The MCU's Samuel Sterns alongside comic book artwork of the Leader

Who Is Captain America: Brave New World’s Villain?

Captain America: Brave New World marks Sam Wilson’s first big screen outing as the new Sentinel of Liberty – so, which baddie is Marvel Studios pitting him against? Here’s everything we know about Captain America: Brave New World‘s villain.

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Samuel Sterns transforms into the Leader in The Incredible Hulk

Captain America: Brave New World‘s villain is Samuel Sterns/The Leader. He’s a cellular biologist who has only appeared in one other MCU movie: 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. There, as in the fourth solo Captain America outing, he is portrayed by acclaimed character actor Tim Blake Nelson. Sterns doesn’t actually use the “Leader” moniker in The Incredible Hulk, however, the film does cover his physical transformation into his evil alter-ego. Following a violent encounter with Emil Blonsky/The Abomination, Sterns winds up on the floor of his lab with an open head wound. Some of Bruce Banner’s irradiated blood drips into the wound, causing Sterns’ noggin to expand dramatically.

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That’s the last we see of Sterns, and he’s not been mentioned in any subsequent MCU big or small screen projects to date – not even those with direct ties to The Incredible Hulk. That said, MCU tie-in comic The Avengers Prelude: Fury’s Big Week addresses Sterns’ current status, revealing that the former university professor is now under observation at a secure S.H.I.E.L.D. facility. Whether Captain America: Brave New World will open with Stern still in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody remains to be seen. But if it does, don’t expect him to stay behind bars for long, given he’s Brave New World‘s primary antagonist!

What We Know About The Leader From Marvel Comics Canon

The Leader has amassed a suitably large back catalog of comic book adventures since he debuted in 1964’s Tales to Astonish #62. In that time, he’s gone to great lengths to defeat the Hulk using his gamma radiation-powered genius and mental powers. Along the way, the Leader has also forged temporary partnerships with several of Hulk’s other foes, including General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. Harrison Ford is locked in to play Ross in Captain America: Brave New World, however, there’s no word yet if he’ll be in league with Nelson’s Leader.

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The comics also depict Sterns’ disfiguration as even more pronounced than in The Incredible Hulk. On the page, the Leader is green-skinned with an even larger cranium. More recent comics have pushed this design further, giving the top of Sterns’ head a brain-like deformity. It’s unclear how much of this will carry across to Captain America: Brave New World, although Fury’s Big Week indicates Sterns’ appearance is already edging closer to his comics counterpart’s.

Captain America: Brave New World arrives in cinemas on on February 14, 2025.


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Author
Leon Miller
Leon is a freelance contributor at The Escapist, covering movies, TV, video games, and comics. Active in the industry since 2016, Leon's previous by-lines include articles for Polygon, Popverse, Screen Rant, CBR, Dexerto, Cultured Vultures, PanelxPanel, Taste of Cinema, and more.