Why Ghost Belongs in Marvel Studios’ ‘Thunderbolts’
Thunderbolts is one of Marvel Studios’ biggest question marks at the moment. From a team lineup that consists of mostly super-soldiers to the absence of popular comic mainstays like Zemo and Songbird, fans have a few concerns. But a new rumor recently gave us a much bigger reason to worry.
According to a few reliable leakers, it seemed like Hannah John-Kamen’s Ava Starr had been removed from the upcoming film. Luckily, those same leakers are now saying Ghost is still a part of the team, something I’m very happy to hear.
Ghost’s potential removal didn’t sit well with me at all. I assumed Marvel Studios had removed the character due to script rewrites, reasoning I found awful. It would needlessly embarrass Hannah John-Kamen who had already begun Thunderbolts promotion with her appearance at 2022’s D23 Expo. But more importantly, I think Ghost has the opportunity to become the beating heart of Thunderbolts, and John-Kamen deserves her shot at proper MCU stardom.
Ghost is the one character who offers variety and depth to the MCU’s Thunderbolts. Everyone’s been joking about how the team consists of people who do the exact same thing, and they’re completely correct. We’ve got three Captain America-style super-soldiers (Winter Soldier, Red Guardian, U.S. Agent) and two Black Widows (Yelena, Taskmaster). In this lineup, Ghost is the only Thunderbolts member with actual superpowers and the emotional complexity needed to anchor the film.
Ghost provides an immediate emotional center to Thunderbolts based on her tragic backstory alone and losing it will dull the film’s impact on its central characters. I’m excited to see Yelena lead the Thunderbolts but I firmly believe Bucky should not be part of this team in any capacity. Red Guardian and U.S. Agent are solid characters but don’t have much depth going into Thunderbolts. Taskmaster is a blank slate with a bright future which is why I’m excited to see her return, but she also lacks any real character development. However, all of these characters have one very important shared connection.
Shared tragedy among the Thunderbolts
Every character on this team has been used or manipulated in some way. Yelena and Bucky were kidnapped, brainwashed, and used as tools for organizations with nefarious purposes. Red Guardian was betrayed by a trusted friend, the same man who took away his own daughter’s free will to turn her into a more efficient weapon than his Black Widows. John Walker’s reputation was tarnished by his own murderous actions, but he was set on that path by a government that chose to lie and manipulate rather than let Sam Wilson become Captain America.
Ghost’s trauma goes back to her childhood just like Yelena and Taskmaster, but it’s compounded by her torturous existence as a result of her exposure to the Quantum Realm. As explained in Ant-Man and the Wasp, Ava Starr gained phasing abilities after her father’s Quantum Tunnel exploded, causing her to become intangible for brief periods. Her powers cause her extreme pain and eventually, they will tear her apart. After Bill Foster found her, S.H.I.E.L.D. built Ava a containment suit and promised to cure her, but only if she became a stealth assassin for them.
Instead, S.H.I.E.L.D. lied about the cure and continued to use Ava until HYDRA’s existence was exposed and both organizations collapsed. Ava was adopted by Bill Foster and tried to cure herself in 2018, but her status during and after the Blip are unknown after Scott was trapped in the Quantum Realm while collecting the particles necessary to heal her. Ava is clearly alive and well if she’s intended to appear in Thunderbolts, though.
Much like other members of the team, Ava has been manipulated and used as an assassin against her will. But unlike the Black Widows, Ava wasn’t brainwashed. She wasn’t working for an openly evil organization. She thought S.H.I.E.L.D. were good guys who would help her in the end.
While all of these characters were traumatized from childhood and turned into deadly weapons, Ghost doesn’t have the luxury of blaming someone else for her actions. Hank Pym may have inadvertently ruined her life, but there’s no Dreykov-like figure to blame for Ghost’s murders. That’s important for a few reasons.
The Thunderbolts’ motivation
We don’t know much about Thunderbolts yet aside from the team being assembled by the U.S. government. Based on the concept art and her MCU appearances to date, we can assume the team is supervised by CIA director Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, played by Harrison Ford, is rumored to appear in the film as well, which makes perfect sense since he gives the team its name.
