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Characters / MCU: Baron Helmut Zemo

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Baron Helmut Zemo
"I have experience, and patience. A man can do anything if he has those."
"I have no intention to leave my work unfinished."

Species: Human

Citizenship: Stateless, formerly Sokovian

Portrayed By: Daniel Brühl


Voiced By: Javier Olguín (Latin-American Spanish dub)

Appearances: Captain America: Civil War | Black Panther note  | The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

"An empire toppled by its enemies can rise again. But one which crumbles from within? That's dead. Forever."

A Sokovian baron and former special ops colonel who has a grudge against the Avengers due to their involvement in the Battle of Sokovia, which led to the death of his family. Zemo seeks to exploit tensions within the Avengers in order to get them to disperse and potentially even dispose of one another... And he's ultimately successful, as the Avengers end up being fractured for years after his plan is complete.

Eight years after the events of Civil War, Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes turn to Zemo in helping them track down a new formula of the super-soldier serum and stopping the Flag-Smashers, forming a very uneasy alliance.
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    Tropes A to G 
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: He's quite handsome here, while his comic counterpart usually has to wear a mask to hide his hideously charred, disfigured face. This is true to his first appearance in the comics as a one-shot villain, before he was scarred upon becoming a recurring character.
  • Adaptational Heroism: In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, when he finally dons his iconic comic book look, he is depicted more as an Ambiguously Evil Anti-Hero ally of Sam and Bucky rather than the one-note supervillain he usually is in the comics. More of his redeeming and justifiable qualities are shown here rather than the villainous qualities he displayed in Civil War, as all he wants is to make sure that the super soldier serum is destroyed. Even when he escapes from Sam and Bucky in episode 4, he is found at the monument to Sokovia waiting for Bucky, and goes peacefully without a fight when the Dora Milaje arrive to arrest him.
  • Adaptational Nationality: In the comics Helmut Zemo is German, but here he is a Sokovian. Ironically, his actor actually is German, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier sees a bit of his German accent creep in. He also has a vast array of vehicles and a private plane in Germany, and he is very familiar with both Berlin and the German language.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: His comic counterpart and that of his father were literal Nazis who wanted mass genocide and world domination, and while the Helmut of the comics did grow out of the former, he still tends to try the latter. This version of Zemo, despite being on a black ops killing team, has a much simpler and more sympathetic motivation, while his father was merely a civilian. Neither have any ties to HYDRA (aside from Helmut's exploitation of HYDRA's Winter Soldier project), while the versions from the comics are both prominent members of that organisation.
  • Adaptational Wimp: In the comics Zemo is a major adversary of Captain America and the Avengers, with a particular emphasis on his skills at fencing and manipulation. While this version retains his cunning, he is also presented as much less of a direct threat to anyone despite being a former black operative; when Black Panther decides to bring him in alive, he goes down with barely a struggle. Most of his success ties into this, with him exploiting his lack of obvious supervillainous affect to stay under the heroes' radar until his plan requires him to show his hand, then relying on Steve and Tony's flaws and personal issues to do most of the work for him. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier shows that he hasn't forgotten how to do his own dirty work, however, putting his soldier skills to use alongside his usual guile and strategizing once he gets back into the fray.
  • Adaptation Personality Change: In the comics, Zemo is generally depicted as an unapologetic villain who is primarily driven by a selfish desire to rule over others. His film version, on the other hand, has a much more sympathetic motive for his villainous actions, as he's just a victim of the Avengers' collateral damage in Sokovia seeking revenge for the death of his entire family.
  • Affably Evil:
    • He's the Big Bad of Civil War and is more than willing to commit mass murder to achieve his ends, but the times he acts polite or remorseful are genuine. He states he'd rather avoid unnecessary deaths if he can, has a few standards, apologizes to T'Challa for killing his father, has regular courteous interactions with a staff member of the hotel he's staying at, and even eventually apologizes to Bucky for using him. Considering he's just a grieving man who's dedicated to avenging the deaths of his family, it makes sense he wouldn't act like a cackling maniac.
    • By The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, he is shown to be fairly courteous to those around him (who, apart from his family butler were his enemies before) and he is capable of holding civil conversations with Bucky, even offering him a genuine apology for his actions in Civil War. He also agrees to join Sam and Bucky's crusade against the Flag-Smashers, without the driving of a hard bargain one might expect from him. He is also fully willing to lend his resources from the criminal underground to Sam and Bucky to take the Flag-Smashers down, no questions asked.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: His defeat in Civil War is treated as an utterly somber affair, with him having nothing left after completing his plan and hoping to commit Suicide by Cop at T'Challa's hands before trying to kill himself when T'Challa refuses to be consumed by vengeance as Zemo has. Even though he got what he wanted (up to a point), it doesn't change the fact that his family is gone forever.
  • The Alcoholic: Following his escape from prison in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Zemo reveals himself to be a little bit of a tippler, partaking in shots, champagne, helping himself to Sharon's expensive liquor collection, then taking more shots at a club. He apparently approves of the way they party in Madripoor.
  • All for Nothing: He wanted to destroy the Avengers and was content with them dividing. Thanos's arrival and the events of Endgame undo all of that. In fact, the Avengers are no doubt more beloved than ever as a result.
  • Ambiguously Bi: During the flight to Madripoor, a Freeze-Frame Bonus reveals that Zemo is reading a page from a psychology book that deals with the subject of same-sex attraction in otherwise heterosexual individuals.
  • Anti-Villain: Despite the grim and often hypocritical in hindsight actions he resorts to, he does have some good traits and was hoping for a cleaner way to get what he wanted first. Also, his motive — revenge for the collateral damage-induced loss of his family — is at least a little sympathetic.
