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Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova, running from an explosion
Photograph: Supplied/@ Marvel Studios 2021

Everything you need to know about ‘Thunderbolts’ – Marvel’s answer to The Suicide Squad

What to expect from MCU’s gnarly team-up movie

Jon Hornbuckle
Written by
Jon Hornbuckle

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is set to redeem some of its most villainous criminals in an upcoming Thunderbolts movie – their take on DC’s Suicide Squad.

While largely unknown to all but the most avid comic-book geeks, the Thunderbolts is an ever-changing group of ragtag villains and antiheroes, sometimes disguising themselves as heroes for villainous purposes and other times genuinely working to make amends for past crimes.

If this all sounds familiar, then you wouldn’t be the first to draw comparisons between Thunderbolts and DC’s own Suicide Squad, another group of baddies who become heroes for hire.

Marvel has hired Jake Schreier (Robot & Frank) to direct the Thunderbolts movie, with Black Widow screenwriter Eric Pearson penning the script. Here’s what we know so far. 

Who – or what – are the Thunderbolts?

The Thunderbolts are a group of reformed supervillains and morally ambiguous heroes.

In their first iteration, a group of C-list villains (Beetle, Fixer, Moonstone and Screaming Mimi) were led by the evil Baron Helmut Zemo as they took on new identities and began fighting crime as newly-redeemed heroes. But what the team didn’t know was that Zemo had sinister ulterior motives and villainy in mind. Zemo gonna Zemo, etc.

The line-up has often changed during the Thunderbolts’s 25-year lifespan as a Marvel comic, with members ranging from Avengers that have lost the faith (Hawkeye) to supervillains looking to make amends for a life of crime (Ghost).

Which characters can we expect to see in the MCU Thunderbolts movie?

The speculation is finally over after Marvel announced the Thunderbolts lineup at Disney's D23 event in September 2022.

While the storyline around how the ragtag antiheroes and villains come together, we now know they will be drawn from a string of previous movies and TV series.

Most notably, Sebastian Stan will return as Bucky Barnes as he continues to seek redemption for crimes committed when acting as brainwashed mercenary The Winter Soldier.

He will be joined by former foe U.S. Agent (Wyatt Russell), who temporarily took on the mantle of Captain America in Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, in which he was recruited by Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) who will be leading the team from behind the scenes in Thunderbolts.

The lineup includes several faces from the Black Widow spin-off movie, with Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) likely picking up the mantle of Black Widow after the passing of her sister Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson). Thunderbolts will also see return of Yelena and Natasha's superpowered father Red Guardian (David Harbour) and villain Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko), now freed from the mins control that made her evil. 

Completing the lineup is Ant-Man and the Wasp villain Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who has the ability to phase through walls after an accident in a science lab during her youth.

While he wasn't confirmed in the lineup announcement, expect to see Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl) involved somehow, as he's often the leader or adversary of the Thunderbolts in comic book runs.

One of the earliest MCU villains, Abomination, could also be set to return in ThunderboltsFirst seen in the often-overlooked The Incredible Hulk, Abomination made a surprise cameo in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and more recently the She-Hulk Disney+ series.

Other MCU characters that have been part of Thunderbolts include Luke Cage, Hawkeye, Deadpool, Elektra, The Punisher, Ghost Rider, and America Chavez.

Photograph: Time Out/Marvel

Which came first, Thunderbolts or Suicide Squad?

Not only did DC get the jump on Marvel at the box office with Suicide Squad’s release in 2016 – affording itself a second chance to get it right with 2021’s The Suicide Squad – but it won the print battle of villainous team-ups – by several decades.

The Suicide Squad’s origins as a comic book date back to 1959, while Marvel only introduced the Thunderbolts in a 1997 issue of ‘The Incredible Hulk’.

One key difference between the two anarchic posses is that while the Suicide Squad are run via a rule-bending government programme, the Thunderbolts often masquerading as heroes either for sinister ulterior motives or to genuinely find redemption.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Photograph: Disney/MarvelJulia Louis-Dreyfus and Wyatt Russell in 'The Falcon and the Winter Soldier'

What MCU movies or TV series do you need to watch first?

Not knowing the make-up of Marvel’s exact Thunderbolts team as yet, it’s hard to say, but expect several familiar faces to appear. It’s definitely worth revisiting 2021’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which introduced Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Valentina Allegra de Fontaine and had her recruiting the series’s ex-Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell), and gives him a new identity of ‘US Agent’. She returned for a post-credit sting in Black Widow to recruit Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) to assassinate Hawkeye.

If Walker is a dead-cert to be in the Thunderbolts movie, Daniel Brühl’s Baron Zemo is likely to be alongside him. Zemo, who first appeared as the antagonist of Captain America: Civil War, returned in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Given that he’s the superbad in the comic-books, can we expect Brühl back for more Sokovian shenanigans?

And if you have time, it’s also worth catching up on the Hawkeye series. In it, Yelena confronts Hawkeye over the death of her sister Black Widow, and Kingpin (Vincent D’Onfrio), the founder of the Thunderbolts in the most recent comic-book run, returns.

Following his defeat in The Incredible Hulk, Abomination made a surprise return in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and actor Tim Roth will reprise the role in Disney+’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law in August.

Are there any recent Thunderbolts comic books to read before the movie?

The most recent outing of Thunderbolts was in a 2021-’22 run called ‘Devil’s Reign’, six issues that saw Wilson Fisk attempt to take down heroes such as The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America, and Spider-Man.

To do this, Fisk – now Mayor of New York – unleashes the Thunderbolts, his personal army of villains. On the team? Crossbones, Taskmaster, Typhoid Mary, Shocker, Whiplash, Rhino and Kraven. Don’t expect to see them in the movie, though. Several are Spider-Man IP and are thus owned by Sony and its own superposse: the lawyers. 

When will Thunderbolts be released?

Thunderbolts will be released in cinemas on July 26, 2024.

That year will be a good one for Marvel fanatics with other MCU entries in 2024 including Captain America: New World Order, and Fantastic Four.

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