Although Avengers: Endgame wasn’t the final movie of Phase 3 and the Infinity Saga (that honor belongs to Spider-Man: Far From Home), it did simultaneously wrap up a lot of lingering plot threads and honor most, if not all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies that came before. As an example of the latter, it turns that Endgame hid a cool reference to Arnim Zola, Captain America’s enemy from World War II who returned in Captain America: The Winter Soldier as a digitized threat.
You’ll recall that in Avengers: Endgame, after they failed to secure the Tesseract in 2012 New York, Tony Stark and Steve Rogers traveled back to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s headquarters in 1970 to retrieve that era’s version of the glowing cube and some extra Pym Particles. It’s there, specifically in the underground bunker area, that Tony runs into his father, Howard Stark, and it turns out this bunker is also where Arnim Zola has been carrying out some special work, as you’ll notice below.
Cinesite was part of the creative team behind Avengers: Endgame’s VFX work, and in a new video, the group confirmed that way in the back of the bunker, one of the primitive computers is displaying Arnim Zola’s face. That lines up with the established MCU canon, as while Toby Jones’ Zola is still alive in 1970, by this point he would be experimenting with a way to download his consciousness into a computer system.
Arnim Zola first appeared during Captain America: The First Avenger as one of HYDRA’s lead scientists and the Red Skull’s right-hand man. Zola was captured by Captain America and the Howling Commandos towards the end of World War II, but as part of Operation Paperclip, he was recruited into the newly-formed S.H.I.E.L.D.
That proved to be a mistake, as in the following decades, Arnim Zola would secretly rebuild HYDRA from within S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ranks, as well as turn Bucky Barnes into the Winter Soldier, the terrorist group’s most efficient assassin. And while we didn’t see him in Avengers: Endgame, Zola was most definitely on the Camp Lehigh premises, as Dr. Hank Pym was familiar with him.
By 1972, Arnim Zola received a terminal diagnosis, but before his body died, he successfully transferred his consciousness into that special computer system, allowing him to continue HYDRA’s work from cyberspace. He remained there until Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff discovered his mainframe during the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier in the same bunker where Tony and Howard crossed paths. Zola would perish soon after when HYDRA destroyed the complex in an attempt to eliminate Steve and Natasha.
Arnim Zola’s digital presence in Captain America: The Winter Soldier echoed how in the comics, the man transferred his consciousness into a robot body that displayed his face on a chest plate. However, unlike his comic counterpart, who frequently escapes death’s clutches (like a lot of comic book characters) the cinematic Zola appears to gone for good, with Toby Jones only playing the character once more for a cameo in the 1940s-set TV series Agent Carter (though he almost showed up in Ant-Man).
However, Toby Jones is set to vocally reprise Arnim Zola in the animated Disney+ series What If… ?, which will explore major events in the MCU and show what happened if they had different outcomes. So if alternate history its your thing, be on the lookout to see how Zola’s life could have branched off in this upcoming show.
Avengers: Endgame is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD. If you’re curious about what movies are coming in the MCU’s Phase 4 and beyond, look through our handy guide.