Captain America: Civil War is already an almost universally beloved summer action film, but it also squeezes so many characters into its runtime that, of course, a few of them get thrown under the bus.
Among those wasted Marvel characters is Baron Zemo, portrayed in the film by actor Daniel Brühl. The character is important to events of the film, but there’s no reason why he needed to be Baron Zemo instead of, say, Regular Bad Guy #3. So why waste this particular villain from the comics?
In pre-release interviews, Brühl claimed his version of the character was complicated and secretive without being over the top. “What I like is it’s not a stereotype,” the actor told ComicBookMovie.com. “It’s not a guy who’s mean and sinister, but he’s actually very clever – a very smart guy who does everything out of a very understandable reason and motivation.”
I didn’t see that onscreen. Did you?
In the comics, Zemo is actually a really fascinating character who is responsible for most of the events that we saw Red Skull mastermind in the first Captain America film — including the loss of Bucky’s arm and the freezing of Steve Rogers. Without that sort of background, it’s easy to see how a lot of what made Zemo into Zemo was already used in the MCU, but there’s still so much about the character that could’ve been applied in Civil War.
For example, Baron Zemo is actually a legacy title, passed down through generations from evildoer to evildoer. The title is a villainous foil to Black Panther’s hero status, which also runs in the family. Zemo is a fan of the big weird mask because it hides his deformed face, although this is another detail that Red Skull really overlapped with. Without a genuine superpower, Zemo’s main antagonism stems from his brilliant criminal mind (from the “condescending megalomaniac” tradition), which sounds like the character Brühl was initially promising us.
Most fascinating of all the Baron Zemo details is probably his storyline with the The Thunderbolts. In a cunning move, Zemo and his friends in the bad guy clubhouse “Masters of Evil” decide to trick the entire planet by reinventing themselves as a superhero team called The Thunderbolts, of which Zemo is the leader. They go out and do enough random do-goodery to trick people into liking them, but accidentally go too far and actually become genuine superheroes and never really get around to conquering the world. In an MCU with everyone taking sides and the thin lines between good and evil, a third better-marketed hero squad would’ve been a cool subplot.
Instead, we got a regular bad guy, when we could’ve had a Big Bad pretending to be a Big Good and getting lost in the grey area. While there’s certainly been plenty of moral quandaries in the MCU, Zemo had his own style and substance which has either been wasted or blended into other characters in Marvel films, and that’s a real bummer.