- NOTE: This article is about the incarnation of Baron Zemo from the Marvel Cinematic film series. The mainstream version can be found here: Baron Zemo II.
This Article Contains Spoilers -
WARNING: This article contains major spoilers. If you do not wish to know vital information on plot / character elements in a story, you may not wish to read beyond this warning: We hold no responsibility for any negative effects these facts may have on your enjoyment of said media should you continue. That is all.
|“||Mission Report: December 16th, 1991.||„|
|~ Baron Zemo's most famous quote.|
|“||Baron Zemo: Sokovia was a failed state long before you blew it to Hell. No. I'm here because I made a promise.
Captain America: You lost someone?
Baron Zemo: I lost everyone. And so will you. An empire toppled by its enemies can rise again. But one which crumbles from within? That's dead. Forever.
|~ Baron Zemo to Captain America.|
|“||I spent years hunting people HYDRA recruited to recreate the serum. Because once it’s out there, someone can create an army of people, like the Avengers. I ended the Winter Soldier Program once before. I have no intention to leave my work unfinished.||„|
|~ Baron Zemo|
Baron Helmut Zemo is a major antagonist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He makes his debut as the main antagonist of Captain America: Civil War, later appearing as a flashback antagonist in Black Panther and a supporting character in the Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
He is an Sokovian aristocrat and former intelligence military officer who blamed the Avengers for the death of his family in the Battle of Sokovia. To that end, he orchestrated the Avengers Civil War by framing the Winter Soldier as an international terrorist, knowing Captain America would defend him from the world. Although Zemo was captured by the CIA, he was ultimately successful in dividing the Avengers. When the Falcon and the Winter Soldier return to him with news regarding more super-soldiers located around the globe, Zemo was able to break out of prison and join them in their effort to track down the Flag Smashers.
Despite the alliance, Zemo remained untrustworthy of the two, and had several instances where his sheer presence would get them hot-headed. He was able to confront Karli Morgenthau and destroy her stolen vials of the Super Soldier Serum, before slipping away once U.S. Agent and the Dora Milaje moved to arrest him. The Dora were able to capture the Sokovian terrorist not long after, where he would be transferred to the Raft to ensure his prolonged incarceration.
Helmut Zemo was born on June 16, 1978, in Novi Grad, the capital city of Sokovia. A descendant of Sokovian royalty, he is a former official in the Sokovian Armed Forces and in an elite military unit EKO Scorpion, who lived a happy life with his father, wife and son in Sokovia. Unfortunately, his happiness was cut short when the misanthropic android Ultron and his army of sentinels destroyed Sokovia, which tragically cost the lives of Zemo's family. Though Ultron and his army were defeated and destroyed by the Avengers, Zemo angrily blamed the Avengers for causing his family's demise (since they were the ones responsible for the creation of Ultron, despite the fact that they have no malicious intentions of doing so), and vowed to destroy the team at all costs.
However, Zemo knew that he would not be able to fight them personally as people more powerful than he had tried that and failed, so he devised a plan to corrupt the Avengers into turning against each other. After Black Widow released multiple encrypted HYDRA files following the death of Alexander Pierce and the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA, Zemo spent all his time trying to decode them. He eventually learned about a secret facility in Russia which HYDRA created the Winter Soldier and how they used trigger words which would ensure his complete obedience. From the files that Black Widow released, Zemo found out where the leader of the Winter Soldier facility lived.
Captain America: Civil War
At the beginning of the movie following the deaths of Crossbones and the Hero Mercs, Zemo drives to the home of the former HYDRA agent Vasily Karpov, deliberately crashing his own car into Karpov's car. Acting as if it was an accident, Zemo rings at Karpov's door claiming that he wants to peacefully settle the matter. However, once Karpov opens the door, Zemo knocks him out and hangs him upside down over a sink which slowly fills with water. While the water rises, Zemo smashes a wall in the agent's house in with a sledgehammer. In a secret storage, he finds a book which contains the trigger words to activate the Winter Soldier. With the book, he returns to the HYDRA agent and asks for the location of the facility. However, Karpov refuses to talk and ends up being drowned to death by Zemo.
