With the Disney+ MCU shows kicking off production, filming is commencing for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. This series is believed to be a major building block for future MCU franchises as it will determine the futures for characters such as Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes which means the future for the Captain America franchise. Speculation has also increased about the series introducing the Thunderbolts team in some way as Zemo will be returning and Secretary Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross is rumored to appear. Altogether, this could be an interesting recipe for the upcoming Disney+ series to lead into a Thunderbolts franchise in an organic way.
The Return of Zemo
Originally appearing in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, the motivation for Helmut Zemo begins with Avengers: Age of Ultron. A citizen of Sokovia, home of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver as well, his family died during the Battle of Sokovia against Ultron. Blaming Tony Stark and The Avengers, he swore revenge. His background was a Colonel of the Sokovian Armed Forces and commander of their EKO Scorpion unit. This unit was an elite paramilitary death squad providing him the training and experience needed to challenge The Avengers from the shadows.
To this day, he remains one of the few villains to successfully defeat The Avengers as they were broken up, in canon, from 2016 until 2023. However, Zemo was arrested during 2016 and kept in a special CIA prison until he mysteriously escaped by the events of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. There are rumors that John Walker aka U.S. Agent is corrupted by Zemo but so far that’s unproven speculation. The return of the character is important too because he’s a central figure in multiple incarnations of the Thunderbolts. In fact, the Thunderbolts were founded by Zemo in the comics.
Another connective tissue is the involvement of government in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, something stemming from Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War. In those series, we saw S.H.I.E.L.D., The World Security Council, and the United States Government play central roles. Secretary Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, formerly General Ross, is also rumored to appear in the Disney+ series. If he does, his nickname alone could provide a reason for the team using a name such as Thunderbolts. At the same time, it’s rumored he’s supporting John Walker as the next Captain America instead of Sam Wilson.
If this were to be accurate, it would likely be due to Sam Wilson’s resistance towards the Sokovian Accords. Besides a new Captain America, the USA government could use the opportunity to introduce a government-sponsored team as an attempt to formally replace The Avengers. This would allow The Falcon and the Winter Solider to operate as a backdoor pilot for a Thunderbolts film, however, that team would need a leader familiar with audiences.
The Future of Sam Wilson & Bucky Barnes
Sebastian Stan was long believed to become the next Captain America of the MCU once Chris Evans gave up the shield. This fan belief was further augmented when he signed an extension to his MCU deal, thought to lock him up for more future appearances than any other MCU actor. However, since then expectations have taken surprise turns as he was the “White Wolf” for a post-credits scene and Sam Wilson’s Captain America from the comics gained popularity. Regardless, it’s apparent that the MCU has lots in store for Bucky Barnes as The Falcon and the Winter Soldier can spin off into two franchises.
The first franchise is presumed to be Captain America 4 (starting a potential trilogy) featuring Sam Wilson as Captain America against various threats. The second franchise is Thunderbolts, which based on recent comics could see the team led by Winter Soldier. This would be a very interesting move for the character as we could see him managing a team filled with Zemo, Ghost, Leader, Abomination, and potentially new characters. Rumors have mentioned Justin Hammer returning as a pseudo-Tony Stark character, but that’s so far pure speculation.
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