It’s possible that recent developments on social media serve as the best proof yet that maybe the Marvel Cinematic Universe has probed a bit too deeply into our cultural discourse. Currently what many consider to be the absolute best Marvel movie — 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier — is trending on Twitter. And why is it trending? Because of new, intriguing points being made about the film? Because some kind of intriguing behind-the-scenes factoids were just revealed about the making of the film? Was there some ingeniously hidden Easter egg in the flick that’s finally, eight years later, been discovered by a patient fan? No. “Winter Soldier” is trending on Twitter because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For example, take a gander at the tweets below:
In case you’re not familiar — the Winter Soldier, aka James “Bucky” Barnes, is Sebastian Stan‘s character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Barnes is introduced in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, but appears to die in the film. Fans of the source material knew better, of course. In the 2014 follow-up Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we find out Barnes was found by the Soviet army, near death. He was left to the tender care of Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), who helps to both turn him into a super soldier and brainwash him for Hydra. In the years between World War II and The Winter Soldier, Barnes operates mostly out of Russia, and is closely associated with the Soviet Union era of the nation. He’s eventually rehabilitated, but not after racking up an impressive stack of bodies, including the parents of Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.).
So, the Winter Soldier of Marvel seems to be the touchstone for the Russian-Ukraine conflict — so much so that the references get the name trending on Twitter. You would think that, maybe, considering people are dying, will continue to die, and survivors are being driven out of their homes, that folks might ease back on their “I saw a movie once” humor, but apparently not. Sure, we all use humor — including dark humor — to help us through stressful times, but a lot of the references going around Twitter don’t feel like coping. They feel like opportunistic, detached thoughtlessness.
There are, thankfully, plenty of people on Twitter noticing the trend and commenting on how ridiculous it is. Of course, because of the way that things work, that just keeps the trend, you know, trending that much more. Complaining about the Winter Soldier just means more Winter Soldier.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be so judgmental. After all, the Winter Soldier has become a huge part of our pop culture landscape, and at this point he’s pretty much as big a figure as Captain America. Sebastian Stan has appeared as Bucky Barnes in six of the MCU’s biggest and most successful films, as well as starring in the second Disney+ MCU series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Still, while we can’t all be fully educated in contemporary conflicts, it would be nice to have just a teeny bit of awareness of what it might mean to people in other parts of the world to see their misery reduced to comic book movie fare.