Although the COVID-19 pandemic threw a Hulk-sized wrench into the finely laid plans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s Phase 4, it seems as though the multi-billion dollar franchise is looking to get things back on track in 2021. During Disney’s 2020 Investor Day, the House of Mouse made sure to inform its fans that the MCU wasn’t going anywhere, announcing a slew of future movies and Disney+ series that will be produced over the next few years.
Although fans are probably most focused on WandaVision, the first trailer for the highly anticipated Disney+ series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, dropped in late 2020 and set the internet ablaze. Featuring the return of Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes, TFATWS looks to pick up where Avengers: Endgame left off, with Sam being Steve Rogers’ hand-picked heir to the Captain America mantle.
The series was originally supposed to debut in August of 2020, but postponing until March 19 only caused anticipation to climb. While the trailer certainly gave fans a taste of what’s to come, there are still a lot of unknowns about what will happen. In a recent interview with Emmy Magazine (via CBR), Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige noted that TFATWS was a reflection of today’s world. "Considering it was written last year, it has only become more relevant and more poignant for our time." What’s he mean by that? Who knows? But here are some fan theories to hold you over until we find out for sure.
Helmut Zemo is leading the Thunderbolts
Of Marvel’s super-teams, the big names like the Fantastic Four, Avengers, and X-Men get most of the recognition. However, perhaps the comics conglomerate’s most interesting squad is one most people have probably never heard of: the Thunderbolts. To put it in layman’s terms, the Thunderbolts are essentially a group of bad guys (or at the very least, not always good guys) who come together to do something good (or at the very least, something not that bad). Since its creation in 1997, the team’s roster has seen a plethora of heroes, antiheroes, and straight-up supervillains come and go, but one thing remains the same: it’s always a fun read.
One popular fan theory is that the MCU is planting seeds of a future Thunderbolts team-up, and, if that’s the case, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is honestly the perfect jumping off point due to one of the show’s characters in particular: Daniel Brühl’s Helmut Zemo. In the comics, Zemo is actually the one responsible for forming the Thunderbolts. Of course his team of "heroes" was actually the villainous Masters of Evil in disguise, but nobody knew that. The purple-masked leader hoped to trick the world into believing his team was good, which is, ironically, what the team eventually ended up being. Perhaps in TFATWS, Zemo, who was last seen imprisoned by the CIA in Civil War, is freed by General Thaddeus Ross and tasked with leading his own government-backed team of supes, some of which might already exist in the MCU.
Fans are practically Screaming for Mimi
If Zemo is in fact putting a Thunderbolts team together in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, there’s one character in particular who would make for a sensible addition: Melissa Gold, a.k.a. Songbird. Gold, who was a founding member of Zemo’s Thunderbolts team, actually started out as a member of an all-girl group of wrestlers called the Grapplers. Under the pseudonym "Screaming Mimi," Gold showcased her powers of vocal sonokinesis, eventually joining Zemo when he formulated the Masters of Evil.
Nothing has been confirmed yet, but a lot of fans are speculating that Songbird will make an appearance in TFATWS. This theory seems even more likely after a leaked set photo revealed what appears to be a woman sporting a purple mohawk, which was one of the character’s signature looks in the comics. Some fans believe that Erin Kellyman will be playing her, but there might actually be another villain the Solo starlet will be taking on.
Erin Kellyman might be smashing flags
One of the big takeaways from the Falcon and the Winter Soldier trailer is that Erin Kellyman, the British actor who made a splash as Enfys Nest in 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, is going to be a major problem for Sam and Bucky. Although her character’s identity is still unannounced, fans get a good shot of her donning a mask with a red handprint, as well as a clip of her going toe-to-toe with Falcon.
Some fans believe that Kellyman will actually be playing a gender-swapped version of the Flag-Smasher. In the comics, the Flag-Smasher is a Swiss man named Karl Morgenthau who has been a thorn in Captain America’s side on numerous occasions. One of Morgenthau’s most notable achievements was founding the Underground Liberated Totally Integrated Mobile Army To Unite Mankind (ULTIMATUM), a radical organization that opposed nationalism. In the TFATWS trailer, it appears as though Kellyman has a number of henchmen to accompany her in whatever trouble she’s stirring up. Could it be that she is leading a version of ULTIMATUM in the MCU?
Meet the first black super soldier
In the Falcon and the Winter Soldier trailer, Sam makes a comment about the "complicated" history of Captain America’s infamous shield. While the nigh-impenetrable weapon is often perceived as an American icon, the very idea behind Captain America has a somewhat checkered past in Marvel comics, particularly with the African-American community. This is all depicted in 2003’s limited comic Truth: Red, White and Black, which tells the distressing story of Isaiah Bradley.
