In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, if you have a crush on Bruce Banner and/or the Hulk, you’ll eventually face one man. Back in 2008 he was a General for the U.S. Army tracking down a gamma fugitive. In the present day, he’s the Secretary of State. He’s forever the father of Betty, constantly being put on hold when Tony Stark was still kickin’, and this time — surprise! — he’s after Natasha Romanoff. He’s Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, as portrayed by William Hurt.
This week, we were gifted the final trailer for Marvel Studios first release of 2020, Black Widow, a movie that has been rumored to be in the works since Scarlett Johansson debuted as the the character 10 years ago in Iron Man 2. The action/spy film is unique in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not as the first film of Phase 4, but as the first Marvel movie that features a titular protagonist that is dead in the greater continuity. Captain Marvel, the other solo-female Marvel flick, takes place out of linear serialization (it’s set in the 1990s, but released between the present-day Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame), but Black Widow features a living Natasha Romanoff, who fans will remember sacrificed herself for the Soul Stone in Endgame. That’s because the film takes place immediately after Captain America: Civil War, which left the Avengers divided and under the supervision of The Sokovia Accords.
When we catch up with Secretary of State Ross in Black Widow, he’s at the height of his governmental powers. After the fall of SHIELD in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Natasha, on the orders of pretending-to-be-dead Nick Fury, released all of SHIELD and HYDRA’s files onto the internet. Pierce (Robert Redford), the head of the World Security Council and secret head of HYDRA warns Natasha that means releasing her secrets as well. Black Widow’s ledger is red, due to her past life in Russia, but no one comes after her in the wake of The Winter Soldier, as Black Widow is protected by her Avenger status. So she hung out with Tony Stark, developed a romance with Bruce Banner, and kept being one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Avengers: Age of Ultron saw the Avengers drop the fake Eastern European city Sokovia out of the sky. It shocked the world, and caused a lot of problems for the team in the future. Not only did their actions invite challenge, but they devastated the lives of hundreds injured or killed in the battle with Ultron. Without SHIELD around to keep the superheroes in check, the government sent the Secretary of State to pitch the Sokovia Accords to the Avengers, putting the team under the direct control of the United Nations. Captain America and Iron Man choose different sides, and Natasha goes with Tony to support the accords.
However, after The Winter Soldier is revealed to be Cap’s old brainwashed friend (which Natasha knows something about, according to the new Black Widow trailer), Natasha switches sides and allows Cap and Bucky to escape the airport fight. In Black Widow’s last scene in Civil War, Tony tells her that Thaddeus Ross is coming after her for being an Avenger gone rogue. That’s when Natasha wanders out of the Avengers Universe ... until Infinity War. We see Ross manning “The Raft,” a super-secure underwater prison where they jailed half the Avengers until Cap breaks them out. We do not get to see Ross hunting down Black Widow...
...until this May. When Black Widow picks up, Natasha is on the run from her own government, as personified by William Hurt (as he looked three years ago, which is basically the same). Natasha is also the person who very publicly outed SHIELD and HYDRA to the internet and just helped The Winter Soldier, a notorious Russian assassin, escape. Oh yeah, and she’s still carrying a torch for Banner, who is off-world at this point in the timeline.
But it doesn’t matter, if you’re involved with The Hulk, you incur the wrath of Thaddeus Ross.