The second entry in Marvel Studios' Phase 4 slate, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, introduced one crucial puzzle piece to the franchise's future: La Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, or Val, played by Emmy-award winning actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Val approached former Captain America John Walker at his darkest hour and presented him with an opportunity that, by the end of the series, he couldn't refuse.
Branded with a brand-new black suit, John Walker was gifted the mantle of U.S. Agent, with Val promising that "things are about to get weird." Weird, how?
Assuming that "weird" means trouble, then Val's going to need a lot more than the brute of veteran John Walker on her side. Luckily, there's a whole docket of projects on the MCU's shortlist that Val could pop up in, starting with her already confirmed appearance in Black Widow.
Phase 1 of the MCU started with 2008's Iron Man, and the post-credits scene of that movie had Nick Fury teasing the formation of the Avengers. Now, at the start of Phase 4, fans have another mysterious figure ready to put together a team.
Here are our predictions for who Val could recruit next, in addition to the movies and series in which this recruitment could occur, as Phase 4 moves onward.
BLACK WIDOW (MOVIE)
It's already been reported that Val was originally supposed to pop up first in Black Widow, a film that was originally scheduled to release in May 2020. Now, when viewers see her rear her purple-highlighted head, they'll have an inkling of what she's doing there. This begs the question of who exactly she'll be handing her card off to next, though.
If Marvel is following the trend of questionable heroes, then Val might strike up a conversation with Thunderbolt Ross, a man who's currently in charge of overseeing the Raft. And, who's the last villain MCU fans saw hauled off to the high-security prison? None other than Baron Zemo in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Following the ongoing Thunderbolts theory, Val could strike up a deal with Ross to get access to Zemo and anyone else who may be locked up in the Raft to recruit to her team.
However, if Val's wanting to avoid the hassle, she could also go directly to characters such as Taskmaster or actor O-T Fagbenle's unknown role. It remains to be seen what will happen to Taskmaster at the end of Black Widow or what exactly Fagbenle will be doing in the movie in the first place.
Still, if Marvel Studios' track record holds any value, it's that characters it tries to sweep under the rug usually end up being more important than anticipated.
Natasha Romanoff's long-time partner, Clint Barton, is set to star in his own Disney+ series later this year: Hawkeye. This time around, he's poised to have a new trainee in the form of Kate Bishop, played by Hailee Steinfeld. With Clint seemingly passing the torch to this new protégé, Val could very much want those sorts of skills on her team rather than the Avengers'. Could a Val/Kate meet-up be in the books?
Yet, Val might be able to get her way without running into Clint or Kate. Hawkeye will also introduce characters such as Echo, set to be played by Alaqua Cox. In Marvel Comics, Echo is more closely tied to Daredevil but is likely premiering in Hawkeye due to her being deaf—a storyline that Clint is rumored to explore.
If Echo starts out as an enemy to Clint, Val may want her on her side before she potentially crosses over. Otherwise, Val could plant some roots in the Tracksuit Mafia, the baddie gang that Clint and Kate have been on the run from in leaked set photos.
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (MOVIE)
If Val wants the biggest and baddest on her team, then she very may well end up appearing in Tom Holland's third solo MCU outing: Spider-Man: No Way Home. With the film set to re-introduce fans to some of Spider-Man's most formidable foes, such as The Amazing Spider-Man 2's Jamie Foxx as Electro and Spider-Man 2's Alfred Molina as Doc Ock, Val could form her own Sinister Six.
Otherwise, another unexpected villain that could potentially emerge from No Way Home is Ned Leeds as Hobgoblin. Actor Jacob Batalon's weight-loss transformation has some fans theorizing that he may be getting ready to don a suit of his own—one that would pit him against his best friend.
Val linking up with Ned if he goes down this dark path would be the perfect stab to the heart for Peter down the line when he potentially goes toe-to-toe with Val's team.
Apart from all of that (which is already quite considerable), Val might be spewing her speech to any number of multiversal villains that could erupt from both this movie and another...
DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (MOVIE)
Similar to Spider-Man: No Way Home, the Doctor Strange sequel is primed to be chock-full of characters from across the multiverse. At this point, there's no guessing who may be causing some trouble, but the revengeful Mordo is already confirmed to be making a re-appearance. He might be the perfect person for Val to sink her nails into, manipulating his already-growing hate for the Sorcerer Supreme into her own manual labor.
