Since the inception of Phase 4, the MCU has brought many characters to the big and small screen. We’re talking about Russian assassins, alien synthetics, Egyptian gods, and little kiddos with bows and arrows. And now, we have a new team, The Thunderbolts, joining the fray in Phase 5.
We previously covered the introduction of the Young Avengers and it seems more and more likely that a project will happen sooner rather than later. Marvel is also steadily building towards an adaptation of the Midnight Sons with Blade and Kit Harington’s Black Knight set to lead the charge.
It was recently announced during SDCC that a Thunderbolts project was official. “Paper Towns’ director Jake Schreier has been tapped to helm the project. “Black Widow” scribe, Eric Pearson is also attached to the project and will be penning the script. “The Thunderbolts” will also be the footnote for the MCU’s Phase 5.
According to the source, Marvel has already been in touch with certain individuals who are currently in the MCU to keep their schedules available next summer. As such, it is highly likely that production on this project will commence next year. Though no names are currently attached, we should expect to see some familiar faces due to the ensemble nature of the project.
So, who or what are the Thunderbolts?
The Thunderbolts have a varied history. The original iteration of the Thunderbolts team appeared in the pages of “Incredible Hulk” #449 in 1996. While many of the later iterations now consist of villains who are being given a chance to redeem themselves through spec-ops missions, it didn’t start off that way (but we’ll get to that later).
It’s easy to call this Marvel’s answer to DC’s “Suicide Squad”. After all, we’re talking about criminals who are being given a chance to prove themselves on the battlefield. Despite the dubious personalities, there is a recurring theme of redemption. Yet, there’s a chance that they might also perish due to the lethal nature of these jobs.
No one is safe.
Throughout the Phase 4 projects, it has been theorized that Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (what a mouthful – we know) is building a team of operatives who could work in the shadows. Chronologically, she first appeared in “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” to talk to John Walker about his future prospects. She also appeared in the post-credits scene of “Black Widow”, sending Yelena Belova on a revenge mission. While many believed it was all a set-up for the Dark Avengers, something along the lines of The Thunderbolts would also fit the bill.
Of course, with a name like “Thunderbolts”, one would be quick to make the connection to Secretary Ross, whose callsign was “Thunderbolt” back when he was still a general. Nevertheless, the situation is a little tricky as William Hurt, the actor who portrayed the character in over 5 movies has passed on. So, we think that the character might also be killed off in the movies, but his legacy will be honoured by it being used for the eponymous team.
Before we get started, we’d like to clear things up. We know that several Avengers like Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and The Winter Soldier have famously joined The Thunderbolts roster in the comics but we don’t think they would fit the type of vibe The Thunderbolts are going for. Therefore, we’re not including them here.
Instead, we’re looking at villains who could still be in need of a redemptive arc or active characters who are not retired. Without further ado, let’s take a look at some faces that might make up the MCU’s Thunderbolts!
1. YELENA BELOVA
The introduction of Yelena Belova in 2020’s “Black Widow” has proven to be a hit with fans. We’re dying to see more of Florence Pugh’s take on the character and a Thunderbolts project would be somewhere she could show up.
Yelena was Natasha Romanoff’s estranged younger sister who was taken into the Red Room when they were both children. Taken in by Alexei Shostakov and Melina Vostokoff, both spies for the Soviet Union, she became part of the plan to be assimilated into a life of normalcy. However, she was separated from her sister when she was six and subsequently trained to be an efficient assassin for the Soviet agency.
In 2016, Yelena was freed from her Red Room programming after a skirmish with a former Black Widow ended up with her being sprinkled with Red Dust. Subsequently, she reunited with Natasha, who then brought her along for a road trip to find their former ‘family’. Seeing that they needed to stop the Red Room once and for all, she assisted Natasha in bringing down Dreykov’s regime. Nevertheless, that would be the last time Yelena saw Natasha.