As the next step of his master plan, Zemo bombs the UN meeting in Vienna, resulting in the deaths of several people, inlcuding the Wakadan king T'Chaka. He then frames the Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes for the bombing, causing T'Chaka's son Prince T'Challa (the Black Panther) to personally hunt down Bucky to avenge his father's death. This was coincided when the signing was put into place for the Sokovia Accords, a framework that would place the Avengers under government oversight, causing a friction between two factions of the Avengers; one led by Steve Rogers against the accords, and the other led by Tony Stark supporting the accords.
Barnes, as well as Rogers and Sam Wilson, are arrested by a special task force and brought to a Secret Service Office in Berlin, in accordance to Zemo's plans. Zemo, who had previously killed a psychiatrist who was supposed to make a psychiatric evaluation on Barnes, takes the man's place and triggers Barnes with the HYDRA keywords. Barnes is forced to reveal to Zemo the location of the HYDRA base, which is located in Siberia. To escape the building, Zemo sets up an E.M.P. bomb near the relay power station, causing a power outage in Berlin that allows Zemo to release Barnes, who attacks Rogers and Wilson while Zemo escapes heading to Siberia.
Rogers eventually manages to free Barnes from the trigger word's influence, but Zemo has already escaped and headed for Siberia, revealing that the HYDRA base contains five more Winter Soldiers. Following the battle between two factions of the Avengers (one led by Rogers and the other led by Stark), Natasha Romanoff learns of the truth that Zemo was the true culprit behind the bombings and lets Rogers and Barnes escape to Siberia. She then informs Stark, who heads over to Siberia with Rogers and Barnes after striking a truce while the rest of Rogers' team is apprehended and confined in an underwater prison called the Raft run by the U.S. Secretary of State Thunderbolt Ross.
At the HYDRA base in Siberia, Zemo has located the facility and found the five other Winter Soldiers who are still in cryo-sleep. Barnes, Rogers, and Stark arrive as well, believing that Zemo intends to unleash the Winter Soldiers on the world. However, they are surprised to see that Zemo had killed all the Winter Soldiers. Zemo, who has bunkered himself in a safe room, confesses that his intent to use the Winter Soldiers and the Vienna bombings were nothing but ruses to lure the Avengers to turn against each other in revenge for his family's demise. He proceeds to enact the final part of his plan by playing exclusive security footage of Stark's parents being murdered by Barnes when he was being brainwashed by HYDRA in 1991. Enraged that Rogers kept this from him, Stark turns on Barnes, forcing Rogers to fight him to save his friend's life. The battle ends in a stalemate with Rogers disabling Stark's armor after Stark blasts off Barnes' robotic arm. Following the aftermath of the battle, Rogers escapes with Barnes, leaving his shield (which was made by Stark's late father) behind, accepting that he no longer deserves it.
Witnessing the beginning of the battle and satisfied by the outcome, Zemo heads to the surface, where he is confronted by T'Challa, who has followed the trio behind the shadows and now knows the truth behind his father's death. However, having learned about Zemo's loss of his family and seeing what the pursuit of vengeance has turned him into, T'Challa decides to spare Zemo, who apologizes for killing T'Chaka, assuring it was nothing personal against him. After deleting the last voicemail of his late wife from his phone, Zemo declares his work to be done and prepares to commit suicide to join his dead family by shooting himself in the head with a pistol. However, T'Challa stops him from doing so, explaining that the living isn't done with him yet. T'Challa delivers him to the U.S. government agent Everett Ross, who arrests Zemo for his crimes.
In the end, Zemo is incarcerated in a prison in Berlin as punishment for his crimes against the Avengers. Despite his imprisonment, Zemo reminds Ross that he still has succeeded in his plan to tear apart the Avengers, as many of the members (including Rogers) are now in total disarray and left the team in shame, something which Ross realized in horror. Although the dismantling of the Avengers was seemingly permanent, Stark was able to get over the fact that what happened to his parents wasn't Barnes' fault as he received an apology letter from Rogers, who promises that the team will reunite when the time to act occurs the most. Understanding the point, Stark deliberately allows Rogers to free his captive team from the Raft, assuring that he will be there when they need him the most.
