Things We Want To See In The MCU's Thunderbolts Movie
Marvel boasts some of the most popular superhero teams in all of comics, from the X-Men and the Avengers to the Fantastic Four and the Guardians of the Galaxy. But a more recent team, first appearing in the late '90s, has become a fan favorite, and readers have been eagerly awaiting their arrival in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Finally, in 2022, dreams took their first step towards reality with the announcement from Deadline that the Thunderbolts would be coming to the big screen, courtesy of director Jake Schreier ("Paper Towns") and "Black Widow" screenwriter Eric Pearson.
A team led by Baron Zemo in the comics, and featuring a rogues gallery of reformed villains, they started out as a devious ploy to steal secrets from the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. before eventually turning into a legitimate superhero team led by a rotating roster of big names, including Hawkeye, Luke Cage, and the Red Hulk. So what version of the team might we see on the big screen? With so many existing villains to choose from — including Zemo himself, who recently returned in "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" — it's anyone's guess right now.
We've got a few ideas, though. With a new tone, a new direction, superhero cameos, and thoughts on new and returning characters, here's what we want to see in the MCU's "Thunderbolts" movie.
Thunderbolts needs to forge its own path
While the expectation for fans — and even Marvel's writers — might be that a "Thunderbolts" film would directly adapt the original run of "Thunderbolts" comics, we'd like to see the movie take its own journey. The movie will obviously take its cues from the classic stories on the page, as it should, but let's face it: the state of the MCU today is very different from the state of the Marvel Universe in the comics as it existed in 1997 when the Thunderbolts debuted. Rather than try to shoehorn in the original comics story — which saw Zemo assemble a team of supervillains to pretend to be heroes in an effort to take down the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. — we'd like to see a more loosely inspired story that flows naturally out of the current events in the MCU.
Likewise, it may be tempting to turn the Thunderbolts into a dark version of the Avengers themselves (which itself was a storyline in the comics), but that may or may not make sense at this point. Like "Captain America: Civil War," the film adaptation should be the MCU's version of the same idea, not a one-to-one translation. If it departs from what we've seen on the page, that's okay, and should in fact be celebrated. As the MCU continues to diverge from the comics, it only becomes more exciting, as it will continue to be unpredictable even to longtime fans.
Marvel's Mission: Impossible
Super-teams are nothing new in the MCU, with the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy headlining some of biggest franchises of recent decades. Both of those teams, however, are largely a collection of wise-cracking, upbeat heroes, and with the Fantastic Four and the X-Men both on their way, the trend of family friendly teams will most certainly continue. But Thunderbolts is an opportunity to take the team dynamic in a new direction that we have rarely seen in the MCU. A collection of sinister villains who turn hero, this is the studio's chance to do something darker and grittier, with an edgier tone than we've seen in previous superhero teams.
We're not suggesting it mimic the adult nature of "The Suicide Squad" — after all, it will want to set itself apart from DC's similarly themed film series — but something more akin to "Mission: Impossible" might be in order. With the Thunderbolts being a team that plays by their own rules, crafting a globe-trotting, espionage story with agents working in the shadows, bending the rules, and breaking the heroes' code to save the day isn't just appropriate, but could be just what the MCU needs.
In 2021, "Black Widow" received some criticism for not going deep enough into the spy genre, and falling back into standard comic book action. But with "Thunderbolts" set to star villainous anti-heroes, it's the MCU's the chance to go further with a darker tone, without risking the reputation of its beloved, colorful heroes.
Give us something we don't see coming
Through the various series on Disney+, Marvel seems to have been setting up a team of rogue counterparts to the Avengers. In "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" we saw a new Captain America named John Walker emerge, only to become a more violent hero dubbed U.S. Agent. "Hawkeye" gave us a new and more sinister Black Widow with her own agenda by bringing Yelena Belova into the current timeline, and left plenty of questions about her unanswered. Amidst it all was the addition of Julia Louis Dreyfuss, who joined the MCU as Vanessa Allegra de LaFontaine, a shadowy agent who works for an organization of as-yet-undetermined goals, who seems to be recruiting them for her own ominous purposes.
