Weaving an intricate yet colossal tale across 23 films and counting, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is consistently praised for its foresight and planning. Yet Kevin Feige’s series of interconnected films were once not so tightly plotted. Back in ‘Phase 1’, when the MCU as we know it today felt like an unimaginable dream, references and characters were included without a clear direction, leaving multiple loose ends which, over a decade later, still have yet to be tied up. Some were thankfully cut from the final releases, such as a mention of Hank Pym in Thor, but others made it in, hinting at the wider universe and future stories but having to be retconned later when those stories were finally told, such as the ‘fake’ Infinity Gauntlet on Asgard. Multiple characters were seemingly introduced and set up for future roles and then… nothing. But maybe not for much longer.
As the cinematic landscape becomes more and more uncertain, the future of the MCU is soon to be streaming on Disney+. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier will be one of the first shows to debut next year, pushing the timeline past the huge events of Avengers: Endgame and into a new phase of the MCU. The show’s writer, Derek Kolstad, recently teased on the Script Apart Podcast that “there are characters from the earliest Marvel movies that are coming back”. There have been surprising character reprisals before in the MCU, such as Garry Shandling’s Senator Stern, General Ross, and Red Skull. I’m still embarrassingly giddy about Spider-Man: Far From Home bringing back that ‘Box of scraps’ guy from Iron Man. We know Sharon Carter is returning for The Falcon and The Winter Soldier but who else? And more importantly, why?
Kolstad went on to say, “We’re layering them in and reinventing them in a way that’s gonna shift the storytelling structure. It’s fucking awesome”. This is great to hear because, after so long away and so many world-altering events since Phase 1, returning characters should be very different now. The events of Infinity War and Endgame need to have continuing consequences. We know that Zemo is returning for the series, purple mask included this time, and he was the perfect example of this in Civil War. In that movie, he was the personification of the consequences of Age of Ultron. A character drastically altered by the events of a previous movie. Post-Endgame, we need characters who have been altered by “the Snap” and the deaths of certain key characters.
So, who should return? Justin Hammer, of course! Hammer, the villain of Iron Man 2, was fuelled by jealousy. A fellow technology and weapons manufacturer, Hammer wanted to be Tony Stark, trying and failing to copy Stark’s technology and charisma – dance moves included. Now Tony Stark is dead and there’s a potential vacuum Hammer would desperately want to fill. He has a chance to be the new Tony Stark. Or at least, that’s how he sees it. He’ll just have to escape from prison first. While Iron Man 2 is one of the weakest films in the MCU, Sam Rockwell’s performance was fantastic and I think Hammer remains one of the franchise’s most underrated characters. Rockwell previously returned for a brief cameo as Hammer in a Marvel One Shot so he’s clearly open to returning, whatever the format. And even if he’s not a core character, he’d be wonderful as the go-to weapons dealer for the MCU’s villains.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that The Incredible Hulk is an MCU movie. It was released just a few weeks after Iron Man in 2008 but never had the same impact, and after Bruce Banner was recast, most of its characters have never been revisited. Samuel Sterns is one such character and the film clearly had plans for his future, with Sterns accidently being infected with Banner’s blood and his head expanding, setting up his turn as the villainous ‘The Leader’. We’ve seen or heard nothing of him since and now could be the perfect time for the character to return. The MCU has been filled with physically threatening villains and now, as with Zemo, The Falcon and The Winter Solider could offer us a cerebral villain who preys on the insecurities of the two heroes after Steve Rogers’ death. Tim Blake Nelson is a great actor and I would love to see him back in the MCU, especially after his role as Looking Glass in HBO’s Watchmen last year.
Speaking of big, dumb, and physically threatening villains: The Abomination. While Abomination is just a giant CGI monster that I want superhero movies and shows to move away from, the man behind the monster is much more interesting. The Incredible Hulk saw Emil Blonsky as an aging soldier who felt past his prime, especially with the appearance of superpowered characters such as the Hulk. This drove him to inject himself with super soldier serum and, later, Banner’s gamma-irradiated blood. It not only turned him into a most dangerous adversary but also a rampaging monster. He’s a character motivated by inadequacy so just imagine how he feels now after so many more super soldiers have appeared since the MCU’s second movie. He’ll want even more power and, in a slightly meta way, could be on a quest to be relevant again. He once used Captain America’s formula and now he could be an adversary of the new Captain America.
Update: The Abomination is confirmed to be appearing in the She-Hulk series. Yay! But could his return to the MCU be set up sooner?
There are a few more forgotten villains from the early days of the MCU who could appear. Remember Mitchell Carson? No? That’s fair enough, I guess. He was the SHIELD/HYDRA agent in Ant-Man who wanted Pym’s shrinking tech, and he even made off with a briefcase of Pym particles at the end of the film only to be never seen or mentioned again. He could be a neat villain for a James Bond-style opening scene and I’d like to see that loose end tied up. I’ve also always imagined that Zola’s AI from Captain America: The Winter Soldier survived and more Toby Jones is always a bonus. And let’s not forget The Mandarin (who I struggle not to call The Mandalorian). While the ‘real’ Mandarin may be better suited for Shang-Chi, I’m one of those people who love the Trevor Slattery twist in Iron Man 3 and would love to see that character again.
But these returning early MCU characters can’t all be villains. There has to be some allies for Sam and Bucky too. The characters of Bobbi Morse and Lance Hunter left Agents of SHIELD to star in their own misguided pilot and were sadly never seen again. The spies would fit perfectly in the show, although I would guess anything related to AoS is sadly being ignored by the MCU Prime. Lady Sif has already moved to television before with Agents of SHIELD, back when that show tried to connect to the films, and she was one of the few who survived Ragnarok. I’ll be honest, I don’t think she’d be a great fit for the series but I really want to see that character again.
The same is true for Erik Selvig. We last saw him in Age of Ultron and, after a sizable role in four films, he’s just disappeared. Stellan Skarsgard is going to appear in the Cassian Andor show on Disney+ so why not The Falcon and The Winter Soldier too? Another scientist connected to the Avengers also vanished without a trace. Dr Helen Cho seemed to be quite chummy with the Avengers in Age of Ultron, appearing at their party and fabricating Vision’s body, only to disappear entirely from the films. While she was a fairly flat and uninteresting character, I’d like to catch up with the character just for continuity’s sake.
Continuity is key to the MCU’s success and so sudden character disappearances weaken the overall storytelling. With these new streaming shows, the series can fill in the gaps made by the continuing blockbuster movies and hopefully strengthen the universe’s storytelling, all while telling their own engaging narratives. Which previously forgotten characters will reappear is currently a mystery, but I believe returning to some of the franchise’s earliest players, if they’ve been reinvented, will prove fruitful.
Which characters would you like to see again in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier? What do you think of my choices? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.