Marvel’s Thunderbolts will depict Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) on a brand-new superhero team, but the true purpose for his place may be more nefarious than anyone guessed. Throughout several films and series in Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) has recruited new members of the Thunderbolts. Although she hasn’t yet made her true intentions with this team clear, the MCU certainly seems to be implying that she doesn’t have the world’s best interest at heart. The same may be true for her team members themselves, including the former Winter Soldier.
Marvel revealed the cast of Thunderbolts during San Diego Comic Con last year, which, in addition to Louis-Dreyfus, also included Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova, Hannah John-Kamen as Ghost, David Harbour as the Red Guardian, Olga Kurylenko as Taskmaster, and John Walker as U.S. Agent. However, perhaps the most surprising member of the announced lineup was Bucky Barnes, especially since the MCU hasn’t hinted at his membership in the Thunderbolts yet. Even so, Bucky’s role in Thunderbolts has become a major talking point since its announcement, generating increased attention directed at the Phase 5 film, which may have rippling effects on his character and on the MCU as a whole.
Val’s Plans Have To Change For Bucky To Be A Member Of The Thunderbolts
Val seemed to be building a dark replacement for the MCU’s Avengers throughout her Phase 4 appearances, but Bucky’s recruitment to the Thunderbolts implies that her plans must have changed at some point. After all, Val already had the opportunity to recruit Bucky to her team during the events of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, during which she was present, always lurking in the shadows to scope out new talent. She even emerged during the last two episodes of the series to offer John Walker a second change at heroism, making him the U.S. Agent. However, she never approached Bucky with a similar offer, despite his proximity to Walker.
Although the timeline for the MCU’s Phase 4 is difficult to discern correctly, there are several events therein that could have changed Val’s plans, requiring her to recruit Bucky Barnes to the Thunderbolts. Bucky has been completely inactive in the franchise for most of the previous phase, but recent franchise changes may still greatly affect his MCU future. Not only did Phase 4 see the status the Avengers’ status called into question as the team remained entirely inactive, but it also showed the world on the brink of war as tensions with Wakanda heightened. These dynamic shifts in world affairs perfectly set Bucky up for a position on the Thunderbolts.
Bucky Gives The Thunderbolts Legitimacy
Thunderbolts is finally making Bucky’s storyline matter, with his presence providing the eponymous team with an extra sense of legitimacy that it might not have had before. Although the Thunderbolts appear to be a government-sanctioned team given Val’s new position as the director of the CIA, the public may still be quite wary regarding her group of antiheroes and former supervillains. Especially when put together by a shadowy government organization, teams of superpowered individuals are inherently terrifying to the common man. However, Bucky’s involvement could quell public concerns, using his history as a member of the Avengers to allay distrust in the Thunderbolts during their early years.
Although his history as the Winter Soldier precluded Bucky from becoming the new Captain America after Steve Rogers retired, it appears as though his legacy as an Avenger is beginning to outshine his dark past. After the events of Avengers: Endgame, Bucky has been fully pardoned for his crimes as the Winter Soldier and is beginning to make a name for himself as the White Wolf, a name that he adopted during his time in Wakanda. When stacked against the records of the other members of the Thunderbolts, Bucky possesses the most reliable history of the entire team, with his status as an Avenger granting him a better public image.
As Val and her team of Thunderbolts attempt to replace the Avengers on the world scene, they can capitalize on any residual feelings of trust for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes by recruiting one of its members to their ranks. While the Avengers may be falling out of favor with certain governments and political groups, they are still the only superhuman team that remains a constant in the world of the MCU. Even if the world is ready to embrace a new team of superheroes, the transition from Avengers to Thunderbolts would be much easier to palate if there was some overlap between the teams, making Bucky the perfect next recruit.
Furthermore, Bucky remains the most experienced hero among the cast of characters in Thunderbolts, making him the most valuable member of the team. While most of the Thunderbolts have impressive combat abilities and experience in the field, few, if any of them, have any real history working on a team. Not only has Bucky already served on a superhero team with the Avengers, but he also witnessed the exceptional leadership capabilities of Captain America as a member of the Howling Commandos during World War II. Drawing from his vast bank of experience working with various combat teams, Bucky may be the one to bring the Thunderbolts together as a unit.
Bucky Gives The Thunderbolts Access To Vibranium
While his experience is important, Bucky’s powerful Vibranium arm may be an even bigger indicator as to why Val recruits him for the Thunderbolts. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever revealed the world’s reaction to the discovery of Wakanda’s Vibranium stores, leading many powerful nations to attempt to locate the valuable metal for themselves. As the new director of the CIA, Val has made her desire for Vibranium quite apparent, even admitting to Everett Ross that she wants nothing more than to procure the precious substance for herself. In line with Val’s goal to obtain Wakanda’s prized possession, Bucky is one of the few American operatives with known ties to Vibranium.
Val is clearly seeking to take Wakanda’s Vibranium for herself, making Bucky more important to her schemes. Not only does he possess a Vibranium arm, but he also spent several years in Wakanda, where he was freed from his Hydra programming. Although Bucky would certainly refuse to help Val if he knew her true intentions, she still may be able to manipulate him into revealing information about Wakanda that could help her infiltrate the country’s defenses and plunder their Vibranium stores. Perhaps aware of Bucky’s recent falling out with Ayo and the Dora Milaje, Val may even seek to exploit any ill will on Bucky’s part for her own purposes.
Will Bucky Stay With The Thunderbolts After Phase 5?
Bucky’s place in the Thunderbolts remains in question after the team’s debut film. Thunderbolts ends the MCU’s Phase 5, implying that the film will have massive implications on the future of the franchise. It seems highly likely that the film will see Val’s true motives revealed and her villainous role in the MCU cemented at last. Bucky Barnes is the most heroic member of the Thunderbolts, and is therefore the least likely member of the team to go along with Val’s sinister plans. As a result, the end of the film could involve Bucky defecting from the team and refusing to join their mission, especially if involved betraying Wakanda.
Conversely, since the other Thunderbolts are mostly heroic themselves, the entire team could rebel against Val’s plans, following Bucky’s example. As a result, Bucky’s future as the new leader of the Thunderbolts would be cemented, giving him a more prominent role in the MCU moving forward. This would also set up the heavily rumored Dark Avengers team, which Val and her benfactors could gather as a replacement for the wayward Thunderbolts. Regardless of whether or not the team itself remains loyal to Val following her villainous reveal, it seems incredibly unlikely that Bucky himself would maintain his position as a part of the group after the events of Marvel’s Thunderbolts.