This article contains spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
If there’s one thing that Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever nailed, it was a surprise cameo that no one saw coming. Away from the shock return of Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger, the writers managed to keep a lid on Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. Alongside nods to Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man and trade agreements with New Asgard, Wakanda Forever has a major tie to the wider MCU that sets up Jake Schreier’s Thunderbolts.
Hoping to be the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s answer to DC’s Suicide Squad, the Thunderbolts are a shady cabal of anti-heroes pulled directly from the pages of Marvel Comics. Although some have questioned a Captain America-heavy lineup that includes John Walker/US Agent (Wyatt Russell) and Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), others think it makes perfect sense given where the franchise is right now. So, how does Wakanda Forever and that purple-streaked villain cue this rag-tag team of rogues?
Valentina Allegra de Fontaine makes her Wakanda Forever debut when the American government descends on the scene of Shuri’s kidnap in Boston. Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross returns from 2018’s Black Panther and addresses Fontaine as the Director of the CIA. A typically quick Valentina tells him to drop the formalities and delivers the bombshell that the two used to be married. It’s a major revamp of the comics, where Val actually had Nick Fury as a love interest. Despite it looking like Val is on her ex’s side in Wakanda Forever, we later learn she’s been using him as a political puppet this entire time.
Until now, we’d assumed Val had been some well-connected supervillain, but the Wakanda Forever reveals suggests that her plot to have Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) assassinated might’ve been government-sanctioned. She-Hulk confirmed the Sokovia Accords have been repealed, meaning the government has less control over our masked heroes. Importantly, Val’s place at the top of the CIA makes her privy to a lot of insider knowledge and tech. We already saw her use this to bug Ross’ conversations with Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett)
Ross mentions that there’s a “new” Director, suggesting that Val’s position is relatively recent. It wouldn’t be the first time villains have infiltrated major organizations, and remember, S.H.I.E.L.D. has had more secret Hydra Agents than the Avengers have had shawarma. As for Fontaine, she says she “dreams” of a world where the USA owns all the access to vibranium, which could be a big tease of the team’s modus operandi in Thunderbolts. Remember, Bucky’s arm and John Walker’s shield are made of vibranium, but whether the Thunderbolts are acting for the US Government or are completely off the books for their own nefarious reasons, Val clearly has no love for Wakanda.
It’s the recent casting of Harrison Ford as Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross that should have you looking closer at Wakanda Forever. Both Valentina and the US Secretary of State (played by Richard Schiff) discuss the President of the United States and what he wants in a seemingly throwaway comment. You don’t cast someone like The West Wing’s Schiff for a minor role, and as the geopolitical war heats up in the MCU, we’re betting we’ll see more of him and the POTUS. Matthew Ellis used to be in charge as the 45th President, but as he’s not been seen since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and was succeeded by Donald Trump (yep, they made that canon), we’re overdue a new one.
Theories are flying around that the recast Ross will be the new POTUS. Much like the casting of Schiff, getting Harrison Ford on board isn’t for a walk-on cameo. Even though Ross appeared in the likes of Captain America: Civil War and Black Widow, he wasn’t exactly a mainstay of the franchise. After the tragic passing of William Hurt, it would’ve been easy to write the character out. Given Thaddeus’ comic book backstory and the fact he’s Red Hulk, having Ross as the President while appearing in Thunderbolts neatly ties into the long-mooted Hulk movie that was also teased in the She-Hulk finale. Although the pieces are starting to come together, there are still a few gaps.
In the comics, it’s usually Helmut Zemo that assembles these anti-Avengers, but there’s currently no word on whether Daniel Brühl will reprise his role as the Captain America adversary. Given Walker and Barnes’ interactions with him in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it’s possible he could be the big bad the Thunderbolts go after. Val is unlikely to take kindly to someone with the same treacherous traits as her, and the USA won’t want rogue Sokovians stirring up trouble. Wakanda Forever also sets up Zemo’s return through the fact Shuri spares Namor like T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) did in Black Panther.
Ultimately, we’ll have to wait and see what Valentina Allegra de Fontaine is up to, how she recruits the Thunderbolts, and to what ends their mission is. Either way, we expect her to be the MCU’s answer to Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller. Thunderbolts is a long way off at the close of Phase 5, but at least we’re putting the chess pieces on the board now. Much like how James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad had a new roster with a few staples from David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, there’s also the potential for Thunderbolts to add more fan-favorites from the comics before the final credits roll. We still hope that Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink will be playing Songbird!