Since the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008, there’s been a widely accepted notion that Marvel Studios struggled to write a good antagonist for some of their films. Realizing that many fans felt this way, Marvel Studios took that criticism and cranked their villain game up to 11 in more recent years. Creating earthbound bad guys like Adrian Toomes and Erik Killmonger, while also upping their game on the cosmic side of things with Ronan and Hela, all while building up to the big bad boss Thanos - writing for villains is no longer an issue that Marvel Studios struggles with.
Many people who believed that Marvel’s villains needed work did not realize at the time that Marvel Studios loves to play the long game with their characters. Planting the nation of Wakanda in the MCU as early as 2010’s Iron Man 2, or alluding to Thanos pulling his devious strings 6 years before he stepped down from his throne are just a couple of examples of how Marvel Studios purposefully keeps their fans wanting more.
In the same way, there are still many MCU villains who are currently unaccounted for that many fans may not realize. Although subtle, Marvel Studios has actually gone out of their way a few different times to remind fans of certain villains that are still out there somewhere. In fact, the studio has even produced certain Marvel One-Shots to include instances in the MCU lore that just couldn’t find their place on the big screen, like following up on the status of certain bad guys who survived their bouts with previous films' heroes.
In essence, Marvel Studios' 23-film saga as well as its related properties are chock-full with evidence which supports that many of the MCU’s most dangerous evildoers are still very much alive and ready to be pit against the Avengers and company once again. The fourth phase of Marvel films is finally beginning, and while Marvel Studios will be doubling (almost tripling) the amount of content that they release annually starting next year, this phase is going to serve as a rebuilding period for the MCU. So, it wouldn't come as too much of a surprise if a villain like Vulture and his gang show up again in Spider-Man 3 to take another swing at the Web-slinger, or if Ultron resurfaced in a Disney+ series like WandaVision to haunt Wanda Maximoff and push her past her breaking point.
Because of the many possibilities of seeing a familiar face on the wrong side of the law in the next few years, The Direct has decided to take a look at some of the biggest, baddest names that are still around in the MCU today, and how they could fit right into Phase 4 and beyond .
NEMESIS: The Avengers
LAST SEEN: Captain America: Civil War (2016)
NOTABLE ALLIES: N/A
MOST RECENT GOAL: To disassemble/dismantle the Avengers team
RESULT OF ACTIONS: Subdued by Black Panther, taken into custody under CIA agent Everett Ross
FINAL WORDS: *When asked how it felt to see his plan fail* "Did it?"
CURRENT WHEREABOUTS: Joint Counter Terrorist Centre
NEXT APPEARANCE: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2020)
"I told my wife, ‘Don't worry. They're fighting in the city. We're miles from harm.' When the dust cleared, and the screaming stopped, it took me two days until I found their bodies - my father, still holding my wife and son in his arms. And the Avengers? They went home."
~ Helmut Zemo
When Ultron attacked Sokovia, Helmut Zemo was one of many in the Sokovian Armed Forces to be called up to defend the city. Because of this, he sent his family to his father so that they could stay safely outside the city, away from the chaos. Despite this, his wife, son and father still perished as a result of Ultron’s doings, and although Ultron was defeated by the Avengers, Zemo blamed them for the death of his family, and eagerly assumed that the Avengers do not care about collateral damage. This created Zemo’s hatred for the Avengers, urging him to act on their shortcomings. Recognizing that he was no match for the Avengers in a physical bout, Helmut Zemo set out to turn the Avengers against themselves.
Zemo did this by framing the Winter Soldier in bombing the United Nations building in Vienna (which killed the Wakandan King T’Chaka), prompting Steve Rogers to come to Barnes’ aid. Cap’s blind defense of Bucky led to an abrupt split in the Avengers, leading Tony Stark to search for Barnes. All this was part of Zemo's plan to force Stark to see that Bucky was responsible for the death of Stark's parents.
"You killed innocent people in Vienna just to bring us here?"
"I've thought about nothing else for over a year."