  • Apple of Discord: His Evil Plan is to find evidence that Bucky Barnes murdered Tony Stark's parents while under HYDRA control and show it to Stark, so Bucky's friend Steve Rogers and Tony will turn on each other over whether to spare or kill Bucky, and the Avengers will be ripped apart as they side with one leader or the other.
  • Arch-Enemy: Since the death of Ulysses Klaue, it seems Zemo has taken his seat as Wakanda's most wanted for the death of King T'Chaka. Not a day after he breaks out of prison, Ayo is already hot on his trail to capture him.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: It's revealed in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier that he is a nobleman like his comic counterpart. Though unlike said counterpart, his upbringing had nothing to do with him becoming a villain since his father was by all accounts a decent man in this universe.
  • Badass Longcoat: The events of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier have Zemo wearing a stylish winter coat, complete with Conspicuous Gloves.
  • Badass Normal: Unlike most of the Avengers, he's just a plain old human. But, through sheer patience and ingenuity, he still managed to tear them apart. During the trip to Madripoor he proves to be no slouch in combat either, reminding everyone he was former special forces. He also comes much closer to permanently stopping Morgenthau than Falcon or Bucky have ever managed so far, largely because he's fully willing to kill.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Downplayed. Zemo has achieved his goals but with never with the fully desired outcome.
    • While none of the Avengers die as a consequence of his plan in Captain America: Civil War, he accomplishes his main goal in dividing them and is content with this. While the looming threat of Thanos forces them back together in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, the reunion turns out to be temporary — by the time of Spider-Man: Far From Home, WandaVision, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the Avengers are still very much defunct.
    • In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, he successfully killed the man who recreated the super soldier formula and destroyed all but one of the remaining samples while inadvertently leading to John Walker gaining the Super Serum for himself. This turns in Zemo's favor after Walker brutally executes a defenseless Flag Smasher in broad daylight in front of civilians, corrupting the image of super soldiers in the public eye. He willing gives up a chance at pulling a Villain: Exit, Stage Left to visit a memorial and allows him self to be captured, his work done. In the final episode, he instructs his butler to kill the remaining Flag Smashers by blowing up their van. He overhears the news of this on the radio with silent satisfaction that the super soldiers that could be placed on pedestals are now dead.
  • Batman Gambit: He's good at finding ways to make other people do things for him by exploiting their predictable behavior.
    • He framed Bucky Barnes for bombing the United Nations, then relied on everyone else including Captain America hunting him down for it, and further that no one but the Avengers would even be capable of killing Bucky, to get access to Barnes and his knowledge of HYDRA bases.
    • He arranges for his ruse to be discovered by the media, relying on Tony to find out and make amends with Captain America, so they'll both find the Siberian compound where Zemo reveals to them that Bucky killed Tony's parents.
    • His entire plan is based on assumptions from the S.H.I.E.L.D. intel on the Avengers he's studied that Captain America's over-protectiveness of his friends and Iron Man's complex over the death of his parents would mean not only that the two would turn on each other if Bucky's involvement in the Starks' death was revealed, but that Steve wouldn't have talked to Tony about Bucky's potential involvement beforehand.
    • His setup gambled on the fact that it is a conflict that only works if there are no voices of reason to hold either of them back. The fact that the airport fight left only two active members of the Avengers, Bucky and a third party present in the Hydra compound in a place where no one would interfere was a happy accident for him since most of the Avengers present could have prevented things from reaching the breaking point. Of course, this is covered under Heads I Win, Tails You Lose.
  • Beard of Evil: He has grown a beard during his eight years in prison as seen in Episode 2 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
  • Beware the Superman: In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Zemo argues that the desire to become superhuman is invariably tied to supremacist ideals, which is why he believes that superheroes are a danger and should not be allowed to exist. While he doesn't necessarily dislike them personally and even acknowledges that some of them might have good intentions, he is very critical of the fact that they are put on pedestals while their flaws are ignored and subsequently inspire Blind Obedience, which he directly compares to the Cult of Personality at the center of authoritarian movements like the Nazis and HYDRA.
  • Big Bad: Of Captain America: Civil War. He exploits and exacerbates the ideological differences between Captain America and Iron Man, resulting in the eponymous Good vs Good conflict that threatens to destroy the Avengers.
  • Big Damn Villains: As Sam, Bucky, and Sharon are pinned down by bounty hunters in the Madripoor shipyard, Zemo suddenly makes a grandiose entrance in full villain garb on a ledge, killing several assassins by shooting a nearby gas tank with his pistol before going to ground and taking down the rest in close combat, opening up the heroes' window of escape.
  • Blue Blood: The Falcon and The Winter Soldier reveals that he was always a baron. While the fall of Sokovia took away most of the power of the title he still has a lot of money and connections as a result of his position.
  • Breaking the Fellowship: Thanks to his efforts, the Avengers are severely compromised, with several of the foundational friendships that held them together torn apart and anyone who sided with Cap imprisoned or branded a fugitive. Even Tony and his supporters still bear physical and mental scars caused by fighting their friends.
  • The Bus Came Back: After being imprisoned at the end of Civil War, Zemo returns in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, with the title characters seeking his assistance in tracking down the source of the Flag Smashers's Super Soldier powers.
  • Camp Straight: Not at all in Civil War, where he is still grieving over the recent death of his wife and child whom he loved greatly. But in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, he behaves in a very flamboyant, highly-groomed, and ostentatious manner, and wears a costume made of opulent and bright-colored clothing.
