Marvel’s Thunderbolts – the movie that will conclude MCU Phase 5 – may just be where General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross finally becomes the Red Hulk in the MCU. Fan theories about Red Hulk’s MCU debut hit a wall when actor William Hurt died on March 13, 2022. An icon of both film and theater, William Hurt was the MCU’s “Thunderbolt” Ross since the second film in the entire franchise – 2008’s The Incredible Hulk – and his untimely loss momentarily put his character’s future on hold. However, just months after Hurt’s passing, Marvel decided to replace Hurt with the legendary Harrison Ford, whose first appearance as Ross will be in Captain America: New World Order – which comes right before Thunderbolts. It’s clear that Marvel has big, red plans for General “Thunderbolt” Ross’ MCU future.
While the Thunderbolts cast does not officially include “Thunderbolt” Ross yet, there’s mounting evidence that he is in the movie. Aside from the fact General Ross shares his moniker with the infamous Marvel Comics antihero squad, Ross has been positioned as a villain for the Avengers in William Hurt’s latest outings as a character, most notably when Ross became crucial to passing the Sokovia Accords into law. With She-Hulk revealing through Matt Murdock’s legal arguments that the Sokovia Accords have been repealed, there’s a much more compelling reason for “Thunderbolt” Ross to spring back into action and seek new ways to impose control over the MCU’s superpowered denizens. In fact, this is essentially why General Ross transformed into Red Hulk in the comics, where Red Hulk led one of the many versions of Marvel Comics’ Thunderbolts.
Ross/Red Hulk Was A Thunderbolts Staple In The Comics
Red Hulk’s place among the MCU’s Thunderbolts team would make plenty of sense. General Ross/Red Hulk formed his Thunderbolts in the aftermath of the Marvel Comics’ Avengers vs X-Men event in 2012, modeling it on a previous team he’d assembled known as Code Red. Code Red was established with the express purpose of killing mutant mercenary Domino (the character Zazie Beats played in Deadpool 2), which already gives an indication of the gray morality of General Ross and the teams he takes the helm of. Ross’ Thunderbolts include Elektra, Punisher, Venom, Deadpool, Ghost Rider, Mercy, and The Leader. Notably, The Leader is also confirmed to be in Captain America: New World Order, played by The Incredible Hulk‘s Tim Blake Nelson. Now that Thunderbolts is on the way, this version of the Thunderbolts team could be the one that forms in the MCU. Considering how loosely Marvel adapts story arcs from the source material, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Marvel altered the team’s comic book origin and based their name entirely on General “Thunderbolt” Ross.
General Ross Has A Major Captain America 4 Role
Marvel’s Thunderbolts team getting its name from Ross/Red Hulk is even more possible with Harison Ford’s Ross getting a major role in the fourth Captain America movie. The Harrison Ford MCU character is likely to be the main antagonist of Captain America: New World Order, as Ross has been a thorn in the Avengers’ side since MCU Phase 1. Even though he’s no longer played by Will Hurt, the MCU General Ross looks set to continue being a major player in the MCU’s superhero politics. The Harrison Ford MCU casting was a big deal — Ford was both Han Solo and Indiana Jones, a mainstay of two of the most successful franchises in cinematic history. Bringing Ford in for the new General Ross in Captain America 4 is highly unlikely to mean the character’s MCU presence will diminish.
Thunderbolts immediately follows Captain America: New World Order. The chances of it being a coincidence that a character who literally has the word “Thunderbolt” in their moniker appears in the movie directly precedingThunderbolts are slim. Moreover, Tim Blake Nelson’s Samuel Sterns return as The Leader in the same movie further supports the MCU’s Red Hulk plans, as the Leader was part of the team that used Bruce Banner’s gamma radiation to turn Ross into Red Hulk. In the comics, this team is called Intelligencia (a version of which debuted in the MCU in She-Hulk) and it originally included Ross, the Leader, and MODOK – who will be debuting in the MCU in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (the first movie in MCU Phase 5).
Thunderbolts may finally give audiences what they want by capping off the MCU Phase 5 slate with Harrison Ford as the definitive cinematic version of Red Hulk. This long-awaited transformation could also happen in Captain America: New World Order. Like Daniel Bruhl’s Baron Zemo, who founded the Thunderbolts in the comics, Harrison Ford’s General Ross is likely being kept off the official Thunderbolts lineup just to avoid spoilers for interim projects such as Captain America: New World Order or Disney+ shows like Secret Invasion. Nothing’s been set in stone, but Marvel is highly unlikely to have recast “Thunderbolt” Ross with one of the biggest movie stars in history if they didn’t have equally tremendous plans for the character.
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