During this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel CCO Kevin Feige revealed the slate for Marvel Cinematic Universe, aka MCU, phases five and six, both of which, along with phase four, will constitute the “Multiverse Saga.” Speculated for quite a while, the “Thunderbolts” movie was finally confirmed among other projects in the list. Earlier this month, the Marvel panel at the D23 Expo showcased concept art of characters who will be part of the team, which consisted of Yelena Belova, Winter Soldier, Taskmaster, Ghost, Red Guardian, US Agent, and Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. “Thunderbolts” will conclude phase five, and given the MCU’s current situation, they will appear at a critical juncture. We’ll talk about the team’s comics background, how closely the MCU might follow its comics counterpart, the characters who will appear, and how their actions might influence future events.
Who Are Thunderbolts?
The Thunderbolts are a group of former villains, anti-heroes, and morally questionable characters, banding together to play heroes, led by either a mainstay hero or a villain through various iterations, motivated by either leader’s agenda or sometimes controlled by shady government agencies. More often than not, members of the Thunderbolts have individual ulterior motives or are looking to redeem themselves after straying from the path of righteousness for a long time. The team was created by Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley in 1997 for “The Incredible Hulk” #449. In their first iteration, the Thunderbolts consisted of C-list villains like Screaming Mimi, Beetle, Goliath, Fixer, and Moonstone. The villainous mastermind Baron Helmut Zemo recruited them from his former group, the ‘Masters of Evil’ which was created by him to destroy the Avengers. Using these unsuspecting villains as his pawns, he introduced them to a new identity under the team name Thunderbolts. His timing was impeccable, as the world was missing its best defense team at the time, The Avengers, who were presumably killed by supervillain Onslaught. Rookie, idealistic hero Jolt, joined the team, too, unaware of Zemo’s nefarious plans. After few successful heroic missions, the Thunderbolts gained public trust, all according to Zemo’s scheme. He decided to drop team members’ crafted identities to finally set the last part of his plan of motion- taking over the world and other superteams like the Fantastic Four and returning Avengers. However, his master plan was foiled as members of the Thunderbolts were not only eager to pretend to play heroes but also to redeem themselves while “breaking good.” It took them battling with mind-controlled Avengers and the Fantastic Four and stopping a plan of global-scale destruction to realize being a hero was their true calling all along.
The slogan of Thunderbolts, which motivated the members through their various iterations, is about the striking force of Justice, with suddenness and intensity of lightning, which generates fear among all, and punishes the guilty. The Slogan accentuates the team’s method of action and nature of members, less refined, and unchecked violence if necessary. Throughout their fictional history, the team has been led by numerous heroes, anti-heroes, and villains of Marvel universe multiple times including by Baron Zemo, Norman Osborn, Winter Soldier, Red Hulk, Punisher, Kingpin, and Heroes like Hawkeye, Luke Cage. The team is now at its eleventh iteration in comics and unsurprisingly numerous top-tier characters have become members of Thunderbolts so far like Deadpool, Bullseye, Venom, Juggernaut, Ghost Rider, Rhino, America Chavez to name a few. The strength of the team lies in being a metaphor for second chances, a shot at redemption.
How Thunderbolts Are Different From DCEU’s Sinister Suicide Squad?
Fans and the general audience might find this team of unwilling ragtag to be very similar to DC’s Suicide Squad, which is also a team of villainous characters. That assumption is both right and wrong to some extent. The Suicide Squad was the first such grouping of lesser-known c-list expandable villains forced to carry out black ops missions for the US government in various parts of the world in exchange for early parole or reduced prison time. While Squad had an impact on the development of Thunderbolts (the former predates the latter by three decades), they are treated differently in several ways. Control of the Suicide Squad always rests in the hands of director Amanda Waller, who uses nanite bombs grafted inside the members’ bodies to threaten them into obedience and submission. Thunderbolts members are given the choice to join, and they are often recruited by villainous characters to serve their own purposes rather than by secret government agencies. While Squad members are mostly interested in completing the mission, survival, or breaking free with little to no interest in playing the hero, the Thunderbolts often present themselves as a substitute hero team. Suicide Squad portrays itself as a satire on the shady practices of US bureaucracy, which uses its prisoners as expandable tools to covertly control world affairs. The MCU, on the other hand, has used the character Valentina Allegra de Fontaine as a lite version of Amanda Waller, who is attempting to form the team by recruiting reluctant members to operate secretly under the government. Therefore, a comparison with the Squad is bound to happen.
