Saturday, October 25, 2014

JUSTICE, LIKE LIGHTNING: Who Could or Should or Maybe Will Appear in James Gunn's Thunderbolts (assuming James Gunn's Thunderbolts is ever even a thing, which is totally not even a solid Maybe right now, so whatever)

In the wake of Guardians of the Galaxy's success, there were these quickly forgotten stories about Guardians director James Gunn wanting to bring another Marvel property - the Thunderbolts - to the big screen. According to Gunn, he mentioned his interest to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige while filming Guardians, and Feige responded that if Guardians was a success, Gunn would be able to do whatever he wanted.

It isn't the hottest topic in the Marvel Live Action Universe being discussed right now, but it's been itching my brain, and I guess it's because since their origins in the late nineties, the Thunderbolts have never been a normal super-team and I just haven't been able to wrap my mind around exactly how Gunn or anyone else could adapt Thunderbolts.

The first Thunderbolts series provided one of comicdom's most successful surprise reveals. On the final page of the first issue, readers learned that Thunderbolts leader Citizen V was actually Captain America's old enemy Baron Zemo. The rest of the team were Zemo's underlings in the Masters of Evil, simply given new names and costumes. They were pretending at heroism in order to gain society's trust so Zemo could finally grab the power he'd sought for so long. But as the series progressed, most of the team found they liked being heroes a lot more than they ever liked being villains. After turning on Zemo, they found a new leader in Hawkeye, the Avenger who'd started his career as a criminal long ago.

Since then, the Thunderbolts have changed, and changed, and changed again. The driving force behind the team has always been different, but the common thread between all the incarnations has been that they are usually comprised of villains, reformed villains, and/or heroes who aren't exactly villains but who skirt the moral line the more traditional caped crusaders won't cross.

I guess that's why this has been itching my brain. I've been assuming (maybe incorrectly) that if Gunn wanted to make a movie based on Thunderbolts, then it would not only be a team filled with villains, but with villains Marvel movie audiences have already seen (just as Zemo and his Masters of Evil were already known to the Marvel readers of the nineties; otherwise the surprise reveal would've meant nothing). And the list of viable candidates isn't that long. Certainly not all, but a healthy chunk of Marvel's cinematic super-villains are dead and some just wouldn't fit (Thanos in Thunderbolts = no). But then I expanded my mind a little bit, and remembered a little TV show called Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

So here's a list of villains already introduced in the Marvel Cinematic/TV Universe that might make good candidates. I don't do gossip and don't claim to know things I couldn't possibly know. These aren't predictions. They're just "picks" for lack of a better word, based on the assumption (and it is a huge assumption considering, as far as we know, a cinematic Thunderbolts isn't even in development) that at least a healthy chunk of the team will be culled from the villain ranks with which we're already familiar.

SPOILER WARNING: There's really no way for me to do this list without naming spoilers not only from just about every Marvel Studios film, but also from some of the so-called "One-Shots" as well as from Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Actually, there will be quite a damn few from S.H.I.E.L.D. especially, so I consider your hiney warned.


Now, the Thunderbolts have always - as far as I know - pretty much been an Earth-based team in all of their various incarnations. Because of that, Loki might not make a lot of sense at first glance. Three things though. First, he's just disgustingly, ridiculously popular. Second, he's possibly the most sympathetic super-villain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the notion that he might actually change teams is something the filmmakers love to dangle in front of the audience (even though we all know it'll never happen). Third, if Gunn decides to go with the villains-disguised-as-heroes route, Loki would make the perfect replacement for Baron Zemo considering his illusion powers and how they facilitated the surprise ending of Thor: The Dark World as well as a Chris Evans cameo.


I don't think the Hulk's evil twin would go willingly into a super-hero team. I think he'd be more like a leashed pit bull. But I could see him involved in something like a Thunderbolts flick. And as much as Marvel Studios, at first at least, seemed ready to let audiences forget possibly its least lucrative film, there've been quite a few Blonsky name-drops on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and he was even used to explain the discrepancies in Incredible Hulk's final scene in the Marvel One-Shot The Consultant. The only problem I see with his involvement is that he's a big green guy who smashes things, and that's kind of been done in a super-hero team movie.


Donny Gill isn't exactly the most well-known villain in the MU, but out of every villain to appear so far in Disney's live action stuff, he's one of the few who actually was in the comic book team (the, uh, I don't know, third incarnation of the team? The fourth? I don't know. He was in New Thunderbolts, right before Civil War dropped). As an ambitious but lonely student at the S.H.I.E.L.D. version of Hogwart's, Gill was misguided but far from bloodthirsty, and would be perfect for a team of villains struggling with its morality. Of course, he died in his second appearance on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but as to whether or not death is as fluid in the Marvel Live Action Universe as it is in its comic book predecessor, I will say two things. First, when he died Donny Gill's body was encased in ice and dropping into the ocean, and those two things have proven numerous times to be part of a life saving technique in the Marvel Universe. Second, Tahiti is a magical place.


