Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe probably feel like they know Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes. After all, the duo—also known as The Falcon and the Winter Soldier—have been around in the MCU since 2014 and 2011 respectively, with more appearing in more than half a dozen movies in the massive franchise. But even though these characters have been seen so much, how much do you really know them? That’s what Marvel Studios’ new Disney+ Series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, is setting out to change; for the first time, we’ll see Captain America’s two closest friends emerge from beneath the big guy’s shadow.
But that’s not to say we don’t know Sam and Bucky at all. Even if the screen time was limited and the appearances here and there, we’ve gotten to know these two heroes (and, well, hero-turned-villain-turned-hero in Bucky’s case) over the course of several films and storylines. We’ll get to know them at a deeper level in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier—who they are, what motivates them, where they’re at in a post-Blip world—but it’s not like we’re going in dry.
So, in case if you needed a little bit of a refresher course, here’s a quick recap of what Sam Wilson/The Falcon and Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier have been up to so far in the MCU.
Sam Wilson/The Falcon
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
In just a super fun opening sequence, Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens with a very in-shape dude (who we later learn to be Sam Wilson) being continually lapped by one Steve Rogers (who we already know is, well, Captain America). “On your left,” he tells an increasingly annoyed Sam as he laps him over and over again during their morning runs. Eventually, the two become friendly and bond over their past military history. Here we learn that Sam Wilson is a former pararescue airman, currently in D.C. to help other veterans suffering PTSD following his losing his own friend in the Air Force (Steve later sits in on one of Sam’s talks, and the two chat about life and possibilities afterwards). Before parting ways—Cap had to attend to a mission with Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow—Sam gave Steve a rather savvy musical recommendation of Marvin Gaye’s soundtrack to Trouble Man, which Cap then added to his list of things he’s missed and needs to check out.
Steve and Natasha catch up with Sam later in the movie when they arrive on his doorstep needing help. The two had just discovered that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been slowly infiltrated over the years, and there were HYDRA agents everywhere among its ranks; Steve felt he could trust Sam. Sam gives Natasha and Steve cover while they figure out their next move; at this point, Sam realizes that he could help the team with more than just his shelter. He was part of a military project that used the Exo-7 Falcon, an armed machine that extends wings and lets its airer fly. They steal it and use it to continue their plan.
Throughout the rest of the film, Sam helps helps Steve and Natasha with their plan, including kidnapping HYDRA spy Jasper Sitwell to get more information about the plans of HYDRA and their leader, Alexander Pierce. He follows Cap from spot to spot, meets Nick Fury and Maria Hill along the way, and has his own villain showdown with Brock Rumlow (who gets mostly crushed by a building on his way to becoming supervillain Crossbones). By the end of the movie, he’s ready to join Captain America on his hunt to find his old friend Bucky Barnes—on the run and maybe seeing some cracks in his HYDRA brainwashing.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Sam’s role in Age of Ultron is small but serves a great purpose: he’s becoming part of the team. We see him in the beginning of the film at the Tony Stark’s celebration party for the Avengers’ retrieving Loki’s scepter from the HYDRA cell; he’s casually having a good time with everyone, but when he gets a second with Steve we hear them discuss their “missing persons” case. They’re still looking for Bucky.
At the end of the movie, after Thor takes off for Asgard and Tony jets off in his sportscar once again, we see Sam as one of the New Avengers (with a nicely upgraded set of wings and gear) ready for missions with Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff (alongside Vision, Scarlet Witch, and James Rhodes).
Ant-Man‘s biggest connection to the Avengers world that it’s main character, Scott Lang, will later join comes in a sequence when Lang needs to infiltrate an Avengers compound that he thinks is empty. Except, well, it’s not. Lang tries to sneak around, but isn’t so succesful—he comes face-to-face and meets Sam, and the two then have a fight (which Scott does pretty well for himself as he gets really small). Scott gets away, and Sam makes sure that Cap never finds out that he got beaten by an unidentified tiny person.
At the end of Ant-Man, Falcon lets Scott know through several layers of backchannel gossip that he’s interested in having him join the team.