~ Captain America and Helmut Zemo
Having achieved his mission of creating chaos within the Avengers team, Zemo no longer had any desire to live. But before he could kill himself, he was tackled by Black Panther, who then handed Zemo over to the Joint Counter Terrorist Centre for his imprisonment under the command of the CIA’s Everett Ross.
"So how does it feel? To spend all that time, all that effort... and, to see it fail so spectacularly?"
~ Everett Ross and Helmut Zemo
Zemo’s most apparent attribute in Civil War was certainly his desire for vengeance. But another trait, which is arguably just as significant, is his use of psychological warfare. His ability to manipulate all of the people involved in his plan without them even knowing it is impressive, but his ability to improvise and think on his feet is nothing short of brilliant - so much so that his original plan most likely did not involve T’Challa at all, but was able to use that unexpected addition to further his agenda.
"An empire toppled by its enemies can rise again. But one which crumbles from within? That's dead. Forever."
~ Helmut Zemo
The actions of Helmut Zemo proved to the world that the Avengers aren’t perfect, which is quite the feat. Many others among the Avengers’ long list of enemies will surely recognize that, and may want to commend Zemo for his success. The Avengers seemingly disbanded shortly after the events of 2016’s Civil War, and appeared to still be fairly broken during the events of 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, so the team of superheros still have a lot of rebuilding to do.
The start of this rebuilding looks like it could begin to take shape in 2020’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which is coincidentally Helmut Zemo’s next scheduled appearance. Seeing the second rising of a united Avengers taking form, those who oppose it may go as far to try to release Zemo from his imprisonment, who has proven his worth as the one who once tore the Avengers apart.
Additionally, when considering the theory that the U.S. Government (or more specifically, U.S. Secretary Ross) may be building a superhero squad of their own in case they need to keep the Avengers in line regarding the Sokovia Accords, the events of Captain America: Civil War could also very well be Zemo’s audition tape for the group of ragtag ex-cons that Ross may end up corralling when he can’t keep the Avengers at bay.
NEMESIS: Bruce Banner / Hulk
LAST SEEN: The Incredible Hulk (2008)
NOTABLE ALLIES: N/A
MOST RECENT GOAL: To evolve into a stronger being than the Hulk
RESULT OF ACTIONS: Overpowered and defeated by Hulk, taken into custody by U.S. Army
FINAL WORDS: “You don’t deserve this power!”
CURRENT WHEREABOUTS: The Vault in Barrow, Alaska
NEXT APPEARANCE: Unknown
"How are you feeling, man?"
"Like a monster."
~ Soldier and Emil Blonsky
Emil Blonsky aka Abomination was a former British special-ops commando on contract to General Thaddeus Ross, who was tasked with capturing the fugitive Bruce Banner. To further the mission, Blonsky volunteered to be injected with a replicated variant of the super soldier serum, which was an initial success. Later on, though, Blonsky transfused his blood with Banner's gamma-irradiated blood, causing him to mutate into the Abomination, who then went on a rampage through Harlem until he was defeated by Hulk and captured by General Ross.
As discussed in 2011’s Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant, the World Security Council planned to free Blonsky and draft him into the Avengers Initiative, citing him as a famous war hero and believing him to have wreaked havoc only because he was trying to defend himself from the Hulk. However, thanks to the combined efforts at S.H.I.E.L.D. and their newfound consultant Tony Stark, General Ross refused to release Blonsky from captivity, deeming him unavailable for the Avengers program indefinitely.
This information is later reinforced with a little more detail by Agent Coulson in an episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., in which he revealed that Blonsky was being held in the Vault, a cryo-cell located at a facility in Barrow, Alaska, operated by the United States Armed Forces. Blonsky’s status has not been discussed since.
"I want more. You've seen what he becomes, right?"
"I have. And it's beautiful. Godlike."
Well, I want that. I need that. Make me that."
"I don't know what you've got inside you already. The mixture could be... an abomination."
~ Emil Blonsky and Samuel Sterns
What’s most interesting about Blonsky’s extended MCU absence is that the initial variant “super soldier” serum that he was given actually worked phenomenally, enhancing his strength, speed, and agility. Even after managing to break every bone in his body, he was back on his feet the next morning.
