Red Guardian made quick work of the first mutant to debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and nobody caught on. Fans assumed the gruff seven-footer questioning Alexei Shostakov’s story about taking down Captain America was nameless comic relief, someone intimidating enough to make David Harbour look good. But the actor, Dutch bodybuilder Olivier Richters, was in reality playing Soviet-era mutant Ursa Major, a man with the ability to Hulkify into an anthropomorphic bear, a fact he managed to keep under wraps till Black Widow premiered on July 9. Richters dropped the franchise-defining news on his public Instagram, explaining he didn’t realize he was playing an Easter egg till the film was well into principal photography.
Marvel’s Russian Hulk tells his mutant-coming-out story below:
Like all token Marvel superheroes, Ursa Major too has his own origin story. Born to Russian parents in the north bank of the Amur in Soviet-controlled Blagoveshchensk, Mikhail Uriokovitch Ursus was a miracle in Darwinian adaptation from the start. While mutants in America were socially persecuted, their Russian counterparts received a worse sentence. They were systematically disposed of early in life, given the Spartan treatment, with thousands of innocents routinely falling prey to institutionalized infanticide. Mikhail was among a handful of children lucky enough to survive the purge and live long enough to tell the tale.
The Soviet government began using mutants for covert ops at the height of the Cold War, owing to mad scientist Piotr Phobos’s efforts to reeducate the populace about the collective benefit of keeping superpowered humans around. Professor Phobos was Charles Xavier’s equivalent in Soviet Russia, equally responsible for training mutants under his command, but unlike Marvel big gun Professor X, his motives were less than scrupulous. He experimented on his students and funneled their raw energy into special abilities for himself, at the cost of their lives.
Mikhail and the other mutants rallied against Professor Phobos and came out victorious. Finally convinced of their strengths, the Russian version of the X-Men were eventually sent on top-secret missions on behalf of Soviet officials, Mikhail included. He joined the Soviet Super-Soldiers (later the Winter Guard) alongside Red Guardian and was given the codename “Ursa Major,” after the northern constellation of the same name. He was the team’s muscle, much like how Hulk was for the Avengers. Unlike Bruce Banner, Ursa Major stands at seven feet in his normal form, and is able to retain his intelligence while shapeshifted, but can gradually lose control the longer he deviates from his human self. Marvel’s Ursa Major has had a rather storied history in the comics and isn’t fundamentally villainous; he has rebelled against the establishment for the good of mankind several times over and has worked with the Avengers on various occasions.
The character was simply called Ursa in Black Widow, but the use of part of his superhero name implies he’s already a working agent in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Alexei Shostakov would have been calling him Mikhail otherwise. And since mutants normally manifest their abilities at birth — or at a very young age — Mikhail Ursus is presumably already capable of transfiguring into a bear when he arm-wrestled against Red Guardian in the movie.
Mutants as a concept first appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in WandaVision, when Scarlet Witch willed her children, Wiccan and Speed, into existence. Being the first superhumans in the franchise to be born with their powers, technically they are mutants. But since they only existed at Wanda Maximoff’s mental command, and weren’t living in reality, the designation of being the MCU’s first mutant still falls on Ursa Major from the Black Widow film.
Wanda and Pietro Maximoff were Magneto’s mutant kids in the comics, but had to be retconned in the MCU since at the time, the rights to the characters didn’t belong to Marvel. Disney officially acquired 20th Century Fox’s television and film properties in 2019, and the X-Men and Fantastic Four along with them, allowing the studio to finally deploy mutants into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.