Upon hearing of Natasha’s death, she was approached by Valentina, who directed her efforts to Clint Barton. Believing that the marksman was directly responsible for the death of her sister, she hunted him down and almost killed him. Nevertheless, Clint’s strong friendship with Natasha outed itself and she spared him. She soon came to terms that it wasn’t Clint’s fault that Natasha died and left.
“The Thunderbolts” could serve as a spiritual sequel to “Black Widow” as Yelena’s whereabouts after “Hawkeye” have not been confirmed. We don’t think she’d still be looking for more Widows but maybe secretly working for Val, earning some income from it. Having her be the assassin to recruit some of the Thunderbolts would also be interesting to see.
Now, as a former Red Room operative, she would have learned everything there is to know about being a Black Widow. She’s a hard yet playful figure who threatens anyone who stands in her way, even kids (although she means them no harm). Without a doubt, she can carve up her own legacy to become the Black Widow the world needs.
Just don’t do that ‘superhero landing’ thing in front of her.
2. U.S. AGENT
John Walker is the type of guy who’s willing to play on any team. He’s got the heart, skill, and passion to do what’s right when needed. He may look like a cross between a patriot’s dream and the old square-shaped man from PIXAR’s “UP”, but one cannot underestimate him. Carl Fredricksen jokes aside, John Walker is actually a really nice, swell guy.
Okay, uhm… we take all of that back.
But anyway, yeah, John Walker was supposed to be THAT guy. A former captain of the 75th Rangers Regiment of the U.S. Army, John Walker had exceptional skills on the battlefield. His precision with the shield, tactical affinities, and physical prowess gave him the tip for the job. Yet, he had giant shoes to fill in. We’re talking about Steve Roger’s legacy here.
No doubt, in the process of trying to prove himself, Roger’s former buddies, Sam and Bucky saw through his ambitions. No doubt, they were noble, but they were also misguided. A push became a shove when Walker got his hands on the Super Soldier serum, injecting himself with the chemical that made his predecessor great.
As the serum amplifies everything that is inside, his disillusionment forced itself out right after his partner, Lemar was killed in battle. In a rage, he executed a Flag-Smasher right in the streets of Latvia. With the whole world watching this brutal act, he was subsequently stripped of his title.
Walker did redeem himself a little in the final moments of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”, abandoning the chase of Karli Morgenthau to save some innocent civilians. He realised that Sam Wilson was more of the embodiment of Captain America than he was and silently accepted that.
As John prepared to move on from the saga, he was approached by Valentina, who offered him a new moniker. He stepped out dressed in his old uniform with the only major distinction being its darkened colours. Complimenting him on the look, Valentina stated that things were about to get weird, but people wouldn’t need a Captain America, but rather a U.S. Agent.
As of the time of this writing, U.S. Agent actor, Wyatt Russell is seemingly in the dark as to his return to the franchise. In an interview with The Playlist, Russell commented that he’s still waiting for a phone call. “They keep it really, really tight, and it’s like, you respect that because they’ve got other bottom lines to look out for than what they think I need to know,” said the actor.
Now, of course, he could be doing an Andrew Garfield, as we can’t really see Marvel abandoning the thread from his last appearance. As Valentina said, we certainly can’t doubt that things are about to get weird for the character. He’ll be in the lineup.
3. BARON ZEMO
It isn’t easy to go up against Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and win. But that’s precisely what Helmut Zemo did.
A former commander of Sokovia’s armed forces, Helmut Zemo was one of the soldiers who defended Sokovia during Ultron’s attack. Attempting to get his family to safety, he brought his wife, father, and son away from the action. Nevertheless, the city of Sokovia was lifted and dropped back to the Earth, decimating nearby locations and killing a great many innocents, including Zemo’s family.
Believing that the Avengers were responsible for the Sokovia’s destruction, he set out on a path for vengeance. He devised a plan to cut the Avengers up from the inside, weaponising Steve Roger’s association with Bucky Barnes, murdering the ruler of Wakanda at the time, and using the killings of Tony Stark’s parents to induce discord.