It wasn’t until Blonsky’s second dose of the drug that things took a turn for the worse. Blonsky began to physically deform, but more importantly he started to lose connection with reality as he grew hungrier for Hulk's power.
"They want Blonsky on the team."
"They really don't like it when you call him that."
~ Phil Coulson and Jasper Sitwell
Events involving Blonsky have only been briefly mentioned since his shoutout in an early season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., with no further information on his current whereabouts being provided. However, with Secretary Ross being the last known authority over Blonsky, one can assume that Ross has kept it that way.
Fans know that Thaddeus Ross is one to follow orders, but not without his own plan on the backburner. In Marvel comic lore, the U.S. government contracted mercenaries to take down the heroes that did not comply with the Superhuman Registration Act. Being the frontman for the infamous Sokovia Accords in the MCU, Ross could be keeping Blonsky at his disposal in case he feels the need to use him again, if he couldn't handle the potential resistance from the Avengers.
The Sokovia Accords is an MCU storyline that hasn’t developed any further since 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp. With Phase 4 kicking off with the focus on Natasha Romanoff’s time between the events of Civil War and Infinity War, the Sokovia Accords will return to the front-and-center soon enough. And with Thaddeus Ross returning to the scene in the same film, he will have to begin to adapt to how the Accords are received by the heroes their affecting. He may even have to call on his own clean-up team to keep “rogue” superheroes in line.
NEMESIS: Scott Lang, Hope Van Dyne, Hank Pym
LAST SEEN: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
NOTABLE ALLIES: FBI Agent Stotz (deceased), Uzman and company
MOST RECENT GOAL: To acquire the quantum technology that Hank Pym was building
RESULT OF ACTIONS: Apprehended by the X-Con security team, arrested by San Francisco police
FINAL WORDS: "I have also committed numerous healthcode violations in my restaurant. Some of them would shock you."
CURRENT WHEREABOUTS: Assumedly imprisoned in San Francisco, CA
NEXT APPEARANCE: Unknown
“My name is Sonny Burch, and I do my research.”
~ Sonny Burch
Actor Walton Goggins seemed like more of an annoying side character than an impactful villain in 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, but his presence as Sonny Burch could have much bigger implications later on down the road. The professional criminal spent most of his time in the film trying to steal Hank Pym's laboratory and ultimately ended up confessing his wrongdoings to the authorities after a well-timed dose of truth serum. But what he didn’t reveal was who he was working for, or why his employer so badly wanted to get their hands on that precious Pym tech.
If Burch was thrown into the Ant-Man sequel, only to just get in the way and later be stopped by Luis and his pals, then even the light-hearted feel of the Ant-Man franchise struggles to justify Sonny’s inclusion in the story. Theoretically, he could serve as the one who reveals the identity of the “mysterious benefactor” that he was working for to bargain his own freedom, which would drag whoever that may be out of the shadows and into the forefront of the upcoming Ant-Man threequel, or possibly even sooner.
"Oh, our business isn't finished yet, Hope. I can assure you of that!"
~ Sonny Burch
Ant-Man director Peyton Reed took to Twitter shortly after the release of the Ant-Man sequel to tease the possibility of Burch making another MCU appearance, further instilling the belief that there is more story to tell with Sonny.
Ant-Man 3 is rumored to be the gateway for the Young Avengers to enter the MCU, so Sonny Burch could serve as the middleman that introduces the real villain that the new, younger roster of heroes will have to deal with, while also being a great means of tying the Ant-Man trilogy together.
However, Ant-Man 3 isn’t scheduled to release until 2023 at the earliest, which puts at least 7 years between the second and third films in the franchise. Marvel Studios could very well leave fans hanging on who this mysterious benefactor is until then, as they have made a name for themselves in holding out on audiences for the long game. But after Sonny mentioned his employer in Ant-Man and the Wasp, speculation has been running rampant about who it could be. So when will fans get another taste of this looming puppetmaster? And how?