  • Cape Busters: His main goal is the eradication of every superpowered individual he sees as a danger to the public. In Civil War, he is primarily motivated by a personal grudge against the Avengers, whom he blames for the destruction of his country and the deaths of his family, but The Falcon and the Winter Soldier reveals that he is opposed to the idolization of superhumans in general and even has him teaming up with Sam and Bucky to hunt down the Flag-Smashers.
  • Cardboard Prison: Zemo still has a lot of connections and resources despite still being in prison. Even from within the Raft he is still able to order his butler to kill the last of the Flag Smashers.
  • Character Tic: He has a habit of tilting his head whenever he's attempting to manipulate someone. It seems to be a subconscious thing he does, as he immediately stops doing it when Sam notices and lampshades it in Episode 4 of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. He also has a habit of holding the back of his hand (as in the second profile picture).
  • The Chessmaster: In Civil War, he plays all the Avengers like pawns. He frames Bucky for a crime, to have the world hunt him and lure him out of hiding. This partially causes the Avengers to turn on each other, divided over Bucky's innocence. He takes the UN interrogator's place, extorting information out of Bucky and using the trigger words to activate Bucky's soldier conditioning. Finally, he shows Tony the tape of what really happened to his parents, sending him into a murderous rage to kill Bucky.
  • Colonel Badass: He used to be a Colonel in the Sokovian Special Forces, and he is one of the most effective foes the Avengers have faced — though not because of his combat abilities, but because of how effective he is about executing his plans.
  • Comic-Book Movies Don't Use Codenames: In Civil War, he's never called "Baron Zemo", the title he goes by in the comics, and is instead referred to by his military rank Colonel. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier reveals that he is a baron since he was Sokovian royalty, and when he was involved with the criminal underworld, he used the alias "Baron".
  • The Comically Serious: His stoic demeanour tends to stick out when he's in the same room as Sam and Bucky, like when he awkwardly jumps to the defense of Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man" soundtrack, or his crappy dancing in Sharon's nightclub.
  • Composite Character: He takes Klaue's role as the man who murders King T'Chaka.
  • Cool Car: He actually has a lot of these. His family owned an impressive collection of classics, with plenty of Rolls' and Bentleys in his garage. It's a taste he himself had acquired, as he, Sam, Bucky and Sharon make their getaway out of Madripoor in a super-charged muscle car he had stashed in the docks.
  • Cool Mask: Zemo dons his signature purple mask while being attacked by bounty hunters in Madripoor. According to Word of God, it was previously used during his time as a colonel in Sokovia's black ops program.
  • Crusading Widower: His wife was among the civilian casualties in Sokovia. He keeps a recording of her last voice message on his phone.
  • Cunning Linguist: Zemo's multilingualism allows him to assume different identities. Aside from his native Sokovian, he speaks English, German, Russian, and presumably French, given that he was able to convincingly impersonate a French-speaking psychologist.
  • Death Seeker: Once he has put Iron Man against Bucky and Cap, he first attempts to persuade Black Panther into killing him, then decides to shoot himself. Black Panther catches the bullet before snagging him a headlock so he can face justice.
  • Decoy Protagonist: After seemingly fulfilling the role as the Tritagonist in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, he is then arrested in the penultimate episode, leaving John Walker to take up this role in the season finale following redeeming himself by rescuing a van full of hostages.
  • Determinator: He manages to find new resolve after Civil War, and Iron Man's sacrifice has done little to change his views. With Iron Man dead and Captain America retired, he decides he will stop the creation of any and all super soldiers in the world no matter what happens.
  • Divide and Conquer: His plan against the Avengers, seeing that there's absolutely no chance he can fight them on his own. He even compares the Avengers to some sort of a mighty empire, which can only be felled by using this tactic.
  • Driven to Suicide: Tries to goad T'Challa into killing him, and then to shoot himself when he refuses. Neither works out for him; making enemies of a guy with Super Strength and a bulletproof suit was a bad idea, evidently.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: His family is Sokovian nobility and he was colonel in EKO Scorpion, Sokovia's black ops kill squad. Even if Sokovia was a developing Balkans country, that still makes him pretty dangerous.
  • Enemy Mine: Downplayed Trope. Despite not personally hating Sam and Bucky, the latter two consider their alliance with Zemo this due to Civil War and the damage he caused; the only reason they tolerate him is that he can accomodate them with the resources they need to take down the Flag-Smashers. To his credit, Zemo doesn't hesitate in helping their cause because of his Beware the Superman beliefs, even expressing interest in facing Karli Morgenthau herself.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • In a stark contrast to his comics depiction, he lacks any affiliation with HYDRA and outright states that they deserved to be brought down. A conversation in Falcon and the Winter Soldier reveals he despises the Red Skull and those who idolize him, and he kills Doctor Nagel while the man is gloating about being a god.
    • Despite his profound hatred of the Avengers, he declined to unleash the other five Winter Soldiers and shot them dead rather than risk someone else doing so, as they were worse than Bucky and would do untold damage to the world given the order. He also seems uncomfortable with the concept of experimenting on humans in general.
      Zemo: If it's any comfort, they died in their sleep. Did you really think I wanted more of you?
    • He takes a couple jabs at the racism in American society in Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
  • Evil Genius: While he has combat training, his greatest strength is his intellect. Aside from his abilities as The Chessmaster, Zemo was able to crack the encrypted HYDRA files on the Winter Soldier program that Black Widow released to the Internet and build a very effective EMP bomb in his hotel room.
  • Face Death with Dignity:
    • When T'Challa finally catches up with him at the end of Civil War, he's completely calm and fully prepared for T'Challa to kill him to avenge his father, even seeming to acknowledge that in his mind T'Challa's revenge against him is just as justified as his own revenge against the Avengers.
