Warning: SPOILERS for Black Widow are ahead!
After being delayed for more than a year, Black Widow is finally out, and there’s a lot to enjoy about it, from its slick action scenes to Florence Pugh’s debut as Yelena Belova. But like any other Marvel movie (or movies in general), it isn’t without its flaws. Many people weren’t impressed with the Taskmaster twist, but I walked away more frustrated about how Black Widow marks another instance of the Marvel Cinematic Universe failing to properly utilize William Hurt’s Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross.
Black Widow is Thaddeus Ross’ fifth MCU appearance, following The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. His pop-ins during the latter two movies weren’t anything more than cameos, so with Black Widow, I was hoping that he’d have a substantial presence in the story. Yes, Taskmaster, Dreykov and their brainwashed Black Widows served as the main antagonists, but it would have been great to see Ross serve as a side threat, specifically that his efforts to apprehend Natasha Romanoff for violating the Sokovia Accords would interfere with her mission.
Instead, Thaddeus Ross only appears in Black Widow for a few minutes. We first see him talking with Scarlett Johansson’s character on the phone right as he thinks he and his men are about to capture her, only to learn that she’d sent him on a wild goose chase. Then Ross doesn’t resurface until the main story wraps up, as he and his men drive up to apprehend Natasha Romanoff following the destruction of the Red Room. Even then, that didn’t amount to anything, because two weeks later, Natasha was somehow still free, now rocking her blonde hairdo from Avengers: Infinity War and on her way to help Steve Rogers break Clint Barton, Sam Wilson, Wanda Maximoff and Scott Lang out of The Raft.
With so little screen time in Black Widow (and by the way, he was never digitally de-aged), that means it’s now been five years since William Hurt’s Thaddeus Ross has had an integral role in a Marvel movie, since as the United States Secretary of State, he was the chief enforcer of the Sokovia Accords in Captain America: Civil War. Even then, Ross’ role in the first Phase 3 movie paled in comparison to his time in The Incredible Hulk, where he was hellbent on catch Bruce Banner and responsible for Emil Blonsky’s eventual transformation into Abomination. It’s a shame that a character who’s been a major player in Marvel Comics for nearly 60 years has barely made an impact in the MCU.
Now to be fair, one of the main reasons Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross hasn’t been used to his full potential is because of the complications surrounding Hulk’s film rights. Marvel still can’t make another solo Hulk movie without Universal Pictures’ involvement, so Bruce Banner has been limited to appearing in Avengers tales and movies led by other heroes. As a result, Ross’ vendetta against the Green Goliath was abandoned, and it feels like this franchise hasn’t known what to do with him since then, aside from spotlighting his obsession with policing enhanced individuals.
But assuming William Hurt is game for more Ross appearances, it’s not too late to properly utilize the character going forward. There are two specific ways I see this being done. The first is that Ross puts together the Thunderbolts (heh, that’s ironic), a team of reformed supervillains and anti-heroes who go on high-stakes missions. Even if the Sokovia Accords are no longer the law of the land, it’s easy to envision Ross using his own team of sanctioned operatives to carry out his agenda for either the U.S. government or a shadowy, outside party. In the comics, Ross even led the Thunderbolts for a little bit, although it wasn’t as his normal human self (more on that in a bit).
The only problem with this theory is that it seems like Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine is being set up as the mastermind behind the Thunderbolts in the MCU, judging by her interactions with John Walker and Yelena Belova. Still, there’s no reason why only one person has to be the one to put the team together. If Ross has become frustrated with how the U.S. government handles things, it’s not a stretch that he’d be working with Valentina in secret to use the Thunderbolts as a morally ambiguous counterpart to the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. that’s willing to take more controversial actions for the greater good.
The second way Thunderbolt Ross can properly shine in the MCU is by following in his comic book counterpart’s footsteps and transforming into Red Hulk, something that was rumored to happen in Captain America: Civil War. In that form, Ross would finally have the raw power to battle Hulk and any other superpowered being who stands in his way, though instead of becoming stronger as his anger increases, Red Hulk emits more heat. From there, Ross could either return to being a more straightforward antagonist, like he was in The Incredible Hulk, or he could operate as more of an anti-hero; dealing with villains as he saw fit, but not fully aligning himself with the "standard" superheroes.
All this being said, the best way for Red Hulk to be featured is as the main antagonist in another Hulk movie, but that’s not going to happen due to the previously-mentioned film rights issues. So unless Ross could wreak havoc as Red Hulk in something like Avengers 5, the only other logical platform for the character is She-Hulk, as that Disney+ series serves as a loophole to more deeply exploring the Hulk mythos within the MCU without causing problems with Universal. However, since She-Hulk Season 1 already has Abomination and Titania on deck (my fingers are crossed for The Leader to also appear), Red Hulk would likely need to be saved for Season 2, assuming She-Hulk doesn’t end up being a limited series like WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Clearly I’m invested in William Hurt getting the opportunity to do a lot more as Thunderbolt Ross in the MCU, but what about you? Do you want Ross to return or do you think it’s time to retire him? Sound off in the poll below and stay locked on CinemaBlend for major updates concerning upcoming Marvel movies.