“My buyers don't take no for an answer.”
~ Sonny Burch
According to Hank Pym, HYDRA has been interested in Pym's work since his days at shield. An overlooked detail in the Ant-Man sequel is that Burch did not pursue Hope until it was revealed to him that her business partner and father, Hank Pym, was involved in the mix. Despite HYDRA staying seemingly quiet for the past few years, projects like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have kept the idea of HYDRA very much alive.
If HYDRA is still operating in the shadows, slowly rebuilding their empire in a new age, then audiences could see the Ant-Man franchise help reignite that storyline. For example, a scrapped piece of MCU concept art has showed Arnim Zola’s consciousness still keeping HYDRA alive in the background, operating as their new leader via an android body - this idea was supposed to appear in the first Ant-Man film. However, Marvel Studios may have thought that it would be better to drop breadcrumbs for fans to follow for a bit, rather than throwing HYDRA right back into the mix. But if Sonny Burch is one of the pieces used to bridge the gap in the MCU, then the threat of HYDRA could present itself quite literally anywhere, to which the first two phases of MCU films can attest.
In the end, Sonny Burch may not be the mastermind that can break himself out of prison, nor may he even know anyone that would be willing to assist him in achieving such a task. But his lingering presence should not be ignored, and fans should most certainly be paying the utmost attention to if/when he does pop up again.
NEMESIS: Captain America
LAST SEEN: Avengers: Endgame (2019)
NOTABLE ALLIES: Arnim Zola, HYDRA
MOST RECENT GOAL: To usher in a new world order using the Tesseract as the ultimate source of energy and power
RESULT OF ACTIONS: Zapped up into the cosmos, having to spend a lifetime guarding the Soul Stone on Vormir
FINAL WORDS: *When Thanos says he's prepared to claim an Infinity Stone* "We all think that at first... We are all wrong."
CURRENT WHEREABOUTS: Unknown
NEXT APPEARANCE: Unknown
“A lifetime ago, I, too, sought the stones. I even held one in my hand. But it cast me out, banished me here. Guiding others to a treasure I cannot possess.”
~ Red Skull
Fans of the MCU saw right off the bat in Captain America: The First Avenger that Johann Schmidt (then played by actor Hugo Weaving) was a cruel and vicious leader that would let nothing stand in the way of what he wants. It's important to remember that Red Skull did everything he could when pursuing the true power of the Tesseract, and his efforts got him zapped up into the cosmos by the Space Stone all the way back in 1945, when the bulk of the first Captain America film took place.
So, when he reappears in Avengers: Infinity War - and then once more in Avengers: Endgame - we see that Schmidt is in tattered clothing and seems extremely worn down from the decades of being slave to the Soul Stone. It was the year 2018 on Earth's timeline when Thanos received the Soul Stone in Avengers: Infinity War. And so, Schmidt would have spent roughly 73 years in space, alone, "guiding others to a treasure [he] cannot possess."
The audience has only known Red Skull as a power-hungry maniac thus far, and the way that Red Skull chose to word that single sentence implies that he does in fact still desire the power of the Infinity Stones, so it would only make sense that once he is freed of his long life at the Soul Stone's servitude, he would resume his quest for that power.
“You could have the power of the gods! Yet you wear a flag on your chest and think you fight a battle of nations! I have seen the future, Captain. There are no flags!”
~ Red Skull
Although the Red Skull actor Ross Marquand recently claimed that he knew nothing about Marvel Studios’ post-Endgame plans for the character, the door for Schmidt’s story was left wide open, almost to a point that it would be doing fans a disservice to not follow up on Red Skull’s whereabouts.
There are still many places for Red Skull to fit into the modern day MCU, whether he returns to Earth or becomes more of a cosmic threat. With Marvel Studios leaning towards further exploring the cosmos and the multiverse in a bulk of their upcoming projects, it would certainly be interesting to see them continue to implement a classic Marvel villain like Red Skull, now in a setting that is very unfamiliar for the character.
"Schmidt believes he walks in the footsteps of the gods. Only the world itself will satisfy him."
