As The Falcon and the Winter Soldier releases on Disney+ Hotstar Premium, tracing the characters' arcs in MCU
To help better understand the frenemy tension that unites them, here are some of the key moments from the comics and movies that have led up to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Two faithful sidekicks become leads in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. This show takes place some time after Avengers: Endgame, when the newly retired super-soldier Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) announces his retirement as the patriotic hero Captain America. Rogers also gives his red, white and blue Vibranium metal shield to Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a retired Air Force veteran who, as The Falcon, flies around with a jet-powered winged harness.
Wilson previously fought alongside Rogers as a member of the Avengers in other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies like Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. But in Avengers: Endgame, Wilson seems reluctant to accept the role of Captain America, which might explain why The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is not titled 'Captain America and the Winter Soldier.'
Wilson’s implied promotion is, however, supported by Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Rogers’ childhood best friend and World War II sidekick. Throughout most of the MCU movies, Barnes and Rogers have not biologically aged since the 1940s — both men were frozen alive, though under very different circumstances, and then revived by super scientists decades later. Rogers was resuscitated by the American spy agency SHIELD in Captain America: The First Avenger, while Barnes was both preserved and awakened by the ex-Nazi terrorists Hydra, as we see in a flashback during Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Barnes and Wilson also have a complicated relationship, though they have never really been rivals. To help better understand the frenemy tension that unites them, here are some of the key moments from the comics and movies that have led up to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Major spoilers follow.
The Rebirth of Bucky Barnes
In Captain America: The First Avenger, Barnes and Rogers fight the Nazis during World War II but are separated in 1943 after Barnes falls off a moving train while pursuing the Nazi scientist Arnim Zola (Toby Jones). He survives the fall but loses his left arm. It’s revealed later in Captain America: The Winter Soldier that Zola, working for Hydra, captured Barnes, and replaced his missing arm with a robotic prosthetic. Barnes’ abduction and revival are briefly shown through flashbacks in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War.
Hydra renames Barnes “the Winter Soldier,” and trains him as a political assassin. In Captain America: Civil War, we learn that Barnes is responsible for the murder of the weapons contractor Howard Stark (John Slattery) and his wife Maria (Hope Davis) — the parents of the reformed industrialist Tony Stark, who fights crime as Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr).
As we see in a flashback at the start of Captain America: Civil War, Barnes killed Tony’s parents in 1991 after Hydra’s Russian scientists revived him in a Siberian lab. Hydra, led by the stoic Vasily Karpov (Gene Farber), influences Barnes’ actions using posthypnotically suggestive catchphrases.
Karpov’s book of mind-controlling code words is stolen later in Captain America: Civil War by the fellow Hydra agent Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl). Zemo uses Karpov’s book to make Barnes fight Rogers and the other members of the Avengers, including Wilson.
Sam Wilson and the Search for the Winter Soldier
Barnes and Wilson’s relationship has been uneasy in the MCU movies. Wilson is introduced in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the film in which we learn that Barnes survived World War II, and is now a Hydra agent. The pivotal moment comes when Rogers is attacked by the Winter Soldier, whom he recognises as Barnes, his old friend and partner.
Rogers and Wilson meet at the start of the movie, while jogging in Washington, and then bond later at a local Veterans Association facility, where Wilson gives advice and leads group therapy for vets with post-traumatic stress. Wilson tells Rogers that he lost his partner Riley (Ron Underdahl) during a nighttime rescue mission in Afghanistan. He then joins Rogers in tracking and confronting Barnes in both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War. Wilson also joins the Avengers some time between Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the next Avengers film, Age of Ultron.
The Sokovia Accords
Barnes’ capture and detainment is on everybody’s mind in Captain America: Civil War because, at the start of that movie, Zemo frames Barnes for the bombing of a United Nations building in Vienna. The explosion interrupts the signing of the Sokovia Accords, a divisive peace treaty that would place the Avengers under the supervision of the UN.
The agreement is named after the (fictional) Eastern European country of Sokovia, whose capital city, Novi Grad, was destroyed in Avengers: Age of Ultron during the Avengers’ fight with the megalomaniacal robot Ultron (James Spader).
The Vienna bombing also results in the death of 12 people, including the benevolent King T’Chaka (John Kani) of Wakanda. T’Chaka’s son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) stalks Barnes throughout Captain America: Civil War but ultimately backs off. Stark does not follow T’Challa’s example, though, and tries to avenge the death of his parents. He does not succeed: Barnes and Rogers thwart him, but not before Stark uses Rogers’ indestructible shield to destroy Barnes’ robotic arm. Barnes then volunteers to refreeze his body, which puts him in a coma-like sleep, until he is sure that he can fully control his actions.
After Vienna: Wakanda
Barnes mysteriously resurfaces in Wakanda at the end of Black Panther during the second of two mid-credits scenes. It is unclear how or why he is revived there, but the Wakandans seem to have plans for him. In Black Panther, T’Challa’s teenage sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) tells Barnes that there is “much more for you to learn.” T’Challa also calls Barnes the “white wolf” partway through Avengers: Endgame, a vague reference to an unrelated character named Hunter the White Wolf, who was first introduced to comics readers in Black Panther No. 4. In that comic, a white boy named Hunter is adopted by T’Chaka after his parents are killed in a plane crash near Wakanda.
A group of Wakandan children also call Barnes a “white wolf” in Black Panther, but beyond that, he does not seem to have any ties to Wakanda. He does, however, reunite with Rogers there, where they join T’Challa and the other Avengers in fighting the alien megalomaniac Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Endgame.
The Rebirth of Captain America
Thanos kills Barnes, Wilson, and billions of other humans at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, using the six reality-altering Infinity Gems to halve the world’s population. But in Endgame, the remaining Avengers travel back in time to steal Thanos’ jewels, in that way retroactively preempting the Infinity War slaughter.
Barnes and Wilson come back the end of Avengers: Endgame and are reunited with Rogers, who seems to have aged rapidly since the last time they saw him. Rogers does not explain how he traveled back in time, but he does tell Wilson that he retired sometime after he put all of the Infinity Gems back where Thanos found them. In a flashback at the end of Avengers: Endgame, we see a younger version of Rogers, dancing with an unidentified woman. Wilson asks who Rogers’ date is, but he will not say.
Later we learn that she is former SHIELD director Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), the title character in the Marvel TV spy thriller Agent Carter. Rogers had previously reunited with an elderly Carter in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. She eventually dies in that movie but only after telling Rogers that she feels sorry for him: “I have lived a life; my only regret is that you didn’t get to live yours.” Whatever Rogers did with the Infinity Gems seems to have allowed him to travel back in time and reunite with Carter.
Early ads for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier feature Peggy’s great-niece Sharon (Emily VanCamp), who helped Rogers and Wilson find Barnes in Captain America: Civil War. Sharon Carter has not, however, appeared in any other MCU movies or TV shows since.
Simon Abrams c.2021 The New York Times Company
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will stream on Disney+ Hotstar Premium from 19 March.
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