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With all the recent news about which superheroes will battle each other next year in Captain America: Civil War, no one would blame you for forgetting that the film actually has a legitimate primary antagonist: Baron Helmut Zemo, who will be played by Daniel Brühl. Although he is one of Captain America’s greatest enemies in the comics, there is next to no information on how he’s being used in the film other than he will be doing his damnedest to destroy the Star Spangled Avenger. Now that Captain America: Civil War has wrapped principal photography, Marvel will hopefully start peeling back the layers of the character via announcements, stills and a trailer, but in the meantime, we want to take our own crack at how Zemo might be handled in the Captain America threequel.
In order to deduce what this version of Zemo will be up to in Captain America: Civil War, we need to go over the comic book history of not just Helmut, but his father Heinrich as well. Heinrich was one of the more dangerous Nazi bad guys that Steve Rogers went up against during World War II. During one of their battles, Cap’s shield struck a vat of the experimental substance Adhesive X, which landed on Heinrich’s face and bonded the mask he was wearing permanently to his face. Swearing revenge on Cap, Heinrich orchestrated the event that led to Cap being frozen and Bucky’s presumed death. When Captain America woke up in the present day (which at that time was the 1960s), Heinrich was determined to kill his old foe and organized the Masters of Evil to help him, but after several battles with Cap and the Avengers, he was killed by an avalanche. Presumably if Heinrich is seen/mentioned in the movie, he will be changed to Helmut’s grandfather given how much time has passed since World War II.
After his father’s death, Helmut inherited the evil Zemo legacy. Like Heinrich, his face was also covered with Adhesive X, although he fortunately was not wearing his own mask during the accident. Although his early appearances painted him as a clear villain, it was while he led various iterations of the Thunderbolts that he tried to help the world as he saw fit, though eventually he regressed to his devious ways. One of his more recent endeavors was revealing to the public Bucky’s actions as the Winter Solider, which is a plot that could easily be adapted for Captain America: Civil War. After all, only a select few know Bucky is still alive in the MCU, and if his brainwashed actions are leaked, then it would taint Cap’s reputation and lead to an outcry over what Bucky had done. I imagine Tony Stark wouldn’t take it well learning that his former teammate’s best friend was the one that killed his parents, for example.
This brings us to the version of Zemo we’ll see on the big screen next year, who is almost certainly the "new enemy" alluded to in the film’s synopsis. So far all of Captain America’s enemies in his solo movies (and the beginning of Avengers: Age of Ultron) have been affiliated with HYDRA, but it remains to be seen whether that will be the case with Zemo. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume he has a connection to HYDRA, especially if Heinrich worked with the Red Skull. However, while Ant-Man and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have shown the terrorist organization to still be active, they don’t hold the same power they once did following their exposure in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the deaths of leaders like Alexander Pierce and Baron Strucker. Zemo likely has his own vast resources at his disposal, so while his family have may connections to the Nazis and/or HYDRA in this universe, he should be able to accomplish his goals without their help.
One thing that is likely is that Zemo will have some hand in the forced registration of superhumans. It’s rumored that Crossbones will be the one that ignites the incident that leads the world’s governments to take action against the Avengers, but who’s to say he was working alone? Perhaps Zemo and Crossbones were in cahoots, and this explosive incident was the first step towards Zemo’s master plan. Why would he do all this? While it would be nice to believe that he’s trying to make the world a better place, his true reasons are probably more malevolent. My guess is with the Avengers being monitored, these restrictions will make it easier for him to accomplish his secret goals (namely seizing power), and with their conflict amongst each other over the registration, they won’t realize what’s he’s really up to… except for Cap, of course. Regardless, don’t be surprised if we see Zemo working with various world leaders and politicians (including possibly Martin Freeman’s still-unidentified character) behind the scenes to ensure everything happens according to plan.
We’ll see Baron Zemo in action (hopefully with the purple mask) when Captain America: Civil War hits theaters on May 6, 2016. But if you have your own ideas for how the film will use Zemo, let us know in the comments below.