Minor spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War.
He showed up again…
In the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War and upon learning 2019’s Captain Marvel would be set in the 1990’s at last summer’s Comic-Con International: San Diego Marvel Studios panel, Newsarama called out the reappearance of William Hurt as General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross as something of a curiosity. So much so that he tops our list of candidates to be a sleeper Skrull agent infiltrating the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
You can find details on that argument in the above link, but here is the relevant passage on the now-United States Secretary of State Ross.
Thunderbolt Ross checks all our boxes – he’s more than old enough, was in a position of power in the early 1990s, has acted (very) shadily in the past, and is driven by personal agenda.
Sure, maybe a fervently patriotic Ross wanted to recreate and weaponize Hulks to establish an unstoppable U.S. military force for good - or maybe he wanted them under his control to serve as a mole Skrull army…
But it isn’t even his possible motivation than rung our bell. Ross’ return of Secretary of State in Captain America: Civil War was just a little… well, odd, and we thought so long before Saturday’s Skrull reveal.
His role was at best superfluous, delivering exposition that any new character could have delivered, without requiring a slightly awkward account of a heart attack on a golf course seemingly explaining his change in character from someone who wanted to create raw power for himself to someone suddenly preoccupied by oversight.
Maybe it was just a 'why not' fan service callback to an earlier film, but it isn’t like 2008’s The Incredible Hulk is particularly well regarded in the MCU catalog - if anything you'd think Marvel Studios would distance itself from it. And Ross isn't particularly remembered as a standout character.
And it didn’t even occur to us at the time that was originally written Secretary Ross was one of two, separate unrelated characters named Ross introduced in Civil War (we’re looking at you, Everett K.)
So, what is making us revisit the topic of Thaddeus Ross this week?
As most hardcore MCU fans know, he showed up again in Avengers: Infinity War, and his appearance again seems as conspicuously extraneous as his original reappearance.
There, Hurt is again at Avengers Headquarters, this time as a hologram, delivering fairly unnecessary exposition that could be handled by any character in a suit or uniform, now for a second time.
The scene seems to exist mostly to reunite the renegade Captain America, Black Widow, the Scarlet Witch with Vision, War Machine, and then, ultimately of course, Bruce Banner. But the dialogue about the Sokovian Accords and Ross himself seemed superfluous for the purpose of the scene, which was to have Rhodey choose his former teammates over the Accords and for Banner to play catch-up.
Given the nature of the threat and the attack on his teammate Vision, Rhodey’s choice wasn’t all that complicated and that bit of Civil War housekeeping wasn’t really necessary. Infinity War is a crowded, complicated film to begin with, it didn’t need any more plot points for viewers to digest unless they had a larger purpose.
And Ross wanting Cap’s crew arrested given New York was just attacked by aliens... again... was just weird.
The sequence is further complicated by something of a green elephant in the room – the relationship between Ross and Banner (not even mentioning a certain love interest/daughter.) While it is assumed but unspoken Banner simply didn’t reveal his presence to Ross and Rhodey covered for him, the fact that loyal Marvel readers/watchers can even think of such a question further illustrates the curious choice to have Ross appear at all.
If you’re going to have Ross there simply as fan service, isn’t it counter-productive to totally ignore an opportunity to close a decade-old loop like that?
Now, William Hurt is not the A-list actor he was in the 1980s, and perhaps he’s cool with just showing up for a few minutes every few Marvel movie. Heck, it now looks like Benecio del Toro signed up for a very minor cameo role. But there seems to be more going on with Marvel Studios establishing Ross’ presence as the authoritarian role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There seems to be hints of some sort of payoff in the future.
As we detailed elsewhere, in the wake of final moments of Infinity War, you can’t completely rule out the even smallest of possibilities of the Red Hulk. Perhaps even more remotely possible given the world’s sudden need for superheroes is Ross creating a new team using his “Thunderbolt” namesake.
But we’re doubling down on our original theory - Ross still be most likely existing candidate to be a Skrull sleeper agent.
Guess we’ll find out in the spring.