As it turns out, it was Bradley, not Sam Wilson, who was the first Black man to don the Captain America moniker. Hoping to replicate the super-soldier serum that had worked on Steve Rogers, the US military subjected a few hundred exclusively African-American troops to experimental doses of various concoctions during World War II. The injections killed every soldier except Bradley, who then stole a spare Captain America costume before being shipped off to Germany to destroy a Nazi concentration camp. The real sad part of the story is that when Bradley returned home, he was put on trial and then locked up for 17 years. His charge? Impersonating Captain America. Not exactly a hero’s welcome.
So how might this tie into TFATWS? Some fans are predicting that Doctor Sleep‘s Carl Lumbly, whose role in the series is still under wraps, is actually playing an elder version of Isaiah Bradley who shares his experience and some advice with Sam. Perhaps Bradley’s story is why Sam is seemingly so apprehensive about taking on the Captain America mantle.
A new Patriot
So what exactly does the future of the MCU look like once the roster’s current heroes start reaching their golden years? While fans would probably be perfectly content watching Chris Hemsworth wield Thor’s ax well into his 60s, the cold hard fact is that some of these actors probably won’t want to stay in year-round "superhero shape" as they get older, which is perfectly normal. If everyone could do that, it would certainly make the swimming pool at the retirement home look a heck of a lot different.
One fan theory picking up traction is that Phase 4 is going to introduce the next generation of Avengers. Hailee Steinfeld will be tackling the role of Kate Bishop, the heir apparent to the Avengers’ archer, in Hawkeye, and Kathryn Newton will be picking up where Emma Fuhrmann left off as Cassie Lang, Ant-Man’s daughter, in Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania. With these young starlets signed on, it sounds like Marvel could be setting the stage for the Young Avengers to make their onscreen debut. But what’s an Avengers team without a Captain America figure, right?
Enter Elijah Bradley, who, in the comics, is the grandson of WWII-era super-soldier Isaiah Bradley. Eli gains superpowers after a blood transfusion with his grandfather, and then helps found the Young Avengers as Patriot. According to a rumor posted by Murphy’s Multiverse, New Amsterdam‘s Elijah Richardson will be playing young Bradley in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Talk about a patriotic twist.
General Ross is running the CSA
Although he’s been around since 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, William Hurt’s General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross has always been more of a shadowy presence in the MCU. Over the years, Ross has steadily climbed the ranks of bureaucracy, evolving from ruthless Army general into conniving Secretary of State. He is confirmed to make an appearance in Black Widow, leading fans to believe that he might also pop up in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, this time revealing his new, Post-Endgame position.
In the comics, much like in the MCU, the government has a very love-hate relationship with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Sometimes it backs its powerful heroes, whereas other times it blatantly opposes them. One of the most memorable government task forces was the Commission on Superhuman Activities (CSA), a group focused on the ever-growing number of enhanced individuals in the world. This group is traditionally led by a woman named Dr. Valerie Cooper, but some fans believe that it will be none other than Thunderbolt Ross who’s in charge in the MCU.
Murphy’s Multiverse theorizes that TFATWS will introduce the CSA, an idea that aligns with the source material. In the comics, it is the CSA that "fires" Steve Rogers as Captain America, ultimately replacing him with the brutal bruiser John Walker. The trailer already confirms that Walker, played by Overlord‘s Wyatt Russell, will don the stars and stripes in TFATWS. Perhaps the first PSA from the CSA is that Walker, not Wilson, will carry on the Captain America legacy.
Sharon Carter makes good on her British heritage
The last time fans saw Emily VanCamp’s SHIELD agent-turned-CIA operative Sharon Carter was in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Since then, the talented Revenge star has been noticeably MIA in the MCU, prompting fans to wonder whatever happened to Steve Rogers’ will-they-or-won’t-they kissing partner. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2019, VanCamp eased fans’ concerns, confirming that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will indeed explain what Carter has been up to since helping Team Cap in Civil War. "We’re obviously going to find out where Sharon’s been all this time because she’s been on the run."
Perhaps, in order to avoid answering to the CIA, Carter fled to her Great-Aunt Peggy’s home country: England. You have to assume that a woman with her espionage experience and highly respected heritage could get a job working for the Ministry of Defence or something like that. In fact, some fans believe that Carter just might’ve taken on an even bigger role in the British government.
In December 2020, Casey Walsh, the Editor-in-Chief of Geeks Worldwide, took to Twitter and stated that an early draft of TFATWS featured Sharon Carter "becoming Captain Britain as a tribute to her aunt." While this wild twist was probably left on the cutting room floor, it is rather odd that Sharon hasn’t really been seen much in the show’s trailer or in much of its marketing material. Could that be because she’s now donning some slick new Union Jack spandex? Fingers crossed, bruv!
Bucky and Sharon sitting in a tree…
Wanda and Vision might not be the only unusual couple in Phase 4 of the MCU. If one is to put any stock in the rumor mill that is 4chan and their often false "leaks," it sounds like Bucky Barnes is going to hit it off with none other than Sharon Carter in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. According to a spoilery Reddit post, the two display "very flirty vibes," despite the fact that the last time Bucky saw Sharon she was locking lips with his BFF Steve Rogers.
