For years now, we’ve been following along with the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and in 2024, a new team will make its debut in this superhero franchise. In June 2022, it was reported that a Thunderbolts movie was in development, and just like how the team is traditionally depicted in the comics, the membership will be made up of anti-heroes and reformed supervillains. Paper Towns’ Jake Schreier is directing the upcoming Marvel movie and Thor: Ragnarok’s Eric Pearson is writing the script.
At San Diego Comic-Con that same year, Marvel Studios confirmed that Thunderbolts was on the way, and just a couple months later at D23, the team’s lineup was unveiled to the public. We’re still in the dark about what kind of threat the MCU’s Thunderbolts will deal with, but while we wait for that information to arrive, let’s go over the actors who have come aboard this feature, most of whom, including Sebastian Stan and Florence Pugh, we’ve already spent time with in the MCU.
Sebastian Stan has been part of the MCU longer than anyone else on this list, first appearing as Bucky Barnes in Captain America: The First Avenger. Originally thought to have perished in that movie, Bucky was brought back into play in Captain America: The Winter Soldier as a brainwashed HYDRA assassin. Fortunately, by the end of that movie, Bucky managed to break free from the terrorist organization, though he still had to deal with HYDRA’s lingering influence on his mind in Captain America: Civil War. Stan then reprised Bucky in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, and in 2021, he co-starred with Anthony Mackie in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
When we left off with Bucky Barnes in that series, he’d finally made amends with everyone he’d hurt as the Winter Soldier, then headed to Louisiana to join Sam Wilson and his community for a celebratory cookout. He’d finally reached a good point in his life after decades of hardship, but the time has come for him to put his unique set of skills back to use. From what little has been shown and revealed so far, it’s possible that Bucky will be leading the Thunderbolts in the field.
Natasha Romanoff is no longer with us in the MCU, but the Black Widow mantle is now chiefly carried on through Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova. We met Yelena during the Black Widow movie, which was set in between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. The adoptive sisters went on one last adventure that saw them freeing the other Black Widow agents, as well as Taskmaster (more on her later) from the Red Room’s influence. Unfortunately, that was the last time Natasha and Yelena would see each other, with Black Widow’s post-credits scene showing Yelena visiting Natasha’s grave.
In that same scene, Valentina Allegra de Fontaine assigned Yelena to kill Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, whom she blamed for Natasha’s death. Yelena attempted to carry out this task during the Hawkeye series and formed a… unique relationship with Kate Bishop along the way, but by that show’s finale, Clint persuaded her to drop this mission of vengeance. So Yelena didn’t carry out what Valentina expected of her, but these two will be working together again during Thunderbolts, which brings us to the next section.
Nick Fury is still active in the MCU, but Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Valentina Allegra de Fontaine has been giving off the same kind of vibes the one-eyed spy did in the MCU’s Phase 1. Prior to her appearance in Black Widow, Valentina first appeared in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, when she approached John Walker after he’d been discharged from the military and stripped of the Captain America mantle. Valentina thought John made the right call taking the Super Solider Serum and murdering a Flag Smasher, and by the Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale, she’d set him up as U.S. Agent.
Then in November 2022, Valentina resurfaced in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever as the new head of the CIA, and we also learned that she and Everett K. Ross used to be married. Despite that connection, she didn’t hesitate to arrest Everett when she learned he shared classified intelligence with the Wakandans. Now there’s Thunderbolts on the horizon, and just like Nick Fury did with the Avengers, it’s looking like Valentina will be responsible for this team’s creation. However, this is a woman who looks like she’s willing to step over certain lines that Fury would never cross.
Although Sam Wilson accepted the elderly Steve Rogers’ shield at the end of Avengers: Endgame, when The Falcon and the Winter Soldier rolled around, he was hesitant to actually become the new Captain America. As such, he gave the shield to the U.S. government, and they in turned appoint John Walker to carry on as Steve’s successor. However, the pressure of being the patriotic superhero quickly weighed on John, and it also soon became clear that he had anger issues and a massive ego. This all came to a head when he injected himself with the Super Soldier Serum, which amplified these qualities and led to him brutally murdering one of the Flag Smashers.
As already mentioned, John was then relieved of duty, and it wasn’t long after that Sam Wilson finally decide to suit up as Captain America. But now John is walking down a new path as U.S. Agent, and because Valetina Allegra de Fontaine is in charge of the CIA, then he’s basically still working for the U.S. government, just in a different capacity. I have a feeling that of the Thunderbolts members, U.S. Agent will be the one to potentially go too far during a mission given that he’s on the more unstable side.
