James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes — a beloved Marvel comics character that made his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in Captain America: The First Avenger. He’s been to hell and back during the first three phases of the MCU, going from the charming Sergeant Barnes, to the fearsome Winter Soldier, and then ultimately left to pick up the pieces of himself as the White Wolf.
Comic book fans will know that Bucky stepped into the role of Captain America for a period of time, but the trajectory of his MCU story veered in a different direction as Steve Rogers’ shield was passed on to Sam Wilson in Avengers: Endgame (which, to be fair, occurs in another run of comics.)
Based on the way that Bucky and Sam’s respective stories played out throughout the MCU’s films, it wasn’t entirely surprising that Sam was the one that Steve passed the mantle on to. Sam’s story was written for him to consistently remain on the upswing, while Bucky was fighting just to keep afloat. Bucky’s MCU story has consistently been a gripping and heart wrenching tale over the years, one that has left many viewers attached to his character.
Regardless of where the shield ultimately ended up, fans of Bucky Barnes can surely agree that it would have been a beautiful redemption arc to see him come full circle, back on his feet again and ready to fill the noble shoes of his best friend. For that reason, we’ve explored his story from The First Avenger through Endgame and pinpointed pivotal moments that exemplify why he’s worth of wielding the shield…if not now…then potentially in the future.
1 & 2. Captain America: The First Avenger
“Hey. Pick on someone your own size.”
Bucky Barnes has no tolerance for bullies and jerks, especially when it’s not a fair fight. Before Steve Rogers became Captain America, he was just a little guy from Brooklyn — emphasis on the little. Bucky looked out for him through thick and thin, giving him a shoulder to lean on and a friendship to depend on when he had nothing else.
The war was unforgiving and relentless, Bucky himself having been a prisoner behind enemy lines until Steve caught wind of his disappearance and led a rescue mission to save him. Yet rather than backing down to steady himself after the ordeal, Bucky dove headfirst back into the flames to fight beside Steve on a deadly mission.
3 & 4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Alright, this one has less to do with moral values and choices and more to do with pure physical capabilities. The Winter Soldier certainly wasn’t next in line to slip into some red, white, and blue spandex, but he was still a Super Soldier. When Steve was chasing the Winter Soldier on the rooftop, he used a surefire attack — he tossed his shield. However, The Winter Soldier caught it with ease and sent it flying back hard enough to leave Steve reeling. This scene was proof enough that Bucky could literally handle the shield.
“You’re my friend.”
“You’re my mission.”
…and yet, despite that, the Winter Soldier pulled Captain America from the depths of the water he was sinking in and drug him back to shore. Even in the throes of his brainwashed state, something deeper inside of him won out for just a moment. Flashes of Bucky Barnes peaked through in lapses in the Winter Soldier’s consciousness throughout this film, a reminder of the good man that lie trapped inside himself.
5, 6, & 7. Captain America: Civil War
“Longing, rusted, furnace, daybreak, seventeen, benign, nine, homecoming, one, freight car.”
All hope was temporarily lost as Bucky, Steve, and co. were apprehended in Bucharest. Meanwhile, after their arrest, Zemo conveniently worked his way into the facility, planted himself in front of Bucky’s containment apparatus, and read the trigger words, thus activating the Winter Soldier once more. It took but moments for him to then easily break free from his confinement. Which then begs the question, why didn’t Bucky do that in the first place? If he was set on running and disappearing off the map again, he certainly could have attempted just that. Yet, he made the decision to accept and face what fate awaited him. Steve Rogers knows when to fight and when to stand down, and Bucky Barnes does as well.
Bucky Barnes just wanted to live a quiet life in his small flat halfway across the world, with some fresh, delicious plums and minimal human interaction. Yet with his best friend still kicking and the Avengers engaged in a full-fledged civil war, Bucky doesn’t hesitate to charge right back into battle.
“You sure about this?”
“I can’t trust my own mind. So until they figure out how to get this stuff out of my head, I think going back under is the best thing…for everybody.”
Bucky could have gone off the grid and regrouped with Team Cap, but he took it upon himself to make the decision that it would be safer for him to go back on ice in the cryo for the time being. This was a selfless decision, coming from someone who already lost almost everything to HYDRA. He prioritized the safety and well being of others, despite the glimmer of freedom that was just on the horizon for him.
8. Avengers: Endgame
Bucky may have been MIA for a long stretch of time, but he was quick to pick up on the things that he had missed while he was brainwashed, on ice, or otherwise off the map. In the absence of Bucky, Steve had formed a strong camaraderie with Sam Wilson. Yet it wasn’t Sam’s friendship with Steve that led to the final scene of Endgame, but rather the raw Captain America-esque character traits that Sam had been written with from day one.
A lesser man may have shoved Sam aside and made a beeline for the bench, staking his claim solely based on his history fighting alongside the Captain many moons ago. Bucky internally acknowledged that he wasn’t ready to take on the mantle quite yet, though — he needed more time to work on healing himself first. This nobility in itself deems him worthy, for he understood the responsibility of being Captain America. Heavy is the arm that wields the shield, after all.
Endgame left Bucky’s story on an emotional precipice, one that felt unfulfilling given all that he had been through. Thankfully, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie will be reprising their roles as Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson, respectively, in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. This upcoming television series will be coming exclusively to Disney+ in the fall of 2020. This show is a dream come true for fans of Bucky Barnes, as he ultimately had limited screen time throughout all of his MCU movie appearances. So here’s to seeing more of Bucky’s story unravel, and what the future has in store for him.
Moments before one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in the MCU…but let’s just enjoy this brief snippet for what it is — a worthy Bucky Barnes wielding the shield.