As far as fan predictions go, this one is relatively well grounded. With Steve now out of the picture, it can be assumed that everyone from Bucky’s past is now gone. He’s a man out of time and he’s all alone. Sharon could represent a piece of his history, given her connection to both Steve and Peggy Carter, and although the pair have shared almost no screen time together at this point, that could change in TFATWS.
Some fans hate this idea, arguing that Sharon is a badass character in the comics, and having her onscreen counterpart limited to a mere love interest would be a shame. This is also far from the first time that Bucky’s love life has been analyzed by fans, and a solid portion of people still believe that he’s actually gay. Obviously having him date Sharon would seemingly extinguish that postulation, but only time will tell which direction Marvel is taking the Winter Soldier.
Bucky’s seeing Red again
It’s been awhile since Marvel officially reacquired the rights to the X-Men as a consequence of the massive Disney-Fox merger in March of 2019, but the MCU is still notably lacking in onscreen mutant representation. Just how much of that is a consequence of Hollywood shutting down due to COVID-19 remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: fans are still drooling to see the first X-Men join the MCU.
Although it seems like a bit of a long shot, some fans are predicting that the first mutant will actually appear in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. The theory posits that the show will delve into Bucky’s past as a brainwashed HYDRA agent in Siberia. If you recall from flashback scenes of Civil War, Bucky had to help train the brutal new "winter soldiers" HYDRA had created with his stolen super-soldier serum. As the theory goes, one of those enhanced assassins was actually Arkady Rossovich, better known to comic readers as Omega Red, the nefarious Russian X-Men foe.
In the comics, the KGB subjects Rossovich to experimental super-soldier serum in an attempt to create a Russian version of Captain America, so if you just swap out the KGB for HYDRA, this theory really doesn’t stray too far from the source material. It’s rumored that TFATWS will see Bucky return to Siberia, so maybe that’s where he and Sam get an unexpected surprise from an old foe.
The new Black Widow
Remember back when Black Widow was supposed to be the next chapter in the MCU? Before the pandemic hit, fans couldn’t wait to see Scarlett Johansson’s final ride as Natasha Romanoff, as well as see how newcomers David Harbour, Rachel Weisz and Florence Pugh would fit into the Marvel universe at large. Although fans are still super excited to see the film when it eventually hits theaters, the Phase 4 slate has since been reshuffled, and now both WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will premiere first.
This new release schedule is particularly interesting when you consider the fact that, as is the case with most MCU films, the impact of Black Widow could possibly play into what happens in TFATWS. One of the most popular ideas is that Pugh’s Russian super-spy, Yelena Belova, will take over for Romanoff in Phase 4 and beyond. Since Thunderbolt Ross is confirmed to play a role in Black Widow, fans are theorizing that Belova will actually be working for Ross going forward, perhaps even as a member of the Thunderbolts. Should Pugh make an appearance in TFATWS, it will most likely be as the MCU’s new Black Widow, although only time will tell who’s side she fights for.
A Jolt of energy
If General Ross is in fact putting a Thunderbolts team together in Phase 4 of the MCU, he’s presumably in the market for some fresh super-powered individuals to add to the roster. In the comics, one of the earliest Thunderbolt recruits was Hallie Takahama, a girl who, after surviving painful experimentation by supervillain Arnim Zola, joined the squad as Jolt.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier still has several actors with unrevealed roles, but one of the most intriguing is that of The Terror‘s Miki Ishikawa. Some fans believe that Ishikawa will be suiting up as Jolt and joining Zemo and Songbird as they go toe to toe with Sam, Bucky, and Sharon Carter. The talented actor only fanned the flames of speculation when she revealed a particularly suggestive lightning bolt tattoo on her Instagram. She also allegedly liked a comment expressing excitement to see her play Jolt in the MCU, although the comment has since been deleted. Ishikawa could be just the jolt of new blood the MCU needs.
O sister, where art thou?
Now that Steve Rogers has seemingly picked up his shield for the final time, Bucky Barnes is truly the last of a dying breed. Everyone Barnes knows from his WWII days has presumably passed on, and most of today’s world probably still thinks of him as the murderous assassin Winter Soldier, who Zemo falsely accused of detonating a bomb in Vienna during Civil War.
So the question must be asked: how will Barnes change the world’s opinion of him? Sebastian Stan still has three more appearances on his original nine-film contract, so Bucky’s death seems highly unlikely in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Given that he will presumably be around a while, some fans believe the show will introduce a character from Barnes’ past in order to help audiences empathize with his humanity. That character could be Rebecca Barnes, Bucky’s sister.
It is a little-known fact that in the comics, Bucky has a younger sister. Although the two were separated at a young age, perhaps Becca is the key to helping Bucky change his legacy in the MCU. This theory seems even more plausible after Stan posted a behind-the-scenes picture of curious dog tags referencing an ‘R. Barnes’. Fans could very well be getting a Barnes family reunion in TFATWS.