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Red Hulk: How the MCU Might Still Include Thunderbolt Ross



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William Hurt’s death echoed throughout the MCU, Hollywood, and his significant fandom. And as with any prominent actor that passes away in the middle of a movie, one wonders how the studio will cope with its effect on their fictional narrative. For the MCU, this means filling the hole left by the absence of General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, the character that eventually becomes the Red Hulk. Though it’s not the biggest role, it’s one fans wanted to see. And there’s a big question about how to work around this while respecting the passing of William Hurt.

There is always the possibility of recasting the character and writing around it, the way Terry Gilliam, unfortunately, had to do with Heath Ledger in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. It’s always possible to create a fake William Hurt with expensive CGI, but this seems a bit disrespectful. Writers could always give General Ross an honorable death and move on, but this eliminates the possibility that everything has to offer. Or, if writers are daring enough, they could retcon some of what happened in the comics to create a new story for the Red Hulk, thus preserving their narrative while respecting the death of one of their most venerable actors.

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While it’s been done before, audiences typically see this as disrespectful. Especially when it’s done in a slapdash way where the studio throws a new actor at the audience and expects them to act as if nothing has changed. Although there are arguments for why people shouldn’t care, it seems more ethical for the studio to acknowledge there has been some change in the world. After all, the death of William Hurt affected people in the real world. Why shouldn’t this feeling echo into the art he was involved with making?

Related: MCU’s Secret Invasion: Will the Disney+ Series Introduce Hulkling?

When Heath Ledger passed in the middle of filming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Johnny Depp stepped in for him, and the story was changed to reflect that something had changed. Johnny Depp didn’t just appear from one scene to the next as if nothing had happened. Magical effects were written into the story, and reshoots were made to insert foreshadowing of something happening. Yes, Heath Ledger was replaced, but it was done so honorably. And after the crew finished shooting, the film was dedicated to his memory.

While William Hurt did not have as much of a central role in the MCU as Heath Ledger did in Doctor Parnassus, it would be essential to have some explanation should Disney choose to replace him. Given the character’s exposure to radiation, it could be possible to say that his appearance was altered by gamma rays, but this seems like a weak excuse. It would be more reasonable to replace Hurt’s character, Thunderbolt Ross, and have another actor take the role that would fill in the narrative gap of his absence without just substituting someone for William Hurt.

However, other actors have played the role of Thunderbolt Ross before. Sam Elliott took on the same character in the 2003 Hulk.