Pitchmas 2019, Part 7: Thunderbolts

Shorter: Suicide Squad by way of the Dirty Dozen, with a central mystery and surprise villainy

Longer: General Thunderbolt Ross wakes up soaked in sweat, breathing heavily. He’s wearing one of the heart monitor’s Bruce Banner wore in the Incredible Hulk. He rolls out of bed, catching himself in a push-up and immediately beginning an intense exercise regimen as he starts narrating. “I dedicated my life to serving the United States, and put my faith in her military to get the job done. When the size of the threats escalated, and tanks and planes were no longer up to the challenge, we started looking for other solutions. Against my better judgment, we put our faith in gods,” cut to Thor from Infinity War, “and monsters,” and Hulk in IW. “But whether due to arrogance,” show Tony being stabbed in IW, “or hubris,” show Captain America getting beaten down by Thanos in IW, “they lost. I couldn’t save half of humanity. Not even Betty.” Ross tries to comfort his daughter, when she turns to dust. “It’s taken five years, five years of planning, of preparation. The world needs heroes- soldiers. And I need recruits.” Zoom in on his eye, the iris almost imperceptibly shifting color as we disappear into the pupil.

Ross exits his tent wearing military gear without insignia, ever-so-subtly shaded red. He’s in the Middle East. A title card flashes, stating they’re in Yemen. He’s joined by another man dressed similarly. “General, I appreciate your discretion, seeing as none of us are here.” “I appreciate the audience with your operative.” “Truth told, General, the request made me squirrely. I’d hate to lose Antivenom- even to you.” “Well, if all goes as planned, we’ll both be able to make use of Lt. Cervantez. His symbiote’s a renegade from the batch that tore through New York in ’19? What the tabloids called ‘The Brock incident?'” “Officially, no such incident occurred, General, sir. But I’ll introduce you after-” they’re interrupted by gunfire. “Here,” he says, and hands Ross an earpiece.

Over it we hear an operational officer yelling, “Why the hell were we using live munitions?” “”Had to look real enough for them to break cover,” says a voice with Venomy reverb, “but I’m handling it.” A Humvee careens out of an alley, smashing bricks from the corner of one building as it goes. A red and black version of Agent Venom is standing on top of the hummer, blasting down into the cab with twin MP5s, before flipping off and landing as the vehicle crashes behind him and explodes.

“Excellent work, Lt,” Ross says, saluting, and Antivenom salutes back; underneath the mask it’s Hector Cervantez (Flash Thompson was blipped away and is still in high school, and we need a combat veteran who lost his legs).”You went to Midtown, right? I hear Spider-Man was something of an unofficial mascot there.” “Wouldn’t know, sir. He disappeared, during the blip. Some kids said he showed up at a party, once. The Colonel’s told me you’d like to ‘borrow’ my expertise. What’s the mission?” “Same mission, soldier, different stakes.” “Not sure I follow, sir.” “All respect due, what you’ve been doing could be accomplished by a Ranger fire team or two- but what you’re capable of doing… I want to make sure the taxpayers are getting the most bang for their buck.” “Wasn’t under the impression your little mission was sanctioned by Uncle Sam.” “Not officially. But someone’s got to keep the lights on.” “More deniable ops? Think I prefer that to being out in the sunshine.”

Cut to a daring daylight raid of a mobster’s palatial estate. Mafioso fall by the dozens as the sound of gunfire nearly drowns out the sound of a helicopter. Ross drops out next to the Punisher (I’ve been happy with Bernthal’s take on the character, personally, so I wouldn’t mind if he stuck around), laying fire with an M60. “You’ve been busy, Captain Castle.” “Ain’t a captain anymore, General.” “What happened to you and yours? You should have been promoted, not discharged. I’d like to see that rectified.” “Not interested.” “You haven’t heard my pitch yet.” “Don’t need to,” Frank tosses a grenade. “You’ve been working your way up the ranks, but there’s always a bigger fish. You can handle the mutant henchmen, the science monster hired muscle, but you don’t have the firepower to take on your Thanoses, or to so much as dent a Chitauri invasion force.” Punisher pauses his firing. “I can get you access to the kind of ordinance not even mafia millions can buy you, Frank.” “How much gun we talking?” “Enough to put anyone in your sights, soldier.” “And what kinds of trade are we talking?” “One for you, one for me.” Helicopters arrive, at the same time as a dozen limos, all spilling out more guys. “Any chance on an advance?” “You’re no good to me in the ground,” he says, and starts unbuttoning his shirt. Cut away before he starts to noticeably redden.