~ Arnim Zola
With projects such as The Eternals and Thor: Love and Thunder on the way as part of Phase 4, as well as the much anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 not too far off either, there are plenty of cosmic MCU expeditions that could cross paths with Red Skull along the way.
With Schmidt spending the better part of a century in solitude, he had plenty of time to reflect and recognize the flaws in his initial quest for dominance on Earth. And with how bitter and radical of a figure he was, it would be hard to believe that Red Skull would have had a change of heart during his time on Vormir.
Power seemed to be what Schmidt craved more than anything; he would have ended up on a similar quest for domination regardless of what solar system he ended up in. Now that he’s free, with everything he has witnessed, combined with the fact that literally not one person is looking for him, Red Skull has got the green light to start over entirely.
Because of this, it would come as no surprise if Loki figured out a way to jump from one universe to another and came across a now-freed Red Skull wandering through the cosmos, or if the Guardians receive a distress signal in their next film that a civilization had just been rolled over by Red Skull in his pursuit for now-upscaled cosmic quest for domination.
NEMESIS: Tony Stark / Stark Industries
LAST SEEN: Marvel One-Shot: All Hail the King (2014)
NOTABLE ALLIES: Ivan Vanko (deceased)
MOST RECENT GOAL: To outshine Stark Industries and become the primary weapons contractor for the U.S. military
RESULT OF ACTIONS: Arrested by police in Flushing, NY
FINAL WORDS: *to Pepper Potts* “I’ll be seeing you again real soon!”
CURRENT WHEREABOUTS: Seagate Penitentiary in Georgia
NEXT APPEARANCE: Unknown
"I want them to put me in the Pentagon for the next twenty-five years. I wanna make Iron Man look like an antique. I wanna go to that Stark Expo and take a dump in Tony Stark's front yard."
~ Justin Hammer
From what was shown in 2010’s Iron Man 2, Justin Hammer spent the majority of his tech and weapons development career in Tony Stark’s shadow. The audience is shown that Hammer did try to play nice with Stark at a professional level, but was determined to find any way possible to best him - his only move was to throw money at things in hopes that they would help him. Cue Ivan Vanko aka Whiplash. Hammer went as far as to break Vanko out of prison, but he only pursued Vanko after he witnessed Vanko attempting to kill Stark in Monaco. As a later result of his actions, Hammer was arrested, taken into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, and locked up at Seagate Federal Penitentiary, as it was later revealed in 2014’s Marvel One-Shot: All Hail The King.
In the present-day MCU (2024), Justin Hammer will have been behind bars for almost 15 years now. Depending on his actual prison sentence, there’s no telling how long he was scheduled to be shackled down in Georgia.
"Stark has created a sword with untold possibilities, and yet he insists it's a shield. He asks that we trust him as we cower behind it."
~ Justin Hammer
The Iron Man trilogy seems to be the only film franchise to use Seagate Penitentiary as a means for keeping MCU baddies at bay, so there’s no telling how Hammer could come back into the picture. However, All Hail the King did end with a group of mercs kidnapping Trevor Slattery (aka Iron Man 3’s decoy Mandarin) and breaking him out of the prison so that he could be interrogated. Based on the chaos clearly heard in the background, it’s safe to assume that many of the prison’s staff were severely injured, or even killed. This would open the door (quite literally) for prisoners at Seagate to escape. However, despite the weight of this occurrence, no further developments have even been mentioned, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats for more than 6 years now.
Justin Hammer is shown throughout the credits of All Hail the King as being surprisingly chummy when talking about Tony, saying that they had “an understanding” as he considered them to be “brothers in arms.” However, he does take a few jabs at Pepper Potts, who is on the cover of the Forbes magazine that he is reading. Calling her a “second-rate, jumped-up, Amazon secretary,” Hammer very clearly conveys that he is still just as angry as when he told Potts that he would be seeing her again soon in Iron Man 3.
"You don't just go and try to kill the guy. I think, if I may, you go after his legacy. That's what you kill."
