The Leader’s Captain America 4 Return Teased By Incredible Hulk Star: “A Really Interesting Explanation… Revelation”

A split image of Samuel Sterns and Sam Wilson in the MCU

It’s been 16 years since Samuel Sterns was last seen in the MCU, but actor Tim Blake Nelson is impressed with how Marvel Studios is handling his character’s return in Captain America: Brave New World. The MCU is no stranger to bringing back villains well after their initial debut, and Samuel Sterns, AKA The Leader, will be the latest antagonist to return to the spotlight with a major glow-up. Sterns was last seen in The Incredible Hulk (2008), where his character was still simply a scientist who ends his screen time in an unfortunate run-in with the monstrous Abomination.

While Sterns’ final scene plants the seeds for his villain transformation, it’s unclear what exactly he’s been up to for a decade and a half and why he’s finally making his big-screen return as part of Captain America: Brave New World‘s impressive cast. Speaking with Screen Rant and asked if there’s anything he can say about his character and the movie, Tim Blake Nelson didn’t reveal any secrets, but he did express immense satisfaction with the narrative surrounding his return. Read his full response below:

Tim Blake Nelson: Very excited about it. I’m headed to Atlanta tomorrow to continue working on that. It’s been very exciting to bring back a character from 16 years ago and imagine how he has aged with me and how that has manifested. The Marvel team has come up with a really interesting explanation—revelation, I should say, as to what he’s been up to for 16 years and why.

So, it’s clear that Sterns won’t simply be popping back up without reason or justification. What he’s been up to, though, is left open to several exciting possibilities.

What Marvel’s Explanation For Samuel Sterns’ MCU Return In Captain America 4 Could Be

A Possible MCU Mastermind In The Shadows

Tim Blake Nelson's Samuel Sterns becoming the Leader in the MCU's The Incredible Hulk

For those who may not remember, Sterns appears in The Incredible Hulk as a scientist working with Bruce Banner to develop a cure for the Hulk. Sterns acquires some of Banner’s blood to conduct his own research, and Emil Blonsky later forces him at gunpoint to use the blood to attempt to turn Blonsky into another Hulk. It only kind of works, and the monstrous Blonsky, AKA Abomination, knocks over Sterns, who then accidentally has Banner’s blood drip into his head wound. While Hulk is a gamma-boosted monster of physical strength and anger, Sterns, AKA The Leaders, has a mutated mind with superhuman intellect.

Given that Sterns isn’t quite villainous in The Incredible Hulk (selfish and dishonest with his experiments, yes, but not a villain per se), it’ll be interesting to see how 16 years have changed his mind. Given that Sterns is a cerebral villain and not a physical one, it seems likely that he’ll be revealed to have been operating in the shadows of the MCU. Tying the character into previously established events seems like a good match for his return being “revelatory,” as Nelson describes it. What his eventual goals are may be hinted at in Captain America: Brave New World‘s original title.

Before changing its name, Sam Wilson’s debut solo movie was originally announced as Captain America: New World Order. The name has clear ties to global conspiracy theories that posit a secret group of powerful people is manipulating the world as a secret global government. As such, it seems perfectly in character for The Leader to manipulate powerful government officials and bodies from the shadows to slowly gain control over world events and politics and further his own agenda—whatever that may be.

Moreover, this fits with recent comments from Tim Blake Nelson that his version of the villain is more grounded in real life than he could have been. While it seems likely that The Leader sports his signature green skin and enlarged cranium, having him pose a political threat that’s secretly impacted the MCU for years instead of an action-heavy physical one sounds enticing. It also makes sense in Captain America: Brave New World to give Sam Wilson a non-physical threat to contrast the rumored appearance of Thaddeus Ross’ Red Hulk.

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