Given these developments, many fans have speculated that this could be the start of the MCU's own Thunderbolts, a collection of new super-powered agents who blur the line between good and evil. Certainly it seems easy to predict that the film will feature Zemo and these anti-heroes on missions for LaFontaine.
But instead of going with the obvious, perhaps the "Thunderbolts" movie should subvert our expectations, instead pitting Dreyfuss' team against the Thunderbolts. We know that Everett Ross has Zemo in custody, so perhaps Ross and Zemo will recruit a team to stop this new, twisted Avengers roster consisting of U.S. Agent, Black Widow, and more. But that's just one option; whatever the details may be, we're hoping Marvel doesn't do the obvious, because it may be much more compelling to surprise those who've been following the MCU closely.
A culmination of Marvel Television
Though "Thunderbolts" was announced as a standalone movie, it has a unique opportunity to be the culmination of everything we've seen so far on Disney+. With the introduction of new anti-heroes like U.S. Agent, the re-emergence of baddies like Zemo and Batroc in "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," and the return of the Abomination in "She-Hulk," we've seen Marvel TV strategically placing pieces on the game board. As a result, "Thunderbolts" should be the endgame of the different moves they've been quietly making in the background, weaving seemingly disparate elements together to reveal a broader tapestry at work.
Monica Rambeau from "WandaVision" and Kamala Khan from "Ms. Marvel" will join Brie Larson in "The Marvels," and elements from "Loki" and "WandaVision" fed into "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse Of Madness." Now we'd like to see different characters from the other shows — perhaps even a character like Scarlet Scarab from "Moon Knight" — all tied together and flowing into "Thunderbolts" to give greater meaning to all we've seen so far on Disney+.
Of course, this could also mean appearances from heroes like She-Hulk and Hawkeye. But whatever the end result, "Thunderbolts" should be to the Disney+ shows what "The Avengers" was to the MCU's first phase — a culmination of individual stories into an epic clash.
Long lost villains
In recent years, Marvel has satisfied fans with the return of several villains we never thought we'd see again. Red Skull made his presence known in "Avengers: Infinity War" and Batroc popped up in "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," while the biggest surprise — Emil Blonsky's Abomination — showed up in "Shang Chi" and will play a role in "She-Hulk." With "Armor Wars" due soon, it's possible we'll also be seeing the return of Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, but there are still plenty of big bads from Marvel past that we haven't seen make a comeback. "Thunderbolts" — a story of villains uniting to become a new quasi-superhero team — would be the perfect place.
Chief among those might be The Leader, Samuel Sterns, who we last saw in 2008's "The Incredible Hulk." With his mutated advanced intellect, he would the ideal criminal mastermind to help the team plot their missions. Likewise, Ghost from "Ant-Man and the Wasp" has been conspicuously absent from the MCU since her debut, and a team of rogue black ops super soldiers would be an ideal place for her next appearance. And that's not even half of who we could see, as the Destroyer armor from "Thor" may still be in government custody, while the likes of Yellowjacket, Taskmaster, and even the main universe's Baron Mordo are all still out there somewhere just waiting to be show up again.
Debuting in the pages of their own book in 1997, the Thunderbolts were decidedly not a collection of the biggest, most popular villains. They were instead a roster of mostly B-listers, and with the MCU having introduced most of Marvel's mightiest malevolent maniacs, "Thunderbolts" is where we might finally see the debut of some familiar faces who remain unseen in live action. From the Fixer, Moonstone, and Songbird to the Wrecking Crew, there's a number of important villains on the team's roster from the comics that fans have been clamoring to see on screen for years. And their place in the Marvel Universe goes well beyond the Thunderbolts team, as Moonstone has been a major enemy of Captain Marvel, while the Wrecking Crew has been a thorn in the side of the Avengers for decades.
But there are bigger characters that Marvel could finally bring to the big screen with "Thunderbolts." In fact, one of the most famous Avengers still waiting to debut would make perfect sense as a member of the team: Simon Williams, a.k.a. Wonder Man. Good friends with Hawkeye and the X-Men's Beast, Wonder Man has never been associated with the group of former villains, but when he debuted in 1964 it was as an enemy of the Avengers, before he turned his life around and joined the team himself. With the recent announcement that he'll be getting his own series on Disney+ that should be filming in 2023 (via THR), "Thunderbolts" may be just the place for Simon to make his presence felt first.
