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Red Guardian's Future In The MCU Explored

"Black Widow" introduces a slate of new characters to the MCU, including super-soldier Alexei Shostakov, aka the Red Guardian. Played by "Stranger Things" actor David Harbour, the Red Guardian is Russia's answer to Captain America. Enhanced with super-soldier serum, the Russian spy is an asset to Dreykov (Ray Winstone) and the Red Room program... until he outlives his usefulness. Alexei helps steal intel from SHIELD while posing undercover with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz). But after Dreykov gets what he wants, the Red Guardian is sent to prison to live out the rest of his days.

Thankfully for him, Natasha and Yelena show up to spring their pseudo-father out of jail. Alexei takes them to Melina, and the family reunite to confront Dreykov and finally shut down the Red Room once and for all. Natasha's death in "Avengers: Endgame" sadly means that fans have seen the last of the Black Widow they know best. But her family is still around — and they could be instrumental in the MCU's future.

The Red Guardian has plenty of potential to propel him through Phase 4 and beyond. His past remains unexplored (that fight with Captain America? We need to see it!) and his future is full of possibilities now that Dreykov is dead. How will he play into Marvel's upcoming projects? Here are a few possibilities.

He could return for Black Widow 2

If Marvel decides to go ahead with a sequel to 2021's "Black Widow," then the Red Guardian has to return. "Black Widow" is a prequel that fills in the blanks between "Captain America: Civil War" and "Avengers: Infinity War." Natasha Romanoff, the O.G. Black Widow, gives her life on Vormir in "Avengers: Endgame" to retrieve the Soul Stone and reverse Thanos' snap. Because of this, it's unlikely that fans will see Natasha again. Scarlett Johansson has confirmed that her character passed the baton in her solo movie to her pseudo-sister Yelena Belova. A "Black Widow" sequel could still happen, but it would likely center around Yelena, not Natasha.

This doesn't mean that David Harbour can't reprise his role as the Red Guardian for "Black Widow 2." On the contrary: Alexei was a father figure to Yelena as well as Natasha. Natasha might have made peace with him, but Yelena still has a lot of healing to do. Their scene together in "Black Widow," in which they share an emotional rendition of Don McLean's "American Pie," promises a tender relationship between them on the horizon. "Black Widow 2" could build on that by having Yelena and Alexei continue to work out their differences. After all, Yelena needs support if she is to take over her sister's legacy. Who better than her adopted father?

Red Guardian: The Movie

The super soldier doesn't necessarily need to return in another character's project. Red Guardian could star in a solo movie of his own. Little is known about his history except for his involvement in Natasha's childhood. Another MCU prequel could explore his backstory, from meeting Dreykov and taking the super-soldier serum to being betrayed and locked away in prison.

The director of "Black Widow," Cate Shortland, addressed the possibility of a Red Guardian solo film in an interview with The Wrap. Shortland praised Harbour's ability to portray the Red Guardian with Marvel's well-known wit and humor, explaining: "Sometimes — not sometimes — often I would be crying with laughter. And there was so much good stuff that didn't end up in the film. But I think that's why Red Guardian needs his own movie. Because it will be so funny."

Red Guardian stands out in "Black Widow" for his funny moments (though nothing beats the Queen of Snark, aka Yelena Belova). His character balances a comedic side with more nurturing qualities, a combination that makes him easy to root for despite his terrible parenting. Given the chance, Red Guardian could steal the show.

A Disney+ series with the Black Widows

Alternatively, the Red Guardian could return on the small screen in another Disney+ streaming series. Marvel television is currently enjoying its prime with critically-acclaimed shows such as "WandaVision," "The Falcon And The Winter Soldier," and "Loki." More MCU Disney+ series are waiting on the horizon: "Hawkeye" (2021), "What If...?" (2021), "Ms. Marvel" (2021) and "She-Hulk" (2022) to name a few.

It's easy to see how a "Red Guardian" series could fit into Marvel's slate of upcoming projects. The Russian super-soldier could be the star of his show. A better option, however — one that truly capitalizes on the potential of "Black Widow" — would be to have him appearing alongside other members of Natasha's family, as well as the Black Widows newly freed from the Red Room.

Alexei was complicit in Dreykov's trafficking of young girls — including Natasha and Yelena — for the Black Widow program, whether he likes it or not. The best way for him to find redemption would be to help the Black Widows whom Natasha freed from Dreykov's mind control. Working with the Widows, the Red Guardian could become a heroic figure, completing secret missions for the greater good.

