Okay, maybe more “antiheroes”.
Just this year, Marvel Studios announced at the (MCU) would enter brand new Phases sooner than expected. Phase Four would conclude with : Wakanda Forever (2022), with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) bringing about the dawn of a new era, commencing the ‘s Phase Five. 2022 (SDCC) via head honcho Kevin Feige that the
Interestingly, Phase Five was announced to end with the -inspired property known simply as Thunderbolts — an upcoming feature film currently slated for July 26, 2024.
It raises the question — what exactly are these “Thunderbolts”?
“Thunderbolts” in the
Who are the Thunderbolts in Marvel?
The “Thunderbolts” from the Marvel Comics series of the same name, were created by Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley back in 1997. They existed as a collection of villains (you heard that right — villains, not heroes), and to be more specific, individuals of the anti-ish bent, who band together to fight crime in the absence and apparent death of the Avengers after the events of 1996’s “Onslaught” arc.
A twist that Marvel Comics kept close to their chest, though — was that the “Thunderbolts” group, initially started by Baron Helmut Zemo, actually consisted of supervillain team the “Masters of Evil” in disguise, who intended to initiate nefarious plans in the absence of the Fantastic Four and Avengers. Baron Zemo took on the superhero guise of “Citizen V” — a patriotic “American Citizen” modeled after a WWII whom his father killed.
Over the multiple iterations of the Thunderbolts team, the group evolved, eventually becoming respected as a more “superhero”-leaning team, under the command of Clint Barton/Hawkeye. The “Thunderbolts” are a team who have morphed from bad to good and all the greys in between.
“A crime-fighting group of villains and antiheroes” — yes, I know what you’re thinking (people have absolutely made that comparison to a similar, popular DC property). All these characters will undoubtedly need setting up, in that true MCU-crossover vein.
With that knowledge, let’s take a look at the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe villains and antiheroes.
Who could be in MCU’s Thunderbolts?
We’ve already witnessed some hints within the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Four (and perhaps in even earlier phases), but the main thread that we can already see connecting several existing Marvel Studios properties is the character Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who’s been spotted recruiting existing MCU antihero-types in Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021) and Black Widow (2021).
In no particular order, let’s take a look at the known — and maybe less known — players who Marvel fans might see in the upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, Thunderbolts.
1. U.S. Agent / John Walker (Wyatt Russell)
The “Evil Captain America”, John Walker was first introduced to audiences in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, as a former United States Army Captain chosen to take on the mantle of “Captain America” — and immediately disliked by audiences for his overly ambitious and self-centered personality — an almost polar opposite to Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) Cap. His violent shield-smashing of a civilian did not ingratiate him to many people, to say the least.
At the end of his story in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a now Super Soldier Serum-ed up John Walker was recruited by Valentina Allegra de Fontaine for a mysterious cause, getting rebranded as the “U.S. Agent”. Perhaps this is a twisted mirror to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his attempt to recruit the initial six Avengers, with John Walker as the “false” Captain America being the “First Thunderbolt” almost sickly parodying Steve Rogers’ “First Avenger”. Valentina now taking on the mirror-image role of Nick Fury — shadowy organization, black outfits and all.
It’s therefore extremely likely that we will see the Evil Captain America that Marvel fans love to hate cropping up in the new Thunderbolts film.
Baron Helmut Zemo was a nobleman, former Colonel of the Sokovian Armed Forces and Commander of EKO Scorpion, an elite paramilitary death squad.
The last we saw of Zemo in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he was handed over to the Wakandan Dora Milaje warriors to spend time on the Raft — the special prison developed to house “enhanced individuals”. He had finally made his amends with Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and seemed to sit squarely in that semi-reformed villain/antihero grey area. Unquestionably a “bad guy”, but leaving the way open for future interpretations of the character.
Considering Zemo’s prominence in the “Thunderbolts” Marvel Comics however, it’s highly likely that we’ll be seeing him once again in the Thunderbolts film within the MCU. Maybe he’ll even turn out more “evil” than everyone thought, and will be shown to have been biding his time. It’s also very possible that Valentina gets her hands on him somehow, as he is literally just sitting around and waiting for something to happen.