He was successful as his actions alongside the looming conditions of the Sokovia accords led to an all-out Civil War amongst the Avengers. Now split into two camps, the Avengers were no longer united, with Captain America’s team operating from the shadows. Although Zemo, was incarcerated for his crimes, he had still done it. He had torn them apart.
Eight years passed. Zemo was still in prison but was approached by Bucky to help him and Sam track some Flag Smashers down. Citing his hatred for the Super Soldiers, he agreed to aid him. After escaping several times, he decided that it was time to make amends with Bucky, allowing himself to be exposed in front of the former HYDRA assassin. However, Bucky knew his game, and instead brought Dora Milaje in to capture and turn him over to the relevant authorities instead.
As of now, Zemo is located in the Raft. However, he still maintains contact with the outside world. With his butler, Oeznik, still out and about, Zemo is able to get someone to do his bidding while operating from the shadows. Definitely, it wouldn’t be easy to break someone out of a prison in the middle of the ocean – only Steve Rogers did that somehow – but we think he would still be able to give valuable tactical insight.
If we are to factor in the history of the Thunderbolts in the comics, Zemo would be a shoo-in as he literally formed the first iteration. Although it was for a different reason – plot twist, it was the new Masters of Evil – Zemo did successfully gain the attention of the public and some of these villains did become heroes.
If Valentina were to enlist him, he could serve in a consultant’s role. But if he did somehow get out of that prison, he still wouldn’t have anything to lose. So, a brilliant tactical mind would definitely be an asset to the Thunderbolts. Just don’t give in to his “Mission Report” shenanigans, yeah?
4. POWER MAN
With the recent revivals of the Netflix MCU characters such as Daredevil and Kingpin in the MCU, we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of one Power Man joining in on the fun!
Sure, this sort of addition would break the flow of enlisting criminals to do the job that the others never could. Then again, there might be a couple of ways to go about this.
So, a quick refresher on Luke Cage. Usually seen teaming up with the Immortal Iron Fist and Jessica Jones, he’s able to deflect knives, bullets, and projectiles off his impenetrable skin due to a procedure that granted him such abilities. He also has immense physical strength, which he uses to hurl enemies around Harlem.
Carl Lucas aka Luke Cage was first portrayed in live-action by Mike Colter in the series of the same name. While there hasn’t been a definite answer in the direction of the former Netflix-housed properties, we’d like to think that those shows exist in a parallel plane to the main timeline. Yes, some elements might be canonised but we don’t think it would make sense in a world where the Avengers literally have their base in New York – at the time. Besides, Mahershala Ali, who played Cottonmouth on the show, is Blade now. So, uhm… yeah.
So, how can everyone’s favourite bulletproof dude join the Thunderbolts? Maybe this version of Carl Lucas isn’t a superhero yet. We have to take into account his criminal past as the man was involved in petty crimes around his neighbourhood, eventually causing him to end up in prison.
Starting there would be great for the man who would eventually adopt the moniker of Luke Cage and Power Man. This would give him time to be reintroduced to audiences and allow for a redemptive arc sooner or later through the Thunderbolts.
As for who should play Luke Cage, well, Mike Colter’s still alive and kicking, so why not start there?
5. THE ABOMINATION
While it seems like Phase 4 has been effectively dubbed Phase Wong due to the actor popping up in multiple projects throughout this phase, Emil Blonsky isn’t too far behind on appearances too.
First appearing in 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk”, Emil Blonsky was one of the first recipients of a Super-Soldier serum knock-off. Initially, the concoction gave him some leverage when he battled the Hulk at Culver University. Possessing incredible speed and reflexes, he had no trouble dodging punches and evading the lunges of the green beast. However, he forgot the golden rule: don’t make the Hulk angrier.
Eventually, the Hulk proved that he was not one to be defeated as he smashed Emil into the trunk of a tree. However, due to the enhancements in his body, Emil was not affected and made a speedy recovery. Yet, he wanted more.