Avengers: Civil War
Civil War opens with Sam as part of a mission in Lagos (alongside Captain America, Natasha Romanoff, and Wanda Maximoff) to stop Rumlow, who has a bioweapon (and has now assumed his identity of Crossbones). Sam has his fully armed Falcon suit, but also is showing off a new loyal drone, which he calls Redwing. While they’re able to catch Rumlow and recover the bioweapon, Rumlow detonates a bomb vest and was about to kill Captain America before Wanda user her magic to contain the blast and launch it away. Unfortunately, the blast hit a building, and killed several citizens of Wakanda in the process.
This mission leads to a larger conversation about the recklessness of the Avengers through the years; their missions in The Avengers, Age of Ultron, and Winter Soldier have led to civilian casualties, and the government believes there needs to be oversights on their deployment. This means a law called “The Sokovia Accords,” and it leads the the eventual split of the Avengers. The group splits into factions: Tony Stark is in favor of it, and Steve Rogers is against it.
At the signing of the Sokovia Accords, a bomb goes off and kills king T’Chaka of Wakanda. Security footage attributes the bombing to Bucky Barnes, also known as The Winter Soldier; Captain America doesn’t believe it, and Sam stands with Cap. This only further cements the group’s fragment, though. Captain America meets up with Sam, and the two eventually find Bucky, who claims his innocence. They’re eventually brought in by government forces, meeting with the complying Tony and Natasha, while Bucky is put into custody. Eventually, Bucky is interrogated by Zemo, who we learn later in the film framed him for the bombing. (T’Challa, the Black Panther, spends much of the movie hunting Bucky down).
When Captain America, Bucky, and Sam have a moment alone—now fugitives—Sam recalls another guy they know who may be able to help. The three of them then meet up with Clint Barton, who had just broken Wanda Maximoff out of the Avengers compound, and their new friend Scott Lang. The six of them take on Tony Stark and his faction in a big fight at an airport. At the tail end of the fight, Vision—fighting on Tony’s side—tries to shoot a beam at Sam, but instead hits Rhodes when Sam ducks the beam. Rhodes then falls out of the sky and is paralyzed; Sam apologizes to Tony, who begins tending to his injured friend, but Tony blasts Sam away. While Captain America and Bucky escape the airport after Natasha lets them get away, Sam, Clint, Scott, and Wanda are all imprisoned at the Raft.
Sam and Tony come to a bit of an understanding when Tony visits his imprisoned former colleagues. Eventually, by the end of the movie, Captain America returns to the Raft (after leaving Bucky to further rehabilitate his brainwashing in Wakanda) and frees the imprisoned Avengers, including Sam, making them all fugitives.
Avengers: Infinity War
When Wanda Maximoff and Vision—now a couple for two years—are attacked in Edinburgh by two members of Thanos’ army trying to steal the mind stone from Vision’s forehead, they’re helped by Captain America, Sam, and Natasha, who had been on the run for years. The three of them, along with Visi0n and Wanda, then rendezvous with Rhodes, who grants them shelter at the Avengers’ compound.
When Thanos snaps his fingers at the end of the movie, upon retrieving all six Infinity Stones, Sam is among the many heroes who disintegrates into dust.
Five years after everyone is blipped out of existence, the surviving Avengers eventually take on a past Thanos’ army. Sam’s re-entrance—Hulk snapped everyone back into existance—is one of the best parts of the movie. Just when Captain America is in full “I can do this all day” mode against Thanos’ army and looking pretty damn hopeless, we hear Sam in Cap’s ear. “On your left,” he says, yes, throwing us all the way back to the first-ever meeting of these two close pals. T’Challa and company enter next, and then Sam zooms into the frame, full wingspan extension, and leads the return of so many beloved and powerful Avengers. Eventually, the good guys win with one tough sacrifice in particular. (tears, tears).
At the end of the movie, Captain America volunteers to put back all the past versions of the Infinity Stones that had been stolen earlier in the movie (time heist, you know, casual), and Bucky and Sam join him for the trip. We learn within moments that when Captain America went back in time, he actually lived an entire life that we don’t see. He met back up with Peggy, and grew old—very old. He returns to the same spot where he left Sam and Bucky, but is now old. He has his shield, covered up, and knows it’s time to give it to someone else who deserves it, and can cherish it. He gives it to Sam, wanting him to become the next Captain America. “How does it feel?” Steve asks. “Like it belongs to someone else,” Sam tells him. And we’ll pick things up after this in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
James “Bucky” Barnes/ The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The First Avenger
Audiences meet James “Bucky” Barnes not long after they are first introduced to Steve Rogers. Steve is then a mere 95-pound man, and is getting beat up in a back alley after calling out a jerk in a movie theater; Bucky, his best friend, comes to his rescue. Throughout Captain America: The First Avenger—which is set in 1942—we learn of the super close friendship and bond that Steve and Bucky have. Bucky feels protective of Steve, and Steve is happy to have a friend who he can trust (and Bucky’s being “cool,” to use a modern term, doesn’t hurt either).
