Note: This article contains spoilers for Ant-Man and the Wasp
Not many people have seriously thought about The Thunderbolts as a potential franchise in the Marvel Cinematic Universe lately. Our own Charles Villanueva wrote an article speculating what a Thunderbolts movie would look like a few years ago based on James Gunn’s desire to make a Thunderbolts movie, shortly after the release of Guardians of the Galaxy. If you want to know more about The Thunderbolts, go read Charles’s article, but if you don’t have the time, they were basically Marvel’s response to DC’s Suicide Squad.
With the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp and three years having passed, my own interest in the idea has been reinvigorated, as I believe that the MCU already has many of the necessary components for a Thunderbolts team and movie. However, why would The Thunderbolts be formed and by who? Well, Charles actually wrote an article about this too, theorizing about the aftermath of Avengers: Infinity War and how Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross would form The Thunderbolts in response to The Avengers’ failure in stopping Thanos.
Without adding any new characters to the MCU, here are who I believe could form The Thunderbolts.
He may not have been a leader or even a member of HYDRA like in the comics, but he was the first villain in the MCU to truly defeat The Avengers without throwing a punch. Daniel Bruhl himself actually expressed interest in returning to the role and was actually relieved that his character did not succeed in his suicide at the end of Captain America: Civil War.
“Well I hope so. I always say they didn’t kill me, which is always a good sign. As you can imagine, it’s extremely secretive. Even if I would know something, I would probably not be allowed to tell you. But again, I was very glad about the fact that he [did] not kill himself and [was] stopped by Black Panther and that he ends up in a prison. But I’m pretty sure he’s going to get out of that prison somehow.”
In Captain America: Civil War, he was characterized as hating super powered individuals like Captain America who were responsible for the death of his family, so why would he join The Thunderbolts at all with other powered people like them? Perhaps he sees it as an opportunity to prove himself to be better than them despite his lack of powers? Or Ross administers him a replica of the super solider serum with the promise of making him normal again on the condition that he follows his orders? Or maybe he accepts the serum, as it would put him and many of The Avengers on more even ground.
The possibilities are really quite numerous.
Then he could be required to hide his identity while in the field, which would justify the use of his iconic purple mask from the comics. Maybe give him a Vibranium sword to contrast against Captain America’s shield. As for his exact role on the team, he would be the field leader. Considering his past as a commander and intelligence officer of a a Sokovian kill squad, he’d fit into the role nicely.
Now, if you’ve seen Ant-Man and the Wasp, you’ll know that Ghost survives after being saved by Janet from phasing out of existence. However, if you stuck around for the post-credit scene, you’ll also know that Janet’s magic touch didn’t seem to be permanent, as they have Scott venture into the Quantum Realm to collect “quantum healing particles” for “their new ghost friend.”
This was actually brought up to Kevin Feige in an interview with Birth.Movies.Death about Ghost’s future in the MCU and her potential as a character.
“It varies. In this case, the story was always – spoiler! – to keep her around. This was not the story of defeating a villain and everybody cheering. This is a different kind of villain story. When and where – in the tag, he mentions “his new Ghost friend” – is something we’ll see. But there’s nothing better than struggling over the decision about what characters to bring into a movie, casting those characters, writing and putting them together in a way that works in the movie, and then have audiences go “we love them, when are we going to see them again?” Shuri for sure is a great example of that. So with Ghost it is, step one: complete. As for step two, we’ll see where we go with that.”
So, while Ghost abandoned her criminal nature and was full of regret for her actions by the end of Ant-Man and the Wasp, she could still be blackmailed into joining The Thunderbolts by Ross promising her the quantum healing particles she needs to stop her pain, on the condition that she joins The Thunderbolts and follows his orders. This could make her one of, if not, the only truly sympathetic person on the team, much like Melissa Gold, Songbird, from the comics.
Since his arrest in Iron Man 2, Hammer has been spending his incarceration at Seagate prison. He may not be of the same cut as the great Tony Stark, but it’s not as if he’s completely inept. He was able to replace Stark Industries as the weapons provider for the United States government. So, it’s likely he could still provide the team with useful tech and equipment for missions.
