It was announced in April that Daniel Brühl has snagged one of the last key remaining roles in Marvel’s highly anticipated Captain America : Civil War, due summer 2016. Moreover, it’s been confirmed that Brühl is playing Baron Helmut Zemo, and will be the film’s chief antagonist.
To comic book fans, this was pretty exciting news. For the uninitiated, here’s a primer on why.
Though the name Baron Zemo may be new to film-franchise Marvel fans, in the comics Zemo is a key player in some awesome stories involving both Captain America and the Winter Soldier. The Baron Zemo name is one that’s been passed down through the generations, and although the Red Hood was the key villain in Captain America, in the comics it’s Baron Heinrich Zemo who basically sets off the events that lead to a Capsicle.
But Bruhl isn’t playing Heinrich Zemo. He’s playing Helmut Zemo, Heinrich’s son, who blames Captain America for his father’s death. This is really where things start to get interesting when it comes to translating the comic character into the movies. Because we’ve seen pretty much everything that Captain America does in the WWII period, we’re betting against a flashback that shoehorns Heinrich Zemo in. That means either the Heinrich Zemo mantle gets placed on another person, or (more likely) Helmut has a slightly different origins story. The comics do have him teaming up with Red Skull at one point, and Zemo is the inventor of an anti-aging chemical called Compound X, so it’s possible some of The First Avenger could play a role. But after Age of Ultron it feels like the MCU’s focus is really on the here and now.
At any rate, Zemo’s abilities are probably going to be pretty similar to the comics: he’s a genius scientist, though more along the lines of Walter White than Tony Stark, and he’s been expertly trained in both guns and swords. Really.
It’s a detail that’s a nice counterpoint to Cap’s iconic shield. Oh, and that purple costume? That’s because Zemo’s face become hideously disfigured after a fight with Captain America accidentally knocks him into another chemical he (or his father, depending) created, called Adhesive X.
On that point, one thing that seems likely to translate is Helmut Zemo’s first showdown with Captain America, a fight that includes Cap’s new partner the Falcon (played in the films by Anthony Mackie, and definitely appearing in Civil War). It’s hard to say exactly how this might happen, but later in the comics when an event causes the disappearance of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, Zemo forms a league of super villains known as the Masters of Evil. Disguised as heroes, they operated under code name the Thunderbolts in hope to gain the world’s trust and conquer it. It’s easy enough to imagine a version of this where, with the Avengers split and fighting amongst themselves (and the Fantastic Four locked in 20th Century Fox prison), Zemo’s Thunderbolts step in as a special ops team to go hunting for Captain America after his falling out with Iron Man…and the entire U.S. government. We do know that William Hurt is playing a general named Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, and that Ross has affiliation with the Thunderbolt team (who do a little back-and-forth between being heroes and villains) in the comics.
Although it’s been confirmed that making superheroes’ secret identities public isn’t going to be a major plot point in the Civil War movie like it is in the comics, there is one storyline that seems like it could make the jump. In the comics, Zemo is responsible for bringing Bucky Barnes’s, a.k.a. the Winter Soldier’s, true identity to light in the media. Something needs to spark the tinderbox that is Cap’s and Iron Man’s relationship, and Zemo could do that. Tony Stark probably wouldn’t be too thrilled to hear Cap’s best friend is responsible for the death of his parents (something that was revealed in Winter Soldier).
Zemo will have plenty of help in his villany, with Crossbones (Frank Grillo) returning meaner than ever after just about being killed in Winter Soldier. Well, that and the general hero-on-hero mayhem that just the name Civil War promises.
And what does Brühl think? “For the first few days I’ll walk around like a little boy, just amazed by the megalomania of it,” Brühl told the Independent. “It’s such a huge project.“