Had the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 4 plan gone as they originally intended, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier would’ve been the second project in the arc to be released after Black Widow. And had Phase Four unfolded in such an order, the future that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is building towards would’ve been all-the-more clear: a future that includes the criminal superhero team of The Thunderbolts.
Warning: Spoilers for Episode 5 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, “Truth”, will follow.
The Thunderbolts, first introduced in November 1996, is a team of super-criminals formed by none other than Baron Zemo. Essentially Marvel’s answer to DC’s Suicide Squad, the Thunderbolts originally consisted of villains adopting heroic identities for their own personal gain, but would eventually reform into a force of genuine good. And after previously not existing in the MCU for over a decade, the franchise laid the groundwork for the team’s formation in just one episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Here’s how.
A reveal truly unlike any we’ve ever seen before — given that Julia Louis-Dreyfus is unlike any other actress working today (she’s won *11* Emmys) — the introduction of Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontain, mouthful-of-a-name or not, was a thrill.
Essentially the female version of Nick Fury, Val is an international spy with reach and power beyond our comprehension (at least at this stage). For example, she knows that he took the Super Soldier Serum *and* that the United States government doesn’t technically own Captain America’s shield, which is knowledge only a few people have.
Given the way she’s introduced in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — telling John Walker he was right to murder the “bastard” Flag Smasher in broad daylight and to pick up the phone when she calls — it seems as though Val will be serving in an Amanda Waller-esque role, popping up across various MCU projects as she recruits new members to her team.
John Walker / Captain America / Maybe (Probably) U.S. Agent in the Future
Speaking of Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontain, when we do meet her in all her glory, she’s pitching herself to the newly discharged and shieldless John Walker. But what’s she pitching him on, exactly? While that’s not made clear, it’s obvious that whatever she is planning, she wants Walker to be a part of it. With the former Captain America perhaps more willing to get his hands dirty than the average do-gooder, perhaps John Walker is the exact sort of rogue soldier that Val needs.
Baron Zemo at The RAFT
Do you remember The RAFT? We’ve seen it before in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — it’s where Thunderbolt Ross held Steve Roger’s allies, Sam Wilson, Scott Lang, Clint Barton, etc., at the end of Captain America: Civil War. With Zemo now stationed at the MCU’s version of Arkham Asylum, who knows what MCU villains he could cross paths with, including a potentially-arrested-by-Sam-and-Bucky John Walker.
Zemo was brought back into the MCU for a reason much larger than simply popping up in a couple of Falcon and Winter Soldier episodes, so perhaps that purpose is to be the hands-on leader of the Thunderbolts.
He’s also not the only MCU character with strong ties to the Thunderbolts either: in the comics, Zemo was the team’s original leader, Walker was the warden of their prison, and Yelena Belova — who will be introduced in Black Widow (which, coincidentally enough, is the film that JLD’s Val was *supposed* to make her Marvel debut in) — was also once a member of the Thunderbolts, as is Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost, who appeared in Ant-Man and the Wasp.
The pieces are out there — now the question becomes how the Marvel Cinematic Universe brings them together.