Again, a villain who appeared and died on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and this time it's a fire guy. Scorch is a fire guy and Blizzard is an ice guy, and you know if they had both on the same team they'd have to have a fight. Or a duel of tricks in the classroom to get into Anna Paquin's pants.


As I mentioned earlier, Hawkeye took the original Thunderbolts team under his wing after they rebelled against Zemo. And it wasn't until I started thinking about all of this that I realized we know very little about his character in the MCU. We know he worked for S.H.I.E.L.D., we know he has some kind of strong bond with Black Widow, and we know that when he sees Thor wrestling in the mud, he develops a soft spot for him. Considering everything though, it isn't difficult to imagine he had a criminal past before working for Nick Fury. Not to mention that he may very well carry the guilt of all the people he killed and helped kill while working as one of Loki's "personal flying monkeys." Redemption may very well be something Hawkeye's hunting, and that might even make it easier for him in some ways to relate to a super-villain than to a living legend draped in a flag.


Now we know a thing or two about Black Widow's past, and we know she's got red in her ledger (and, judging by the scripts, so did every Marvel Comics writer for about a year after the release of Avengers, because they were all legally bound to use that phrase in every other panel of her comic book appearances). Deleted scenes from Captain America: The Winter Soldier show a Black Widow somewhat hesitant to release the information about S.H.I.E.L.D. to the general public because she know all of her black deeds will be as naked as Hydra's. If James Gunn's Thunderbolts ends up being about redemption, Black Widow could easily find a home in the roster


When he exited the stage at the end of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s first season, Mike Peterson stated plainly that he planned to make up for the evil he'd done at the behest of Hydra. So again, a team of former villains looking to change black hats for white would be a perfect fit for Deathlok. And as a fan of all things related to Buffy, I'd be psyched about J. August Richards getting a shot at a major motion picture.


You've probably sensed the whole redemption theme, so if you've seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier, then I really don't have to say anything more here. But, let me say that a Thunderbolts movie could have Bucky. It could have Deathlok. It could not have both. They are both cybernetically enhanced super-soldiers presumed dead and coerced into assassination by Hydra now free from their former masters. Thematically, Bucky and Deathlok are the exact same guy. Since I'm guessing Bucky will be getting plenty of screen time in any future Captain America films, if it were a choice between the two, I'd rather see Deathlok in Thunderbolts.


Considering his few lines and brief appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I don't think it's a stretch to assume mixed martial artist Georges St-Pierre was chosen for his role because of his physical prowess rather than his acting talent. I guess it's precisely for that reason that I find him appealing in my imaginary Thunderbolts movie. He's an absolute blank slate. All we know about him is that he's a criminal who likes kicking. Gunn could do whatever he wanted with him.


As any avid S.H.I.E.L.D. watchers know (this is one of those spoilers I was talking about), Agent Grant Ward winds up being a turncoat working for Hydra. His devotion to Hydra stooge John Garret was matched only for his twisted love for Skye, and so he remains in the series, all Hannibal-Lectered in the basement, having this very creepy he-thinks-he-found-Jesus-but-you-know-he's-full-of-shit aura about him. My guess is they'll want to keep Ward around for at least another season or two, and maybe making him to the Thunderbolts what Phil Coulson was to the Avengers would be a way to keep him around.


The Thor villain I always mentally refer to as "Enchantress-Light" appeared on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as an escapee from Asgard's prisons due to the events of Thor: The Dark World. Now Lorelei is a longshot, particularly because last we saw her she was being transported back to Asgard. But if Loki were a part of the team, Lorelei would be a natural addition. I don't see her as someone seeking redemption though. I think a good team of Thunderbolts would need a healthy mix of those seeking to make up for their past, some who didn't care either way, and some who were just evil mofos. Lorelei would be one of the latter.


Yeah, I know, I know, I know. There didn't end up being anything particularly super about the man who was supposed to be the Mandarin. But, am I the only one who keeps thinking that this guy's playing possum? That maybe, just maybe, we're going to see Trevor reveal himself to be much more than the airhead acting hack he appears to be? At the very least, I would love if that were the case. I would love to see Marvel give us a few more cameos, maybe another one-shot or two, and then somewhere along the way we learn this guy actually has more up his sleeve than a few dimebags.

Plus, he's hilarious. COME ON! You know you want to see him again.

You know, as I've been writing this and thinking more and more about it, I've come around to the idea that a Thunderbolts TV show would have about a million times more potential than a Thunderbolts film. The very nature of the thing would lend itself to season-long mysteries of who the bad guys are, who the good guys are, who's really trying to be a good guy but just can't hack it. We could see cast members from Marvel's other properties funneled right into Thunderbolts. And since we're talking about villains, and Marvel's already working with Netflix, we could see a much darker side of the Marvel Universe than what we're used to.

Of course, no matter what Thunderbolts team Gunn forms, if any, and regardless of whether it's on the big screen or the flat screen, there remains one unavoidable truth.

Hulk could totally kick all of their asses.

No seriously he totally already did. A few times.

Hulk's totally better than everyone. I don't know if I've ever mentioned that.


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