Leading up to the finale of Marvel’s action-packed series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, which landed on Disney+ today, we were certain that the show was pointing in the direction of the Thunderbolts. However, as it turns out, there was in fact no cheeky post-credits scene with a “wink and nudge” conversation that would hint at the team coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The show even went so far as to show a very brief scene of Daniel Brühl’s Baron Zemo at the Raft, but seemingly only for the purposes of displaying his satisfaction that his plan to take out the rest of the Super Soldier Flag Smashers had worked.
So who are the Thunderbolts? In the comics, the world was devoid of much of its heroes after a battle with Onslaught. So Baron Zemo gathered a group of former members of the Masters of Evil, and they disguised themselves as a new superhero team — the Thunderbolts. As to be expected, his ultimate plans for the group were less than honorable. His scheming backfired, though, when the members of the Thunderbolts eventually decided that they truly did want to be heroes rather than villains. (Take a deeper dive into all things Thunderbolts here.)
Given that there have been various incarnations of the Thunderbolts over the years that followed, and key players like Baron Zemo are quite different from their comic counterparts, we’d likely see a modified version of the team built specifically for the MCU. Rather than adapt from the comics directly, the MCU often pulls bits and pieces of characters and stories and molds them to better fit into a live-action format, which is necessary considering the vast amount of diverging plotlines in the comics.
And why is there still hope? Despite the fact that the Thunderbolts failed to manifest in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, the stage has still been set. The deliberate choice to place Zemo at the Raft, rather than returning him to prison in Germany or having the Dora Milaje enact their own justice, is a glaringly obvious hint. In the comics, the Raft has served as one of the bases of operation for the Thunderbolts. General Thaddeus Ross runs the show at the Raft in the MCU, and he commanded his own team of Thunderbolts as the Red Hulk in the comics.
In the finale of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine made an interesting mention of Zemo’s stunt that he pulled off from the Raft, and she said it in such a way that it’s unclear whether or not she had anything to do with it. She then went on to tell John Walker that “things are about to get weird,” referring to why he needed to be ready to jump into action as U.S. Agent. As a woman who appears to have powerful connections, who may or may not have already worked with Zemo in some capacity, she could perhaps be a key player in what’s to come.
Spinning that idea in a different direction now, and knowing Walker’s anger issues, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him go even further off the rails while working for Valentina. Given that he’s technically not supposed to be running around as a masked hero anymore, it’s likely that the government won’t take too kindly to U.S. Agent. Considering the state of the Avengers post-Blip, this then opens the door for a government-sanctioned team of reformed villains to be recruited from the Raft in order to go up against U.S. Agent. And then with Baron Zemo’s distaste for superheroes, there’s no doubt that he’d be happy to carry out a plan to rid the world of another reckless, dangerous Super Soldier.
Many existing MCU characters have also been involved with the Thunderbolts over the years, including the likes of Batroc the Leaper, Ghost, Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff in disguise as Yelena Belova), and Hawkeye, amongst others. Perhaps most notably was the Winter Soldier, who led his own team of Thunderbolts for a time. Knowing where Bucky Barnes and Zemo left off in episode 5 of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier — both mutually coming to the decision not to kill one another and parting with something akin to respect, in a way — it’s not difficult to imagine them crossing paths once again.
As we look to Phase 4 of the MCU and beyond, there’s nothing but potential. Now that Marvel Studios has the freedom to release theatrical feature films alongside live-action television series, the playing field has grown exponentially. Especially considering the critically acclaimed success of both WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
So for now, we’ll keep on hoping to see the Thunderbolts pop up sooner rather than later. And who knows, we’re just a few months out now from the release of Black Widow … so how about that post-credits scene?