As with the case of John Walker, the serum also amplified Emil’s attributes. So, when he decided to get his hands on Gamma-radiated blood to attain power matching that of the Hulk’s, he transformed into something monstrous. Rampaging on the streets of Harlem, he tore through Ross’ forces, that is until the emerald giant showed up. The two had a fierce battle and as we all know, the Hulk was the victor that day with the Abomination being taken into custody by S.H.I.E.L.D.
The funny thing was that the World Security Council had actually considered the Abomination to join the Avengers Initiative, citing that his actions were all in self-defence against the Hulk. Thankfully, Tony Stark, Agent Coulson and General Ross were able to stop this from happening and that role eventually went to Hulk. The Abomination was placed in a maximum-security prison and hasn’t been in action since.
Emil Blonsky did make a surprise return in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings“, fighting Wong in a cage match in Macau. In something of a scripted match, Blonsky seems to be helping Wong to earn some money through such an endeavour. Yet, it isn’t explained how the two met.
What we do know is that Emil Blonsky is currently being held prisoner in the Department of Damage Control’s maximum security facility. Wong was shown leading Blonsky back to his cell after the match was over and this same cell is also seen in the trailer for “She-Hulk”, during which he and Wong will return.
It’s great that the Abomination is getting a second chance as we appreciate the comic-book ears, scales, and colours of the character. Sure the first version was a haunting figure that looked like it needed some ice cream to cheer itself up, but this version is The Abomination we’ve known. Make no mistake, he’s still a killer, but he might have had some time to think about his choices while living in a cell all this time. So, yeah, when the Thunderbolts come a-callin’, you know it’s time to smash!
Ava Starr was a former S.H.I.E.L.D. stealth operative who operated under the moniker of Ghost before HYDRA outed itself from within the ranks. The daughter of a former S.H.I.E.L.D. employee named Elihas, she gained her powers when one of her father’s experiments went awry. She was then taken in by Bill Foster, who helped contain her abilities and aid in her survival.
Starr realized that she was slowly dying due to a lack of quantum energy, which she involuntarily harnesses. As soon as she found out that Hank Pym was building a Quantum Tunnel, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Aiming her focus on Hank Pym’s lab, she came into conflict with Ant-Man and The Wasp as they had their own mission to save Janet van Dyne.
At the climax of the film, Janet, who had been released from the Quantum Realm gave her energy to Ava, stabilising her for the time being. With Ava temporarily cured, she had a change of heart toward the Ant fam, assisting them in their escape from the CIA. Living up to her name, she then ghosted everyone, by going into hiding with Bill Foster.
Ghost aka Ava Starr has not been seen since 2018’s “Ant-Man and The Wasp”. She was not present when the Pym family were snapped away, nor was she present during the climactic events of “Endgame”. One easy explanation is to have her be snapped out of existence like the rest of her friends, then they can restart where everyone else left off. Another bleak direction would be to kill her off due to Quantum energy in her… but that would mean she can’t join the Thunderbolts’ fun.
Regardless, Ghost could be the spy for the Thunderbolts. She was trained as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. So, she and Yelena could end up working together to carry out espionage. Her intangibility also allows her to have that versatility in sneaking around. Instead of ducking and covering, she could simply pass through walls into the next room whenever an enemy comes near.
So, yes, beware the Thunderbolts as they would have Baba Yaga on their side, so, do not sleep at night.
Now, this is one character that should be in the MCU!
Melissa Gold is one of the original Thunderbolts from the comics, as she was enlisted by Helmut Zemo. Formerly a criminal called Screaming Mimi, she possesses superhuman reflexes, durability, and stamina. Nevertheless, her signature power is Acoustikinesis which allows her to manipulate sound to create sonic blasts, force-fields, and even solidify it (don’t question the physics here, mate). Think of DC’s Black Canary, or even Ulysses Klaue who was played by Andy Serkis.
