SPOILERS are ahead for the MCU up to Black Widow, which is playing in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access.
Since the Marvel Cinematic Universe began, the end credit scenes have become important bookends to setting up what’s to come for fans through the studio’s upcoming projects. However, following Avengers: Endgame it’s not quite clear what next big event is being set up. There are musings of the multiverse being a huge part of the next chapter, but the first official Marvel movie in Phase Four, Black Widow, is also teasing something else: the Thunderbolts. The Thunderbolts are essentially Marvel’s own version of Suicide Squad, as in they are villains who become heroes.
It started in The Falcon in the Winter Soldier with the introduction of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Valentina Allegra de Fontaine who recruited U.S. Agent for his “services.” Then in Black Widow, it’s revealed that post-Snap, Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova is working for Valentina and has been hired to take down Hawkeye. Okay, so if we have Yelena and John Walker potentially part of a team, let’s talk about other characters who could be aligned with the MCU’s Thunderbolts.
Baron Helmut Zemo
Daniel Brühl’s Zemo came back into the picture in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier earlier this year, and the character is actually the original leader of the Thunderbolts. In the comics, Zemo recruited former members of the Masters of Evil to “pose” as superheroes before they become a full-fledged team that are. in fact, working for the greater good.
When we last saw Baron Helmut Zemo, put back behind bars, though he still orchestrated the assassination of the remaining Flag Smashers. We could definitely see Zemo coming back into the equation in the form of being part of the Thunderbolts team, whether that’s through a leadership role or as a kind of trick to get on the good side of the powers that be. If he fakes being a superhero and joins the team, it can allow him to forward his plans outside of prison.
Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is sure to come into the crossfires of Valentina Allegra de Fontaine’s plans in the upcoming Hawkeye series as Yelena Belova goes after the hero for “being responsible” for Natasha’s death. As we know, Clint did not kill Natasha, so if he and Yelena get a chance to talk between her being hired to kill him, a tension could form between the people she works for and Hawkeye and the other Avengers.
In the comic books, Hawkeye becomes the leader of the Thunderbolts after Zemo forms the group, and helps with turning it into a true superhero team. It’s unclear at the moment what Jeremy Renner’s future is with Marvel, but we do expect him to be training Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop during the Hawkeye series. Perhaps he’ll become a mentor to former villains as well.
Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier is the perfect example of a reformed villain in the MCU and would be a great recruit for the Thunderbolts on many levels. Throughout The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Bucky dealt with this transition between being this killing machine and working for the good side with Anthony Mackie’s Falcon. If the Thunderbolts were formed, he would be a smart addition who could add some depth to the team and possibly keep Zemo in check.
Bucky is another instance in the MCU where we don’t quite know what he’ll do next. Falcon has become Captain America, and they’ll perhaps continue to team up in the rumored Captain America sequel starring Mackie, but we can also see the Thunderbolts and the Winter Soldier finding connections somehow.
In Black Widow, we learn the new origin story of the MCU’s Taskmaster, who turns out to be Olga Kurylenko’s Antonia, the daughter of Dreykov. At the end of the Marvel film, Antonia no longer belonged to Dreykov, but what will she do next? The character has some incredible powers that allows her to learn the moves of other great fighters. She is kind of like Winter Soldier in the sense that she will need to be placed on a journey of self-redemption after being used as a tool.
The Thunderbolts could be a solid place for Taskmaster to return into the fold if Marvel does decide to bring her back. She would be the perfect villain-turned-hero to add to the team, and the character could be used to further develop the fallout of the Red Room being dismantled in Black Widow.
If you followed along for WandaVision, you know there’s a major loose end when it comes to Paul Bettany’s role in the MCU. Wanda’s original Vision was killed in Avengers: Endgame and the one she created for her TV show town no longer exists. However, there is White Vision, which the other Vision gave memories to in the series finale. So we have another potentially reformed villain who could join the Thunderbolts.
White Vision was left pretty confused after WandaVision, as he ventured out to an undisclosed location once he downloaded information that belonged to the original Vision. Fitting in the future of White Vision into the Thunderbolts is tough to pinpoint for the time being, but we’d be happy to see him in this team setting as Wanda teams up with Doctor Strange in Multiverse of Madness.
Before we go, let’s fill in a wild one. What about Deadpool? You say anti-hero and I immediately think of the Merc with a Mouth, who is expected to join the MCU somehow after the Fox merger, but how and when has yet to be identified. Deadpool already is this hero who likes to work with less than straight-laced characters, so maybe he’ll find himself part of the Thunderbolts.
The biggest question that lies ahead and what the Thunderbolts would be enlisted for. In terms of the U.S. Agent and Yelena Belova, it almost seems like they’d join a team being formulated by Valentina Allegra de Fontaine because they don’t really have anywhere else to go. The other question at hand is whether William Hurt’s Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross will have anything to do with it as well following his brief screen time in Black Widow.
Overall, there’s a great lineup of characters who could start the Thunderbolts if that’s where the MCU is headed after Black Widow’s end credit scene. We’ll have more answers later in the year, especially with Hawkeye among the upcoming Disney+ Marvel shows coming out in the near future.