Why Is Baron Zemo the Villain?
Sam and Bucky will be battling a familiar face in this new series, with Daniel Brühl reprising his role as Baron Helmut Zemo from 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Since that movie is nearly five years old now, it’s probably worth recapping who Zemo is and why he hates superheroes so much.
As we learned in Civil War, Zemo was the leader of a Sokovian commando squad until that Eastern European country was devastated in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Zemo lost his wife and children in the disaster, sparking an intense hatred of the Avengers. Zemo spent the months after the events of Age of Ultron preparing for his ultimate goal of fracturing the Avengers and shaking the public’s confidence in costumed heroes. He found the key to his plan after uncovering the existence of the Winter Soldier and using the brainwashed Bucky as the wedge to divide Cap and Iron Man. Though Black Panther prevented Zemo from committing suicide, the villain was ultimately successful in his goal. When we last saw him at the end of Civil War, he was imprisoned by the U.N. and gloating in his victory.
The trailer makes it clear Zemo has escaped imprisonment. We wouldn’t be at all surprised if “The Blip” in Avengers: Infinity War has something to do with it. Either Zemo survived the Blip and his jailers didn’t, or else he was blipped and returned five years later after his cell was long since removed. Of course, with roughly seven years having passed in the MCU since the events of Civil War, it’s also possible Zemo was simply released from prison.
Either way, he’s on the lam and resuming his one, true mission. Zemo’s narration in the trailer makes that clear, as we hear him say, “Superheroes should not be allowed to exist. I have no intention of leaving my work unfinished.”
We assume Zemo is miffed that the Avengers rallied to save the day in Endgame and is determined to prove that even having restored billions of lost souls to life, the Avengers are not to be trusted. And maybe he’s not entirely wrong, considering it was their failure that led to the Blip in the first place. Though by that logic, Zemo is himself to blame because he ensured the Avengers weren’t able to make a united front against Thanos. Somehow, we doubt he’s capable of that level of self-reflection.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier Cast and Characters
Why Does Zemo Wear the Purple Mask?
The most obvious change to Zemo this time around is the fact that he’s finally wearing his iconic purple mask from the comics. There may be practical reasons for donning a costume this time. For example, in the comics the mask is shown to give Zemo resistance to psychic attacks, similar to how Magneto’s helmet safeguards against Professor X’s powers.
But the real significance of the purple mask lies in its family history. In the comics, Helmut is actually the second character to use the Baron Zemo title, after his father Heinrich Zemo. That Baron Zemo was one of Cap’s biggest WWII-era nemeses alongside the Red Skull, and he also wore the purple mask. In fact, the mask became permanently attached to his face after Heinrich had a bad run-in with a super-glue called Adhesive X. The comic book version of Helmut Zemo has his own Adhesive X-induced facial scars, and he also sometimes uses it as a weapon against the Avengers.
The MCU has never given any indication Cap fought the elder Zemo, but it’s possible The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will fill in some of that back-story and explore how Helmut is following in the footsteps of an ancestor. The series probably won’t get into any of that Adhesive X business, but you never know…
The idea of the past resurfacing to haunt the present will likely be a big theme in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Supergirl actor Carl Lumbly has been cast in an undisclosed role, with many fans speculating he’s playing Isaiah Bradley, one of the main protagonists of 2003’s Truth: Red, White & Black. Bradley is one of the few survivors of a top secret program where African American soldiers were used as test subjects in an attempt to recreate Dr. Erskine’s lost Super-Soldier Serum formula. Few lived through the inhumane experiments, and only Bradley survived the end of the war. That’s the dark truth behind America’s bright and shining hero, and we could easily see Zemo wanting to expose that truth to the world.
The question is how Sam and Bucky will react to the truth about Captain America and whether that will impact Sam’s commitment to follow Steve’s path.
Who Is the Masked Woman?
The first two trailers have shown Sam and Bucky going up against a group of masked terrorists. The ringleader of this cell is a woman who appears to have super-strength, at least enough that she’s able to easily hold her own against the former Winter Soldier.
Thanks to some leaked merchandise, we know that anarchist terrorist group to be the Flag-Smashers, with the ringleader (whom we assume is also called Flag-Smasher) played by Solo: A Star Wars Story’s Erin Kellyman. In the comics, Flag-Smasher is a deeply anti-patriotic villain who despises Captain America and the government he represents. Flag-Smasher eventually forms a terrorist group called ULTIMATUM, so the Flag-Smashers could be the precursor to that organization in the MCU.
Based on her fighting abilities, we wouldn’t be surprised to learn Flag-Smasher has some version of the Super-Soldier Serum running through her veins. She and Zemo may be united in their desire to expose the dark truth of Captain America and turn the world against its heroes.
Captain America or U.S. Agent?
