The Pitch: Okay, the ten-ton red elephant in the room: William Hurt passed away. That means a new Ross, or replacing him in the plot. You could get some of the same mileage with Leonard Sampson, especially as the jealous ex trying to get Betty back… but I’d prefer a recast, personally. And don’t forget the mustache.
“You owe me,” Ross says from offscreen, as Yelena retrieves gear from a locker.
“Fignya,” Yelena says.
“Your sister owed me, and her corpse is apparently on another planet in the past. So you owe me.”
“Do you even believe that?”
He pauses. “I’ll pay you.”
“That was never in doubt. But I am super hero, now. I do not do dirty work.”
“Nothing dirty. Maybe clean-up. But I’d never ask you to put a bullet in anyone who didn’t deserve it.”
“I am Avenger.”
“Young,” he adds with a cough, and she glares, but doesn’t skip a beat.
“Jealous, with your ‘red Avengers.’ I will not put bullet anywhere they would disapprove.”
“I’ll make sure you have deniability.”
“And we’ve got a dress code.” He’s holding up a red wig.
“Nyet,” she says angrily, reacting to the implication she has to be her sister to be effective.
“Red or black. Pick your poison.”
We cut to later, Ross entering a room with the other Thunderbolts. “Lady and Gentleman, allow me to introduce you to the Black Widow.” Yelena has dyed her hair black.
“I thought you died,” Deadpool starts. “And were taller. And a redhead. And older. And more…” he starts pantomiming busoms.
“I thought you were mute,” she says, and at first he’s taken aback, thinking she’s referencing X-Men Origins, a movie only he remembers, and his eyes go wide as we push in on them, then we pull abruptly back, and see she’s stuck a knife in his throat. “Oh, I was thinking of you now.”
“As you can see, she likes to make an impression,” Ross says.
“That’s why I wear a red suit,” Deadpool says hoarsely, after pulling her knife out.
“You’re coughing blood on me,” Punisher says coolly.
“Sorry,” he groans.
“It’s… ironic you’re acting like children,” Ross says, “because this mission is personal to me. It’s my daughter. Betty. She’s gone missing.”
“She’s with the Hulk,” Deadpool says, leaning back in his chair with a big bucket of popcorn in his lap, throwing a few kernels back; he has his mask rolled up enough to accommodate this. “I’ve seen this movie before. And read the book. She’s got the hots for the Hulk. The pair of them sneak off to the nearest closet for seven minutes of green heaven, and you waste a ridiculous amount of tax-payer dollars being the world’s creepiest overprotective father.”
Punisher eyes the popcorn, considering taking a handful. “I wouldn’t,” Ross warns. “There’s a hole in the bottom.”
“I buttered it myself,” Deadpool says. “Wink.”
“Widow, would you mute him again?” Ross asks.
“I mute when I deem it necessary,” she replies.
“Great. I’ve hired another insubordinate.”
“Takes one to know one, Old Spice,” Deadpool says. “Unless you’re going to tell me the U.S. Army is sanctioning this little op.”
“They are… but they don’t have all the details, or I wouldn’t be on it. My daughter has been irradiated, and is now rampaging on her own.” Ross puts up a slide. It’s Red She-Hulk, having largely torn through her clothes and essentially naked.
“No one told me we got the R rating. Those are red boobies.” The slide isn’t in focused until Deadpool points like in the Dicaprio Aviator meme, obscuring for the audience anything salacious.
“I’ll have you chemically castrated if you can’t reel it in, Wilson.”
Deadpool zips up, gasps, and adds in a high voice, “Little pinch.” Yelena offers him her knife to fix his problem. “Nope, best option is to reverse the tracks.” We hear zipping and a tear. “Oh, sweet Polar Express.”
“I’m choosing to ignore him, I’d suggest the rest of you do the same,” Ross continues. “So far as we’ve been able to ascertain, Betty has not been in contact with Banner. But we do believe she’s been receiving help. Money. Identification. Transportation. She’s been able to stay under the radar in a way that leads us to believe that someone is helping her stay hidden. We’ve been watching Banner. I don’t even think he knows Betty’s gone missing.”
“What’s the play?” Antivenom asks.
“We’re going to split into teams. If she’s being helped, we might be able to track that connection, and use it to find her. That’s subtler work. Natchios, Belova, Castle, you’re on that.” He points next to Deadpool and Antivenom. “You two can take what she’s dishing out; you’re with me.”
“And we’re going to throw three darts at a map and see if we get lucky?” Deadpool asks.