A redemption arc

Alexei Shostakov joins Thanos (Josh Brolin) and Ego (Kurt Russell) in the MCU'S hall of terrible fathers. "Black Widow" reveals that the Red Guardian posed as Natasha and Yelena's father and husband to Melina: A seemingly regular family living in Ohio, the four were actually Russian spies, working on Dreykov's orders. The "family" narrowly avoid apprehension by the authorities, instead escaping to Cuba. There, Alexei allows Dreykov to take Natasha and Yelena and hand them over to the Red Room for training.

Natasha and Yelena touch on these issues, but the Red Guardian still has a lot to atone for. Yelena, especially, believed her family to be real. She might still consider Alexei a father figure. If the Red Guardian returns, viewers could see him teaming up with Yelena as part of his redemption arc. The father-daughter duo have issues to work through that can be explored throughout future MCU projects.

Red Guardian vs. Isaiah Bradley

Following the opening sequence of "Black Widow" in Ohio, viewers reunite with Alexei Shostakov in a Russian prison, where the Red Guardian boasts about his glory days. Alexei wins multiple arm-wrestling matches with fellow inmates while telling a tall tale about clashing with Captain America. "I have the nuclear code, but there he is!" Alexei explains. "Captain America! Finally, the Red Guardian's time has come."

Something about Alexei's story doesn't add up. Even the characters address this, with one of the inmates stating that Steve Rogers was frozen in ice at the time. He's right: Alexei claims to have fought Captain America around 1983-1984. Steve was frozen in ice at the end of "Captain America: The First Avenger" in 1945. The Red Guardian has to be lying. Right?

Unless Alexei crossed paths with another American super-soldier. In "The Falcon And The Winter Soldier," fans meet Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly). Isaiah was a Korean War veteran who was unknowingly injected with super-soldier serum by the government. The only person to survive the procedure, Isaiah was deployed against the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) before racist officials had him incarcerated. Isaiah was subjected to experiments for 30 years until he escaped and went into hiding during the 1980s. Could the government have sent him on one last mission before his escape, dressing him in Captain America's clothes to fight the Red Guardian? And could they clash again in the MCU's future?

Red Guardian vs. Captain America

An even better opponent for the Red Guardian to fight in the future? The new Captain America, a role taken on by Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). "The Falcon And The Winter Soldier" explores Sam's journey to accepting the shield — and mantle — passed to him by Steve (Chris Evans) in "Avengers: Endgame." The series culminates with Sam cementing himself indisputably as Captain America and the best person to continue Steve's legacy.

"Black Widow" and "The Falcon And The Winter Soldier" are significantly similar in tone. Both are more grounded in reality than Marvel's magical and cosmic projects, like "WandaVision" and "Loki." Originally, the two were meant to overlap: "The Falcon And The Winter Soldier" was scheduled for release after "Black Widow" prior to the pandemic. Yelena could have had a cameo appearance in the Disney+ series to further link the two Marvel projects.

Linking "Black Widow" with "The Falcon And The Winter Soldier" opens up more opportunities for the Red Guardian and the new Captain America to clash. Sam Wilson is confirmed to be returning for a so-far untitled "Captain America 4" project as the title character. The Red Guardian could also appear, suited up and ready to fight the new Star-Spangled Man.

Red Guardian could show up in Hawkeye

The post-credits scene in "Black Widow" sets up an appearance from Yelena Belova in the upcoming Disney+ series "Hawkeye." Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) tells Yelena that Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) is responsible for Natasha's death and gives the Black Widow her next mission. If Yelena returns for "Hawkeye," there's a chance the Red Guardian could join her. Despite his shortcomings, Alexei seems to care about his pseudo-daughters. Natasha's death would have been a terrible blow for him, setting the Red Guardian on the path to revenge.

Like Yelena, Alexei might blame Clint and want to avenge Natasha's death. He could team up with his adopted daughter and try to kill Hawkeye for his crimes. Or the Red Guardian could have a change of heart. Instead, he could return to reason with Yelena by telling her the truth about the Contessa's intentions. Alexei could be the key to stopping Yelena from killing Clint, instead continuing where Natasha left off and working with the Avengers.

Another candidate for the Thunderbolts

The MCU seems primed to explore a new crew for its next phase: the Thunderbolts, Marvel's team of reformed supervillains. Val recruits John Walker aka U.S Agent (Wyatt Russell) at the end of "The Falcon And The Winter Soldier" in addition to enlisting Yelena Belova in "Black Widow." The Abomination appears briefly in a recent trailer for "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," and is confirmed to appear in the up-coming Disney+ series "She-Hulk." All of these characters are perfect for a Thunderbolts team — and so is the Red Guardian.