One of the last scenes in Avengers: Endgame shows an elderly Steve Rogers passing the shield and mantle of Captain America to Sam Wilson. Unfortunately, that doesn’t automatically make Sam the new Cap in the eyes of the US government or the world at large. Presumably, one of the major plot points in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will involve the uphill battle Sam faces in winning the right to be Cap. Again, assuming he even decides that’s what he wants in the end.
The trailers certainly hint the government has its own candidate picked out to be the new Cap. Overlord’s Wyatt Russell is playing John Walker, a character better known to comic book readers as U.S. Agent. Walker briefly filled the role of Cap in the comics after Steve cut ties with the government, before eventually adopting his own superhero identity. But it’s worth noting that Marvel Studios has only ever referred to the character as John Walker in its promotional material. The character seems to be kept under an intentional veil of secrecy, to the point where we’ve only gotten a good, official look at Russell’s John Walker thanks to a Topps trading card.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: New MCU Costumes Revealed
Most likely, the US government will be attempting to establish Walker as the new Captain America in the eyes of the public. Given Walker’s physical resemblance to Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers, the government may be trying to maintain the illusion this is the same Cap Americans have always known. As it is, we don’t know how much the general public knows about the events of Endgame and Steve’s sudden disappearance from public life. While the MCU Steve has never really tried to maintain a secret identity, we can probably assume that most of what the public knows about his origins and personal life is heavily controlled and sanitized by the government. Both trailers have shown us similar shots of a costumed Walker gallivanting before an audience at a football game. That suggests his role is more performative than one rooted in actual missions and military operations. In other words, much like Cap’s original job as a propaganda tool in the early days of WWII. The idea and symbol of Cap is what the government wants to maintain, and that may be exactly what Zemo and the Flag-Smashers are trying to destroy.
Is Madripoor Making Its MCU Debut?
Based on the two trailers released so far, it would seem The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has a much bigger scope than WandaVision. Rather than taking place mostly inside one New Jersey suburb, the series will apparently feature epic train battles, a major action sequence set inside the Grand Canyon and various other international locales. One landmark that keeps cropping up in this footage is of a mysterious, neon-soaked city skyline. That city appears to be located in China or somewhere else in Asia. That’s already led many fans to speculate – could the series introduce Madripoor to the MCU?
If you’re not familiar with Madripoor, it’s basically the Mos Eisley of the Marvel Universe – a wretched hive of scum and villainy where few heroes dare to tread. Madripoor is like Singapore in that it’s a small island nation comprised of one city. Founded by pirates and filled with corruption at every level of the government, Madripoor is a safe haven for every criminal and supervillain who doesn’t want to worry about international extradition. It also happens to be the frequent stomping ground of Wolverine.
That in itself raises some interesting questions. Assuming this is Madripoor we’re seeing in the trailers, could Wolverine also make his MCU debut in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier? We know Marvel Studios is still years away from releasing a dedicated X-Men movie, with only the Ryan Reynolds-starring Deadpool 3 confirmed to be in the works so far. But that doesn’t mean we might not see these characters and concepts begin to crop up in other projects. It’s not a huge stretch to imagine this series using the Madripoor setting to at least tease Wolverine’s debut, if not outright feature the iconic X-Man.
As it is, Wolverine, Captain America and Bucky have a long, shared history together. Logan fought alongside Cap in WWII and encountered the Winter Soldier during the Cold War. The animated series X-Men: Evolution even introduced the idea that Wolverine and Cap were among the soldiers who rescued a young Magneto from a Nazi concentration camp. That would certainly make for an interesting MCU flashback – one of many ways the series could feasibly work Wolverine into Sam and Bucky’s world.
Wolverine and Cap are also products of the same scientific program. Weapon X and Project Rebirth are both offshoots of an organization called Weapon Plus. In fact, writer Grant Morrison’s New X-Men comic revealed that Wolverine’s Weapon X codename actually stands for “Weapon Ten,” and Cap himself was the original Weapon One. If The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is digging into the dark truth behind Captain America, it only makes sense to reference this shared history. Even if we don’t actually see Wolverine in the flesh, perhaps we’ll see blueprints or X-rays of a mysterious, six-clawed test subject called Weapon X. It’s a start, bub.
What Is the Song in the Trailer?
Finally, we might as well touch on one of the bigger questions surrounding the new trailer. For those wondering, the song “Is You Ready?” by Migos serves as the background music for this new footage. There’s not much to be gleaned from that needle drop, but the song is appropriate given how often it repeats the line “Is you ready? Whole squad ready.” It’s clearly celebrating the fact that the Falcon and the Winter Soldier are back in action, and with Don Cheadle’s War Machine for good measure. Or is the song teasing an alliance of villains, including Baron Zemo, the Flag-Smashers and whatever other villains might be lurking in the shadows?
How do you think Zemo and the Flag-Smashers will factor into the plot? Will The Falcon and the Winter Soldier introduce Madripoor and Wolverine to the MCU? Let us know in the comments below.
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Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.