Steve is the main character here, and while he’s physically weak, he’s mentally strong and persevering. He’s turned away from enlisting time and time again, but when on a double date at the Stark Expo with Bucky and two nice ladies, Dr. Abraham Erskine overhears Steve talking to Bucky as they went their separate ways for the night, and it’s then that Erskine realized Steve would be the perfect person for the super soldier serum he’d been developing.
Before Steve received the serum and became Captain America, Bucky enlisted and became part of the 107th Infantry Regiment. A post-serum Cap was eventually relegated to basically being a propaganda piece/dog-and-pony figure for selling war bonds, but when he heard that the 107th had been taken prisoner by HYDRA, he jumped into action, saving the surviving members, which included Bucky. Bucky, meanwhile, was being experimented on by HYDRA scientist Arnim Zola (more on that in a bit). Bucky, along with some of his fellow infantry members like Dum Dum Duggan, formed the group known as The Howling Commandos.
This group went on to fight and try to stop Hydra, but during an attempt to capture Zola, Bucky fell hundreds of feet off a moving train in the Austrian Alps. We never saw his dead body, but Captain America mourned the loss of his late best friend.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
If someone didn’t follow the movie’s publicity tour, or had any familiarity with the comics or Marvel lore, it would be a shock, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a movie that entirely centers on Bucky Barnes. You see, while we thought Bucky had fallen to his death during WW2, the experiments that HYDRA did on him actually allowed him to survive this fall. He was then heavily brainwashed and given a vibranium arm—the same material from Wakanda that Captain America’s shield is mad of—before being turned into an ice cold HYDRA assassin.
His appearance in The Winter Soldier is teased a few times (including a masked showdown with Nick Fury), but Cap immediately recognizes his old friend. The two face off constantly, but no part of the pure Steve Rogers wants to hurt Bucky; they have several confrontations throughout the movie, but Bucky remains in “kill” mode, while Cap just wants to neutralize his friend and bring him back.
The movie’s climax comes when Steve and Bucky are fighting on a SHIELD helicarrier (remember, SHIELD has been revealed to be mostly evil, having been infiltrated by HYDRA through the decades). Bucky is about to punch Steve to death, still not realizing who he is or what he’s doing. “You’re my mission,” he tells him. Steve, at this point, is refusing to fight back. But he tells Bucky “I’m with you ’til the end of the line,” repeating an exact line that Bucky told him after his mother died, before either man went through their super transformations. This struck Bucky—it finally got through to him. He stopped punching, but Cap fell into the water below; Bucky scaled his way down, and saved Cap’s life. He brought him to land before fleeing, looking to further discover who he really is.
One of the movie’s credits scenes finds Bucky in a museum shown earlier in the film, reading about Captain America and the Howling Commandos. He finds one part talking about “James Barnes,” who was believed to die a hero for his country.
Bucky’s role in Ant-Man is minimal—he sits on the ground, pleading for help, during a post-credits scene (which turns out to just be a scene from Civil War) where Sam speaks to Steve about their plans—but he’s technically in the movie. So there you go!
Captain America: Civil War
Civil War opens in the past, with The Winter Soldier carrying out an unspecified mission; a car has just crashed, and the Winter Soldier kills the passengers inside.
This is another movie heavily centered on the relationship between Steve and Bucky, as Steve tries to protect Bucky. We went into detail in the description of this movie for Sam, but just to reiterate: Bucky was in Romania, on the run, trying to discover his own identity. When some of the Avengers went to sign The Sokovia Accords, a bomber—who turned out to be Helmut Zemo in a Bucky disguise—set of a bomb, breaking the peace and killing King T’Chaka of Wakanda; as a result, T’Challa/Black Panther spends much of the movie hunting Bucky down and looking for revenge. Meanwhile, Zemo tracks down Bucky’s old HYDRA handler, and steals the code words to activate Bucky’s Winter Soldier brainwashing.