Zemo is only seen in a picture during a news report detailing the death of T'Chaka, an event watched by T'Challa as he is returning back to Wakanda to be crowned as the new King. This event led T'Challa to develop an insecurity about being a true king of Wakanda, though he overcomes it after foiling Erik Killmonger's plan to sell vibranium weapons throughout the world.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
By 2024, Zemo was still imprisoned and confined within the facility. He is visited by Bucky Barnes in his cell, who sought his knowledge about the super-soldier program. Zemo is informed about the Flag Smashers, a group of anarchists empowered by a recently-recreated super-soldier serum. Barnes subsequently orchestrates a prison riot to allow him to slip away and use a disguise to escape. Sam Wilson is reluctant to accept Zemo as an ally, but relents only if the Sokovian remains in their total supervision.
|“||Vengeance has consumed you.||„|
|~ T'Challa after learning about Zemo's loss of his family because of the Avengers.|
Although Zemo was a colonel of a death squad in the Sokovian Armed Forces, he was a good-hearted individual who loved his family very much, however, after his entire family was indirectly killed in the battle between the Avengers and Ultron, Zemo's anger and hatred towards the Avengers, consumed him to the point where he became vengeful, ruthless and slightly unstable. However, despite Zemo's relentless attempts at trying to destroy the Avengers, he is ultimately not without a conscience, he tries to use more peaceful means to get what he wants, as he first tried to interrogate a HYDRA officer, for the location of the other Winter Soldiers (to kill them as they were a threat to the entire world and to play security video from 1991, which revealed Bucky as the assassin who murdered Tony's parents, Howard and Maria) and while willing to resort to more violent means, he admits freely he doesn't enjoy having to do so.
Zemo sincerely apologized to T'Challa for accidentally killing his father, T'Chaka, this proves that he has guilt, shame and remorse for his actions, ultimately Zemo's goal was to never kill the Avengers, as he stated to T'Challa that more powerful individuals than himself have tried and failed, as his goal was to have the Avengers disbanded, which he ultimately succeeded at; he knew the moment that he revealed to Tony Stark that Bucky Barnes was responsible for his parents, Howard and Maria's death, Tony would tried to kill him (regardless of the fact that he was under the influence of HYDRA's brainwashing at the time and was not in control of his actions) as he was aware of the latter's arrogance and massive ego, as he use it against him, he also (correctly) knew that Steve Rogers, who is a far more moral, just and honorable individual then Tony, would not allow him to kill an innocent man; as this attempt on Bucky's life, not only ended their friendship, but the Avengers as well.
After Zemo avenged his family's death, having little else to live for, he attempts to commit suicide, only to be stopped by T'Challa, he also kept a voice message of his late wife on his phone as one of the last connections from his former life that he held onto, which he often played over. Yet after he was content with his revenge and was about to commit suicide, he deleted the message.
Despite being a recognized enemy of the Avengers, it seemed that after having laid the stage to their disbandment, Zemo lost all his drive to villainy. Out of apparent remorse/regret over having caused the Snap and lead to the creation of the super soldier terrorists Flag Smashers Zemo willingly allied himself with the Falcon and Winter Soldier as they tracked down the Flag Smashers. He has displayed an astonishing amount of respect for Captain America, showing admiration of his humanity and strong compassion and fully admitting he was the only exception to super soldiers being evil, stating there was never another man as good hearted as Steve Rogers. Zemo also reveals that he hates the Avengers as a symbol, not the individual members themselves. Zemo tells Sam and Bucky he holds no grudges toward despite the two being Avengers. Apart from playfully slighting them whenever possible (telling the Latvian kids that they are very bad people, attempting to control Bucky, and pointing they can't turn him over to the Dora Milaje since he's their lead on the Flag Smashers), he doesn't betray them and even saves them. Zemo ultimately has nothing but gratitude towards Sam and Bucky, who allowed him to briefly have a life again, as well as accomplish his mission of destroying the remaining super-soldier serums. Later, when Bucky confronts Zemo at the Sokovian memorial, Zemo peacefully accepts that Bucky might shoot him - and when Bucky reveals it was a bluff to buy time for the Dora to catch him, Zemo shows no anger or resistance, but rather tells him he respects his decision and bids him a well-wishing farewell before he is taken to the Raft.