    • In episode 5 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, he's completely calm and accepting when it looks like Bucky is going to execute him, and later he calmly walks away with the Dora Milaje when they show up to take him into custody, knowing there's a decent chance he's going to be executed in a spectacular fashion in Wakanda for killing the king (for some reason the Dora Milaje went to all that trouble just to turn him over to the U.N. where he'll be held in the same prison that used to hold Captain America's half of the Avengers, but he's got no way of knowing that).
  • Facial Scruff: His brief appearance in the second episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has Zemo with this due to his time spent in prison. Downplayed in that it looks relatively thin despite having been locked up for eight years at this point, and he shaves it off shortly after.
  • Fantastic Racism: He has a distaste for enhanced individuals in general, and super soldiers in specific. Specially if such super soldiers are put on pedestals he deems completely unearned.
  • Flaw Exploitation: He turns the Avengers, particularly Steve and Tony, against each other through a series of Batman Gambits with the ultimate goal of making them fight each other to the death — or if not that, at least to the point of no longer being a cohesive unit. In particular, he reveals to Tony the truth of what happened to his parents knowing that he'll go into an Unstoppable Rage against Bucky and that Cap will prioritise keeping Bucky alive even at Tony's expense.
  • Friendly Enemy: After breaking out of prison, Zemo is nothing but cordial and respectful towards Sam and Bucky, even as they blatantly express their distrust towards him because of what he did in Civil War. During their collaboration, Zemo discusses his philosophical/political thoughts with Sam and Bucky in a loose way, allowing them to counter his arguments and recognizing what he agrees with. He also happily indulges in dancing and drinking alongside his would-be enemies without ever betraying them. Finally, he allows himself to be taken back to prison after accomplishing his goals, holding no ill will towards Sam or Bucky as he leaves with the Dora Milaje.
  • Friend to All Children: Invoked in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. In the fourth episode, Zemo earns the trust of a few children in Latvia by offering them sweets in exchange for information. But he also uses to opportunity to manipulate them into thinking Bucky and Sam aren't to be trusted.
  • From Camouflage to Criminal: An ex-special forces Colonel from Sokovia who eventually turned to a life of crime when he lost everything.
  • Foil:
    • To the Power Broker, aka Sharon Carter. Both of them are filthy rich adversaries to our heroes that want to stop the Flag-Smashers at all costs. However, Zemo was born wealthy due to being a Baron and has no interest in acquiring more power for himself, whereas the Power Broker made their fortune by illegal means over the span of a couple of years, and wants to make themselves even more powerful and rich. Zemo also opposes the Flag-Smashers for philosophical reasons, while the Power Broker only wants to stop them because they interfered with their business.
    • Zemo is also contrasted with John Walker. Both are on a mission to stop the Flag Smashers, but while Zemo is an independent agent with complex philosophical motivations who relies primarily on cunning and intelligence, Walker is a blunt instrument of the U.S. government who consistently favors brute force over more subtle methods or negotiation. When presented with an opportunity to inject themselves with the super soldier serum, Zemo remains steadfast in his belief that no one should have this power and immediately begins to destroy the vials, whereas Walker succumbs to the temptation and takes the last remaining vial for himself.
    • To Wanda Maximoff. Both were proud Sokovians who held the Avengers responsible for the destruction of their country and the deaths of their families. Wanda was born into poverty while Zemo was born into wealth. Wanda's love for her country and hatred for those she blamed for destroying it led her to join HYDRA, while Zemo's patriotism led him to a military career. Wanda is one of the most powerful enhanced humans in the MCU, while Zemo is a Badass Normal who hates the existence of powered individuals. Wanda let go of her desire for revenge and wants nothing more than the simple life she grew up watching in old American TV shows, while Zemo doesn't care that his quest for vengeance led to a life in prison.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: When he infiltrates the UN compound to activate the Winter Soldier, he wears a pair of glasses as part of his disguise.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare:
    • Zemo was "just" a special forces operative, but when his family was killed, he used his intel on HYDRA to take on the Avengers and came closer to destroying the team than any previous villain.
    • Falcon and the Winter Soldier reveals that at some point, he became involved with the criminal underground, under the simple but accurate alias of "Baron".
  • Gambit Roulette: The final part his master plan relies on little other than his assumptions on the personalities and capabilities of various characters after studying thousands of pieces of intel from HYDRA and S.H.I.E.L.D. that Black Widow dumped online back in Winter Soldier. The whole thing would have fallen apart if...
    • A) Captain America and Bucky had captured Zemo before Iron Man arrived (then again, he was in a fortified bunker that would take serious fire-power to break through).
    • B) Iron Man had not figured out where Cap and Bucky were headed in the first place.
    • C) Iron Man had not come alone, meaning there might have been someone to restrain him or talk him down after he learned the truth.
    • D) Black Panther had succeeded in killing Bucky during one of their three fights during the course of the film (of course it’s highly unlikely that he even knew the Black Panther existed).
    • E) Captain America told Iron Man that the deaths of his parents were orchestrated by HYDRA.
  • Genius Sweet Tooth: A first-rate genius who loves Turkish delights, a treat known for its overbearing sweetness. They were also his son's favorite candy.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Sam and Bucky see recruiting him to stop the Flag-Smashers at this...and ultimately cross it when they run out of options.
  • Graceful Loser: Turns himself in to the Wakandan authorities with no hard feelings.
    Tropes H to X 
  • Heads I Win, Tails You Lose: In Captain America: Civil War, even if any of the remaining Avengers had been present and prevented things from escalating between Iron Man and Captain America in the HYDRA compound, Zemo still would’ve won because his entire goal was for the Avengers to disband - whether through an amicable parting-of-ways or a bloodbath - it was always a matter of how big his win would be. The only real flaw in his plan was the interference of Black Panther, and the creation of the Sokovia Accords, both of which he’d have no way to account for.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: He wants to take revenge for the death of his family, which he blames on the Avengers for causing collateral damage in the Battle of Sokovia. In doing so, he is responsible for the deaths of dozens of innocent people himself. He even earns someone coming after him for revenge in T'Challa.
