Why Baron Zemo Is The Most Compelling Modern MCU Villain

Helmut Zemo has proven himself to be one of the most compelling villains of the MCU in part because he isn't completely wrong about the dangers of super soldiers.
Baron Zemo The Illuminerdi

Helmut Zemo has proven himself to be one of the most compelling villains the MCU. When Zemo is first introduced he breaks the Avengers without throwing a single punch using manipulation and strategy. His initial motivation is avenging the loss of his family, but his mission has grown bigger than that. Not only destroying the Avengers, but also the Hydra Winter Soldier program in Captain America: Civil War Zemo believes that one of the most dangerous threats to the world are super soldiers.

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier has only made Zemo an even more intriguing character. Zemo has wealth, status, the mind of a brilliant tactician, and the training of a soldier. He has a mission and although it may have started out as personal, it has morphed into something more. Killing super soldiers isn’t about avenging his family, it’s about making sure that no one else has to go through what he did.

Zemo’s motivation and dedication make him stand out among the long list of MCU villains. Similar to Thanos in some ways, Zemo is not fueled by greed, power, envy, and he no longer seems to be fueled by revenge. And although he’s clearly a villain willing to kill anyone who has a connection to the super soldier serum, he has a way of speaking with a sense of gravitas and worldly education that makes you take pause. What makes Zemo so interesting is that what he is saying has at least a kernel of truth.



Zemo has a point about the dangers of super soldiers and how they become symbols put on a pedestal. He also has a point about the connection between super soldiers and supremacist ideals.

“The desire to become a superhuman cannot be separated from supremacist ideals. Anyone with that serum is inherently on that path.”

This is clear in Karli Morgenthau who has gone from a Robin Hood of sorts stealing supplies for those in need to a full-blown terrorist. Karli not only blew up a building killing innocents, the Flag Smashers ultimately threatened more attacks after laying out a list of demands. When talking with Sam she made it clear that she would do it again if necessary and she also planned on killing the new Captain America because she would be killing what he symbolizes.

Karli may have started out only wanting to help the people that were left behind by the GRC, but now she wants to gain power and influence even planning to create more super soldiers to be able to forward her agenda before the serum was destroyed.


John Walker is another example of the dangers of the super soldier serum. With his anger issues being teased throughout the season the serum only exacerbates this already existing human flaw. John Walker, after taking the serum, had his anger issues come to the surface full force when he chased down one of the Flag Smashers after the death of his friend Lemar Hoskins. Hoskins was killed unintentionally by Karli during the fight. And Walker reacted by chasing down one of the Flag Smashers, notably not Karli, and then beating him to death with his shield after the man fell and held up his hands in surrender.

Zemo is formidable because he believes whole heartedly in his mission. He’s not a character that can be swayed or convinced to try a different tactic. To Zemo, super soldiers are one of the biggest threats in the world. And the thing is, he isn’t actually wrong. Karli Morgethau, Red Skull, John Walker, all of these super soldiers are dangerous not only because of their strength, but because they are symbols.

“They become symbols. Icons. And then we start to forget about their flaws. From there, cities fly, innocent people die. Movements are formed, wars are fought.”

Karli and her followers see her as a revolutionary who wants the world to work together once more taking care of those who have been forgotten after The Blip. A movement has been formed and a war begun by her and her followers. No matter how noble her intentions may have begun they are now forever clouded with the terrorist moniker that the Flag Smashers have acquired.


Captain America has always been a symbol first for propaganda and then as an Avenger and hero. John Walker saw himself as the icon of Captain America from the start, believing that he deserved respect from people simply because he carried the shield. Even after killing a man with the shield and being stripped of everything by the government, he still whole heartedly believes in being Captain America and everything that comes with it.


Throughout the fifth episode, Walker repeatedly declared himself to still be Captain America even going so far as to create his own shield and including one of the Medals of Honor he was awarded. His disconnect from the reality can be directly tied to the power and autonomy he was given when he was handed the original Captain America shield.

[Click on Page 2 below to find out what Baron Zemo and Captain America have in common.]


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Caitlin Tyrrell

Features Manager & Producer with The Illuminerdi. Caitlin has a deep love for storytelling of every kind. She is a huge fan of television, animation, and film, but Star Wars, the MCU, and Critical Role hold a special place in her heart.