The Thunderbolts could be the Marvel equivalent of DC's Suicide Squad. Both teams are made up of anti-heroes rather than good guys. Whereas the Suicide Squad report to Amanda Waller, the Thunderbolts could report to Val ... or potentially another MCU character. William Hurt reprises his role as Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross in "Black Widow," having previously appeared in "The Incredible Hulk" (2008) and "Captain America: Civil War" (2016). Perhaps he could be working with Val to create an Avengers-like team of his own. After the events of "Civil War," Ross might want a superpowered team under his control to deploy on dangerous missions. The Red Guardian would fit the bill, adding another super-soldier to Ross' arsenal.

An enemy of the Thunderbolts

Admittedly, Val or Ross would need an ace up their sleeve if they wanted to reign in the Red Guardian. Yelena could be used as collateral to bind his allegiance. But there's no guarantee Alexei would risk his life for Yelena. He's not exactly great father material. If they can't secure his loyalty, maybe the Thunderbolts will instead be deployed against the Red Guardian in their first group mission together.

The Russian super-soldier doesn't pose too much of a threat. The super-serum gives him a physical advantage, but the Thunderbolts have John Walker, a super-soldier of their own. The Red Guardian is an ideal introductory antagonist for the Thunderbolts, someone who can challenge them during their first mission without destroying them outright and potentially sow the seeds for the team's implosion down the line.

Yelena would no doubt be conflicted if the Thunderbolts were sent to bring Alexei Shostakov to the Raft. This could cause division among the team. Yelena could eventually abandon the Thunderbolts and follow Natasha's example, breaking the Red Guardian out of the Raft before officially succeeding her sister as the Black Widow.

A Marvel love story

So far, Phase 4 of the MCU has been surprisingly romantic. "WandaVision" develops the relationship between Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) properly for the first time since "Civil War" and "Avengers: Infinity War." True, "WandaVision" is more about working through grief rather than a love story. But as Vision says to Wanda: "What is grief, if not love persevering?"

Meanwhile, "Loki" introduces fans to Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) and her budding romance with the God of Mischief (Tom Hiddleston). Like Wanda and Vision, Loki and Sylvie's relationship is pretty unusual. Wanda is an all-powerful witch and Vision is a vibranium synthezoid, while Loki and Sylvie are variants of the same person from different timelines. Super-soldier Alexei Shostakov and Melina Vostokoff, another Black Widow, fit perfectly into Marvel's blossoming world of romance, providing a more grounded love story for the MCU's action-oriented projects.

Alexei and Melina are last seen leaving with the newly-freed Black Widows in an aircraft after helping Natasha destroy the Red Room. A future MCU project could revisit the couple, whether it's during a film, a Disney+ series, or a one-off like the upcoming "Guardians Of The Galaxy Holiday Special" (2022). The duo have history: They posed as a married couple in Ohio for three years. Melina names one of her pigs after him, indicating that she continues to think about him years later (whether fondly or not). Now that Dreykov is dead, the two could rekindle their relationship free from the Red Room's reach.

Red Guardian as an International Avenger

Another option for the Red Guardian? He could join the Avengers. Alexei isn't quite Avengers-ready yet, but a future MCU project could explore his journey as he defects and joins the superhero team like his daughter Natasha. If Yelena is too busy with the Thunderbolts, then the Red Guardian could take her place on a new Avengers team, working towards redemption in honor of Natasha's memory.

An International Avengers team could be on the MCU's horizon. One of the issues the Avengers face during "Civil War" is that they are a US-based enhanced team acting globally without repercussions. This monopoly of power is so poorly received that 177 countries sign the Sokovia Accords, voting to limit the Avengers' worldwide influence. Establishing a team of superheroes from all over the world, not just the U.S., could help heal the wounds left from "Civil War." The Red Guardian could act as Russia's own Avenger, representing his country once more as well as promoting international peace and order.

Secret Invasion

If heroism isn't up Alexei's alley, then he could always return to his roots as a spy in time for Marvel's "Secret Invasion." The Disney+ series is scheduled for release in 2022. "Game Of Thrones" actress Emilia Clarke is confirmed to appear alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn, who will reprise their MCU roles as Nick Fury and Talos.

"Secret Invasion" will feature a battle against the Skrulls as they use their shape-shifting abilities to launch an invasion of Earth. Many notable characters will likely be revealed as Skrulls. Current options for personas assumed by the shape-shifters include Sharon Carter, aka the Power Broker (Emily VanCamp), and possibly Fury himself, who was replaced by Talos during "Spider-Man: Far From Home." Could the Red Guardian also be a potential Skrull imposter?

Alternatively, the Red Guardian could use his spy skills to do some infiltrating of his own. The super-soldier has experience, enhanced abilities, and tons of potential. In a situation like "Secret Invasion," his skills could be valuable. Either way, his story isn't over. The MCU's plate is stacked full of exciting new projects to fill out Phase 4 and beyond. The Red Guardian has a place in that future. Where? Fans will have to wait and see.