  • Hidden Agenda Villain: His motives remain unclear for much of Civil War and are only revealed as the final battle is taking place.
  • Hidden Depths: Like Sam, he's a fan of Marvin Gaye and considers "Trouble Man" a masterpiece.
  • High Collar of Doom: He does the Marquee Alter Ego and Not Wearing Tights through the whole of Civil War, but his winter gear in the third act features a large collar turned up, giving off this vibe. His supervillain gear in Falcon and the Winter Soldier also features one of these, albeit with his comic self's fur trim included.
  • Human Shield: Thanks to his EKO Scorpion training, is fully capable of taking hostages to hide and shoot behind, as a group of assassins in Madripoor discovered.
  • Hypocrite:
    • Zemo hates the Avengers after the collateral damage they caused killed his family. So he decides to split the team up and in the process causes collateral damage that kills other people's family members.
    • Zemo believes that "gods" like the Avengers should not be allowed to exist. Sam points out that by decreeing who deserves to exist, he's speaking like a god.
  • Interrupted Suicide: After explaining his motivations to T'Challa and apologizing for the death of his father, Zemo tries to shoot himself in the head. T'Challa, however, has none of that, and stops him to make sure he pays for his crimes and turns him over to the authorities.
  • It's Personal: Zemo has a personal vendetta against the Avengers. His family was killed during the Battle of Sokovia and he simply wants revenge on those he holds responsible. As pointed out in Beware the Superman, he extends this to any Super Soldier held in such high regard, which is why he has no problem teaming up with Sam (who's more or less Badass Normal like himself) and Bucky (who is a Super Soldier, but isn't exactly held in high regard). When he, Sam, Bucky, and Sharon come across the HYDRA scientist responsible for creating more Super Soldiers after the failed Siberian Winter Soldiers, Zemo quietly and stoically shoots the man before the team is attacked.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch:
    • Tortures and kills Vasily Karpov for information. Karpov is not only a still loyal HYDRA operative but one of the main leaders of the Winter Soldier project and ordered the death of the Starks and his slow death is just desserts. He does the same to the HYDRA scientist responsible for making more Super Soldiers in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, finishing his work from Siberia.
    • He also happily participates in the interrogation of Doctor Nagel, the Mad Scientist who recreated the Super Soldier Serum via human experimentation, and personally guns the man down.
  • Kill and Replace: Murders the psychologist who was supposed to be evaluating Bucky and takes his place, taking the opportunity to activate Bucky's brainwashing during the evaluation.
  • Knight of Cerebus: He's a Villainous Underdog, but he manages to tear the Avengers apart through tactics. Unlike previous villains, his methods includes manipulating Tony into trying to execute Bucky to avenge the deaths of his parents and turning on Steve in the process. Averted in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier when his Laughably Evil side lightens the mood.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em:
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • He uses Bucky's Trigger Phrase while the latter's locked in an apparatus, making him go on a rampage. By the end of Civil War, he himself is locked in the same apparatus.
    • He kills T'Challa's father in the course of his Evil Plan. After T'Challa learns the truth about this, he foils Zemo's attempted suicide to ensure he faces justice for his crimes.
  • Last-Name Basis: So far, nobody in the MCU has called him by his first name Helmut.
  • Laughably Evil: Downplayed the next time he makes an appearance as he becomes The Comically Serious in an Endearingly Dorky kind of way when he joins in Sam's conversation with Bucky to praise Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man" soundtrack, or his lame dancing in Sharon's nightclub.
  • Leitmotif: When he appears in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, he's accompanied by a distinctly foreboding tune.
  • Manipulative Bastard: He is very skilled at manipulation, having studied the Avengers' psychological profiles in order to exploit their individual weaknesses and play them against each other.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Zemo is a baron and more than loaded, owning a private jet, a fleet of classic cars, a personal retainer, and plenty of money and stashed resources.
  • Marquee Alter Ego: In Civil War, Zemo does not wear a mask — or any kind of costume at all, unlike his comic book counterpart. This changes in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
  • Master of Disguise: Zemo uses prosthetics and heavy makeup in order to convincingly make himself look like Bucky Barnes in the security cameras, fooling just about everyone into thinking the latter was responsible for the UN explosion. He later pulls a Kill and Replace on the psychiatrist who was intended to interview a contained Bucky with no one none the wiser until things start going wrong. Although the latter example is downplayed as when Tony finally discovers the real psychiatrist's body, he looks decidedly nothing like Zemo's impersonation of him.
  • Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All: Sure, Zemo might be imprisoned in the Raft at the end of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but he's still got a loyal butler who's willing to blow up a prison transport with the remaining Flag-Smashers inside of it while he relaxes and reads in solitary confinement. Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine also implies that she's in contact with Zemo and are collaborating on mutually shared goals (such as the aforementioned transport bombing).
  • Military Superhero: Or more like "Military Anti-Villain" once Zemo officially dons his comic book persona in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, undergoes a complete Adaptational Heroism in contrast to his original depiction and cooperates with Sam and Bucky in aiding them to fight the Flag Smashers, using his black-ops military combat training to his advantage and even wearing his Cool Mask from his time as a spec-ops colonel.
  • Minored In Ass Kicking: As former special forces, he knows how to fight - and damn well at that, but his speciality is squarely in intelligence, subterfuge and sabotage. And considering he's the only MCU villain with a consistent win-streak, he's second to none in those categories.
