It took quite a while for the Hulk to find his footing as a film star, but ever since Mark Ruffalo first took on the role of Bruce Banner (and his giant green alter ego) for "The Avengers," fans have been clamoring for more.
Despite our collective obsession with Ruffalo, however, it seems like there are no plans to break the new Banner out into his own film yet again -- and according to the actor himself, there's a complicated reason behind that.
"As far as a Hulk movie, a standalone Hulk movie, Marvel doesn’t really have the rights to that yet," Ruffalo told Collider in a recent interview. "That’s still Universal’s property, so there’s that issue. That’s a big impediment to moving forward with that. Now I don’t think that’s insurmountable, by the way, but I don’t know where it’s going from here for me."
Say it ain't so!
Well it isn't so. Not exactly, at least.
The back-story: in 2003, before Marvel had their own centralized studios, Universal Pictures was responsible for the production of Ang Lee's "Hulk" film, starring Eric Bana as Bruce Banner. The film was considered pretty polarizing at the time, and Marvel eventually reacquired the rights to the character and tried their hand at a reboot in 2008, Edward Norton's "The Incredible Hulk." However, while this second movie is considered a canonical part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Universal Pictures was involved in production as well and retained distribution rights.
So is what Ruffalo says true? Does Universal have the final say on what the Hulk gets to do beyond his role in the "Avengers"?
When MTV News reached out, a PR representative for Marvel told us that while they were not permitted to comment on any future Hulk appearances or projects, "Marvel owns the underlying rights to the character and thus any potential film."
This seemed pretty definitive to us, but just to make sure we weren't misinterpreting, we also turned to Mark Litwak, an Entertainment lawyer based in Los Angeles to help us parse this carefully worded statement.
"It's not clear to me that Universal has retained anything other than... The right to continue to exploit the movies that it produced or has distribution rights to," Litwak told us -- stressing that this is all completely speculative, since none of us have access to the specific contract in question. "So unless Mark Ruffalo knows something that I don't know, he may not be correct."
Aww. That's rough-alo, buddy.
"Sometimes when someone acquires the underlying rights to a property like a book or a comic book, they only have the right to make one movie," Litwak explained. "Sometimes they have the right to make multiple movies. Sometimes they acquire all the rights to the underlying property, the characters and any future movies. It doesn't sound like they have acquired all those rights, or if they did acquire all those rights, it sounds like Marvel made a deal and reacquired them."
Of course, it's possible that as someone closer to the production, Ruffalo has more information than we do -- and perhaps Universal still owns some distribution rights to a solo film, even though Marvel would be the one to actually make it. In that case, Disney might not want to share profits for a character who, let's be honest, isn't popular enough (at least compared to Spider-Man, who's at the heart of Marvel's recent partnership with Sony) to strike up a new deal over.
Then again, it's also just as likely that Ruffalo spoke out of turn or had outdated information. But a problem over rights would partly explain why the studio doesn't have any plans for a "Planet Hulk" movie anytime soon, despite the Internet's fascination with the idea. Although, the Internet also desperately wants a "Black Widow" movie, too, and currently there are no concrete plans to greenlight that either.
Clearly we won't know for sure what's in store for The Hulk until Marvel Entertainment puts out official word. But either way, at least we'll get to see both Natasha Romanoff and the Hulk smash up all kinds of stuff together in "Age of Ultron" on May 1.