A major enemy
If we wanted to get really crazy, "Thunderbolts" could also serve as an unexpected launching pad for major new villains that fans have been eagerly awaiting for years. Ever since Disney's acquisition of Fox, the MCU has had access to some of the comics' biggest baddies, but the Marvel braintrust has been patiently waiting to introduce them in just the right place. With Fantastic Four and X-Men reboots coming relatively soon, fans may be ready to see new versions of villains like Doctor Doom, Magneto, Galactus, or Apocalypse.
But what might be best is if the likes of Doctor Doom or Magneto make their MCU entrances in "Thunderbolts" as the villain that the team of reformed evil-doers are tasked with toppling. The first MCU "X-Men" and "Fantastic Four" movies may not want to repeat past pictures by featuring their biggest villains in their first appearances, so a backdoor intro in something like "Thunderbolts" could make some sense, while giving the underdog team of former crooks an adversary that would be a believable threat to their collective powers and skillsets.
Using the film as a launching pad for a new major enemy would also be a surprising and bold move for a movie that needs to be bold and surprising.
A showdown with the Avengers
If Marvel doesn't want to go the big bad route and have the Thunderbolts facing off with the likes of Doctor Doom, Magneto, or some other major Marvel adversary, then they could choose to pit them against the heroes themselves: the new version of the Avengers, as led by Sam Wilson's Captain America. And even if they do go up against a bold new threat, a showdown with Marvel's pre-eminent superhero team seems inevitable.
Plus, after "Avengers: Endgame" we still don't know the status of the Avengers proper. Are they still functioning as a team? Do they have a new headquarters? And most importantly, what is their team roster like? With Steve Rogers retired, Thor off on his own adventures, Iron Man and Black Widow dead, Scarlet Witch gone mad, and Captain Marvel likely off-planet, the team is looking thin. If the Avengers have reformed, this could be the best place for their new recruits to be introduced, whether it's young heroes like Kate Bishop, Cassie Lang, and America Chavez, or even newly re-introduced MCU heavyweights like Daredevil, Mockingbird, or even Wolverine.
Whoever is on the New Avengers, if a new team of former villains makes their presence known in the MCU, a confrontation with the Avengers is likely at some point, and it's exactly what we want to see.
A new direction for Hawkeye
It's been a while since the first season of "Hawkeye" aired on Disney+, and fans still haven't heard a peep out of Marvel as to what's next for Clint Barton. There are plenty of options for the MCU's senior archer's next appearance, from leading a new Avengers assembly to teaming up with Daredevil in his upcoming solo series. But we'd like to see him play the role he did in the comics, taking over as leader of the Thunderbolts and helping a team of former villains become the heroes they're destined to be.
Of course, in the comics, Clint Barton was a reformed villain himself, making his leadership a perfect fit. In the MCU, things would have to work somewhat differently — but it would be no less satisfying. We've already seen Clint well-suited to the role of mentor in his own Disney+ series, where he helped tutor Kate Bishop, so seeing him take on the role of teacher to a whole team almost feels like the natural next step. It might not need to be a leading role for Renner, either, as the film could end with the group of former foes looking for a new leader after breaking away from Zemo, as they did in the comics — and walking into the waiting arms of Clint Barton.
The return of The Vision
If "Thunderbolts" is destined to be a big theatrical tentpole release, with a roster full of new and returning minor characters, Marvel may want to enlist some major Avengers starpower to join the team. Paul Bettany, who starred throughout the MCU as both Jarvis and The Vision before appearing on Disney+ in "WandaVision," would be the perfect choice to join Zemo and other villains on less-than-legit heroic missions. Last we saw a version of him — specifically the blank slate "White Vision" — he was headed out to parts unknown, but being a sentient computer, and with unknown goals (and a naïve mind), it might not be hard for whoever is masterminding the Thunderbolts to convince him to join their cause.