  • Misplaced Retribution: Zemo holds the Avengers responsible for all the damage Ultron caused; while Tony and Bruce did create Ultron (after the former was influenced by Wanda), the "end all human life" thing was still his idea. The rest of the Avengers, however didn't know about Tony's plan, and did their best to stop Ultron once he went rogue.
  • Moral Myopia: He seeks to avenge his family, but he ends up killing multiple innocents who surely had family of their own. He acknowledges this, seeing as how he apologizes to Black Panther for killing his father but by that time he’s hoping to be killed so he can join his family, either by T’Challa or his own hand, so it’s more about easing his conscience rather than remorse for what his actions indirectly caused.
  • Movie Superheroes Wear Black: Instead of the purple and gold costume he had in the comics, he sticks to dark civilian clothes. Near the end of Civil War, he has a pitch-black coat with a large collar. In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, he has a long, black coat that incorporates the classic ermine trim on his collar, though he does wear the signature purple mask for one scene.
  • Nazi Hunter: As part of his Adaptational Nice Guy he's no longer a member of the Nazi-affiliated and fascistic HYDRA group, but is shown to despise and openly oppose them, telling Karpov that "HYDRA deserves its place on the ash heap". The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has him openly despise Nazis and reveals that he'd been hunting down and killing HYDRA members for years as part of his quest to destroy the Super Serum, long before the destruction of Sokovia.
  • Necessary Evil: How Bucky, and especially Sam, view him in their fight against the Flag-Smashers. No one knows more about the super-soldier serum and Hydra than Zemo, and fortunately for them, they have a common enemy in the Flag-Smashers.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: While his plan does succeed in its goal, it does allow Steve to find Bucky, after fruitlessly spending two years scouring the Earth for him, and gives them an ally who can get the brainwashing out of Bucky's head.
  • Nice to the Waiter: He is quite friendly and courteous to both a staff member of the hotel he stayed at for Civil War, and his old family butler.
  • No-Nonsense Nemesis: Zemo is an extremely pragmatic man who knows full well that he's just an ordinary person in an extraordinary world, and realizes that it will give him no quarter if he were to dally about with regards to his vengeance. He has no choice but to be utterly cutthroat if he wants to complete his goal. This is especially shown in his first full-blown action sequence in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, taking down assassins after himself and the heroes in a surprise attack that wouldn't be out of place in a first-person shooter game.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Although he has military training, he never directly fights any of the Avengers in Civil War, acknowledging that he could never physically stand up to the likes of them. Instead, he relies more on subterfuge and deception. Becomes a Subverted Trope by the time of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, showing he's fully capable of taking down several assassins after the heroes, though all of them are still normal humans.
  • Not So Above It All: After being freed from prison in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Zemo shows that he isn't a stoic and unpleasant individual 24/7. Notably, he jumps in on Sam and Bucky's conversation about Marvin Gaye's Troubleman soundtrack to give his own thoughts on the record, and he can be seen thoroughly enjoying himself Madripoor, drinking quite a bit of hard liquor and awkwardly dancing at the Little Princess nightclub.
  • Nothing Left to Do but Die: After getting Tony to fight Steve and Bucky, Zemo decides to listen to his wife's voicemail one last time, before deleting it and attempting to commit suicide. T'Challa decides not to let him take the easy way out and thwarts the suicide attempt.
  • Not Hyperbole: In episode 5 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Zemo tells Bucky that he's decided not to kill him. At first it seems like hyperbole on Zemo's part, given that he's unarmed and Bucky has him cornered and at gunpoint. However, episode 6 shows Zemo had already made arrangements for the Flag Smashers to be discretely killed once all the excitement was over, even if he himself was already captured or killed. From his experiences with him over the past few days, Zemo apparently had decided that killing Bucky wasn't necessary despite him being an enhanced human, and thus hadn't made any such arrangements for him.
  • Nothing Personal: He tells T'Challa that he is sorry for killing his father and that he seemed like a good man in Civil War. While conversing with Bucky for the first time since the events of that film in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, he says this verbatim about using him to tear apart the Avengers.
  • Not Wearing Tights: He doesn't wear anything remotely resembling a costume in Civil War. However, he dons the purple mask in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: His son was a casualty from the Avengers' fight with Ultron.
  • Old Money: He is generationally wealthy due to his family being Sokovian royalty.
  • Only Sane Man: In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it says a lot about Sam's present circle of associates that (other than Sharon Carter) Zemo is by far the most mentally well-balanced individual Sam has around him at his job.
  • Outside-Context Problem: To the Flag-Smashers. They anticipated most of the threats they would face (The Power Broker, a few Avengers, the new Captain America, and the government) but not Zemo. As such, when he launches an attack on them they don't see it coming as seen when he manages to intercept Karli, destroy the serums she has, and came close to killing her and when he orders his butler to blow up the prisoner transport containing the remaining Flag-Smashers, killing all of them at once.
  • Papa Wolf: The reason he's out to destroy the Avengers? His family was killed in their fight with Ultron.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Averted. As Zemo himself remarks ruefully, while he served in Sokovia's armed forces, his drive for vengeance isn't out of any love for the country, as he never actually had much patriotic feeling. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier shows that he does have some serious grievances over how it ended up, though, even chastising Sam and Bucky for not visiting the memorial.
  • Pet the Dog: During a debate with Sam and Bucky, he concedes the point that Steve was the only super-soldier who was never corrupted in any way, but also points out there has never been another Steve Rogers. In Episode 5, while Bucky has him at gunpoint, he tells him that he has decided not to kill him, and as a sign of respect, crossed his name off in Bucky's book before turning himself in peacefully to the Dora Milaje. Episode 6 reveals that Zemo wasn't fooling around - he legitimately could have had Bucky killed at any point, but decided not to. In his own way, he was acknowledging that Bucky may very well be that second Steve Rogers.