Who Are The Members Of The Thunderbolts Team?
Interestingly, the MCU’s announced roster of Thunderbolts does not include a single original member of the team from the comics, except Daniel Bruhl’s Baron Helmut Zemo. Almost the entire team is constituted of returning characters from the “Black Widow” movie and the “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” series, the character Ghost from the “Ant-Man” movie series being the only exception. In the comics, the Thunderbolts boasted a team of members with varying abilities, while in the MCU version, most of the members are simply super soldiers, again Ghost being the exception , who has the intangibility for a superpower, being the exception. Fans who speculated on the appearance of heavy hitters like General Thaddeus Ross’s Red Hulk or Emil Blonsky’s Abomination are disappointed with their exclusion, but then again, they can be included later by the time the movie releases.
The Key Players Of The MCU Thunderbolts Team
Valentina Fontaine: Valentina Fontaine, played by Julia Dreyfus, has been operating from the shadows as the presumed mastermind behind the MCU’s version of Thunderbolts. So far, Valentina has played the skilled puppeteer. From verbally approving and encouraging the actions of nearly psychotic John Walker and recruiting him to gain his trust, to provoking Yelena Belova and misleading her into believing Clint had murdered her surrogate sister Natasha. Her method of negotiation and manipulation, being armed with confidential government resources, reminds fans less of the good-willed Nick Fury and more of DC’s Amanda Waller. The certain powerful people she mentioned that she works under might also be the secret society of supervillains known as the Dark Illuminati or Cabal. With some members of the group like Loki, The Hood (the villain in the upcoming “Ironheart” series), Namor, and Norman Osborn already present in the MCU, and members like Doctor Doom scheduled to appear soon, they can lead the MCU to introduce Dark Avengers in the future.
Baron Helmut Zemo: By tricking fans into believing something else while faithfully following the comics arc, which the MCU has done before, Baron Zemo may turn out to be the orchestrator after all. Helmut Zemo in the MCU is a Sokovian aristocrat, as opposed to his comics counterpart, who was a literal Nazi. This murderous mastermind, who despises superhumans, had the last laugh in both of his past appearances. In ‘Civil War,’ his involvement and plotting destroyed the Avengers as a team. In ‘The Falcon and The Winter Soldier,’ he successfully eliminated the remaining enhanced individuals among flag smashers and destroyed the last stack of super serum, all the while escaping imprisonment. While he is not revealed as a member of the team, his involvement is confirmed, but in what capacity is what remains to be seen. Daniel Bruhl will return to portray the character for the third time.
Yelena Belova: Kevin Feige has named Yelena Belova as the leader of the MCU Thunderbolts. Yelena is a highly skilled assassin and a spy. She went through the Black Widow training protocol in the Red Room along with her surrogate sister Natasha Romanoff. Later, she managed to get out of her commander, Dreykov’s, mind control and reunited with her sister. After the event of ‘Avengers: Endgame,’ she tracks down Hawkeye, whom she believes to be responsible for her sister’s death, but ends up forgiving him. She’ll be among the ones to make amends for the mistakes she made during her career as a Black Widow. She will also have a score to settle with Valentina Fontaine, who had fed her lies regarding Natasha’s death. Florence Pugh will return to portray the character.
Winter Soldier: Speaking of redemption, perhaps no one is more willing to be the recipient of it than Winter Soldier, aka Bucky Barnes. A super soldier and the senior-most character in the team, Bucky was captured by HYDRA during the Second World War and was brainwashed to carry out assassinations on their behalf, donning the moniker of Winter Soldier. After getting cured of his condition with the help of Shuri, a deeply remorseful Bucky starts his journey to make amends. We find him in ‘The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’ maintaining a list of individuals. Among whom there are culprits responsible for his former condition, whom he brings to justice, and victims who lost their lives at the hand of the Winter Soldier, whom he tries to bring some closure to. One of the themes of Thunderbolts is second chances, and Bucky is in dire need of one. Joining the team will be his way of trying to recover his respect as a war hero.