“I tried to talk her out of it,” Leonard Sampson tells Ross. “And I told him I don’t let ex-boyfriends boss me around any more than my father,” Betty says, and kisses Ross. “I called Bruce; it isn’t him; and he has an alibis, on the other side of the country, for the last time this Red Hulk was spotted.” We pan around the room, and see surveillance equipment and photographs, and a board with several potential Red Hulk suspects on it, including Bruce Banner. “Haven’t you had your life disrupted enough by Hulks?” Ross asks. “It’s because of how much trouble we’ve had with Hulks that I have to find out… there aren’t very many people who know as much about gamma radiation as we do- me, Bruce, you- if we put our heads together-” “I lost five years with my little girl. I can’t stand the thought of losing another second.” “Then you don’t have any excuse not to help out.” 

We’re in on Ross’s face. “I don’t get it,” the other man says. We recognize the voice, even if we don’t place it yet. “For one, the Canadians have been much more accommodating than their American counterparts.” “Not only did they give me a pension, but I gave myself a promotion to Colonel- though I couldn’t get them to spring for a lifetime supply of chimichangas.” We now see it’s Deadpool Ross is talking to. “Wade, if you weren’t an accomplished military man in your own right, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” “What I meant is, I could be an X-Man, or follow-through on that threat/promise of doing an X-Force movie, or just wait until they’re finished with the next John Wick so we can shoot Deadpool 3.” “Or you could stop being a lunatic long enough to use your gifts to help some people.” “He-elp? Pee-pull? I don’t understand those words… though the second one sounds dirty.” “Maybe you’re content being a joke just because you pretend to be in on it, soldier, but I think you can be more. And I think standing next to the Punisher-” “That’d make a hell of a poster- could sell the shit out of that movie.” “Should I take it we have an agreement?” “So long as you buy the popcorn. And let me cut a hole in the bottom.” “Whose lap is it going in?” Ross asks, wearily. “Like you don’t know,” Deadpool leans in and strokes his upper lip, and whispers, “with your secret sex moustache.”

“Have you ever considered shaving it off?” Betty asks Ross. “Never more than yesterday.” “It just, it makes you feel old. Older than I think you should feel.” “Well, it’s not how old you are, it’s how old your children feel you should be.” “Ahem,” Sampson mutters. “Right,” Betty hands him a grainy picture. “That still was taken from some kid in New York’s instagram two days ago.” “So the Red Hulk was here. In New York?” Ross asks. “Right in our back yard. And Bruce is still working on that gamma emissions detector…” Ross puts his hand on her shoulder. “We’ll get to the bottom of this, with or without ‘Bruce.'” 

Antivenom is on a rooftop, watching through binoculars. On an adjacent roof, Ross meets with a woman in shadow. Eventually, we see that it’s Elektra, in red and black garb. She shakes Ross’s hand, and then leaps away into the shadows. Antivenom swings over to Ross, who isn’t surprised to see he was being followed. “A ninja and assassin. I thought this was a military unit.” “The kinds of people we’re hiring, they don’t go quietly into that good night. Who better to remove a deniable asset.” “I’m not sure I’m comfortable-” “I’m sure I didn’t ask. Dismissed, son.”

Castle’s phone buzzes with a message from Ross, and he switches it to off, and shotguns another smuggler at the docks. Antivenom swings up behind him. “I’m not some Collie,” Punisher says.  “Because you don’t come when called?” Antivenom asks. “Wait, is that why they call you the Punisher?” Deadpool asks. Punisher doesn’t acknowledge it. “But that’s why we’re here, to help you clean up,” Antivenom offers. Action scene, with the three of them shooting up smugglers.

Cut to Ross’s war room, where the three of them are waiting for their briefing. As Ross speaks (and Deadpool interrupts), images flash on a projector. “I appreciate the three of you making it. Time is short, so these are your targets. Helmut Zemo-“ “He engineered the conflict that broke the Beatles apart,” Deadpool says. “Goliath,” Ross continues. “Ate David and probably some other Israelis.” “Beetle.” “Known to come in at least two varieties, blue and dung.” “Screaming Mimi.” “Screams. Mimally.” “And Moonstone.” They all pause, waiting for Deadpool to chime in again. He deadpans (get it?), pretending not to know why, then says, “I was throwing that one to Frank.”

“What’s the mission?” Antivenom asks. “We’ll get to that, but first, I’d like to introduce you to another asset. Frank, I hope I can count on you to keep it in your holster.” “Depends who walks through that door,” Punisher says. It’s Elektra. “My intel on her says she’s been walking on this side of the angels recently,” Punisher says, “or I’d put one between her eyes.” “Or at least you’d try,” she replies.

Ross continues: “She’s going to be assisting on this mission; you three make up the central team, but she’s there to provide, well, you three are the pointy end of the spear, she’s the knife slipped between their ribs from behind.” “You missed metaphor day in basic training, didn’t you?” Deadpool asks. “I would love to get you in a room with Drax.” “How do you know that name?” “Oh, come on, who didn’t see Guardians? It made only $10 million less than my first movie, despite releasing with a PG-13 rating. We didn’t feel the need to tart Vanessa up in green paint and tight leather- only the tight leather- is what I’m saying.”