  • Politically Correct Villain: As part of his Adaptational Nice Guy he's no longer a member of the Nazi-affiliated and fascistic HYDRA group, but is a fan of Marvin Gaye and understands Trouble Man (Sam's favorite album) to be a condensation of the African-American experience. Also berates Sam for stereotyping himself as a "pimp" just because he's flamboyantly dressed.
  • Purple Is Powerful: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier sees Zemo don a purple mask, coat, and gloves as he resurfaces to the criminal world.
  • Put on a Prison Bus: Zemo is taken to prison by Black Panther before he can commit suicide, ultimately sitting out the next few years until his return in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. And it happens again in Episode 5 of the aforementioned series, where he's taken by the Dora Milaje to the Raft.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Zemo succeeds in fracturing the Avengers and getting the majority of them branded as fugitives, but he is also captured by Black Panther and still has to face prosecution for the murders he committed. It also works vice versa on his capture being a Pyrrhic Victory for the heroes. Best summarized by the following exchange:
    Everett K. Ross: So how does it feel? To spend all that time, all that effort, and to see it fail so spectacularly?
    Helmut Zemo: ...Did it?
  • Red Baron: Or in this case, just “the Baron”, as his alias in the criminal underworld.
  • Red Herring: Initially, early in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, there were hints that he would double-cross Sam and Bucky and act as part of the Big Bad Ensemble, however, by Episode 5, it turns out not to be the case as he willingly turn himself in to the authorities without a fight. He does screw them over in small ways though, one of them being making the two look bad in front of children.
  • Retcon: Downplayed. Civil War did not go out of its way to show he was particularly wealthy, with him seeming to be just be a Sokovian soldier before the disaster. Falcon and the Winter Soldier reveals that he is well off and his family were 'like royalty' with him claiming the title of Baron. This seems to have been done to push him to be more in line with his comic counterpart.
  • Revenge Myopia: Getting his revenge was worth anything — including inflicting upon others the same pain he complained about suffering. Lampshaded at the end of the movie, when T'Challa observes that the revenge he seeks has consumed him. Worse still, because he tore the Avengers apart, they had no gameplan and were unable to present a united front against Thanos, leading to even more families the universe over being devastated by the Snap.
  • Rogues Gallery Transplant: Downplayed. While Zemo is still an enemy of Captain America and The Falcon as he was in the comics, he also ends up becoming an enemy of Black Panther's, due to his involvement in King T'Chaka's death. It extends to the entire nation of Wakanda as well, as they immediately dispatch Ayo to apprehend him when he escapes from prison in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: His noble lineage while serving in the Sokovian special forces makes him this.
  • Secretly Wealthy: He may have been living the gritty villain life in Civil War (probably to fly under the radar), but The Falcon and the Winter Soldier reveals that he is a wealthy Baron like his comics counterpart. Sam even reacts with "So all this time, you've been rich?"
  • A Sinister Clue: Zemo is left-handed and is the Big Bad of Civil War. Shooting a gun with his left hand starts off his Big Damn Villains moment in Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
  • Suicide by Cop: After apologizing to T'Challa for killing his father, he says that he seemed like a good man "with a dutiful son", saying this last part with a meaningful glance, obviously hinting that he's fine with T'Challa taking vengeance upon him now. When T'Challa refuses to do so, Zemo attempts to just shoot himself, but T'Challa thwarts this effort as well.
  • Superhero Movie Villains Die: Subverted. After completing his plan to turn Iron Man and Captain America against each other, he first attempts Suicide by Black Panther. Attempts being the operative word, as T'Challa refuses when he realises how close he came to turning out like Zemo. As a result, Zemo attempts to shoot himself in the head, but Black Panther stops him and turns him into the authorities, leaving him incarcerated but very much alive.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, as most of Bucky's and Sam's story and dynamic are sometimes told from his viewpoint during his team-up with them.
  • The Sixth Ranger: The initial Duo of Bucky and Sam becomes a trio 3 episodes into The Falcon and the Winter Soldier when he joins up with them.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: One of the main reasons his plan works so well. Unlike Loki and Ultron, there's nothing from his appearance that would suggest he's more than just an everyday guy, and he uses that to his advantage to fly under the heroes' radar until he's required to show his hand.
  • Token Evil Teammate: He joins up with Bucky and Sam in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but while he's cooperative and even occasionally friendly, he's had no Heel–Face Turn nor a desire to make up for his actions in Civil War, simply wanting to take down the Flag-Smashers to 'finish his work'.
  • Took a Level in Cheerfulness: He's much more upbeat in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier than he was in Captain America: Civil War. Which makes sense: in the latter he had just lost his family and was on a revenge quest whereas in the former the stakes aren't as personal and he's had time to grieve for his family in prison, meaning he has the time and temperament to joke around, make fun of "allies" and dance badly.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Downplayed, but in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, he's much friendlier with Sam and Bucky than he was with Tony and Steve in Civil War. Justified, as this time around he's working together with them to take down the Flag-Smashers and even then he still takes the time to engage them in relatively civil conversations.
  • Too Kinky to Torture: Implied when Walker handcuffs him to a boiler on the way to stopping Karli. Zemo's reaction is one of bemused approval, complimenting Walker on his aggression.
  • Tragic Villain: He pursues his vengeance purely because he feels he has nothing else to live for without his family. This is highlighted by his decision to goad Black Panther into killing him and, when that doesn't work, shoot himself.
  • Tranquil Fury: Despite spending the whole movie on a murderous crusade, Zemo avoids all the theatrics of Loki or Ultron and seldom even raises his voice. This includes when he finally spells out his motives to the heroes.