The younger sister of Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and fellow Red Room Academy graduate is definitely a force to be reckoned with in her own right — she was the one who eventually killed their ex-Red Room overseer, General Dreykov, after all.
After spending years attempting to free the other Red Room Black Widows, she got Snapped during the infamous “Thanos incident” that wiped out half the universe’s population in Avengers: Infinity War (2018). She was resurrected back in 2023 to a world in which her adoptive sister Natasha Romanoff was dead, bringing her into the events of Hawkeye (2021), where she tangled with Clint Barton/Hawkeye and protégé Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), coming close to eliminating them before finally accepting her sister’s death.
Marvel fans also saw Yelena getting cornered by one Valentina Allegra de Fontaine as well, at the end of Black Widow — which gives audiences a hint as to how she was set up to eradicate Clint Barton in the first place. Presumably, this meeting with Valentina also secures her place in the Thunderbolts team.
4. Blade / Eric Brooks (Mahershala Ali)
Not much is known about Blade at the moment, except that it will be the seventh instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Five, and that is currently set to be directed by Bassam Tariq.
Many people know of Blade from the 1998 film starring Wesley Snipes as Blade. In the comics, Eric Brooks is a half-human, half-vampire who takes on the role of a vampire hunter. However, it’s likely that many didn’t realize that the post-credit scene of Eternals (2021) was the first to set up the character of Blade in the MCU.
The Eternals post-credits shows Dane Whitman (Kit Harington) nearly wielding his ancestral family’s Ebony Blade, when he is stopped by the voice of a stranger whom the audience does not see. This is supposedly a hint at Blade, as both Blade and Dane Whitman (who takes on the name of Black Knight) are both in the team the Midnight Sons, who deal with supernatural threats.
However it’s important to note that Blade is usually considered an antihero of sorts, and with his own solo movie slated for release in November 3, 2023, as well as this existing-MCU Eternals tease, Eric Brooks definitely stands as a potential Thunderbolts candidate.
5. Abomination / Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth)
Emil Blonsky was the antagonist of 2008’s The Incredible Hulk — the MCU’s oft-forgotten “real” first film in the franchise.
The British Royal Marines special ops commander got experimented on by Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) and subjected to the gamma irradiated blood that gave Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) his Hulk powers, turning him into the Abomination. Blonsky’s story is also tied into the experimentations surrounding the recreation of the Super Soldier Serum.
The fact that he’s currently set to play a substantial role in the MCU once again with 2022’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law opposite Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk (Tatiana Maslany), tells us that his role as an antihero in Thunderbolts is definitely still on the table — though we’ll have to stay tuned to the show in order to see where the character’s headed next.
6. The Punisher / Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal)
The classic Daredevil (2015) antihero Frank Castle AKA the Punisher was given his own spin-off show, The Punisher (2017), which ended in 2019. Now that we have confirmation of Daredevil/Matt Murdock’s (Charlie Cox) involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe after the blind lawyer-and-vigilante turned up in Spider-Man: No Way Home (2022), and the now greenlit Daredevil: Born Again (2024), anything from that Netflix realm might return.
After fellow Daredevil star Rosario Dawson (Claire Temple) accidentally let slip that Jon Bernthal would be returning to the MCU as the Punisher (though this was quickly rectified), it’s still possible that it was the infamous “Marvel police” who got her to rescind her comment — thus making the possibility of the Punisher actually coming back as a part of the Thunderbolts team not as far of a stretch.
7. Deadpool / Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds)
Ah, the much-loved Deadpool AKA Wade Wilson AKA Ryan Reynolds. Deadpool himself has alluded to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in his own films, Deadpool (2016) and Deadpool 2 (2018).
With the acquisition of 20th Century Fox by The Walt Disney Company bringing the X-Men and Deadpool franchises under the same Marvel Studios wing once again, it’s not likely that Marvel will want such an prominent and beloved character and franchise go to waste. With an antihero specific film on the horizon with Thunderbolts, what better way to bring the iconic character back to the big screen?