However, it’s unknown what capacity he and Val will appear in. Will they be part of the main team or simply the puppet masters behind the Thunderbolts’ actions? Either way, the audience and Yelena know Val is not to be trusted - but do any of the other members?
None of these characters are bad people. They are complex and morally grey, sometimes serving as antagonists to MCU heroes, but none of them are evil and truly villainous. Ghost is the only real “villain” on the team, but she was only trying to heal herself through any means necessary. Unfortunately those means meant killing Janet van Dyne, but Ghost’s backstory and personal motivation made her the MCU’s first true antagonist rather than outright villain.
Basically, while Thunderbolts may be Marvel’s Suicide Squad, I believe the key difference is that the Thunderbolts want to do some good. They aren’t being forced into running government missions, they’re agents for hire who signed contracts because the government wants a replacement for the Avengers. This is seen with Yelena, who’s encouraged to get into contract work by a former Widow, as well as John Walker. Walker chose to be a hero at the end of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, with Val recruiting him because she needed someone a little rougher than Captain America.
To me, the MCU’s Thunderbolts are a group who have been through traumatic experiences and done terrible things who want to make themselves better people. I think they’re all looking to wipe some red out of their ledgers and this is the opportunity that’s presented itself. Ghost and Taskmaster have powerful abilities and no real life in the civilian world, so why wouldn’t they try to use those abilities for good? Why not try to be a hero to make up for the horrific past you were forced into?
Val’s true intentions
That’s where Val and (Thunderbolt) Ross come in. As we’ve seen in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the U.S. government is not to be trusted. Val has her own agenda and is very willing to get her hands dirty, going as far as manipulating Yelena into murdering her sister’s best friend. Whatever mission the Thunderbolts are on, I don’t think it’s anything good.
While they might believe they’re going to be heroes, whatever Val has planned for them will certainly have a nasty twist. Recent rumors have pointed towards Val wanting vibranium or adamantium, and I could easily see her sending the Thunderbolts to retrieve it under false pretenses.
Essentially, the Thunderbolts will all be manipulated and used by yet another organization with a twisted agenda. That realization will definitely cause some dramatic soul-searching, but its effects will be most profound on Ghost. Ava Starr is the only member who’s been tricked by an official U.S. government organization before. Val’s true intentions will undoubtedly trigger Ava’s trauma in ways that differ from Taskmaster’s experiences with the Red Room or Bucky’s with HYDRA.
Whether Val is trying to cover up her own mistakes or start a war with Wakanda, she’ll be manipulating the Thunderbolts into something they wouldn’t knowingly do. Ghost needs to be the emotional center of this twist. Yelena and Bucky may be our lead characters, but Thunderbolts has an opportunity to do something truly special with Ghost and elevate her character by framing her trauma against everyone else’s.
The future of Thunderbolts
I’ve been championing Thunderbolts since the day it was announced. It’s the MCU movie I’m most looking forward to (although Captain America: New World Order is giving it a run for its money). I expect these two films to act as de facto Avengers-level crossover events, finally bringing Phases Four and Five together in a major way. My excitement level is through the roof, but Ghost’s removal would’ve brought it crashing down.
Of course, even if Ghost is removed from Thunderbolts, she could be worked into another project in the future. But with her storyline not continuing in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, it’s hard to envision a project more perfect for Ava Starr than Thunderbolts. Ghost's absence from the team would be a huge missed opportunity for a character who's poised for bigger and better things.
In Thunderbolts, Ava Starr is unique among several characters with nearly-identical abilities and backstories. Removing her from the film would have been a disservice to the character, to Hannah John-Kamen, and to the emotional arc of the film itself. Ghost has a chance to be at the center of Val’s inevitable betrayal, grounding every character’s tortured past to her own trauma. Her presence adds layers to the team that Thunderbolts sorely needs, and I can only hope Marvel gives Ghost the opportunity to become another incredible MCU antihero.
What do you think of Ghost’s potential removal from Thunderbolts? Sound off in the comments below!