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Helmut Zemo (Marvel Cinematic Universe)

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An empire toppled by its enemies can rise again, but one which crumbles from within, that's dead...forever.
~ Helmut Zemo
Mission Report: December 16th, 1991.
~ Zemo's most famous line

Helmut Zemo, also known as Herr Müller or simply Zemo, is the main antagonist of the 2016 Marvel Cinematic Universe film, Captain America: Civil War.

He is a former soldier-turned-terrorist mastermind who is bent on destroying the Avengers to avenge his family's demise. As he knew that he would not be able to battle them head-on, he devised a scheme to manipulate the Avengers into fighting and defeating each other.

He is portrayed by Daniel Brühl, who also portrayed Fredrick Zoller in Inglorious Basterds.

Origins

Helmut Zemo 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 evil android Ultron destroyed Sokovia, which tragically cost the lives of Zemo's family. Though Ultron was defeated and destroyed by the Avengers, Zemo angrily blames 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 him had tried that and failed, so he devised a plan to manipulate the Avengers to turn 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

Beginning of His Manipulations and Killing Karpov

When S.H.I.E.L.D. fell, Black Widow released HYDRA files to the public. Millions of pages, much of it encrypted. Not easy to decipher, but I have experience and patience. A man can do anything if he has those.
~ Zemo to Karpov
At the beginning of the movie following the deaths of Crossbones and several of his mercenaries, 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 contain 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.

Bombing the UN Meeting at Vienna and Killing T'Challa's Father

As the next step of his master plan, Zemo bombs the UN meeting in Vienna, resulting the deaths of the Wakadan king T'Chaka and several others. He then proceeds to frame the Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes for the bombing, causing T'Chacka's son Prince T'Challa (the Black Panther) to personally hunt down Bucky to avenge his father's death. This was coincided when 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 Rogers against the accords, and the other led by Stark supporting the accords.

Framing Bucky Barnes and Re-Activating the Winter Soldier

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 key words. 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-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 to head 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), 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.

Final Levels of His Plan and Defeat

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 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 voice mail 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 aren'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 Everett 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. 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.

Personality

Vengeance has consumed you.
~ T'Challa after learning about Zemo's loss of his family because of the Avengers

Zemo was a vengeful psychopath filled with anger and hate towards the Avengers because of their battle against Ultron in Sokovia that tragically cost the lives of his family. As such, he was determined to make them suffer to bring justice for his family's demise. He was also proven to be extremely intelligent, as he knew first-hand that he couldn't defeat the Avengers by force and instead relied on strategy to tear them apart on the inside.

Despite his relentless attempts to destroy the Avengers, Zemo was not without a conscience. This was shown when he interrogated the HYDRA agent, he said he would have to use violent means to get him to speak, even though he doesn't approve in doing this. He even sincerely apologized to T'Challa for killing his father by opening up his tragedy, which made T'Challa (who previously desired to kill Zemo to avenge his father) realize the desire of vengeance has consumed Zemo for the worst. As such, T'Challa decides to spare Zemo, not wanting to stoop to his level.

In the end, after succeeding in his goal, Zemo attempted to commit suicide as he feels that he has nothing else to live for, though T'Challa stopped him and turned him over to the authorities.

Abilities

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 brutal strength to take down the Avengers
  • Master Tactician: Zemo, as the former intelligence officer and commander of the elite Sokovian paramilitary tactical unit EKO Skorpion, 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.
  • Multilingual: Zemo can speak his native Sokovian, as well as English, German and Russian.
  • Master Strategist: Zemo is a very genius man, he knows how to attack the Avengers in the right time.
  • Master Manipulator: Zemo succeeded in his master plan to manipulate the team into turning against each other, thus he drove them into fighting and defeating each other.
  • Resources: He 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 anyone will not suspecting him.
  • Intelligence: Bruhl noticed that Zemo is a very smart guy, so that proves that he is a highly intelligent man.

Relationships

Family

  • Father †
  • Wife †
  • Son †

Allies

  • Sokovian Armed Forces - Former Allies
    • EKO Scorpion - Former Subordinates

Enemies

  • The Avengers
    • Tony Stark/Iron Man
    • Steve Rogers/Captain America
    • Sam Wilson/Falcon
    • James Rhodes/War Machine
    • Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch
    • Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow
    • Clint Barton/Hawkeye
    • The Vision
  • Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier - Former Thrall
  • T'Chaka † - Victim
  • T'Challa/Black Panther - Captor
  • Everett Ross
  • Theo Broussard † - Victim
  • HYDRA
    • Vasily Karpov † - Victim
    • Winter Soldiers † - Victims
  • Ultron † - Family Killer

Gallery

Trivia

  • The actor, Daniel Bruhl, was in the movie the Fifth Estate with Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays as Doctor Strange, and Anthony Mackie, who plays as the Falcon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
  • In the comics, he was German and an agent of HYDRA.
  • 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 Moore adding that, while Zemo has a purpose in this film, it is more to set up a future film.
  • Zemo is one of the two main villains of the MCU to actually succeed in his plans, as he managed to drive the Avengers apart to avenge his family's demise. The other one is Loki Laufeyson, who has managed to take control of Asgard to himself in Thor: The Dark World.
  • Generally speaking, he is the least evil of all the MCU villains.
  • Helmut Zemo shares some similarities with other villains:
    • James Savoy from Transformers: Age of Extinction, both lost people dear to them and for this reason they seek revenge against the protagonists who fought in a battle that took innocent people. To succeed in their aim, they are willing to kill innocent people in order to avenge those who have lost in battle.
    • Lex Luthor from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as they are criminal masterminds who manipulate the heroes into fighting each other and actually manage to accomplish their goals. They also wind up incarcerated at the end.


 
Marvel Cinematic Universe Villains


Individuals
Iron Monger | Raza | Abomination | Thunderbolt Ross | Whiplash | Justin Hammer | Senator Stern | Loki Laufeyson | The Destroyer | Laufey | Jasper Sitwell | Red Skull | Arnim Zola | Heinz Kruger | Thanos | The Other | Aldrich Killian | Eric Savin | Maya Hansen | The Mandarin | Malekith the Accursed | Algrim the Kurse | Alexander Pierce | The Winter Soldier | Crossbones | Georges Batroc | Wolfgang von Strucker | Lorelei | John Garrett | Grant Ward | Absorbing Man | Franklin Hall | Blizzard | Scorch | Raina | Daniel Whitehall | Ronan the Accuser | Nebula | Korath the Pursuer | Yondu Udonta | Sasha Demidov | Dottie Underwood | Johann Fennhoff | Calvin Chadwick | Whitney Frost | The Collector | Jiaying | Kingpin | James Wesley | Leland Owlsley | Ultron | Ultron Sentinels | Scarlet Witch | Quicksilver | Yellowjacket | Mitchell Carson | Werner von Strucker | Lash | Hive | Gideon Malick | Kilgrave | Punisher | Nobu Yoshioka | Helmut Zemo | Cottonmouth | Black Mariah | Shades | Diamondback | Kaecilius | Lucian | Dormammu | Lucy Bauer | Eli Morrow | Ellen Nadeer | Aida
Organizations
Chitauri | HYDRA | A.I.M | Ten Rings | Leviathan | Watchdogs | The Hand | Zealots

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