Since Ulysses Klaue is no longer active in the MCU due to him being killed off, Songbird can effectively take his place as the sound master. Ulysses Klaue only had a mechanical prosthetic attached to his and he could only use sound to emit sonic booms or shatter glass – at least that was what was portrayed in “Black Panther”. Nevertheless, his full comic-accurate potential was never realised.
With Songbird, they could follow up on that, and it will be a lot more of a visual showcase, due to the pink-hued sonic emissions. Even her wings are a pretty splendid pink.
As for actresses who could be great for the role, talent like Kaya Scodelario or Iola Evans could fit the bill. Or if they want to tweak things up, “Ex Machina” actress Sonoya Mizuno would also be a great choice. Regardless, this character would be great for The Thunderbolts and a fine addition to the MCU’s roster.
The introduction of Taskmaster in live-action was something that was long-awaited by Marvel fans. After all, this was a character that has proven to be a thorn in the Avengers’ side due to the Taskmaster’s unique skill set. Nevertheless, when the character eventually appeared in 2020’s “Black Widow”, it all felt very underwhelming, partly due to the film’s narrative direction.
Deviating from the source material, the MCU aimed to create an adversary close to Natasha; one that would force the Black Widow to confront her past. During the events of the film, the Taskmaster was a relentless assassin sent by the film’s antagonist, General Dreykov, to hunt down Natasha Romanoff. Nevertheless, during the film’s climax, it was revealed that Taskmaster was actually Antonia, THE ‘Dreykov’s daughter’ that Loki namedropped while being held captive in the Helicarrier in 2012.
You see, Natasha had come across Antonia while on assignment in Budapest years ago to take down General Dreykov for good. Despite deeming Antonia as collateral, the idea that she had killed a kid was looming on her conscience ever since.
Antonia along with her father survived and she was converted into a killing machine for her old man. Brainwashed under the Red Room program, she became a formidable force with a variety of weapons at her disposal. She was also fitted with a helmet that analyzed data from the battlefield and predicted the movements of opponents.
Of course, when the reunion between Natasha and Antonia happened, it involved a bombastic battle in the sky as the two exchanged blows in mid-air. Eventually, the former got the better of the Taskmaster and freed her from mind control. With Dreykov gone, Antonia was finally free of the curse that had haunted her for most of her life.
So, where is the Taskmaster now? At the conclusion of “Black Widow”, Antonia was taken in with the other freed Widows. From then on, it is unknown what happened to them. However, we know that the Widows probably spread themselves out across the planet. Therefore, the Taskmaster could have been working on creating her own legacy. Whether that legacy sums up to a good or nefarious purpose remains to be seen but she should be setting herself up for a more impressive display.
If we were to add all of the Taskmaster’s skills into account, she would be a great asset to the Thunderbolts. As the Thunderbolts would probably be formed a decade after her initial appearance in 2016 (timeline-wise), it would make sense that she got an upgrade in terms of her weapons and hopefully a more menacing helmet this time. Close quarter combatants beware as they have nothing against her counterattacks!
9. THE LEADER
The Leader has appeared in the MCU before but was largely forgotten. Where, you might ask? Well, he was a colleague of the Abomination in 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk”. Does that jog your memory yet?
Dr Samuel Sterns was a cellular biologist who taught at Grayburn College. An intuitive soul, he was keen on aiding Bruce Banner to find a cure at the time. Through encrypted connections, Bruce and Samuel, dubbing themselves Mr Green and Mr Blue respectively, communicated in order to find a way to remove the Hulk.
After many unsuccessful attempts, Banner caught up with Sterns in New York, and this led to the speeding up of the antidote process. However, Bruce found out that Sterns had been testing his blood on animal test subjects without his knowledge. Nevertheless, Bruce was apprehended before the argument could escalate further.
Later on, Emil Blonsky approached him at gunpoint and threatened him to perform a blood transfusion containing Banner’s blood and exposing him to Gamma radiation. As soon as Blonsky mutated into the Abomination, he threw Sterns to the ground. Unbeknownst to him, some of Banner’s blood had dripped into an open wound on his head, and the doctor too began mutating. That was the last we ever saw of him in live-action.
