Falcon and the Winter Soldier is racing to our Disney+ libraries now that‘s wrapped up. But the thing is, these characters have been around for a while, and there are a lot of movies to dig through if you want to know the key info before jumping into the show. So let’s get a take a quick history lesson for these characters in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).
Falcon and the Winter Soldier will be starring Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan as the titular heroes along with Daniel Brühl reprising his role as Helmut Zemo—the primary antagonist. Going off the trailers this show doesn’t seem to be as off-the-walls as WandaVision was, but for fans of the MCU, seeing the furthered development of these characters is sure to be a treat. So without further ado, let’s see how these characters got to this point.
Let’s start at the beginning, which happens to be Captain America: The First Avenger—the first movie in the MCU timeline. This movie mainly follows Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as he becomes Captain America, but there’s another character here who gets a lot of screentime: Bucky Barnes, who later becomes the Winter Soldier.
The First Avenger shows the close friendship between Steve and Bucky, and also Bucky’s “death.” During a mission to capture Arnim Zola (a scientist working for the main villain of the movie, Red Skull, portrayed by Toby Jones), Bucky is lost in the Austrian Alps and presumed dead. While the rest of the movie goes on without him, Captain America is an important part of the story for both the Winter Soldier and Falcon, so I’d still recommend watching it all the way through.
As the movie goes on Captain America strikes more blows against the evil organization HYDRA before sacrificing himself to save the United States from a devastating bombing. The movie ends with Steve waking up in 2011 (around 70 years after the events of the movie) which leads us nicely into the next film.
Since The First Avenger, a lot has happened by the time its sequel came around in 2014. But all you really need to know is Steve Rogers has fought some aliens and is now living in Washington DC. This is where he meets Sam Wilson, a former pararescue airman who’s about to be drawn into a nice heaping of espionage.
Remember HYDRA? While they fell in power after the events of The First Avenger removed their leader from the equation (and the planet), they’re back now. HYDRA worked in the shadows to infiltrate the extra-governmental agency called S.H.I.E.L.D.—the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division. S.H.I.E.L.D. watches over the entire planet for major threats and is commanded by director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).
But that’s not all HYDRA did in those 70 years, one of its members, Arnim Zola, captured Bucky Barnes after his “death” on the Austrian Alps. Bucky’s mind was wiped and brainwashed by Arnim in a series of gruesome experiments that also resulted in the loss of his arm—that’s why he has a metal one nowadays. This all turns him into the Winter Soldier, a covert operative of HYDRA whose been brainwashed to kill anyone who poses a threat to the organization.
This brings us back to 2014, Steve is enjoying a somewhat normal life in DC when he’s suddenly visited by Nick Fury in his home. Fury has just escaped an encounter with the Winter Soldier and warns Steve about a possible infiltration into S.H.I.E.L.D. by HYDRA, and is promptly murdered by Winter Soldier. Naturally, Steve pursues him, but as you can see below, it doesn’t go so well.
After this Steve learns that a full-on infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. by HYDRA was successful, and he’s now on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. This brings Sam back into the mix, as Steve goes to Sam’s house for help. After some convincing, Sam agrees to help and the duo works together to steal a wingsuit from the government for Sam to use (hence his superhero name, the Falcon).
The finale of the movie sees Sam helping Steve fight against the HYDRA agents inside S.H.I.E.L.D. and stop their plan to… “misuse” S.H.I.E.L.D. airships (they’re trying to murder a bunch of people). It’s an explosive finale, and you finally get to see Sam as the Falcon in a few action scenes—we even get to watch him fight Bucky.
Meanwhile, Steve is trying to infiltrate the airships to stop them from going online, which is where he runs into the Winter Solider once more. Steve now recognizes this is Bucky Barnes, but the Winter Soldier is mostly unaware of his past friendship. They punch for a bit, with Bucky dealing some massive blows to Steve, until Steve repeats a quote from Bucky’s past which finally sparks his memory.
Bucky stops fighting and helps Steve off of the deteriorating airship to safety. Reaching the end of the film, Bucky has disappeared, and Steve and Sam meet up once again. The movie ends with Steve saying he wants to find Bucky with Sam agreeing to help in the search.
One more quick thing to watch out for when viewing this movie is the appearance of Batroc the Leaper (Georges St-Pierre) and Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), who are both introduced near the start of the film. They’ll be reappearing in Falcon and the Winter Solider.
The final movie in the Captain America trilogy has a lot of important character development for Bucky, along with introducing the primary villain of Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl). See, a lot of bad stuff has happened at this point in the MCU and the governments of the world aren’t super happy about it. That’s why the Sokvoia Accords are created, a document stating enhanced individuals like the Avengers should be registered with, and regulated by, the United Nations.
This document practically splits the Avengers into two teams with conflicting ideals. Heroes like Tony Stark (Iron Man, portrayed by Robert Downey Jr), James Rhodey (War Machine, Don Cheadle), and Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson), feel the Accords are justified while Steve and Sam are both opposed to it.
Vienna is where the signing of the accords is taking place, but a bomb explodes in the room, killing numerous people including King T’Chaka (Bonisile John Kani) from Wakanda. This act is pinned on the Winter Soldier, who has been living a quiet life in Romania since the last film, trying to piece together his past. Steve and Sam find him first, and while he now somewhat remembers who Steve is, the reunion is cut short by government agents attacking along with the Black Panther (T’Challa, son of T’Chaka, portrayed by the late Chadwick Boseman). This results in a fight and chase scene ending with Steve, Sam, Bucky, and T’Challa all being arrested.