“She’s still my daughter. She’s going to end up someplace she feels safe- but also, some place she thinks I won’t be able to find her. I’ve got three potential locations, one for each of us. Either of you make contact, and you’re to observe only. Sheriff and a couple of his deputies bumped into her; all they found was pink mist. I think you can survive contact- but I wouldn’t test the theory.”
We linger on Yelena, and match cut to her at the Young Avengers’ HQ. Bruce gets pulled up as a hologram on a phone call, and recognizes Hulkling. “I thought we figured out I’m not your father,” Bruce says.
“Nope. Sorry. Nothing like that. We got a, tip. Ross is trying to hire himself a Black Widow.”
“Ross. Oh, kid, just walk away. I spent half of my life working on a gamma bomb- and it’s still only the second most dangerous thing I’ve ever been near. Ross is number one with a bullet.”
“Bullets do not frighten me,” Yelena says.
“Oh, you’re Nat’s sister. She was… I miss the hell out of her.”
“Me, too,” she says.
“But seriously. Whatever Ross is up to, you don’t want any part of it. He’s unstable. Dangerous. And think about who’s saying that.”
“Is worse than you think,” Yelena says. “He’s more dangerous. Because his daughter is missing. And she is red Hulk now.”
“Betty? Damnit… that explains her call. Where’d you hear this?”
“Orientation. When Ross hired me.”
“Ah. Makes sense. And you’re doubling for our side.”
“Or tripling for his,” she says with a knowing smile.
“I see the resemblance. Nat had a smile just like that. She was trouble, too. Look, I got to make a call. Where can I meet you?”
“I’ll text a location.”
We cut to a courtroom, where an aging judge mutters, “This is highly unusual.”
She-Hulk paces. “I understand, your honor. But this is about Spider-Man’s good name.”
“Then he can show in my court and clear it himself.”
“And we would love for the opportunity. But as you can see, the courtroom is filled with U.S. Marshals. They’re here with orders to arrest my client if he shows.”
“Is this true?” the judge asks. One of the Marshals confirms it. “Fine. Then I’ll grant your request for your client not to be compelled to appear. Now, Mr.” the judge turns to the plaintiff, who is now sitting on the stand, beside the judge. “Frogman. You claim to… is that my ring?” The judge looks at their finger, and sees a tanline; the Frogman is wearing their missing ring. The judge whacks the Frogman on the hand with their gavel and takes their ring back. “Case dismissed.”
She-Hulk barely notices. She’s looking at her phone, which says that Bruce is calling.
We cut to Jen and Bruce driving in a convertible. “So… Betty, huh?” she asks.
“Don’t start, with that look.”
“I just… she’s the one who made you go smash in your pants,” she stops and makes a face, “made your heart go smash?”
“We’ve got a lot of history.”
“We were colleagues.”
“Of smashing?” He’s silent a moment. “Trying to think of a response that doesn’t become dirty if you add ‘of smashing’ to it?”
“We were close…”
“I asked her to marry me, before all this.”
“Oh…” she says, and for a moment we think she’s pivoting to serious, “so you definitely smashed then.”
“How are you more of a teenage boy than I ever was?”
“Low T?”She-Hulk slides the car to a stop. “We’re here.”
“Oh, good, I thought you were just trying to kill an entire family of possums at once.”
Yelena has set up a tiny version of Ross’ brief, with maps. On walking in, Bruce immediately says, “She isn’t any of those places. If she’s hiding from Ross, and your intel says she is, she wouldn’t go to locations he would even know about.”
“That doesn’t narrow it down,” Yelena says. Jen flips through a dossier and starts taking pictures and texting.
Bruce produces a piece of tech. “It measures gamma radiation. I built it to track down the Red Hulk. It worked on him,” he points it at Yelena and it doesn’t make noise, but it reacts when he aims it at himself, and then at Jen. “Works on us. Stands to reason it could find Betty.”
“What can I do?”
“Stay with Ross’ team. Whoever is helping may have given her a way to shield herself from the scanner, and if possible, we want to avoid a direct confrontation with Red Hulk.”
She-Hulk puts down her phone. “I’ve got Jess and Trish working it on the ground. They’ll follow the electronic trail.”
“We’ll follow you back to Virginia.”
We cut to a small, crappy motel at night. Elektra is there, and hands Frank and Yelena room keys.
“I don’t trust her,” Punisher says as Elektra slips into his hotel room.
“I don’t trust,” she responds, pressing against him.
“We’ve got a mission.”