Alexei Shostakov, a.k.a. Red Guardian, was the father figure in the family unit that Natasha Romanoff and Yelena Belova were in as kids, with Melina Vostokoff being the mother figure. However, sometime after their mission in the United States ended, David Harbour’s character was thrown into prison, and had Natasha and Yelena not freed him, he likely would have spent the rest of his life incarcerated. Luckily that wasn’t to be, and after putting his Red Guardian suit back on, Alexei teamed up with Natasha, Yelena and Melina to take down and Dreykov and the Red Room.
Alexei was last seen leaving to parts unknown with Melina, Yelena, the remaining Black Widows and Taskmaster as Black Widow’s main story concluded, so when we reunite with him in Thunderbolts, over half a decade will have passed in the MCU timeline. Hopefully we learn a little bit of what Red Guardian has been up to, but with Yelena also on the team, it’s probably a safe bet that she’s responsible for his recruitment.
So far the only Thunderbolts character who’s been announced with actual superpowers is Ava Starr, a.k.a. Ghost, who Hannah John-Kamen first played in Ant-Man and the Wasp. As a result of being caught in an accident in her father’s lab as a child that killed both of her parents, Ava gained the power of intangibility. The problem was that her body was in a constant state of “molecular disequilibrium,” requiring her to wear a special suit to control her ability to phase through solid matter. Ava agreed to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. in exchange for a cure for her condition, but when she learned that S.H.I.E.L.D. was controlled by HYDRA and had no actual intention of helping her, she fled with Bill Foster, a scientist colleague of her father’s sincerely offered to help her.
During Ant-Man and the Wasp, Ava and Bill wanted to harness the quantum energy that Janet van Dyne was filled with to devise their cure, but Hank Pym believed this would kill his wife. So Ghost proved to be a major nuisance throughout that Marvel movie, but Janet eventually willingly gave her some quantum energy to temporarily stabilize her. Ava and Bill then went into hiding, and while Scott Lang, Janet, Hank and Hope van Dyne had planned to deliver more quantum energy to Ava, Scott ended up being trapped in the Quantum Realm while retrieving that energy, and the latter three were among the people Thanos turned to dust. But evidently Ava’s still ok all the these years later if she’s participating in Thunderbolts, though whether she’s been permanently cured of her condition by this point or not is unclear.
Taskmaster’s identity was kept secret during the marketing of Black Widow, but within the movie itself, we learned it was Olga Kurylenko’s Antonia Dreykov who was under that mask. Thought to have been killed by Natasha Romanoff when she was trying to assassinate Antonia’s father, she was actually gravely injured and disfigured. Dreykov inserted a chip into his daughter to relieve her of her agonizing pain, but this also allowed her to completely control her. That, combined with Antonia’s natural ability to mimic any physical action she sees, resulted in Dreykov turning the girl turning the girl into Taskmaster, a brainwashed assassin who carried out the Red Room’s directives.
Antonia spent most of Black Widow essentially as a blunt instrument for her father’s schemes, but Natasha Romanoff was eventually able to snap her free of the mind control using the final vial of Red Dust. With her direction in life now uncertain, Antonia left with the surviving Black Widows, Yelena, Alexei and Melina before the authorities arrived. Like with Alexei, it would be nice to learn what’s been up to in between Black Widow and Thunderbolts, but much like Bucky did with his Winter Solider identity, at least she’s now acting as a force for good as Taskmaster.
Following the passing of William Hurt, Harrison Ford is taking over the role of Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross in the MCU. As far as that character’s history in this franchise goes, although we last saw him hunting down Natasha Romanoff in Black Widow, chronologically within the MCU timeline, he was most recently seen attending Tony Stark’s funeral. Since it was revealed in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law that the Sokovia Accords have been overturned, Ross now finds himself back in a world where superheroes are free to operate without any government supervision.
Harrison Ford will first appear as Thunderbolt Ross in Captain America: New World Order, and he’ll be back for Thunderbolts a few months later. Along with it being unclear if the team is named after him, which it most certainly is not in the comics, it also hasn’t been clarified if he’ll be allied with the Thunderbolts or somehow be an adversary to them. If it’s the latter, that definitely strengthens the speculation that the MCU’s Ross will turn into Red Hulk.
Thunderbolts hits theaters on July 26, 2024. Use your Disney+ subscription to watch all these characters’ past MCU appearances for yourselves while we wait to learn who else will appear in this movie.