The inclusion of Deadpool would definitely bump up the “star factor” of the new Thunderbolts franchise, and set a whole new tone with the potential introduction of a mature-rated antihero to the MCU mix. Having Deadpool in Thunderbolts would set a new precedent, hitting the more “mature” niche that Marvel Studios has yet to tap into.
Marvel is also supposedly giving the Merc with a Mouth a third Deadpool flick, and he’s more or less been confirmed to be in the MCU. Additionally, Deadpool is the first elimination target of the Thunderbolts under Norman Osborn/Green Goblin in the Marvel Comics, so there’s some precedence for a Thunderbolts story here as well.
8. Elektra Natchios (Élodie Yung)
Daredevil and The Defenders (2017) alum Elektra is an assassin who trained with Matt Murdock/Daredevil mentor Stick (Scott Glenn) and subsequently joined criminal organization the Hand as the prophesied leader “Black Sky” — oh, and is also Daredevil’s on-again, off-again girlfriend and lover. When she was alive, of course.
Though currently “dead” after being seemingly buried under rubble during the destruction of the Hand operation by Daredevil, Elektra popping up in Thunderbolts is still not entirely out of the realm of possibility. She’s in the “Thunderbolts” team for Marvel Comics’ “Marvel NOW!” 2012 relaunch, too.
Elektra in the MCU was already resurrected once by the Hand’s Resurrection Elixir, which the organization used for hundreds of years to keep their leaders immortal — being buried under the ruins of these structures might bring her and her sai swords back to the world of the MCU.
9. Ghost / Ava Starr (Hannah John-Kamen)
Another superpowered individual with history in the “Thunderbolts” Marvel Comics, MCU’s Ghost is an antagonist from Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018). Ghost was subjected to a quantum accident that killed her parents — that also gave her the power to become intangible. The catch: she needs quantum energy to live.
Framed as an antihero, Ghost was an unfortunate victim who was utilized by S.H.I.E.L.D. as a stealth operative, and by the end of Ant-Man and the Wasp, was given some power to stabilize her condition, leaving to live with Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne).
Of course, as we all know, this was before the Thanos Snap and Blip, so who knows where Ghost has ended up, and whether she’ll return in Thunderbolts.
/ Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)
Arguably the First Antihero, who came along with the First Avenger.
Bucky Barnes has been grappling with his darker side ever since he was taken by Hydra during WWII and brainwashed into becoming a deadly, mind-controlled assassin that (spoilers, maybe) killed Tony Stark/Iron Man’s (Robert Downey Jr.) parents.
Having tried to deal with his demons and grief in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, we know that Bucky Barnes is on the mend. However it would be interesting to see him play a part in Thunderbolts in order to give the group a bit of a “redeemable” quality, instead of coming across so inherently villainous. Since the Winter Soldier does team up with the “Thunderbolts” in the Marvel Comics, it might be a chance for Marvel Studios to use Bucky in a more interesting way.
An honorable 11th mention would be Thaddeus Ross, portrayed by the late William Hurt starting from The Incredible Hulk.
Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross would have been fascinating as a part of the Thunderbolts, as in the Marvel Comics the character is also the Red Hulk — the Hulk’s longtime antagonist and someone that the Marvel Cinematic Universe seemed to be building up, as he’d recently played a role in Black Widow. Ross also had a Thunderbolts storyline in the Marvel Comics, but unfortunately, with the passing of William Hurt in earlier this March, fans will not be able to see his iteration of Red Hulk.
Overall, who truly will prove to make the Thunderbolts cut is yet to be seen. There are even upcoming villains and antiheroes that we have yet to meet properly, like She-Hulk‘s Titania (Jameela Jamil), or even Bullseye/Agent Poindexter teased at the end of Daredevil‘s season three.
The possibilities here are quite endless, and time — and more likely, the whims of Kevin Feige — will have to tell.
What do you think of this list of possible Thunderbolts? Did we miss anything? Share your thoughts in the comments below!