  • Tritagonist: Of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, when he teams up with Sam and Bucky in their crusade to defeat the Flag Smashers, while being more developed as a character in contrast to his debut in Civil War along the way of the narrative. However after having turning himself in to the Wakandan authorities in the fifth episode, John Walker once again takes up this role in the season finale after initially appearing to be a Decoy Protagonist in regards to this role for his seemingly Face–Heel Turn killing of Nico at the end of Episode 4.
  • Troll: Even though he's not really all that evil, he is a good bit of a dick. When he's not manipulating or killing those around him, he gleefully enjoys messing with people, as seen in his reappearance in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, reciting Bucky's trigger phrase, knowing it doesn't work, just to upset him, needling Sam about his experience in the Raft, telling his retainer to serve Sam and Bucky them any food that's gone off, and constantly throwing pointed jabs their way at every opportunity.
  • Truer to the Text: Zemo in Civil War was a borderline In Name Only depiction of him. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier retroactively adds a lot more aspects of the original comic character, such as his noble status, his costume, and his physical prowess.
  • Unknown Rival: To the Flag-Smashers, particularly Karli Morgenthau. Due to being enhanced with the super-soldier serum, Zemo considers the Flag-Smashers to be dangerous individuals, and is more than willing to form an Enemy Mine with Sam and Bucky to take them down. Karli on the other hand, isn't even aware that Zemo exists until he shoots her and destroys the serum right in front of her. Even then, she seems more content to get up and run than to try to confront him for his actions.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: He successfully managed to break up the Avengers, hoping to bring down the most powerful team of beings in the universe to avenge the deaths of his family. Unfortunately for him, it worked a little too well, as they don't stand on a united front when Thanos arrives and, despite putting up a good fight, get flattened by the Mad Titan. Said Mad Titan then uses the Infinity Stones to wipe out half of all life in the universe, turning the world into a total mess that it spends five years trying to recover from until the Avengers find a way to set things right. Even when they do undo the Snap, the world falls into utter chaos once again trying to handle those that were restored to life, leading to the Flag-Smashers taking rise and causing just enough trouble to force Bucky and Sam to bust Zemo out of jail to help them.
  • Villain Has a Point: In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Zemo explains at length why he doesn't believe that super soldiers should be allowed to exist, and brings up some very convincing arguments about the dangers of idolizing people with superhuman abilities.
    • He specifically notes how the personal loyalty inspired by Steve Rogers to Sam and Bucky drives them to dangerous extremes—even breaking the law much like they did to free him. Sam and Bucky do not protest the point. While Zemo admits that Steve himself was not corrupted by the power he was given, he also points out there was only one of him compared to the many who would abuse it. He is proven right when John Walker takes the super soldier serum and immediately uses his new powers to execute a surrendering Flag-Smasher in public.
    • Zemo also warns Sam that Karli has become too radicalized (especially after taking the Super Soldier Serum) and it's pointless to try to talk her down. The finale proves Zemo right when Karli tries to kill Sam after he's foiled her plans.
  • Villain Protagonist: In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, he teams up with Sam and Bucky to take down the Flag Smashers, getting more screen time and more of his development unlike in Civil War. In a bit of a subversion, he ends up committing very little actual villainy other than arranging for the deaths of the remaining Flag-Smashers.
  • Villain Respect:
    • As of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Zemo develops this towards Sam Wilson due to his refusal to be enhanced into a super soldier while maintaining his idealistic outlook. He also concedes that Steve Rogers was not corrupted by the power he obtained but holds him as an exception.
    • When Bucky defies Zemo's assessment of him (i.e. that he is still, deep down, the Winter Soldier) by having him dead-to-rights at gunpoint, and then revealing its magazine empty—wordlessly asserting he is no longer that man—Zemo respectfully concedes and wishes him well before being taken into custody.
  • Villainous Underdog: He's not a Physical God, not an alien, nor a Super Soldier. He's just a former military colonel with patience, a simple yet effective plan, and The Power of Hate. This is exactly why Sam and Bucky decide to bring him into their crusade against the Flag-Smashers.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Invoked. Zemo is a professionally trained special ops colonel who has the combat skills to take down regular men with ease. However, he knows that no amount of skill can destroy a group of enhanced individuals like the Avengers, and so relies on his manipulation and espionage skills to turn them against each other instead.
  • Weapon of Choice: A Smith and Wesson 6906 pistol, which he uses to execute the other Winter Soldiers and attempt suicide.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Zemo's objective in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is to stop the creation of any and all super soldiers, believing that they become symbols of supremacism and fascism like the Red Skull once did. He accomplishes this in the fourth episode by shooting Karli Morgenthau multiple times and then smashing the remaining vials as Nico is helping her escape him.
  • What You Are in the Dark: When Zemo corners Karli and discovers the last of the Super Soldier Serum in her possession, rather than take it for himself, which would have made his mission a lot easier, he smashes the vials and would have successfully destroyed them all had Walker not intervened.
  • Wicked Cultured: He's a connoisseur of music and art, as revealed in Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: He has quite a sympathetic motive for his mission of revenge against the Avengers, namely that he blames them for the death of his family.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess:
    • He's not in control of everything that happens in Civil War (for one thing, he has nothing to do with the Sokovia Accords), but he's good at taking advantage of unexpected situations to further his plans.
    • Even more so in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. In Civil War, at least he still instigates most of the events, but in the show, he's broken out of prison without having expected to and is more or less thrust into an ongoing conflict he has nothing to do with. He still manages to play the heroes and the villains and has gotten away largely unscathed, once again having succeeded at what he set out to do]].

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