~ Justin Hammer
In an alternate ending for Iron Man 2, Whiplash forced War Machine to kill Justin Hammer via remote control, so Marvel Studios may not have originally had any long term plans for Hammer in the MCU. However, since this idea was pulled, combined with the fact that Hammer was considered an ally by U.S. Senator Stern (who was later revealed to be working for HYDRA), it’s safe to assume that Hammer was kept alive for the long game. He may end up being recruited by Secretary Ross as well, fitting right into the rumored Thunderbolts squad as a sort of generic-brand Tony Stark, to serve as the tech and weapons specialist for the team.
NEMESIS: Iron Man (deceased), Spider-Man
LAST SEEN: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
NOTABLE ALLIES: N/A
MOST RECENT GOAL: To deceive the world and become the next great superhero
RESULT OF ACTIONS: Seemingly perished as a result of his own undoing
FINAL WORDS: “People… They need to believe. And nowadays, they’ll believe anything.”
CURRENT WHEREABOUTS: Unknown
NEXT APPEARANCE: Unknown
“It’s easy to fool people when they’re already fooling themselves.”
One of the only downsides of not seeing Quentin Beck until 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home is that the audience does not get a longer look at how easily Beck and his team are able to fool everyone. It wasn’t until Peter Parker was added into the mix that people began to see Beck’s true colors. He was even able to gain Nick Fury’s trust to a point that Fury actually relied on Beck on several occasions. Beck was also operating on an international scale without any apparent pushback from world governments or other authorities, despite the Sokovia Accords presumably still being implemented in the MCU post-Endgame.
“To us… To Mysterio!”
When Mysterio’s time ran out at the end of Far From Home, Marvel Studios was more than intentional in showing his apparent demise plain-and-clear, to instill the fact that he is dead to the MCU world. But what isn’t shown or even discussed is where Mysterio’s team was operating from during that time (or at any point in the film). Mysterio’s supposed death in the film was dragged out and overly dramatic, while the movie only briefly showed Beck’s secondhand man William Gentry Riva quickly running off with whatever data he extracted from his computer. No other team member was even shown after the Battle at Tower Bridge, so where did they all go?
It’s also important to note that not only does no one know where Mysterio’s team is, but no one even knows the team exists. Even when Peter discovers Beck’s true intentions, he is never made aware that Beck is not working alone. This is due in part to the fact that Mysterio’s team is shown to be impressively mobile throughout the film, having been at every location on Peter’s trip before he even got there. They were able to travel fairly quickly, which implied that an incredible amount of preparation went into their plans. This only left the team with the task of getting from one location to the next, and since Beck claims his team wasn’t just wealthy, but “very wealthy,” they probably weren’t flying coach while trekking through Europe.
To go even further, the audience is only introduced to a handful of the ex-Stark employees that make up Mysterio’s team, with at least a dozen unmentioned names in the room. And that’s just who was in the room. With a group as brilliant as Mysterio’s team, and for them to have come that far, they had to be smart enough to not all travel together, and surely they wouldn’t want to risk gathering as one group in one location during the middle of their highly sensitive operation. So, who else Mysterio had recruited to hop on his “I Hate Tony” bandwagon? And who says he’s done recruiting?
"Never apologize for being the smartest one in the room."
In an interview last fall, after the release of Far From Home, Amy Pascal said in an interview - unwarranted - “These villains that we now have in [the MCU] happen to be characters that are in the Sinister Six. There may be something that happens with that.” The trailer for the upcoming Morbius film showed that actor Michael Keaton will reprise his role as the Homecoming villain Adrian Toomes, and will spend at least a moment or two outside of the prison cell that he’s supposed to be cooped up in for the foreseeable future. Toomes aka the Vulture is one of the founding members of the Sinister Six in Marvel comics. Toomes is also the only established Spider-Man villain in the MCU with any apparent future in upcoming projects. That is, unless Mysterio fooled the world once again and faked his death, only to regroup with his team and begin a new plan to take down a publicly identified Spider-Man.
“I told him it was a mistake, that my technology could change the world. And then, he fired me; said I was... unstable."