When interviewed by Ryan Parker of The Hollywood Reporter, Sam Rockwell was asked if he had interest in reprising Justin Hammer.
“Of course! I have some great buddies in that franchise. Jeremy Renner is a good friend of mine, and I am pals with Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo. Robert [Downey Jr.] is always fun. Would love to get me and Clark [Gregg] back in that franchise. That would be a lot of fun.”
He probably wouldn’t be out in the field with the rest of them, but he could be their “guy in the chair” as he helps them navigate facilities or giving them updates on the mission from afar. It would be easy for Ross to get Hammer to join The Thunderbolts – he’d just has to promise Hammer his freedom or at least the very least a reduced sentence.
If you watched the first season of Agents of SHIELD, you might remember Coulson telling to Ward that Emil Blonsky was being kept frozen in a SHIELD facility in Barrow, Alaska. This is the last we’ve heard from Abomination and the last time we saw him, he was rendered unconscious by The Hulk during their fight in Harlem.
Surprisingly, in a recent AMA thread on Reddit, Tim Roth expressed interest in returning to the role, but doubted Marvel would ever use the character (or him) again.
“I don’t think Marvel will ever use me again, but it would be fun.”
Obviously, he’d be the needed muscle for the team, but considering his characterization by the end of The Incredible Hulk, it’s hard to imagine why or how he’d join The Thunderbolts willing or unwillingly. All he wanted to do by the end of the movie was to have a fight worthy of his newfound power, however I believe the final member of this team could help justify his membership.
Samuel Sterns / Leader
You probably forgot about him, didn’t you? Don’t feel too bad, I did too when I was writing this article.
Kevin Feige was even asked about when, if ever, they’d use The Leader again, but Feige expressed that it is a matter of finding the right place and time for them to come back.
“It is an embarrassment of riches of places we could go or characters we could reprise or bring back now that we’re… I think Ragnarok is our seventeenth MCU film. And you would be surprised how many… it’s come up. It’s come up. Just finding the right place. And as I said, if you can’t do it right, don’t do it or do it later, and the notion of ‘Hey, I’m here too! Next!’ is not interesting to us. Abomination is in a prison somewhere too.”
In the comics, The Leader is always characterized as egotistical and duplicitous in his machinations, even when he was at one point a member of The Thunderbolts, he did nothing but attempt to sabotage them and destroy the group. In this interpretation, he could convince Abomination to listen to him (and even joining The Thunderbolts) with ulterior motivations of betraying the team with his help, since they were always partners in crime in the comics and cartoons too.
It’s surprising and exciting how easily discussion of The Thunderbolts has been reinvigorated simply because Ghost, a well known member of the team in the comics, survived the events of Ant-Man and the Wasp. It really shows how Marvel fans are still clamoring for their own supervillain team, whether it be The Masters of Evil or The Thunderbolts, to be adapted to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Now, any potential future appearance by the team doesn’t have to be limited to the characters I discussed. Again, Villanueva wrote an entire article about potential characters that could be introduced specifically for this team that haven’t appeared in the MCU before. However, my selection is merely what is readily available without the need for any character introductions for simplicity sake and the ease at which Marvel Studios could potentially execute it. Even with just these characters, I can easily envision a lot of potentially fun and interesting character dynamics.
I can easily see Abomination seeing himself in Zemo, a man of impressive military caliber given a taste of power, but not yet a monster like himself. Maybe he sees him as weak at first, simply due to his lack of raw power, but would slowly respect him for his leadership skills and maybe potentially regret his change into the hulking beast he’s become. Hammer and Sterns could bicker about who’s the smartest person in the room. Ghost would constantly on edge due to her pain and surrounded by people she doesn’t trust or know and having to be forced to work with them.
I can honestly see a lot of potential in just these characters alone, I can’t imagine the possibilities if they were to introduce characters more famously associated with The Thunderbolts.