What are the odds on Bucky walking out of Captain America: Civil War as the new Star-Spangled Avenger?
Replacements, Reboots and Recasts
Comic book readers know what it’s like to have their favorite heroes replaced. In just the last few years, comics have seen supporting cast members, former sidekicks, and even archenemies assume the roles of Spider-Man, Batman, and Captain America. Though these changes are usually temporary, they are an excellent way to freshen up the status quo and offer exposure to lesser known characters. Replacing a hero is also a classic promotional technique that is virtually guaranteed to boost book sales and reignite the attention of lapsed readers. Even if readers don’t agree with a change, they often have a hard time showing it through their wallet.
Reboots and recasts are a little less common in comic book movies, but they still happen, sometimes with alarming regularity. Captain America: Civil War will introduce the third Spider-Man in a decade. In next year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Ben Affleck will be the third incarnation and fifth actor to portray the Dark Knight since Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989 (as a point of comparison, James Bond has only been played by three men over the same period). While this isn’t typically an issue in films with one central hero, it can get confusing for casual audiences, especially when there are ensembles composed of characters from several different movies.
Before Avengers, this was never an issue. The pre-Avengers Marvel films were all connected, but those connections were mostly set up in post-credits sequences. The movies built a larger Marvel universe in the background as they went along, but not in a way that felt distracting or unnecessary. Characters like Nick Fury and Agent Coulson tied Marvel’s cinematic universe together on screen and built a foundation for Avengers and every Marvel film that followed. It took meticulous planning on Marvel’s part, but the effort led to box office records and the Marvel brand being stronger than ever.
How to Kill a Super-Soldier
Captain America: Civil War kicks off Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Phase 3 will feature sequels to previous films, as well as stand-alone movies for characters who have yet to debut, such as Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Captain Marvel. Even with the popularity of the Avengers, new characters are essential to keeping the films fresh. And while Marvel has shown their skill at introducing characters who will develop across multiple movies, the company has yet to pass a superheroic persona from one character to another. Which makes Captain America: Civil War the perfect place to start.
Marvel’s Civil War comics miniseries led to the assassination of Steve Rogers, who was Captain America at the time. Not long after, his former sidekick Bucky Barnes assumed the role. Bucky, who spent decades serving as a brainwashed assassin for communist Russia under the code name Winter Soldier, struggled with the responsibility of living up to the Captain America moniker, but worked to redeem himself and avenge his former friend.
While much of the plot to Captain America: Civil War appears to have changed from the original miniseries, Captain America and Bucky’s relationship seems to have stayed intact. Bucky is consumed with guilt over the horrible things he’s done, and Captain America wants to help rehabilitate his friend, even at the expense of his relationship with Tony Stark, leading to a split within the Avengers.
Naturally, there are villains waiting take full advantage, with Crossbones returning from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Crossbones participated directly in Captain America’s assassination in the comics, alongside Sharon Carter, a SHIELD agent who was hypnotized into assisting. Sharon Carter will also be returning for Captain America: Civil War, and while the Red Skull originally orchestrated the assassination in the comics, Baron Zemo appears to be a stand-in for him here.
Setting a Precedent
In the comics, Bucky played the role of Captain America for several years before faking his own death in the Fear Itself miniseries so he could return to working as a covert agent. Recently, the role of Captain America has been assumed by the Falcon. It’s possible both the Falcon and Bucky will be presented as possible replacements for Captain America in Civil War based on their skills and friendships with Steve Rogers. And while the Falcon would make an excellent Captain America in the movies as well, it makes more sense that Bucky would assume the role out of respect for his friend, especially if Steve’s faith in Bucky led to his own untimely demise. Plus, Bucky’s physical attributes are a lot more like Steve’s. Going back to the idea that general audiences haven’t had to adapt to a character change yet, it seems way easier to understand another supersoldier taking up the Captain America mantle instead of a regular human who happens to have some cool wings.
What About Chris Evans?
If Bucky does take over the Captain America persona, where does that leave current Cap actor Chris Evans? It has been confirmed that his contract with Marvel runs through both parts of the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, and it’s been hinted he might make at least cameo in another Marvel film before that. That would seem to suggest that Steve Rogers doesn’t die, right?
Maybe, but just because Evans’s contract includes options for two more movies doesn’t mean he’ll actually be in them. What greater cliffhanger could there be than ending Civil War with a funeral, and having a Captain America-sized hole in the Avengers squad when Thanos first comes calling.
Bucky still could become the new Captain America. And with the personal stakes Civil War is setting up, it almost seems likely he will.