Beck showed clear signs of obsession throughout his MCU debut, so it wouldn’t come as a surprise if he was quickly able to find all of the most intimate details of Peter Parker’s life and use them against him. One of the biggest and most obvious details of Peter’s past that Mysterio could use to his advantage would be Peter’s first real nemesis - Adrian Toomes. So, when fans see Toomes in 2021’s Morbius, they may see him accompanied by Quentin Beck, who had just freed Toomes from prison under the condition that he would help take Spider-Man down for good.
The six big names listed above aren’t the only players that could still come off the bench in Phase 4. Although Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 probably isn’t going to hit theaters until 2023 at the earliest, Ayesha was shown at the end of the franchise’s second film, teasing that Adam Warlock was on his way. That was 7 years ago in the present-day MCU, and fans of Marvel comics know that Warlock is no secret to be kept, so fans may see the golden queen and her newest creation even sooner than they see their beloved Guardians again.
Another MCU baddie that could just be getting started is Ava Starr aka Ghost, who first appeared in 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp. At the end of her debut MCU flick, Ava is seemingly ditched by her newfound friends in Scott Lang and company, when they went on a mission to retrieve “quantum healing particles” and never returned, due to Thanos’ Infinity Snap. Despite any real confirmation that Ghost’s story will progress any further, actress Hannah John-Kamen recently teased that she could make another appearance.
Many fans believe that Starr could help form a new team rumored to be setting itself up in the MCU background, one known as the Thunderbolts. The Thunderbolts are a group of reformed villains led by Baron Zemo (who is already confirmed to reappear) as well as none other than Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. Many believe Ross has already begun forming a Sokovia Accords-aligned superhero squadron (see Abomination, & Ross’ untold involvement in 2020's Black Widow), and Ghost was also a Thunderbolt in some Marvel comics, so adding her to his roster might seem like a no-brainer for Ross, especially after half of the world’s heroes were dusted away without warning.
For all of the Captain Marvel fans, there’s still plenty of story to tell between the time of her first titular film and the present day. One character in particular - Ronan the Accuser - went rogue somewhere along the way, but it’s still unclear what exactly drove him to defect from his position of command with the Kree Starforce. The ending of Captain Marvel heavily implied that Ronan would return, specifically for Carol Danvers, so fans should expect to see his story further unfold. Who knows - Ronan’s inability to overpower Captain Marvel in her upcoming sequel film may be the very thing that drove him mad and led to his eventual downfall in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
And even still, there remain other MCU villains still unaccounted for, including two major Doctor Strange antagonists, Mordo and Dormammu. Mordo has presumably been on his quest to rid the world of sourcerors since his post-credits scene in 2016, so 6 years should seem like more than enough time for Doctor Strange to catch up to him by the time his sequel film releases in March 2022. And with the threat of Dormammu looming now that the Sorcerer Supreme no longer has his most formidable weapon in the Time Stone, it almost seems too obvious that this information will eventually make its way to the dark dimension.
And lastly, in contrast to the ongoing theme throughout this article, there is at least one MCU villain that IS most certainly dead, yet whose story will continue to progress in Phase 4. A fan-favorite that has managed to still keep his MCU presence alive (and significant enough to earn his own upcoming Disney+ title) is none other than the god of mischief himself, Loki. Despite being killed by Thanos at the beginning of 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, an alternate version of Loki was able to escape from Thor’s grasp during the Avengers’ time heist in Endgame, thus creating a new branch reality where Loki is still alive. Loki got away right after the events of 2012’s The Avengers, so he will still very much be considered the bad guy by anyone he crosses paths with, especially considering he will also have a stolen Infinity Stone in his possession. Only time will tell what direction Marvel Studios is taking Loki in now, but many believe that it will involve exploring cross-dimensional travel, which could bring him right back to the main MCU timeline.
As everyone knows, Marvel has woven an intricate yet elaborate web of intertwining storylines that continues to expand year after year. But Marvel Studios also tends to squeeze every bit of potential out of their characters before moving onto the next, even if that potential doesn’t prove its worth until later on down the line.