In the official comic, “Fury’s Big Week”, Natasha Romanoff was tasked with clean-up on Harlem when she stumbled onto Samuel Sterns who had mutated further. He was in a heightened state, displaying that he had more intelligence than before. Based on her accent, he was able to identify Romanoff’s birthplace.
Sensing that he had to be subdued quickly, he was then shot in the leg by Widow and taken in by S.H.I.E.L.D who then studied his mutations further. By then, his skin had turned green and his head had also grown in size.
So, who is this guy again? The Leader?
In the comics, he got his powers while he was working in a chemical plant. While on the job, he got bombarded with gamma radiation. The radiation increased his intelligence to genius-level along with his ego and ambition to match. As such, he proclaimed that he was a match for the Hulk.
And yes, while he doesn’t have the strength for it, the Leader has created a variety of machines to help do his bidding. This includes transporting him from place to place, firing lasers, and also controlling minds. So, you see, he’s still a good fit for the Thunderbolts. Unhinged, yes… but still could be a great contributor to the cause.
Depending on how it goes, a recast of the character can be done due to the fact that The Leader’s face would have changed since 2008. However, Tim Blake Nelson has got that crazy edge to him and we think he’d still make a very good Leader if he was given the opportunity once again.
For our final candidate on this list, we’re going with someone we’ve not seen in the MCU, but that depends on what you refer to as canon.
Now, for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans out there, you might have remembered a certain Donnie Gill from the first and second seasons of the show. The character played by “13 Reasons Why’s” Dylan Minnette didn’t exactly start out as an antagonist but rather as a bright mind who had a knack for technology. Nevertheless, during the end of the episode where he was featured, his confidante was killed and he obtained powers from the very machine that he built.
During his second appearance on the show, Donnie became a villain. Possessing the cool powers of ice manipulation, he killed anyone who stood in his way. He was eventually tracked down by S.H.I.E.L.D. Eventually, an agent took him out, sniping his chest. His body fell into the ocean and froze but was never found by the authorities.
While we count Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D as canon, we do not think that all of the events took place within the same timeline of the designated “616 Universe”. Indeed, it would betray all logic to count it as such due to the events of Season 6 not even acknowledging the catastrophic event that was Thanos’ snap. Besides, books like the Darkhold have also appeared in the show, but a different version appeared in “Multiverse of Madness”.
Safe to say, a return for Donnie Gill into the main timeline is entirely possible. The Thunderbolts could use an icy personality. Besides, he could have a revamp that is closer to his comic-book counterpart in which he builds a suit that contains cryogenic units to manipulate ice. Besides, he could also have the ability to manipulate electricity to a certain degree, and that would be helpful in killing lights or servers so as to remain undetected.
They could always bring Dylan Minnette back in a cooler costume. He is a talented actor who could add to the dynamic of the Thunderbolts. Hopefully, we’ll get to see him break the ice with the rest of the team.
The official cast of Marvel’s “Thunderbolts” has now been revealed and we’ve gotta say we’re a little surprised with how safe it is.
At D23 today, it was revealed that Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Sebastian Stan, Wyatt Russell, Hannah John-Kamen, Olga Kurylenko, and Julia Loius-Dreyfus will be forming the MCU’s version of the superhero team. They will reprise their roles as Yelena Belova, Red Guardian, Winter Soldier, U.S. Agent, Ghost, Taskmaster, and Valentina respectively.
Our guess is that this is purely an espionage-driven narrative and having big guys on the team might be a little hard to manoeuvre around. Nonetheless, we think it’s great but we don’t this is just it. We do expect more announcements to come down the line with extra characters as it develops. But it’s a great first look and an excellent core cast anyways!
Marvel’s “Thunderbolts” – in theaters 26th July 2024. Who are you most excited to see return from this lineup?