“And I have my own objectives.” She kisses him. Frank tries to resist… but it’s Elektra, could you?
Yelena waits until later that night before sneaking out. From a car, we watch her slink to a motorcycle parked on the opposite end of the building. Yelena goes to the school from the Incredible Hulk, the same building where Sterns took Bruce. She discovers Betty hunched over a computer, accessing Sterns’ files.
Yelena creeps expertly, but Betty picks up the keyboard and smashes it in half as she transforms. We see Betty’s clothes shredding as she rises. Quick-cuts, as Betty charges through a shelf of books, seizing Yelena and shoving her through a wall. A moment later, we see Red She-Hulk smash through a window, landing in the foreground. She’s wearing Yelena’s catsuit, which doesn’t fit her great, to the point it won’t zip up all the way…
We cut to the motel Bruce and Betty stayed in during Incredible Hulk. We pan through the lobby, into a back room with monitors. I’m going to say we go seedy with it, and the rooms are all wired up, too. Antivenom finishes reviewing footage, before calling Ross. “She hasn’t been here. But I will leave a local creep for the authorities, so it wasn’t a total wash.” We pan back, to see that the hotel manager is webbed to the wall.
I’m assuming we’re going more for comedy in this scene than anything exploitative; we can keep Yelena mostly off-screen or hidden behind things. But Yelena comes to, to discover her catsuit was taken. “I bet this never happened to Natasha.” She finds a janitor’s uniform, but it is ten sizes too big. So she turns to the school’s mascot costume, which just happens to be a Black Widow spider. As she’s leaving the school, she runs into Deadpool.
“Love the new costume,” he says.
“What are you doing here?”
“My story sense was tingling…. You and Elektra are, shall we say, redundant?”
“Right. Because two girls on one team is too many.”
“Because you’re both bad-ass but human women with flexible moral compasses- with black hair. So… one of you is not what she seems. And aside from seeming to have spent the night in Frank’s hotel room- and who would say no to that– she’s where she’s supposed to be.”
“What do you want?”
“Like money? Just because I’m a mercenary you think I’m for sale?” She gives him a cock-eyed look, because she’s done her share of merc work. “I’m… actually here because I want to help. See… I think Ross shot his daughter up with Hulk juice.” Her nose crinkles. “Not that way; apparently we didn’t get the ‘R’ rating, and she’s his daughter. But I have… ethical issues about human experimentation. So maybe Ross shouldn’t be the one to find Betty- even if I’m pretty sure she could use some help. Though, honestly, you, in that?” He gestures to her mascot suit. “Payment enough.”
Jen calls her PIs on the phone. If it’s too expensive, you can always just show her end of the conversation. But I’ll assume we’ll get the both of them on a party line with some split screen. “Your hunch was right. Our operative literally ran into her at Culver University- right before Betty ran her through a wall. We think the scanner will be able to pick up her trail, but if she’s as strong as I am, she could be across the country by now- you might have to be ready to pick up the trail somewhere else.”
Yelena tries to sneak into her hotel room still wearing the mascot costume, only for Punisher to sneak up on her. “That a part of your plan, or just your night life?”
“You’re one to talk; you reek of Natchios’ perfume.”
He smiles, slightly. “Nice bluff.”
“Not bluff. I’m down-wind.” She slips inside her room. Deadpool is sneaking into the rear window, catches his boot, and falls flat on his face.
“Nice distraction,” he says, raising a thumb enthusiastically from the floor. “What next?”
“I need a shower. I smell like the floor of a men’s locker room.”
“Sounds fun. I like to be big spoon.”
“I do not need doof-a.”
“Aw, was that your first joke? The Punisher would be so proud.” He plops down on the foot of the bed.
Yelena closes the door behind her, and we linger on Deadpoool. “Ignore the furry strip show happening on the other side of that door…Blind Al doing naked calisthenics. Weasel and Weasel from Suicide Squad performing analingus in a plastic child pool filled with chocolate pudding. Ooh, I might have to keep that one…”
She-Hulk pulls up to Leonard Sampson’s home from Incredible Hulk. “I should have known…” Bruce says from the passenger seat.
Sampson opens the door. “Bruce,” he says tensely, before sliding into therapist mode. “We haven’t spoken since you were a fugitive.”
“I remember. You were sleeping with my fiance.”
“Ex-fiance. And as much as I love our little tet a tets, I’ve got an online session in a few minutes.”
“Where’s Betty, Leonard?”
“Don’t you remember, Bruce? She left me for you.”
