The Marvel ‘Phase Two’ sequel Thor: The Dark World is going to further explore the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), while directors Anthony and Joe Russo are going to shine a spotlight on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s efforts to keep things on Earth under control in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (which picks up shortly after Loki and the Chitauri’s invasion in The Avengers).

Last night, we received (semi-)official confirmation that Frank Grillo is playing Crossbones in Winter Soldier. However, nestled within that same report was an update on which members of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be joining Chris Evans in Captain America 2.

Rumors have been circulating for a while now that Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are both going to be involved with the proceedings Captain America sequel. The film is expected to pull double-duty as both a story that pits Steve Rogers against his presumed-dead BFF Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) – who has been resurrected as the titular brainwashed assassin – while also serving as a substitute for that rumored S.H.I.E.L.D. movie (now that Joss Whedon is instead developing a S.H.I.E.L.D. television series).

Johansson and Renner in ‘The Avengers’

Variety, in its report on Grillo, confirms that Johansson is returning for The Winter Soldier (Renner, for the time being, remains unconfirmed). In addition, Samuel L. Jackson is back as S.H.I.E.L.D. commander Nick Fury, who will likely start to have his authority challenged more and more by his second-in-command, Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, who is also confirmed for Captain America 2). The site reaffirms that Anthony Mackie is playing Falcon, but does not clarify whether or not he is a full-blown S.H.I.E.L.D. employee in the film.

We continue to get a clearer picture of Captain America: The Winter Soldier with each subsequent casting announcement; though, at this point, there doesn’t seem to be much room for more characters beyond S.H.I.E.L.D. agent – and possible Cap love interest – Sharon Carter (a role that Downton Abbey‘s Jessica Brown Findlay is currently rumored to be the front-runner for). Moreover, there’ve been unconfirmed rumors about Lost actor Josh Holloway circling an unspecified male lead role, which led us to speculate that Quasar alter-ego Agent Wendell Vaughn could likewise show up.

Concrete updates on these casting issues will be arriving in the near future, what with Captain America 2‘s scheduled production start date next March. In the meantime, Feature Films Casting (via Unleash the Fanboy) has let it out of the bag that the sequel will be filming under the alias “Freezerburn” – with shooting taking place in such cities as Cleveland, Washington DC and New Mexico.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (drawing from a script penned by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) will take place primarily in the present. It will include connective tissues to the larger MCU and assist in setting up future installments like The Avengers 2 and Ant-Man. However, the sequel also aims to tie off those story threads left dangling from the first movie, which means flashbacks to Cap’s adventures during WWII, as well as a possible reunion between Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter. The film opens in theaters on April 4th, 2014.

As for the other items on Marvel’s upcoming slate: Iron Man 3 releases on May 3rd, 2013, Thor: The Dark World on November 8th, 2013, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1st, 2014The Avengers 2 on May 1st, 2015, and Ant-Man on November 6th, 2015.

Source: Variety, Feature Films Casting [via Unleash the Fanboy]