Alexei Shostakov: Another character associated with ‘Black Widow,’ Alexei Shostakov, is the Russian version of Captain America. A surrogate father to Natasha and Yelena, Alexei was induced with the Soviet Union’s version of super soldier serum during his tenure in the Soviet military force. After the USSR fell apart, he took part in covert missions under General Dreykov to infiltrate a SHIELD base in Ohio, where he spent three years with his “made-up family.” After handing over his surrogate daughters to Dreykov’s Black Widow project, he got imprisoned over a disagreement with the general. Later, after getting rescued by both his daughters, he joined them to free the rest of the assassins from mind control and destroyed the Red Room in the process. A skilled super soldier himself, he wants to make amends for his actions performed under Dreykov’s orders and for being absent as a father figure when his daughters needed him the most. In ‘Thunderbolts,’ the family dynamic between him and Yelena and how he handles the death of Natasha will be something to look forward to.
John Walker: Yet another super soldier, a Captain America rip-off, and a psychotic one at that, US Agent aka John Walker, is perhaps the most unstable element in this group. Even though Steve Rogers himself had chosen Sam Wilson as successor for Captain America, Sam relinquishes the shield. Unwilling to shoulder the responsibility, the US government wastes no time appointing army captain John Walker to the role. Things take a turn for the worse as revenge-driven Walker kills a defenseless flag smasher in public. Promptly relieved from his title and position, a disgraced Walker gets recruited by Valentina Fontaine under the new guise and moniker “US Agent.” It didn’t seem that he had completely given in to lesser instincts though, as in the final episode of “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier,” he tried to rescue a police van full of hostages from imminent destruction. The tension between him and Bucky Barnes will be something to keep an eye on, as they squared off several times in the series earlier. Wyatt Rusell will return to portray the character.
Antonia Dreykov: Another pawn in Dreykov’s plans is his daughter, Antonia Dreykov, aka Taskmaster, who will share similarities in a predicament with Bucky Barnes. After getting severely injured by the explosion caused by Natasha Romanoff, Antonia gets mentally and physically controlled by a neural chip and gains photographic memory and fighting style, mimicking skills as a result. Dreykov uses her as a master assassin and infiltrator, not too dissimilar from what Bucky had to go through for a lifetime. At the end of the “Black Widow” movie, we find Antonia getting out of control. The reason for her joining the ‘Thunderbolts’ remains to be seen. Olga Kurylenko will reprise the role for the second time.
Ghost: Lastly, a member with superpowers, Ghost, aka Ava Starr, played by Hannah John-Kamen, will join the team of Thunderbolts. Another unwilling victim of an accidental mishap, Ava loses her parents in SHIELD’s quantum entanglement accident and gains intangibility from the same. Instead of curing her, SHIELD continued to use her for their missions as a spy and assassin. After her brief stint of trying to take matters into her own hands, Ant-Man convinced her that they’d find a cure for her. However, their five-year absence during Endgame might tick Ava off yet again, something the movie will answer.
How Thunderbolts Will Become A Part Of MCU’s Phase 5?
Similar to their first appearance in comics, Thunderbolts in MCU will appear at a sort of crossroads. The MCU universe is lacking a team like Avengers, remaining members of it have made peace with their superhero selves to some extent. In this situation, a team like Thunderbolts controlled by the government’s secret agencies, is just what the first Avenger, Steve Rogers’ had suspected could happen, and that’s why he refused to sign the Superhero registration act during “Captain America: Civil War”. The plot points of “Secret Invasion” and “Captain America: New World Order ” ,which will be released in phase five, will be pivotal for this new team. In comics, in the aftermath of the Secret Invasion, Nick Fury’s position goes into the hands of Norman Osborn. While corrupting the bureaucracy from within, he leads Thunderbolts to infiltrate other teams. Coincidentally (or not), the next movie we will be getting after “Thunderbolts” will be MCU’s version of “Fantastic Four”. The fourth Captain America movie’s subtitle also hints at the new world Valentina Fontaine was talking about, a world where distrust for superheroes and control has become commonplace, a world that uses teams like Thunderbolts to perform its dirty deeds. To see how many of these speculations come to fruition, fans must wait for 26th July 2024 when ‘Thunderbolts’ will be released in theatres.