“You’re being evasive, Dr. Sampson.” Sampson’s eyes are glowing green.
“Uh, Bruce,” She-Hulk says, because the gamma sensor is going berserk pointed at Leonard.
“It’s okay. Let them in.” Inside, Betty is wearing one of Sampson’s button-up shirts. “Bruce…” she runs to him and embraces him.
“I was so worried.”
“I knew you’d come.”
“My dad. In a screwed up attempt to keep me safe. Turned me into a Red Hulk.”
“That’s… exactly the kind of crap he’d pull.”
“And there’s a problem. She isn’t me.”
“I know what you mean.”
“No. You don’t. She isn’t me, and she’s trying to take over permanently. She isn’t content simply to smash. She wants to be in control- all of the time.”
We cut to a dark basement room. A red-skinned man with a massive head is thrown into a chair. He’s bleeding, and skittish. He’s the Red Leader. Ross skulks around the room as we pull back, revealing it was Punisher who caught him. “Sterns,” Ross growls.
“Didn’t know we were supposed to be exclusive,” Leader says. “After all, you’ve been creating Red Hulks without me.”
“What in hell are we looking at?” Yelena asks.
“I would have presumed it obvious… but I am intellectually superior, so perhaps that’s the reason why. Where gamma irradiation has, in the case of our dear General and Dr. Banner, created muscled Hulks, In the case of the female of the species, it’s crafted outgoing, charismatic specimens, that balance intellect and strength. And in my case, I got brains for days.”
“Truth told, I was attempting to isolate the characteristics of the female Hulks, striving for a better balance. But this seems to be an even better outcome than I hoped for.”
“Then why have you helped my daughter evade me?” Ross seethes.
“Figured that out? I wasn’t done. My research is still in its pupal stage. I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit that thwarting you also made it all the more entertaining.”
“Playtime’s over, Sterns. You can tell me where my daughter is, or I can pop that overripe grape of a head of yours.” We see Ross’s shadow eclipse an increasingly frightened Leader’s face as he hulks out, before we cut away.
Bruce and Jen are talking to Betty and Sampson over tea. Suddenly the gamma scanner goes off, despite it not facing any of them. “I didn’t touch it,” Jen says, startled.
“No,” Bruce says. “They’re here. We have to get Betty away.”
Sampson tosses Bruce keys. “Take my bike. It’s out back. We’ll hold them off.”
“Uh, we will?” Jen asks. “I guess we will.” They sneak out the back. “Um, are we going to survive this?”
“You’re about as strong as Betty. And I,” he unbuttons his shirt to reveal some kind of uniform as his hair turns green, “can hold my own.” He gets long, green hair, and a little more muscular.
“So… you become a glam rocker?” Just then, Antivenom collides with him, but Sampson catches him, and throws him through his front window. “So you just rock, then?”
A grenade lands in the middle of the room, and She-Hulk drops down on it, absorbing most of its force. Punisher, on the porch, loads another grenade into an under-barrel launcher, before having to duck a thrown coffee table. “That was irritating,” Antivenom says, brushing himself off.
“I know this could impact unit cohesion and everything,” Deadpool says, “but, and I mean this in all sincerity, maybe we shouldn’t help the madman who conducted unethical medical experiments on his own daughter.”
“Can’t believe I’m saying this,” Punisher slings his rifle, “but Wilson’s got a point.”
“I’m giving the general the benefit of the doubt,” Antivenom says, squaring to Deadpool. Deadpool vs Antivenom fight!
I’m assuming at some point they’re wrestling, and Deadpool tries to get Frank to tag in. “Frank, little help?”
Punisher shrugs. “You convinced me not to help. I’m not ready to throw in against Ross.”
Elektra is about to deploy sais dipped in neurotoxin against She-Hulk from behind, when she’s attacked by Black Widow. “Nyet,” she says, knocking one of them out of Elektra’s hand. “Go!” Widow says to them. “Ross is in pursuit!”
They get in She-Hulk’s convertible. Antivenom has enough of an upper hand fighting Deadpool to tear Sampson out of the car as they drive away.
We cut to Banner and Betty driving away on a motorcycle. Ross is in a helicopter following, and starts to unbutton his shirt as he turns red. Ross drops in their path, smashing their bike. Banner hulks, and for a moment we get Red vs Green Hulks, before Betty transforms. Red She-Hulk aligns with Ross- because she wants to be free, and Banner is likely to help Betty be rid of her. They smack Bruce down, before She-Hulk drives her car into one of them. This fight is closer to even, but Bruce is still hurt from being tag-teamed earlier, and eventually the Red pair win. Betty is about to run, but is caught jumping by Ross, who smashes her into a rock, before shooting her with a tranq that puts her down. Banner stirs enough to try to pursue, only to get smacked back several times by Ross, eventually dehulking again.
