After eight weeks of decade-hopping through the history of television with WandaVision, Marvel Studios has graciously granted viewers a week’s reprieve before they kick off their latest Disney+ offering in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. Unlike the main characters of its predecessor, both Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes have had extensive screen time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From Brooklyn to Leipzig to Wakanda, the heroes have left an indelible mark—meaning that there’s plenty of history to bone up on between now and next Friday. Here’s what you need to watch in order to remember where Sam and Bucky have been before the premiere of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Steve Rogers wants nothing more than to suit up and fight alongside his countrymen in World War II, but there’s one problem: He’s an absolute shrimp with a host of ailments.
That doesn’t stop Steve from getting into fights he can’t win; the guy has real heart, real moxie. Thank goodness his best friend, James Buchanan Barnes (affectionately called Bucky), is such a supportive bro. Bucky tells Steve that he is set to be shipped off to war; they share a goodbye as Steve tries his best to enlist again—and that’s when he gets recruited by Abraham Erskine and turned into a jacked, absolutely glistening Chris Evans (khakis included):
After Steve gets his Captain America glow-up, he travels the globe as a singing and dancing bond salesman. During a stop in Europe, he finds out Bucky has been declared dead after not returning to base after a mission. But the truth is he’s been captured. Steve, with help of Peggy Carter and Howard Stark, rescues Bucky and leagues of other prisoners from a Hydra base. Steve, Bucky, and a few more of the rescued then form a team called the Howling Commandos and stop Hydra in their tracks. Tragedy strikes, however, when Bucky is seemingly killed after falling off a fast-moving train in the Swiss Alps.
Why It Matters
We get our first look at one-half of the show’s leading men in The First Avenger. Bucky is shown to be strong and fiercely loyal. When the Howling Commandos were founded, Bucky followed Steve into battle not because he’s Captain America, but because he’s the same kid Bucky knew back in Brooklyn. Their bond, built over years of caring for one another, is one of the highlights of the entire MCU.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
After spending 70 years in Arctic ice and saving the world from an alien invasion, Captain America has taken a job working for S.H.I.E.L.D. But a new foil arrives in the Winter Soldier: Hefty, agile, and outfitted with a metal arm, this adversary poses a serious threat. To help stop him, Steve enlists the help of his literal running partner Sam Wilson, a former Air Force pararescueman. As they put two and two together and find out that Hydra has been growing within S.H.I.E.L.D., we discover another incredible secret ...
Bucky Barnes is the Winter Soldier!
As it’s revealed, Bucky survived the fall off the train due to the experimentation he underwent in the prison camp. After being rescued by Hydra’s chief scientist Arnim Zola, Bucky was brainwashed, given a new prosthetic metal arm, and used to accomplish the group’s nefarious plots across decades.
Steve and Sam, newly minted as the Falcon, team up with Natasha Romanoff to mount their attack against the Winter Soldier and Hydra’s forces. Cap and Bucky square off in a fight for the ages. They’re both nearly killed in the tussle, but a brainwashed Bucky still saves Steve from drowning in a river. After healing up, Cap and Sam start to search for Bucky, who walks away from it all and goes into hiding; in an after-credits scene, Bucky takes a look at a museum exhibit with his face on it.
Why It Matters
The Falcon has arrived! The Winter Soldier marks Sam Wilson’s first appearance in the MCU, and it’s easy to see why Cap trusts him after only two quick meetings. Sam is good-natured and dependable—and it doesn’t hurt that he has a flying armored wingsuit. As for the film’s title character, things are a bit more complicated. For 70-plus years, Bucky was a Hydra killing machine with no free will or agency. Seeing his best friend again shakes loose some of the memories locked up by years of indoctrination. Winter Soldier is the beginning of Bucky’s turn from a mindless murderer back into a normal human being … well, a normal human being with a superpowered metal arm, that is.
Thirty Seconds of Avengers: Age of Ultron (Starting at 24:21)
After taking down Baron Strucker, Tony Stark hosts a soiree at the newly minted Avengers Tower. Steve brings Sam as his plus one and they talk about, among other things, their “missing persons” case.
Why It Matters
While Steve is out there avengin’, Sam is following up on leads to find Bucky. Alas, Sam’s efforts are all for naught—Bucky Barnes has seemingly disappeared off the face of the Earth.
Four Minutes of Ant-Man (Starting at 1:02:00 and 1:46:00)
The good news? Sam has been promoted to full-fledged Avenger. Yay! The bad news? Sam is introduced to Ant-Man, and Scott Lang kicks his butt full-size. Falcon is intrigued by this new player on the scene and sets out to see where he can find him, which is great for Sam because he and Cap are going to need all the help they can get.
