Bucky Barnes, played to form by the ridiculously talented Sebastian Stan, is the only mortal centenarian in the Marvel Cinematic Universe still making amends for his past as a human murder machine. But is he actually still the character we met again in Captain America: Winter Soldier or someone new entirely? In an exclusive interview with ComicBook.com, Falcon and the Winter Soldier showrunner Malcolm Spellman clarifies the title card is merely ornamental and ultimately means little in the context of Barnes’s real-time character development onscreen. It’s hardly representative of this stage in Bucky’s life. As far as Spellman is concerned, Bucky Barnes is no longer the Winter Soldier.
Here’s what Spellman had to say about the transition away from the Winter Solider and what it means for Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes going forward:
“I hope people will forget that end title card as being an indicator of a commitment from Marvel. I think he has slayed that dragon, personally, and I don’t think I’ll be in trouble for that. So when Bucky enters the series, he’s never ever shaken what he believes, which is, ‘I remember everyone, murders, which means that part of me was there, which means a part of the Winter Soldier is me.’ And if even a fraction of Winter Soldier is you, you are an awful person. You know what I’m saying?”
Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes was made a phlegmatic assassin after seemingly falling to his death in Captain America: The First Avenger. The man known as the Winter Soldier would spend the decade since reclaiming his memories in the Battle at the Triskelion, eluding his demons, fighting to escape his sins, and hoping to recoup his humanity. Thanks in part to the Kingdom of Wakanda’s efforts to fully rehabilitate him, Barnes has devoted his “twilight” years scrambling for redemption, an arc that would continue long after Captain America: Civil War, the last film in Steve Rogers’s movie trilogy. Falcon and the Winter Soldier boasted a gripping finale, including an updated title card befitting Sam Wilson’s status as the new Captain America. Barnes, however, is still designated as the Winter Soldier.
The moniker of the Winter Soldier carries with it over 72 years of political intrigue, human experimentation, and needless bloodshed. Fans began campaigning for the title card to be renamed Captain America and the White Wolf arguing Barnes — particularly his progress since Civil War — deserves better. And certainly, that is one way of looking at it. An act of recognizing a noxious label for what it is, and choosing to relinquish it entirely. But the name could also be rebranded into something positive, an iteration of the Winter Soldier that for once needn’t be feared.
Redemption sometimes involves accepting you for you while still striving for better. Bad becomes good, good becomes great, with that part effectively here to stay. “Winter Soldier” doesn’t have to mean anything horrifying, at least not anymore. And either choice could be equally empowering. Identity is a crucial element of anyone’s psychosocial development and it evolves as the person grows and changes. And Sebastian Stan as Barnes certainly has. Spellman went on to say:
“That was Bucky’s identity coming in here, loaded with trauma on top of the fact that he doesn’t feel like a citizen of any era. We took him on this journey of trying to find ways to redeem himself and learning that avenging right is not the same thing as redemption. It is not the same thing as sort of making amends or whatever, right?”
It’s not to say Spellman doesn’t like the idea of Bucky Barnes growing into the mantle of the White Wolf. The corporate decision to stick with Captain America and the Winter Soldier was strictly logistical; Marvel didn’t want Barnes’s character development to feel rushed, and opted to stick with the Winter Soldier, at least for now. Spellman told The Hollywood Reporter.
“I got to see that moniker in watching one of the cuts, and man, it really affected me emotionally, I believe they wanted the impact of Captain America and the Winter Soldier to land. And I do think that had they done Captain America and the White Wolf, it might not have been as emotional of a landing because it’s too much math and too much evolution. But I don’t know for sure what it was. I got blindsided by that while watching the cut — but I loved it.”
Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes was known as the White Wolf during his stay in Wakanda. The local children came up with it, and it stuck. The name is generally indicative of Barnes’s emotional and mental unraveling into a hero — rather than a redeemed villain — a concept that would pay off largely in Falcon and the Winter Soldier when the passengers in the van decided to thank (and therefore acknowledge) Bucky.
Spellman elaborates on that scene, and what was going through Barnes’s mind as the feeling of being appreciated for the first time since World War 2 washed over him.
“I think Bucky enters this thing truly believing he is kind of the Winter Soldier no matter what anyone says. By the end, he has the moment with the old man, but more importantly, nobody has caught this… I’ve been saying it all day. In the scene with the Flag-Smashers in Episode 6, when one of those people gets out of that van and thanks Bucky, that’s his first time being a hero. So by the end of this series, Bucky is emerging as having shed the burden of the Winter Soldier. He has found a new family, ironically, it’s a Black family in Louisiana, you know what I’m saying? And he has tasted being a hero for the first time. And I think he’s now free to become something amazing.”
Barnes ended the miniseries finally at ease with, of all things, his metal arm — a lethal weapon that once served as a grim reminder of the life he used to lead. The robot hand that snuffed the life out of Tony Stark’s mother in 1991 is now being used as a force for good.
The next saga in Bucky Barnes’s newfound tenure as a superhero kicks off with Captain America 4, starring Sebastian Stan as Barnes and Anthony Mackie as the titular Captain. Falcon and the Winter Soldier showrunner Malcolm Spellman will be returning as screenwriter. Staff writer Dalan Musson (who wrote the fifth episode of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, entitled “Truth”) co-writes. Falcon and the Winter Soldier may still have a Season 2, but nothing has been green-lit so far.