William Hurt in Black Widow

Once upon a time, it was Big Major News when a character from a superhero movie would appear in another superhero movie. But thanks to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this kind of cross-pollination is something we’ve come to accept. So yeah, of course William Hurt‘s Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross is going to be in the upcoming Black Widow movie. It’s cool news, but not necessarily surprising news.

However, there’s something worth examining based on what little we know that could make this appearance a bit more thrilling…

Credit where credit is due: the photos of Hurt on set can be found over at Just Jared, if you want to take a closer look for yourself. For those of you who need the refresher, “Thunderbolt” Ross was introduced in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk as Bruce Banner’s main human antagonist, an army commander hellbent on taking down the Hulk. He later returned, with a big promotion, as the Secretary of State, chastising the Avengers for their destructive tactics in Captain America: Civil War. He also had small roles in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

So it makes sense that a bigwig in the United States government would have a role to play in an espionage story like Black Widow. Of course he’s going to have something to say to her, especially since this film takes place after the events of Civil War, when she is a fugitive on the run. (One theory floating around is that this appearance is for a post-credits sequence, but there’s currently no grounding for that beyond pure speculation.)

However, take a look at Hurt in the images. Sure, he’s a 69-year old man, but as we saw in Endgame, he’s a robust and healthy 69. In those photographs, he’s wearing clothes that are too large for him, making him look feeble and weak. He’s leaning on a cane, suggesting some kind of sickness. His face even appears gaunt, which could be a lousy paparazzi photo or it could just be more evidence that Ross isn’t doing well at this point in the MCU timeline.

So, let’s go ahead and stop out onto a limb here: could this be leading to the introduction of the Red Hulk in the MCU?

Red Hulk movie

The briefest of backgrounds for a character with a complicated backstory: Red Hulk is the result of Ross experimenting on himself, hoping to give himself powers to better combat the O.G. green Hulk. It works and Ross is able to transform into a red-skinned rage monster, maintaining all of his original tactical brilliance and intelligence. Over the years, Red Hulk has skirted the line between anti-hero and villain, combatting the Hulk and other heroes on some occasions and teaming up with them on others. His placement on the gray side of the Marvel Universe means he often affiliates with more unsavory groups, like the Thunderbolts (Marvel’s answer to DC’s Suicide Squad, a team made up of villains and anti-heroes).

So consider this. Thaddeus Ross, aging and weaker and no closer to establishing world order than he was back in 2008, decides to give himself superpowers to save his life and continue his mission. He becomes Red Hulk. He forms his own team. Call them the Thunderbolts. Call them the Secret Avengers. In any case, the establishment now has a superhero, one with an allegiance toward the government. And maybe, we’re staring down the barrel of “Dark Reign,” a Marvel comic storyline that saw the baddies legally take over the world and establish dominion over the real good guys (the head honcho for this regime in the comics was Spider-Man villain Norman Osborn).

Is this a whole lot of speculation? Sure! We really don’t know what the endgame of Marvel’s Phase 4 will be, but we imagine it will start planting the seeds early for whatever big event lies down the road. Plus, the announcement of a She-Hulk series on Disney+ (not to mention the introduction of Smart Hulk in Endgame) is evidence that Marvel is not afraid to get weird with the Hulk family of characters.

Besides, Hurt is a noted Hulk fan. He’d probably jump at the chance to get in on this action.

Maybe we’ll know more when Black Widow opens on May 1, 2020.

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