Mordo aside, the title of the movie speaks for itself: Multiverse of Madness. While No Way Home may be limited to Spider-Man villains, Doctor Strange's second solo outing could feature any number of bad guys—from the Marvel universe or others.
And, let's not forget that Wanda Maximoff will be returning to the MCU in this film following her sitcom hijinks in Disney+'s WandaVision. If Val's going to have any shot against the Scarlet Witch, then she has to make sure her team is on an Avengers-level scale. Fortunately for her, there are a few characters in the MCU who are ready to take that mantle...
Seemingly Marvel Studios' first foray into comedy, She-Hulk will star Tatiana Maslany in the titular role with several Hulk-related characters confirmed to make re-appearances in the MCU. One of these comebacks will be in the form of Captain Emil Blonsky aka the Abomination from 2008's The Incredible Hulk.
Long-time MCU viewers may recall that Blonsky was yet another individual who was injected with the Super Solder Serum—the very elixir that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America. Yet, that attempt failed, and instead, he turned into the Abomination.
After being defeated by the actual Hulk, Blonsky was sent to a cryostasis facility and has not been seen or heard from since in the MCU.
Simply put, Val could visit Blonsky in prison with the promise of giving him a new purpose, keeping him from behind bars. Just like that, Val could have her very own Hulk on her team. And, with U.S. Agent already taking up the Captain America spot, it seems as though this Dark Avengers team could be more plausible than ever.
SECRET INVASION (SERIES)
Secret Invasion has been gaining a lot of traction lately, with a slew of recent castings having been reported. Luckily for Julia Louis-Dreyfus' shady character, this only means more for the taking—or, rather, more obstacles in her way.
Nick Fury and Talos, the latter being played by Ben Mendelsohn and returning from 2019's Captain Marvel, will be sharing the spotlight in this Disney+ series. Already, the mere thought of Val running into Nick Fury is both exciting and terrifying.
How much could Nick know about what Val's been doing in the MCU up until that point? What sort of scheming has Val been doing behind Nick's (and SWORD's) back? How many steps ahead of Nick is Val, or vice versa?
Then again, Val could be too tied up in the Skrulls dilemma to be worrying about the former SHIELD director. In fact, having a Skrull or two on Val's team could be just what she needs—and wants. Yet, who exactly is a Skrull in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
It's already been theorized that, by the end of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Emily VanCamp's Sharon Carter could be a Skrull. It won't be entirely surprising if Sharon is reported to appear in Secret Invasion or if she and Val end up crossing paths at some point. Val and Sharon both have unlimited resources and could be after the same thing: power and control.
ARMOR WARS (SERIES)
The premise of the Disney+ series Armor Wars has been described by Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige in one simple question: "what happens when [Tony Stark's] tech falls into the wrong hands?" What if those wrong hands were Val's?
Granted, Val herself may not be able to get her hands directly on Stark's tech, but, as always, there are loopholes. While not confirmed, it's extremely likely that newcomer Riri Williams, who will be played by Dominique Thorne, could appear in Armor Wars. It's also unknown whether the titular Disney+ Ironheart series will arrive before or after Armor Wars, but nonetheless, the two projects will likely be linked.
Considering that Armor Wars could be Riri's first MCU appearance, she may come off as an impressionable genius to Val. After all, Riri Williams is essentially poised to be Tony Stark's successor in terms of both intelligence and the Iron Man mantle. Val already has a Captain America and (maybe) a Hulk, an Iron Man is surely next on the list.
If anyone's going to stop Val from getting her hands on Riri, though, it's Rhodey aka War Machine. With Don Cheadle set to take the stage for Armor Wars, it's still a mystery as to who he'll be opposing. It likely won't be Val, but, once again, it could be someone Val is also trying to form ties with.
A NEW MCU TEAM IS RISING, AND VAL IS IN CHARGE
All in all, there's no shortage of Marvel characters for Val to pick and choose from for her team. Whether's she intends on forming the Thunderbolts, Dark Avengers, or another team entirely, there's no guessing which way their morals will go.
Nick Fury always thought he was doing the universe justice by bringing together the Avengers, but obviously, not everyone thought that. Will Val's team face the same scrutiny? With John Walker being first on the docket, well, it's not a definitive no.
Either way, something's brewing, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus' time in the MCU is only just beginning.
All episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are streaming now on Disney+, and Black Widow will premiere in theaters and stream exclusively on Disney+ via Premier Access on July 9, 2021.