fairly complicated–or at least, it has the potential to be. To shed some light on this, let’s dive into some of the history surrounding the comic book event that Civil War is based on.
To Register or Not to Register?
During the events of the original Civil War comic event (which ran from 2006-2007), Thor and Hulk were absent, as they are in the film adaptation. The reasons for this in the canon of Earth-616, the main universe in Marvel comics, make a lot of sense.
The event itself is based around the idea of the government forcing all superhumans to register with them, and submit to regulation, almost like a bunch of super-powered cops. The proposed Superhuman Registration Act, inspired by a series of events involving super-powered grudge matches and severe civilian casualties, is obviously met with mixed feelings from all parties. The spark that sets off the fire, though, is a fight between the young superhero team the New Warriors, and a villain called Nitro. The fight’s ultimate toll: the destruction of several city blocks, including an elementary school, 600 civilian casualties, and the deaths of all the involved superhumans save for Nitro and one of the Warriors.
After this incident, lines are drawn in the sand. Steve Rogers openly opposes the SRA, and is supported by others such as Luke Cage and Daredevil. Meanwhile, Tony Stark, who up until the New Warriors incident had been against the SRA, surprises everyone by becoming the figurehead for the pro-SRA movement. The X-Men stay neutral, and Spider-Man is caught up between his loyalties to both Cap and Tony.
After countless deaths, several months of fighting and widespread destruction, Cap surrenders to the government but is apparently killed by Crossbones and a brainwashed Sharon Carter, under orders from Red Skull. A lot of other crazy, confusing, typical comic book stuff happens: Iron Man becomes the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (with a red and gold Helicarrier, to boot), Cap’s New Avengers are forced into hiding, and Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman (whose opposing stances on the SRA probably caused some drama in their marriage) briefly leave the Fantastic Four, replaced by Black Panther and his wife, Storm.
Now that you know how it went down, you’re probably still asking: How do Hulk and Thor figure (or rather, not figure) into this? Well, here’s the answer.
The End of Everything
Prior to the start of the Civil War, Thor is called back to Asgard to stop Loki and a host of other villains from kickstarting Ragnarok, the universal heat-death foretold in Norse mythology. Unfortunately, Thor fails to save Asgard, but eventually defeats the villains and starts to rebuild his kingdom.
All of this, however, happens without anyone on Earth knowing. Tony Stark, wanting to convince everyone that Thor is still on Earth and joining the pro-SRA side, builds a robot version of Thor. After Robot Thor kills a bunch of Marvel C and D-list heroes, as well as Ant-Man (Scott Lang), the robot is deactivated, but later reactivated calling itself Ragnarok. It then goes on a quest to destroy the new Asgard Thor has built, but Thor easily defeats the robot version of himself. Confusing, huh?
Hulk’s whereabouts are slightly more confusing. Prior to the events of Civil War, the Illuminati (an elite group including Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Black Bolt, Professor X, Namor, and Mr. Fantastic) send Hulk into orbit to destroy a satellite that poses a threat to global security, but then trick him by launching him away from the planet. Their reasoning? Hulk is more of a threat to Earth than a helpful being, so they send him to a faraway, uninhabited planet where he won’t be able to hurt anyone.
However, Hulk’s spaceship is caught in a wormhole that brings him to a very different planet: the gladiator planet Sakaar. After teaming up with a lot of unlikely allies (including a Brood and a Kronan) and fighting a depowered Silver Surfer, Hulk kills the evil Red King and assumes control of the throne of Sakaar. With his wife Caiera the Oldstrong, he plans on making a good ol’ time out of his new kingship — that is, until the Illuminati decide to ruin his life yet again.
The spaceship Hulk arrived on was powered by an experimental nuclear reactor, and it’s cracked. The resulting explosion cripples the planet, vaporizing its entire population — save for Hulk, a few of his allies, and an ancient spaceship they’re trying to restore. In the process, Caiera and the unborn son of the Hulk are killed (although this son, Skaar, later winds up on Earth after somehow surviving). Enraged at the loss of his new family, Hulk and his allies head for Earth with vengeance on their minds. By the time they arrive, the Civil War has ended, but their arrival results in a new conflict: World War Hulk.
The MCU Way
In the context of the MCU, the explanations for Hulk and Thor’s whereabouts are somewhat simpler. In Hulk’s case, it’s assumed that Bruce Banner is still scarred by the Hulk’s attack on Johannesburg, thanks to Scarlet Witch’s mind-controlling hexes. As he told Black Widow during Age of Ultron, “There is nowhere on Earth where I’m not a threat.” Probably still driven by this thinking, Hulk uses the Quinjet previously occupied by Ultron’s Ultimate incarnation to escape to solitude, and rather curiously doesn’t revert to Banner on-screen.
Where the green guy ends up is a mystery. Some speculate that Hulk might have ended up in space, and some even think he might be experiencing the MCU’s version of the Planet Hulk behind the scenes (which, if it’s true, is a sad byproduct of the complicated rights shared by Universal and Marvel). Whatever the case, somehow he’s going to end up with Thor next fall for Ragnarok.
Speaking of Thor, his whereabouts are pretty clear-cut as well. In his dream sequences in Age of Ultron, he is confronted by visions of Asgard’s destruction, the Infinity Stones, and the Gauntlet itself. Seeking answers, he leaves Earth as soon as the aftermath of the Ultron threat is resolved. It’s assumed that he goes back home to Asgard, after who knows how long; at the end of The Dark World, it’s shown that he heads back to Earth to meet up with his girlfriend, Jane Foster, and ultimately aid the Avengers in hunting down HYDRA, and Loki’s scepter.
Thor, however, is unaware of two things: Loki isn’t dead like he believes he is, and in fact his treacherous adopted brother is posing as Odin, having yet again usurped the Asgardian throne. Undoubtedly, Thor will have to deal with these revelations during Ragnarok.
But here’s an even bigger reason that is true for both the comic and film versions of Civil War: Thor and Hulk are waaaaaaay too powerful. Particularly in the MCU, the two of them have undertaken feats of immense strength without breaking much of a sweat; an all-out brawl would probably end with them killing some of the other Avengers accidentally. Their omission from the film could also be Marvel’s desire to have some faithfulness to the source material, or perhaps just preserve them for their buddy-cop movie next year. Or it could be that I’m looking way too deeply into this, and it’s just because of budgets and contracts.
In any case, their absence from Captain America: Civil War helped reduce the size of an already massive ensemble, and allows us to make our own individual theories about where they are, what they’re doing, or what team they might have joined. And it’s still going to be a damn good film, whether you’re doing the right thing and supporting #TeamCap, or… Wait, there are other options?