Marvel Studios’ latest television show, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, brought with it six episodes full of intense action, emotional moments, and a handful of repercussions for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Led by Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, the series explored Sam Wilson’s journey to becoming Captain America and Bucky Barnes’ road to recovery from his wrongdoings as the Winter Soldier, while also introducing a few new problems to their world and revisiting some familiar faces. Amongst those returning to the MCU for another go was Daniel Brühl, who reprised his role as Helmut Zemo.
Last seen in the 2016 film Captain America: Civil War, Zemo orchestrated the downfall of the Avengers with a plot for revenge, fueled by his anger and despair over the loss of his family during the destruction of Sokovia in Avengers: Age of Ultron. As audiences realized very late into the film that Zemo’s ultimate plan was not to control his own army of Winter Soldiers, but instead to destroy the remaining subjects in cryostasis, drive a permanent wedge between the Avengers, and then to take his own life, he instantly became one of the MCU’s most fascinating villains yet. T’Challa ultimately stopped Zemo from committing suicide in the final moments of Civil War, which meant that he was instead sentenced to prison.
And thus, leading into The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, Brühl’s character was but a prison break away from his ultimate comeback in the MCU, something that was easily coordinated after a visit from Bucky (much to Sam’s dismay). The overall impact of Zemo’s return on fans, and the downright iconic figure that he would become thanks to some genius character development alongside excellent acting on Brühl’s part, was one of the most enjoyable surprises that the series had to offer. Zemo always had potential, that much was made clear in Civil War, and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier let it truly blossom.
The series finale found Zemo imprisoned on the Raft, though it made sure to give him one last laugh as he orchestrated the bombing that eliminated the remaining Super Soldier Flag Smashers. Leading up to the final episode, I’ve discussed at length how the series has repeatedly hinted at the introduction of the Thunderbolts to the MCU, and after the finale I’m still convinced there’s hope. Regardless of what happens, or what that team may look like if Zemo is involved, one thing is abundantly clear — Daniel Brühl’s Baron Zemo needs to return to the MCU. And there are a few reasons why.
5. The Future of the MCU
Look, I’m a Marvel fan through and through, loyal to both the comics and the cinematic universe. And I’m not afraid to admit that with the loss of fan favorites like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, the future Phases of the MCU are going to be absolutely crucial to the success of the franchise. While I’m personally happy to take in any content that’s available, appeasing the general public and maintaining the same level of interest from them is an entirely different ball game. The goal now is to shift the spotlight to other talented and beloved players on the board, like Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes, while also introducing new characters as well. This means that if there’s a successful, interesting character that’s actively driving engagement from fans, it’s probably a smart idea to explore how that character can effectively tie in to future stories. And with Zemo, it doesn’t even need to be forced. The Thunderbolts are literally right there, ready and waiting to be written!
4. The Need to Explore Villains
Marvel already has a great track record thus far with creating complex and fascinating villains, but they can take it a step further. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is a fantastic example of this, as his character has garnered an enthusiastic, dedicated, cult-like following over the years. Though it’s yet to premiere for another month or so, it’s more than likely that the upcoming Loki series will be a critically acclaimed hit, as audiences have been waiting years on end to finally see him take center stage.
When it comes to Zemo, the intrigue of his character grew tenfold when The Falcon and The Winter Soldier — while not entirely forgetting his devious actions in the past — expanded upon the man beyond the perilous revenge plot and humanized him in unexpected ways. Zemo’s final scene with Bucky also revealed that though he remains rooted in his morals and beliefs, he’s capable of growing and changing, which is why he ultimately decided that James Buchanan Barnes would join Steve Rogers in his list of exceptions to his quest to end all Super Soldiers. So as the MCU looks to Phase 4 and beyond, it would be wise to intersperse these stories of heroes with more of an exploration on the perspective of the villains that drive those heroes as well, particularly ones that have now been narratively pivoted into a rich stream of potential beyond black and white corruption.
3. The John Walker Problem
Given Zemo’s resourcefulness, there’s no doubt that he’s going to find out sooner or later that John Walker is now a Super Soldier, regardless of his isolated location on the Raft. And based on Walker’s new status as U.S. Agent and his connections to the mysterious Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, he and his uncontrollable temper will likely be causing more trouble and headaches in the future. So who better to be involved in the eventual take down of Walker than the man who despises Super Soldiers beyond belief?
Though this could also be a job for Sam and Bucky in a future film, Walker was such a central part of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier that there’s a chance writers may want to give the pair an entirely different adversary as the main focus of their next story so as not to come across as a complete rehash of the show. Keeping that in mind, Zemo is the perfect candidate to spearhead a campaign to pull the rug out from under the unchecked Super Soldier’s feet, something that he’d be more than happy to do. After all, it’s hard to imagine him sitting idly by on the Raft if he catches wind of Walker’s later exploits from the radio in his cell, especially after he knocked him out cold with a giant vibranium frisbee. (Hey wait, sounds like a job for the Thunderbolts, eh?)
2. The Potential of Zemo
Before the events of Age of Ultron and Civil War, Helmut Zemo was a Colonel of the Sokovian Armed Forces and a commander of EKO Scorpion, Sokovia’s elite paramilitary death squad. In layman’s terms, this backstory serves not only as an explanation as to how Zemo managed to be so resourceful in gathering information on HYDRA and carrying out his plans against the Avengers, but it also points to the future potential of this character. Though he may be a bit rusty after years of imprisonment, it’s safe to assume that Zemo is knowledgeable in his fair share of tactical training and hand-to-hand combat.
Therefore, although I’d personally love nothing more than to see more dancing, robe-wearing, tea-drinking, candy-flourishing Zemo on the loose, this man is also a soldier at his core, one that’s capable of putting up a fight. It would be satisfyingly full circle to see this fun, new version of the Baron tap back into his prior training and prove his skills, while also still balancing his growing, changing perspectives on his beliefs (ex. deciding to accept Bucky as a Super Soldier).
1. Daniel Brühl
This final point is pretty straightforward — Daniel Brühl. Fans of Brühl that have taken the time to peruse his extensive, worldwide, multilingual filmography can attest to the fact that he’s a man of many talents (take a deeper dive with us here!) As Baron Zemo, Brühl brings a special flair to the character that makes for an entirely captivating performance. Further to that, Brühl has a considerable amount experience as a leading man, something that was exemplified even amongst the stacked cast of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. Therefore, there’s really no question as to whether or not he’s capable of taking on a lead role in a future MCU film or series. And if you’re looking for a recent example, do yourself a favor and watch his leading performance as Dr. Laszlo Kreizler in TNT’s The Alienist.
Overall, what it all boils down to is the fact that we simply need more Daniel Brühl as Baron Zemo. So it’s your move, Marvel.
All six episodes of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier are now streaming exclusively on Disney+. Check out our continued coverage of the series here.