2020 marks the first time since 2009 that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has not expanded. The ongoing pandemic, theater closures, and production delays have heavily rearranged the studio’s release schedule.
However, things are finally looking up. WandaVision is set to bring the MCU back into fans’ orbit when it premieres on Disney+ in January. While the Avengers aren’t due for another major team-up anytime soon, WandaVision’s reality-warping plot could bring back an early MCU villain so powerful it will force the heroes to regroup to fight him in Avengers 5.
Red Skull is still alive and might return to wreak some more havoc on the world. First introduced in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, Red Skull (previously known as Johann Schmidt) was the leader of HYDRA, the terrorist organization hellbent on world domination. Not one to shy away from self-experimentation, the villain injected himself with a test version of the supersoldier serum that turned him into Red Skull. Finding the Tesseract (aka, the Cosmic Cube) put him in an even more powerful position, but touching the cube sent him to the planet Vormir to live out his days as the keeper of the Soul Stone instead.
Following the events of Avengers: Endgame, Red Skull is no longer tethered to the Soul Stone and is presumably free to leave Vormir. In March, actor Ross Marquand spoke to Nerds4Life and revealed that his character could very well return as a force of evil in the MCU.
“[The Russo Brothers] said that once the Red Skull is released of the Soul Stone, once Thanos gets it and once Hawkeye gets it, he is essentially free. But, if we think about it, there are all these different multiverses now. So in one multiverse, when Thanos frees him, he's free. I would imagine the first thing he would do is, if he still has a vendetta or any part of him still has ambition, go back to Earth."
Of course, Captain America returned the Soul Stone to Vormir at the end of Endgame. But, the idea here is that Red Skull could return either via the MCU’s introduction to the multiverse or his newfound freedom. Thanks to the Tesseract, one of Red Skull’s most potent powers is reality-bending.
At one point in the comics, Red Skull winds up trapped in the nightmare dimension. He’s able to overcome this hellish dimension and escape, which leads him to gain the ability of warping reality. During an attempt to amass even more reality-shaping power, Red Skull is thwarted by Kang the Conqueror and sent back to Earth.
In the AXIS storyline, however, Red Skull plans to steal Scarlet Witch’s abilities to create alternate realities, bending the world to his will. He’s almost successful, too, but is killed by the mutant Magneto, Wanda’s father. As in most comic book stories, Red Skull’s death wasn’t the end of his life. It actually turned him into a more dangerous villain called Red Onslaught. Wanda’s attempts to defeat him a second time results in an inversion that makes the Red Skull a good guy and the Avengers evil. What a twist!
We don’t know what the Red Skull has been up to in the post-Endgame world. However, WandaVision is set to exist in an altered reality and it’s possible that Red Skull is (at least in part) responsible for it. Perhaps he’s made his way back to Earth, stolen Wanda’s powers, and trapped her in a twisted sitcom world to keep her occupied. The Disney+ series could end with the realization of Red Skull’s return, but there’s a chance he won’t be defeated so easily.
If he manages to get away, he could theoretically pick up with his plans for world domination. That would lead the Avengers to eventually get involved to try and stop him in Avengers 5. If the film plays out similarly to the AXIS storyline, then it’s possible that the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes will have a taste of what it’s like to be the bad guys for once. An evil Avengers is something that hasn’t been tackled yet in the MCU and Red Skull’s involvement could finally make that a reality.