This article contains MCU spoilers
Back at San Diego Comic Con, Marvel Studios announced that Thunderbolts would be the grand finale to MCU Phase 5. Fans had been excited to see if the classic Marvel Comics antihero squad would emerge in the MCU, and now we know that they will. Not only that, D23 has given us a look at what the team’s roster looks like! It’s a wild line-up that makes plenty of sense and has the potential to be an awesome team-up movie. Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is calling the shots, and Yelena Belova appears to be the leader, alongside the Red Guardian, Winter Soldier, US Agent, Taskmaster, and Ghost.
It’s not the most versatile team. With a little too much emphasis on super soldiers and highly trained assassins, the team’s main superpowers include phasing through walls, the ability to copy fighting styles, and a metal arm. Arguably, they should have tried to rope in someone like Abomination or Baron Mordo to give them some extra flavor.
Curiously, the team does not feature any of the original Thunderbolts from the comics. Not to say that most of these guys haven’t been Thunderbolts at all (three of them have been team leader!), but it is weird how after all these years, only Baron Zemo has been introduced into the MCU. Songbird, MACH, Techno, Atlas, Moonstone, and Jolt are all left out.
With less than two years before the movie is released, it’s too early to figure out who or what the team is up against. That said, there are plenty of built-in relationships and dynamics that can make the cinematic Thunderbolts very, very interesting.
Valentina and the Winter Soldier
We already know that Valentina Allegra de Fontaine can’t be trusted. The way she patronized John Walker (Wyatt Russell) into working for her in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier while playfully suggesting she had something to do with Zemo’s villainous plotting suggested she’s up to no good. Then there’s the fact that she sent Yelena (Florence Pugh) out on a mission to kill Clint Barton during Black Widow’s post-credits scene and peppered it by making it sound like he was responsible for Natasha’s death in Avengers: Endgame. Valentina is definitely capable of manipulating and ordering the Thunderbolts team into completing some less-than-savory objectives.
As Kevin Feige put it at D23, you know this team is in trouble when “Winter Soldier is the most stable among them.” Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) has been a soldier for nearly a century, and he can see through a lot of bullshit. Bucky is a good person and should be an Avenger, but he probably wouldn’t accept it due to guilt. As a Thunderbolt, he is the best weapon in keeping the team on the track of good and negating any corrupt ideas Valentina might have.
Black Widow and the Winter Soldier
As we just mentioned, Valentina was able to weaponize the death of Natasha when it came to Yelena. If she and Bucky are going to clash, it helps Valentina that Bucky and Natasha’s past wasn’t exactly a peaceful one. The Winter Soldier tried to kill Black Widow no less than three times throughout the years, and even came so close that she had an exit wound scarring her stomach after a violent encounter with Bucky. All it takes is one reminder and some skewed facts, and the new Black Widow will have no trouble trying to double-cross Bucky and get revenge.
On the other hand, Bucky was mind-controlled in all of those instances, and if Yelena is open enough to hear him out, it’s probably enough to calm her down. If anyone can sympathize with someone being a mind-controlled assassin, it’s Yelena. She would likely handle things with more understanding than Tony Stark!
The Black Widow Family
Putting Yelena, Red Guardian (David Harbour), and Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko) together in the forefront of the Thunderbolts helps vindicate the Black Widow movie for starting off Phase 4 and the Multiverse Saga. Other than comic relief, Red Guardian’s role in that movie wasn’t so much to do any cool action stuff, but to come to terms with the fact that he severely fucked up his relationships with the adopted daughters who trusted him. Having him remain in Yelena’s life well over a decade after their reunion is just delightful, and shows some growth.
Then there’s Antonia Dreykov, part of Yelena’s sorority of post-mind-control Black Widows. There has been a lot of criticism for Taskmaster’s depiction in Black Widow, as other than her codename, powers, and appearance, she had nothing to do with the beloved comic villain. The good thing is that that version of Taskmaster pretty much concluded at the end of Black Widow. Taskmaster is no longer mind-controlled, and she received closure with her psychotic father’s death. Again, Thunderbolts takes place more than a decade after the events of Black Widow, so who knows what Antonia’s been up to and what kind of person she has become?
Besides, Yelena went into mercenary work after the Blip. Antonia may have followed her lead, pushing her into a greedier direction, much like her comic counterpart.
The Super Soldiers
There are three super soldiers on this team and on the surface, they do not get along. First you have Bucky and John Walker. The two have a rather violent past across the Falcon and the Winter Soldier series, but even though Bucky still doesn’t care for the former Captain America, the two were at least able to work together and see eye-to-eye to an extent. Bucky still probably thinks US Agent is a grade-A doofus, but there’s enough mutual respect that Walker might listen to Bucky’s reasoning when things get morally questionable.
Putting US Agent and Red Guardian on a team together is just a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. Unhinged nationalism aside, it’s two men with an unhealthy obsession with how they relate to the original Captain America, despite never actually knowing him. All you need is for Alexei to call Walker “the lesser Cap” or for Walker to call Alexei “a washed up nobody” and the shields will clash.
Pairing up Winter Soldier and Red Guardian might also bring closure to one of the MCU’s throwaway mysteries. Red Guardian insists that he fought Captain America at least once, but it’s been pointed out that his story doesn’t match up with Steve Rogers’ history. Was there yet another Cap out there? Back in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Bucky revealed the existence of Isaiah Bradley, the obscure Captain America he battled in the 1950s. If anyone would have info on a secret Captain America that time forgot, it’s Bucky.
Red Guardian and Ghost
If Ant-Man and the Wasp’s Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is on the team, who can she relate to? We suppose there’s an easy connection with Taskmaster, at least. The two gender-swapped villains are united by how much their fathers messed them up, so we can easily see some kind of twisted friendship between the two.
The potential heart of the Thunderbolts could also be having Red Guardian connect with Ghost. Ghost’s tragedy comes from being used, abused, and abandoned. Even though Thanos is to blame, having all the ant-folk vanish when they were trying to help her had to absolutely mess her up both physically and mentally. It’s even worse if Bill Foster was dusted as well. Red Guardian is guilty of using, abusing, and abandoning his daughters. If he truly wants to make amends, then he needs to be there for his teammate.
Besides, what is Thunderbolts if not a story of redemption?