Antivenom and Elektra are nursing their wounds on Sampson’s porch. The rest of them are sharing tea as Bruce and Jen arrive. “Ross got Betty.”
“We should head back to base,” Punisher says. “We’ll make sure he does the right thing.”
“We’ll come with you.”
Frank bristles. “I may not owe Ross allegiance, but that’s not the same as leading the rest of you back to him. At least not yet. I’m giving him a chance, first, to make it right. After that, you can spit-roast the old bastard for all I care.”
“Ooh,” Deadpool says.
“Not like that.”
“That work for you?” Frank asks Elektra and Antivenom. They’re annoyed at having been beaten, but all told they’ve been treated pretty well, for prisoners. Punisher gives Sampson an address. “Wait there. If I’m not satisfied with Ross, I’ll tell you where to find him. And keep your Widow.”
“Works for me,” Yelena says.
“That mean I’m not getting kicked out of the tree fort?” Deadpool asks.
“I know what happened to you. That’s why I didn’t shoot you for following your conscience. Just know, you do that again, I know how much punishment you can take with your healing factor.”
“A threatening pun? Ooh, punish me, Daddy Frank.”
We cut back to the Thunderbolts HQ. Betty is tied to a chair in the center of the tent; subtly, there’s a hexagon on the floor in oil. Once all the Thunderbolts are inside, Red Hulk tears the tent away, and his flame lights the oil, revealing a pentagram on the ground. Ghostrider is there, his skull flaming red. “Now, Rider,” Ross says, and he screams out an incantation.
Suddenly, they’re in Hell.
“There aren’t many humans foolish enough to summon me,” says a deep voice belonging to a man in red sitting on a throne. I’d suggest Henry Golding; seriously, watch Persuasion and tell me he couldn’t talk just about anyone into selling their soul. That’s your Mephisto.
“Yeah. Spooky-scary,” Red Hulk growls. “I want my daughter back.”
“Your soul’s already mine, Ross, and soon, but I think you’ve brought enough tender with which to bargain.”
“What?” Frank asks. “No!” Suddenly they’re back at their base. They’re all human again, and Frank shakes Ross. “What did you do?”
“He sold our souls,” Ghostrider says. “Don’t know if it would hold up- but I can tell you arbitration in Hell is just as awful as it sounds.”
Frank calls Sampson and tries to give him the coordinates. “Frank? You’ve been missing for a week. The Hulks went home. The Widow’s in New York. Is Betty okay?”
The camera pans down on Betty, still tied to a chair, looking unconscious. As we zoom in, her eye opens, and her pupil turns red.
Credits. Beginning-credits scene. Back in Hell. Mephisto is back on his throne. A demon scurries up to him. “My lord, the battle fares poorly.”
“Can we win?” Mephisto asks.
“I do not believe we will survive the night.”
Mephisto opens up his palm. In it are red and black orbs, corresponding to the souls of the Thunderbolts. “I’d hoped to hold these chips for longer. A pity to have to cash them in so soon… but better to rule in Hell, eh?”
“I wouldn’t know,” his minion says, as we return to credits.
Mid-credits scene. “I wasn’t here,” Frank says to Yelena.
“Neither was I,” she says. They both leave the hotel from Incredible Hulk. We linger on a door, before cutting inside.
“I thought I lost you,” Bruce says.
“I thought you lost me, too,” Betty says, and embraces him. They kiss, passionately, before Betty stops. “Oh, are we safe?”
“I spent the five years of the blip learning tantra. Like Sting.”
“Woof.” We cut outside of the hotel room, pulling back, as the music cue from Young Frankenstein, Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life, plays. We return to credits as that music plays.
End credits scene. Bruce, in the hotel robe, sneaks out for ice. He stops, realizing there’s someone behind him. “What’s the phrase?” Ross asks. “If you can’t beat ‘em…”
“Join ‘em?” Bruce asks.
“Not the way I’ve heard it,” Ross says, and fires a gun into him. And that’s how we end, Bruce Banner bucking backwards as a glowing green bullet pierces his chest.
And for anyone wondering just what the hell the #SecretSexMustache hashtag was, it’s a line from Thunderbolts 1.