“May I ask why these five are a target, sir?” Antivenom asks. “When I proposed the creation of a military response team to extrahuman threats, the DoD put the idea out for bid. Zemo nearly won, until I exposed him and his group as terrorists with a rap sheet that would make Bin Laden blush. Elektra.” “When Zemo’s been drinking, he calls them the ‘Masters of Evil’ with a fairly straight face. Their plan is to infiltrate the superhuman population, embed themselves in the popular consciousness, and then commit massive-scale acts of terrorism to discredit the entire superhuman community.” “Not a bad plan,” Ross starts; “their hearts are in the right place.” “No they aren’t,” Punisher says; ‘they’re still in their chests.” Deadpool whispers “Punisher,” gleefully.

Elektra continues. “They have hired a team of mercenaries to stage a terrorist attack on Stark Tower.” “Our intel suggests these men operate under the aliases Solo, Madcap, Masacre, Slapstick, Foolkiller, Terror and Stingray,” Ross adds. “Zemo’s team will thwart the attack, immediately ingratiating them to the public and the heroing community at large. I insisted that we have a failsafe in place, to prevent unforeseen complications; the attack will not begin without hearing from Zemo at 12 noon.” 

“Our window opens at dawn- the place is going to be filled with henchmen until then, but they’ll have to clear out of the place, in preparation for the Thunderbolts’ public debut.” “I don’t mind going through henchmen,” Punisher says. “Unfortunately, Zemo chose their base well. Their building butts up against lower-income apartments; the walls are toilet paper. An assault of any magnitude using conventional arms would also go through these civilians. We have to wait. I suggest you catch some shut-eye before then.”

Cutting back and forth between the two groups. “Why did I get stuck with you?” Punisher asks Elektra as they infiltrate. “Because no one likes you.” He glares. “And I’m the only one who could handle you.” She leans on the word very subtly. Antivenom and Deadpool are infiltrating together. “I don’t know,” Deadpool observes, “don’t we both kind of look like ‘Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can.” “I don’t see it.” Punisher and Elektra again, he says, “I meant why the two unpowered operators are paired together, while the unkillable moron and the difficult to kill space creature work together.” She’s quiet a moment. “Because no one likes you, and they trust I can make it out alive.” 

Tense moment as both groups infiltrate, before running into each other in the central room. They fight, subduing the MoE, save for Goliath; Goliath bursts into the room, grows to immense size, then pummels our heroes. It’s then that the Red Hulk (with moustache- very important- you don’t have this stache, it won’t make that cash) bursts into the room and starts fighting Goliath. For the uninitiated, he’s like Hulk, but maintains his tactical intelligence and also there’s fire, for some reason. And a moustache, or so help me. The Thunderbolts rally, and win the day. The battle leaves Red Hulk diminished, and he collapses, transforming back into Ross. Punisher and Deadpool carry him out. “I always knew,” Punisher says. “I didn’t know it was a secret,” Antivenom replies. “I’d have sworn it was She-Hulk in a He-Man costume she painted red in the comics,” Deadpool says. Pull back, to reveal Betty, with a big weird gamma scanner, watching from a nearby rooftop. She’s on the phone, looking shocked. “Yeah, Bruce, I’m telling you, it worked. I found Red Hulk.”

Ross is in a military hospital, buttoning up his shirt, with the doctor speaking “-still putting a great deal of strain on your system.” “But at least he’s becoming easier to control,” Ross says. “Who is?” Betty asks, entering. “No one,” Ross says, “figure of speech.” The doctor excuses himself hastily. She hands Ross a folder full of camera phone images of the Red Hulk crashing into the building, then Ross carried back out minutes later, with the gamma device going off in the foreground (though we don’t need those details to be seen). “Daddy? Why didn’t you tell me you’re the Red Hulk?” “I was trying to protect you. I hope someday you’ll understand that’s all I’ve ever tried to do.” He jabs her with a syringe filled with a bright red, shimmery fluid. Cut to black, cue credits and something metallic in the score. 

Mid-Credits Scene: We do a Gollum thing, panning around the Leader (because it would be a crime not to bring back Tim Blake Nelson), having arguments with himself (though this isn’t immediately clear) over who is most responsible for his mutation and his pain- primarily Banner or Ross in contention (overlapped somewhat by the seeds of gruesome plans for either of them)- and whether or not he owes that person his thanks or a return in kind before finally answering both questions when he snarls, “Ross.”

End Credits Scene: A phone rings, and we see the caller ID: “Ross, Betty.” It rings, as we pan around the room, showing we’re in the Avengers living space, rebuilt after Endgame, and finally Smart Hulk answers. We hear a raspy, winded, and angry Betty say, “Bruce” with enough urgency that he cracks the phone in his hand, before we cut to black. White text, “The Hulks Will Return…”

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