Like Clint Barton, we've been given no clues as to where this new, darker version of The Vision may pop up next, but "Thunderbolts" is as intriguing a possibility as any. Should he turn rogue hero, it might even help segue into a "WandaVision" follow-up that could tie in threads from "Doctor Strange" sequel, with Wanda (or some version of her) discovering that her former beau is a member of a new super-team. But more than just pushing the story forward and answering a number of unresolved questions, Vision's appearance on a Thunderbolts squad would surely add some necessary superhero name recognition to the proceedings.
A respectful farewell to General Ross
There's no telling if Marvel's plans for the Thunderbolts have changed since rumblings of the project first surfaced. But it's fair to wonder if the studio had plans to include the character of General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross, whose nickname he shares with the villainous super-team. It would have made perfect sense too, as Ross' story arc through the MCU saw him trust the Avengers less and less as time went on, and so recruiting former villains he could control to replace them might have been a good starting premise for a film.
Sadly, in early 2022 actor William Hurt, who played General Ross, died at the age of 71. He had first played Ross in one of the MCU's earliest entries, 2008's "The Incredible Hulk," before returning as the U.S. Secretary of Defense in "Captain America: Civil War," "Avengers: Endgame," and "Black Widow." Whether the studio had planned for Ross to reappear in "Thunderbolts" is unknown, but his increased role of late could suggest that it may have been part of the plan for him.
Whatever the case may be, we don't want to see Marvel recast, but would love to see them pay homage to Hurt and his character in the film with a conclusion to his storyline. Perhaps Marvel could even show the team — after turning hero — naming themselves in honor of Ross, as their tribute to Hurt's contribution to the MCU.
A Steve Rogers cameo
Chris Evans was a controversial pick for the role of Steve Rogers when his casting was first announced in 2010 (via Variety), but since his debut in 2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger," he's become so closely identified with the role that fans can't possibly imagine anyone else ever playing the Star Spangled Man. He continued to play Cap in a pair of sequels and four "Avengers" films (plus the occasional cameo), but had apparently retired from the role after 2019's "Avengers: Endgame." Still, Rogers isn't dead, and we find it hard to believe that Evans can't be coaxed back into the role, despite saying it would be a "tall order" (per ComicBook.com)
Should he ever pop up again, though, we don't suspect it will be in a major role, but maybe as a cameo in "Thunderbolts." Perhaps he's a mentor to a new member of the team, or counsel for the likes of his frequent political opposite, Everett Ross. However he's written in, it will have been at least five years since we've seen him on screen when "Thunderbolts" arrives, so the timing may be right to catch up.
And before you declare it unlikely, lest we forget a certain report from Deadline in January of 2021, which was quietly forgotten. According to an industry source, Evans had indeed inked a deal to appear again in the MCU in a "future project." While it seems likely it would be the upcoming fourth "Captain America" film with Anthony Mackie's Sam Wilson in the title role, there's no reason the deal couldn't cover a few cameos, and we're hoping one might be "Thunderbolts."
Integrating more Marvel Netflix characters
Not long ago it, had gotten to a point where even the most optimistic Marvel fans had begun to accept that the likes of Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones might never be seen alongside the Avengers, Spider-Man, and the rest of the MCU. But all that changed in 2021 when "Spider-Man: No Way Home" arrived with a jaw-dropping cameo from Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock. After Vincent D'Onofrio's Kingpin was revealed as the big bad in "Hawkeye" on Disney+, fans went into overdrive dreaming up the next place a Netflix Marvel character might turn up.
Well, "Thunderbolts" might be the perfect place. In the comics, one of the villains recruited for the team in its second iteration is none other than Bullseye, who takes the mantle of Hawkeye in the "Dark Avengers" storyline. Given his history with the team, and his proto-appearance in the third season of "Daredevil," there's no reason actor Wilson Bethel should be sidelined as the character any longer.
Likewise, Luke Cage has long been rumored to be the next major Marvel mainstay to make the leap to the big screen alongside Matt Murdock. And as luck would have it, he too has a history with the "Thunderbolts," making him a prime candidate to be brought back for the film, even if it's in a minor role to tease a bigger return later. Actor Mike Colter recently said he'd be up for returning, so it's just up to Marvel to ask. Let's make it happen, "Thunderbolts."