Apart from his enmity towards the Avengers and bitterness over the lost of his family, Zemo seems to harbor no villainous traits at all: He holds HYDRA in contempt, stating they deserved to go down and showing active disgust at the Red Skull and his fanatics. Even though he could have released the Winter Soldiers from their sleep, Zemo had enough restraint to kill them instead, not wishing to have his war with the Avengers cause untold damage to the world. That said, his murder of T'Chaka shows that he is willing to kill others that are not his intended targets to achieve his goals.
Zemo has a strong belief that super-soldiers like Steve are put on a pedestal, and are dangerous when left unchecked, as their very power represents supremacist ideals. However, he isn't entirely discriminative of such individuals: In addition to his respect of Steve, he also respects Bucky and seems to regret what he put him through. He also develops some respect for Sam due to the latter's refusal to take the Super Soldier Serum.
|“||I knew I could not kill them. More powerful men than me have tried. But, if I could get them to kill each other…||„|
|~ Zemo confessing that he would use strategy rather than brute strength to take down the Avengers|
- Genius-Level Intellect: Zemo is an extremely sophisticated, genius and wise individual, enough to outsmart his enemies. He had possibly gained his exceptional intelligence from his father's education and from his days as a military man.
- Master Tactician: As the former intelligence officer and commander of the elite Sokovian paramilitary tactical unit EKO Skorpion, Zemo is a brilliant tactician, being able to mastermind a series of events in order to get his revenge against the Avengers for their role in the destruction of Sokovia and the death of his family. He was also smart enough to know that he has no hopes of killing the Avengers, even if he had raised an army. So then, Zemo decided that it would instead be better to manipulate them into destroying themselves, which he successfully does. Zemo is also a highly devious and cunning individual, knowing how to use intimidating behaviour at the right time in order to interrogate enemies; for example, when he had arrived at Cleveland in order to find the Winter Soldier's code words book, he had made a car accident with his car with Vasily Karpov's car, only to make him fall to his hands so he would be able to interrogate the latter. Zemo is a sophisticated man so he knew when to go against the Avengers and against his enemies in the exact right time.
- Multilingual: Zemo can speak his own native Sokovian, English, Russian and German.
- Master Manipulator: Zemo's best and most famous ability is that he is a master manipulator, knowing how to manipulate people (especially his enemies) into whatever his plan is.
- Intimidation/Interrogation: Zemo is a highly devious and cunning individual, knowing how to use intimidating behaviour at the right time in order to interrogate enemies; for example, when he had arrived at Cleveland in order to find the Winter Soldier's code words book, he had made a car accident with his car with Vasily Karpov's car ,only to make him fall to his hands so he would be able to interrogate the latter.
- Torture Skills and Military Training: Zemo was once a military man, and thus he had gained a very big set of skills from the military knowing how to use them for his own good and knew how to torture his enemies. For example, he had tied upside down Karpov in his bath before killing him by drowning and even used the mission report of Bucky Barnes from December 16, 1991, the day in which he killed Tony Stark's parents, and used it to torture Tony Stark. While escaping prison with the aid of Bucky Barnes, Zemo was able to silently take down a prison guard and steal his uniform. In Madripoor, he was able to take down multiple bounty hunters by himself.
- Psychological Warfare: Zemo is a master in psychological warfare, knowing how to use this ability to manipulate or torment enemies.
- Master of Disguise: In a deleted scene of the film, when Dr. Broussard arrived, it was seen that Zemo approached him before killing him. Then, he had worn his clothes and his glasses and impersonated to him in order to approach Bucky Barnes and to reactivate him as the Winter Soldier for his own actions. In the Vienna bombing, he had worn clothes which made him similar to Bucky.
- Unlimited Resources: He had recruited so many resources so no one will ever know what his actions truly are. For example, he had killed a psychiatrist named Dr. Theo Broussard in order to approach Barnes, as he went to a hotel room to hide this incident and make sure that no one will suspect him, and he even used money he gained when he arrived at Cleveland in order to buy an electromagnetic bomb as well as another bomb. It is later revealed that Zemo is a Sokovian aristocrat, his vast wealth allowing him to fund his crusades against the Avengers and later the Flag Smashers.