An unscrambled Bucky eventually meets back up with Sam and Steve, needing their help and shelter. After a long chase, Bucky, Sam, Steve, and T’Challa are all apprehended and brought in by the authorities and James Rhodes. While Bucky is detained—and the others are learning what will be required of them because of the Sokovia Accords—Zemo, posing as a police psychiatrist/interrogator, reads the words to activate a Winter Soldier rampage. He escapes as Bucky needs to be restrained by Steve. When Steve gets Bucky back in control, he reveals that Zemo framed him for the bombing during the Accord signing, and that Zemo was actually looking for the location of the other “Winter Soldiers,” who had been brainwashed and reprogrammed just like him.
Steve and Bucky are joined by Clint Barton, Wanda Maximoff, and Scott Lang for their side of the titular Civil War; they’re the group opposing the accords. The movie’s biggest set piece comes as both factions face off during an excellent airport fight sequence. This sequence also puts Sam and Bucky together for an extended period of time, where they show off some fun chemistry—and also fight Spider-Man. “Whoa, a metal arm, cool!,” Peter Parker says upon meeting Mr. Barnes. What a kid. At the end of this fight scene, Steve and Bucky are allowed to escape the airport by Natasha.
Following the fight, Tony Stark finds evidence that allows him to realize that Zemo did, in fact, frame Bucky. While the remaining members of Cap’s faction are imprisoned at the Raft, Tony goes and talks to sam to get Bucky and Steve’s location, wanting to find them and make a truce. When he gets there, though, Zemo is waiting; he reveals that he’s killed the other Winter Soldiers, and plays footage of the Winter Soldier mission from the start of the movie. And then our big reveal comes: Bucky, completely under HYDRA’s control, killed Tony Stark’s parents.
Tony, enraged by this, completely forgets about the truce they just came to, and fights both Steve and Bucky. He destroys Bucky’s arm, and Steve and Bucky eventually escape, with Cap leaving his shield behind. The relationship between the now former-friends is completely fractured.
In a credits scene, we learn that Cap has called in a favor with T’Challa (who was trailing Steve, Tony, and Bucky to their battle, overhearing that Zemo was responsible for the bombing). Bucky will remain in Wakanda—refrozen—further rehabilitating himself and regaining his faculties while remaining hidden from the rest of the world.
Bucky only appears in the post-credits scene of Black Panther, where he’s now being called the “White Wolf.” Shuri, T’Challa’s tech genius sister, figured out a way to remove the trigger words from Bucky’s mind. He says he feels good, and thanks her for everything.
Avengers: Infinity War
Bucky appears throughout Infinity War, but doesn’t have a huge storyline. He’s still in Wakanda rehabilitating himself when Steve comes with Vision (trying to get the Mind Stone removed from his head to destroy before Thanos can get it). T’Challa offers Bucky a new arm—which Bucky rightly assumes is because of an upcoming battle they’ll need to fight. Steve and Bucky reunite, and he also meets Rocket and Groot of the Guardians of the Galaxy. (Rocket, ever the scavenger, really wants Bucky’s arm. But he settles for just pulling some really cool gun firing battle moves.)
At the end of the movie, after Thanos snaps his fingers, Bucky sensed something was wrong—he called out to Steve, then falling to the ground and disintegrating, just as half of all life on earth did along with him
Five years’ after Thanos’ snap, everyone who was disintegrated returned to life following the Hulk snapping the iInfinity Stones that were retrieved from various points in time.
Bucky enters through giant Doctor Strange portals to fight against Thanos, alongside his old buddy Captain America, in the battle for earth. He once again teamed up with Rocket, and kicked some of Thanos’ Army’s ass.
After the Avengers won—at the cost of Tony Stark’s life—Bucky attended Tony’s funeral. In the long shot showing all of our Avengers, we saw Bucky standing alongside Sam and Wanda Maximoff.
Bucky and Sam then went with Steve, who was going to return the Infinity Stones back where they needed to go. However, unlike Sam, Bucky knew Steve’s plan. When Steve instead showed up as an old man, Bucky knew the plan was for Sam to become the new Captain America, and looked on approvingly as Cap passed things down to Sam.
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