While being interrogated, T’Challa reveals that he wants vengeance against Bucky for killing his father in the Vienna bombing, all the while a new face enters the situation. Throughout the movie, we’ve received short glimpses at Helmut Zemo gathering information about a “1991 Mission.” He now infiltrates the building Bucky is held in and uses a codeword to send Bucky into a rampage. Bucky fights multiple Avengers before attempting escape via a helicopter but is stopped by Steve.
After the effects of the brainwashing have washed off, Bucky tells Steve and Sam Zemo is headed for an old HYDRA base in Siberia that was used to create Bucky, alongside five other Winter Soldiers. So after convincing Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Antman to join their side, and some quick help from Sharon Carter, the group sets off for an airport in Berlin. But “Team Iron Man” is waiting for them, and a fight breaks out that ends in Sam being captured so Steve and Bucky can escape to Siberia. Although we do get to see Sam and Bucky team up for a bit during this fight, which you can see below—a nice taste of the dynamic for the new show.
Sam, along with the rest of Steve’s team is placed in a top-secret prison called “The Raft.” There he’s visited by Tony Stark, who found some proof Bucky was framed. After some convincing from Sam, Tony also leaves to meet Steve and Bucky in Siberia.
Once everyone is inside the Siberian HYDRA base, they discover the other Winter Soldiers were murdered by Zemo, who has been waiting for them inside. Zemo reveals he wants to punish the Avengers for the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. His final plan is then put into place, playing footage of Tony’s parent’s death at the hands of the Winter Soldier. Naturally, Tony’s not too thrilled about this causing one more grudge-match between Tony, Bucky, and Steve as Zemo slips away into the shadows.
The fight goes on for a while, but Bucky and Steve finally manage to damage Tony’s Iron Man suit enough to escape, albeit both being injured. Meanwhile, Zemo is alone on top of the base and is met by T’Challa, who followed the other heroes here. Zemo discusses the idea of vengeance with T’Challa before finally being arrested for the Vienna bombing.
One final scene shows Steve arrive on The Raft to free Sam from imprisonment, along with Zemo being behind bars. They’re going to live as outlaws from now on taking short refuge in T’Challa’s home of Wakanda. Here, they drop off Bucky so the scientists of Wakanda can help him recover and fully shake off his brainwashing.
Thanos (Josh Brolin), the big-bad of the MCU who been teased over the course of multiple films, is enacting his plans to collect the six Infinity Stones so he can wipe out 50% of all life in the universe. And wouldn’t you know it, The Vision (a member of the Avengers since Avengers: Age of Ultron) has one lodged in his head.
Vision (Paul Bettany) is currently living in Scotland and is attacked by two of Thanos’ henchmen. After getting pinned in a train station, he finally receives some backup from Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson (joined by Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow). The three heroes help fight off these foes before everyone escapes in a jet to the Avengers Facility in New York.
At this point, the Avengers have pieced together Thanos wants the Stone inside Vision, and not willing to sacrifice their teammate, they come up with a plan. It’s decided they’ll take Vision to Wakanda so they can remove the stone without killing him. But this is also where the team is reunited with Bucky, free of his brainwashing and equipped with a shiny new cybernetic arm.
It’s not long after this that Thanos’ army of “Outriders” attacks Wakanda, requiring all the heroes to team up with Wakanda’s military to defend the city and Vision. This naturally leads to a massive battle that the heroes do… alright in. When Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) drop into the battle things start looking up though.
But even then, that’s not enough once Thanos arrives. He teleports onto the battlefield and starts approaching Vision. Despite the best efforts of the Avengers, including Sam and Bucky, he still gets the final stone.
This snap fulfills Thanos’ ultimate goal of wiping out 50% of living things, and we see multiple heroes including Sam and Bucky fade away into dust.
Naturally, there’s not a ton to comment on in Endgame for either Sam or Bucky seeing as they effectively died in Infinity War. However, this is a Marvel movie and death is rarely permanent, so let’s jump-ahead five-years into Avengers: Endgame. The movie mostly focuses on the remaining Avengers, including Steve Rogers whose still mourning the death of Sam and Bucky, attempting a “Time Heist” to recover the Infinity Stones so they can bring everyone back.
Three-hour-long story short, they succeed, but time travel is rarely so generous. While all the heroes are back, a past-version of Thanos also appears with a sizable army to accompany it.
The resulting battle is a giant hodge-podge of heroes and villains duking it out. And while you might need to watch the battle at slo-mo if you want to catch their moments, both Bucky and Sam play a role in achieving victory.
Sometime after this battle, Steve is tasked with making one more trip through time to return the six Infinity Stones to their proper places. But he comes back an older man and reveals that after returning the Stones he decided to live out a normal life in the past. Sam briefly speaks to him about the life he had, before Steve gives him the Captain America shield, effectively passing on the title to him.
And that brings us to today, where the first episode of Falcon and the Winter Soldier has been released and we get to see the next chapter in these character’s lives. Going off the trailers, it seems like Zemo has escaped imprisonment and is up to some new scheme. Which requires Bucky and Sam to team up and stop whatever plan he has in place.
The show mainly seems to be focusing on the relationship between the two characters along with Sam’s journey to becoming the next Captain America (and likely dealing with the fact they were dead for five years). Whether you’re a massive MCU fan or not, the trailers promise, at the very least, a fun superhero story. And it’s sure to set up some future MCU entries like the Loki and Hawkeye series releasing later this year. The first episode of this show is out right now though, you can view it with the box below—you can also expect five more episodes released weekly throughout April 23rd, 2021