- Smith & Wesson 6906: When he had succeeded in his plan, Zemo had used this gun in a suicide attempt after causing Iron Man and Captain America to brutally attack each other, believing that there was no reason to escape and live. However, T'Challa quickly snatched the firearm from Zemo's hands and apprehended him.
- AK-103: In his military days, Zemo used this assault rifle during a military operation with EKO Scorpion.
- Winter Soldier's Book: Zemo stole this booklet from a house in Cleveland, Ohio after torturing and killing Vasily Karpov, the house's sole resident. The book contains several "trigger words" that Zemo used to activate the Winter Soldier's HYDRA-created thought patterns while the Winter Soldier was in custody in Berlin.
- Electromagnetic Pulse Bomb: Zemo had used this electromagnetic bomb in order to shut down every single digital or electric system when he was at the meeting with Barnes while he impersonated into Dr. Broussard.
- IED (Improvised Explosive Device): Zemo had used this bomb in order to cause a massively powerful destructive explosion which caused mass destruction at the Vienna-based UN building, and caused the deaths of thousands of people including T'Chaka, T'Challa's father.
- Despite his name, this version of Helmut Zemo bears little to no resemblance to his classic depiction from the comics, not aesthetically or personality-wise, aside from his cunning and intelligence. While concept art reveals that he was intended at one point to actually wear his iconic purple mask, his depiction in the film was to bring a unique take on the character to fit the film's themes.
- However, he returned in The Falcon and Winter Soldier with his iconic mask and referred himself as Baron Zemo.
- Stephen McFeely, the writer of Captain America: Civil War, stated the reason Helmut Zemo was drastically changed from his comic book counterpart was that his motivation from the death of his father, Heinrich Zemo, did not suit the character's story, given the timeline that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was set in.
- In the comics, he was German and an agent of HYDRA. In the MCU, however, he despises HYDRA to the point where he dislikes them even more than The Avengers.
- Brühl, who was cast due to his German accent, did not feel the role was a stereotype, saying, "It's not a guy who's mean and sinister, but he's actually very clever - a very smart guy who does everything out of a very understandable reason and motivation." He also stated that Zemo may also appear in future MCU films, with executive producer Nate Moore adding that, while Zemo has a purpose in this film, it is more to set up a future film. While Zemo isn't confirmed to appear in further films, it has been confirmed that he will be returning in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier television series.
- Zemo is considered to the Avengers's greatest enemy to date, surpassed only by Thanos.
- He is also appearing as the main antagonist of the animated parody HISHE: Captain America Civil War.
- Zemo is one of the nine villains of the MCU to actually succeed in his plans, as he managed to drive the Avengers apart to avenge his family's demise (though his victory was temporary, as the Avengers made amends and reunited in Avengers: Endgame). The other eight are Loki Laufeyson (who has managed to take control of Asgard for himself in Thor: The Dark World), Surtur (who has managed to destroy Asgard in Thor: Ragnarok), Erik Killmonger (who managed to get Wakanda to distribute the Vibranium around the world to help people in Black Panther), Ghost (who has managed to obtain quantum energy to cure herself from a fatal disease in Ant-Man and the Wasp), Thanos (who has managed to collect the Infinity Stones to wipe out half of the universe's populace in Avengers: Infinity War), Mysterio (who has managed to frame Spider Man as his murderer and expose his true identity to the world in Spider-Man: Far from Home), Flag-Smasher (who managed to stop the Global Repatriation Council from relocating of millions of people in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), and Kang (who managed to return on numerous different timelines and founded a new version of the TVA after Sylvie killed his variant He Who Remains and freed the Sacred Timeline in Loki).
- Zemo's premise is remarkably similar to Punisher's portrayal in the story Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe. A man wrongly blaming superheroes for the deaths of his family as collateral damage in a superhuman battle, and seeking to destroy them via careful planning. Also like Punisher in that story, Zemo is successful in his efforts, is of a military background, and ultimately attempts suicide. The difference being that Zemo attempted it because he had nothing left to live for upon succeeding in his mission and also failed to commit suicide, whereas Punisher did so out of guilt and succeeded.