Spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok ahead. It's the team-up fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have been waiting for: Thor and the Hulk. The two heroes were never particularly close — save an awesome fight scene in Avengers — but in Thor: Ragnarok, they team up in an attempt to save Asgard from Hela, Thor's surprise older sister. Hela is a formidable villain, so formidable in fact fans would be right to worry about what happened to the Hulk in Thor: Ragnarok. Green monster or not, the Hulk doesn't sound all that tough compared to the Goddess of Death, and yet fans needn't be nervous. At the end of Thor: Ragnarok, the Hulk is alive and well. In fact, he might be a bit too alive, and he's definitely much too well.
To understand the Hulk's status at the end of the film, one must go back to the beginning. Two years have passed since the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron when Thor finally reunites with the Hulk on Sakaar in Thor: Ragnarok. While Thor has been busy hunting Infinity Stones and getting into trouble in the cosmos, the Hulk has found a new home as the champion gladiator of Sakaar. In this time, he has not turned back into Bruce Banner — not once.
Thor: Ragnarok marks the first time this iteration of the Hulk has been the Big Green Guy for a long period of time. For the entire first half of the film, the Hulk isn't the tortured character seen in the first two Avengers films. He's not caught in a constant push and pull between Bruce Banner and the Hulk, he's just the Hulk. It's an intriguing shift, one that allows us to see a new side to the big monster. As this new Hulk, not only does he speak, he also teases Thor and shows emotions other than anger. All that changes, however, when Thor reminds him of his humanity, causing him to change back into Bruce Banner.
In his human form, Bruce doesn't remember anything about his time as the Hulk, thus separating the two even more from each other. And Bruce is so put off by having lost two years of his human life to the Hulk, he worries that if he turns back again, he might never return to his normal self. In other words, Thor: Ragnarok introduces a new conundrum for his character: it's either the Hulk or Bruce Banner, it can't be both. "I think in this film we're going to see that for the first time, where the two [Bruce Banner and the Hulk] are fighting — really fighting this time — for control of the body," Ragnarok director Taika Waititi told IGN.
This more stark separation between Bruce and the Hulk makes the end of the film, when Bruce decides to turn back into the Hulk to help Thor fight Hela, all the more concerning. By the end of the film, fans don't need to worry about the Hulk dying. It's Bruce Banner who is at risk of disappearing. After all, Thor: Ragnarok ends with the character still in his Hulk form, which might have some worried that he's destined to stay the Hulk forever.
However, fans needn't be too worried. Speaking of his character arc beginning in Ragnarok and extending over the next two Avengers movies, actor Mark Ruffalo teased that fans would get to see the Hulk and Bruce as separate identities more in the future. "Now the Hulk can be his own character, and Banner can start to be the person that he would be without having to be afraid of being excited all the time," he told Collider. Taking Ruffalo at his word, it sounds like fans will get more of the Hulk and Bruce Banner in his next MCU appearance, Avengers: Infinity War.
Long live the Hulk, and long live Bruce Banner.