Captain America: New World Order is set to feature the return of Tim Blake Nelson's Leader, a character first showcased in 2008's The Incredible Hulk. During D23 Expo, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige confirmed the villain's return in the 2024 MCU movie as he joins Sam Wilson, Joaquin Torres, and the franchise's first live-action Israeli superhero, Sabra, played by Shira Haas.
The exact plot details are still being kept under wraps, but it is widely expected that the Leader will answer where he has been since the events of the Edward Norton-led movie. Captain America 4 director Julius Onah did tease the "terrifying" aspect of Samuel Sterns, saying that his "incredible intellect" will really challenge the titular hero.
Aside from that tease, it's apparent that The Leader's inclusion is Marvel Studios' way of addressing a longstanding cliffhanger from Phase 1.
The Leader's Return in Captain America 4 Makes MCU History
While many fans have speculated that the Leader's true fate will be explored in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law due to its connection to the Hulk mythos, it's safe to say that this plot point will be addressed in Captain America: New World Order.
In 2008's The Incredible Hulk, Samuel Sterns tried to help Bruce Banner in finding a cure to his Hulk problem. Sterns revealed that he has successfully synthesized Banner's blood samples into a large supply to incorporate its "limitless potential" into medicine.
However, Banner chose to destroy the blood supply due to his fear of it falling into the military's hands.
After Thunderbolt Ross' forces successfully apprehended Banner and his daughter Betty into custody, Emil Blonsky chose to stay behind and ordered Sterns to inject him with Banner's blood. As a result, the experiment led to his transformation into the Abomination:
Abomination then attacked Sterns, causing him to stumble and get some of Banner's blood in a cut on his forehead. This resulted in his head being mutated, leading to his first transformation as the villainous Leader:
That scene was the last moment where Sterns was featured, making his return in Captain America: New World Order highly-anticipated.
During D23 Expo, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige addressed the character's return, acknowledging that "promises fulfilled in the Marvel Cinematic Universe:"
"And when we last saw Tim Blake Nelson in the MCU 14 years ago, he was lying on the ground having been exposed. We teased the coming of the Leader, and 14 short years later, we deliver. Promises fulfilled in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
How The Leader Returns in Captain America 4
The timing of Samuel Sterns' surprising return as The Leader in Captain America: New World Order is intriguing, and this could hint that the villain really took his time for his comeback.
The villain's return timetable could be explained by his increased intellect, meaning that he could be plotting his grand plan since the events of The Incredible Hulk. It's possible that he predicted the arrival of the Avengers, and seeing how dominant Earth's Mightiest Heroes are, he could've chosen to stay out of their way until the right time comes.
So why didn't he attack during the five-year gap in-between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame? One plausible answer is he might be a victim of Thanos' snap, thus delaying his planned return even more.
Upon being resurrected by Hulk (ironically), the Leader uncovered that the world no longer has Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark and Chris Evans' Steve Rogers, giving him a wide-open opportunity to strike.
However, given the nefarious and terrifying personality that the Leader has, it's reasonable to assume that he needs a hero to target and use to announce the "New World Order" that he is trying to implement.
With Hulk off-world, the next in line is Anthony Mackie's new Captain America. The Leader might've witnessed Sam Wilson's passionate speech during The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and he sees him as his #1 threat in establishing a new world.
Why The Leader Wants a New World Order
In Marvel Comics, the New World Order is a villainous organization founded by the Red Skull with the intent, obviously, to take over the world.
While the Hulk is the group's usual adversary, the MCU appears to be giving the reigns to Sam Wilson's Star-Spangled Avenger.
It's possible that the Leader's New World Order is simply his excuse to become its ruler, with him potentially addressing its need for a highly- intellectual leader. While world domination is his sole intention, there's a chance that he would want to eliminate the people's intellect, leaving him as the only genius who can easily take over.
Whatever the case, it's clear that Captain America is crucial to the Leader's plan and all will be revealed when Captain America: New World Order premieres in theaters on May 3, 2024.