Why It Matters
Despite taking the L against Ant-Man, one of the newest Avengers shows his usefulness once again. He recognizes the talent Scott has, and instead of tracking him down for a rematch, Sam finds a way to keep tabs on him, just in case the Avengers need a teammate with his skill set, proving that he is indeed deserving of being named an Avenger.
Captain America: Civil War
The film starts with Bucky being defrosted, executing a hit for Hydra, and being put back into a deep freeze.
In the present, world politics are shifting. As the Avengers’ mistakes pile higher and higher, nations across the globe come together to create the Sokovia Accords, a piece of legislation that would require superheroes to either register or quit. But on the day the Accords are to be ratified, a person approximating Barnes’s appearance blows up the United Nations, killing T’Chaka, the King of Wakanda. Not only is every government agency looking for Bucky, T’Challa, the king’s son, wants revenge for the death of his father. Captain America and Falcon do their best to protect Bucky from Black Panther and the law but all four of them are arrested in the process. While incarcerated, however, Bucky is triggered by the code words used to brainwash him and he goes berserk. Steve and Sam eventually corral him, and they go on the run. With his metal arm in a vice grip, Bucky explains to Sam and Steve that they are in a lot of danger and need to get to Siberia as soon as possible. With Cap’s shield and Falcon’s wings in custody after the two were detained, the pair call on Peggy Carter’s niece Sharon, who helps smuggle out the weapons. Steve, and I cannot stress this enough, gives PEGGY CARTER’S NIECE a kiss goodbye, Sam and Bucky give us a GIF for the ages, and all three head off to save the world.
The problem is, with the Accords in effect, they would be labeled criminals if they take action without getting prior approval from the UN. Deciding to do something about it, Steve, Bucky, and Sam recruit Wanda, Hawkeye, and Ant-Man to face off against Iron Man, who’s of the philosophical belief that maybe superheroes should be held accountable for killing civilians. Falcon allows himself to be captured so Cap and Bucky can escape, but they’re followed by Iron Man. The three of them rendezvous in Siberia, where they find out Baron Zemo has been the one pulling the strings, pitting the Avengers against each other. And he has one more surprise for them: Remember the hit Bucky performed at the start of the film? The victims were Tony Stark’s parents. For obvious reasons, Stark is pretty upset. A fight ensues and Tony blows off Bucky’s metal arm. Afterward, Steve gets Bucky to Wakanda—where a very understanding T’Challa promises to heal and protect him—and then rescues Sam from the Raft, a supermax prison facility built for the sole purpose of holding superpowered individuals.
Why It Matters
With the Avengers now split, Falcon and Cap have to save the world as fugitives from the law. More importantly, though, Civil War sets the stage for Bucky’s redemption. He’s made a lot of mistakes through no fault of his own, but now the bill has come due, from multiple government agencies and one very upset billionaire genius playboy philanthropist. Seeing how Steve was willing to fight for him, despite everything, makes Bucky believe that he’s worth saving, With the dangerous Hydra programming still in his head, he makes the tough decision to go back under ice until someone can get it out and he no longer poses a threat to the people around him.
The End Credits of Black Panther
It’s easy to miss it the first time around, but when T’Challa, Nakia, and Okoye are helping CIA agent Everett Ross with his wounds in Wakanda, Shuri mentions “another broken white boy for them to fix.” Flash forward to after the credits: A one-armed Bucky emerges from a tent. He is that broken white boy, and with Shuri’s help, he looks ready to try and put his past behind him.
Why It Matters
After spending about 70 years as either an icicle or a rampaging murderer, Bucky is finally ready to discover who he really is. It can be hard to live a peaceful life when you aren’t sure you can trust your own thoughts. The process may take time, but it’ll be worth it if he can return to society without being a danger to it.
Avengers: Infinity War
After being rescued from the Raft at the end of Civil War, Falcon is a fugitive from the law. He, Steve, and Natasha rescue Wanda and Vision from an attack by the Children of Thanos. They regroup with Bruce Banner at Avengers Compound and decide Wakanda is the best place to hold off the impending invasion. Meanwhile, T’Challa provides Bucky with a new arm and lets him know a fight is on the way. The Avengers, uh, do not win that fight, however. Thanos acquires all of the Infinity Stones, snaps his fingers, and vanishes half of all living things in the universe. Sam and Bucky are among those turned to dust.
Why It Matters
Falcon and Cap have now spent years on the run and it has strengthened their bond. As for the Winter Soldier, it seems as though Bucky has finally come out on the other side after all that Hydra brainwashing. He isn’t extremely eager to fight, but for the first time in a long time, he’s fighting on the right side.
After a whole bunch of time-travel stuff—if you need a refresher on that, here you go—Cap stands alone against 2014 Thanos and his army. One man versus thousands. “On your left,” someone in the distance hollers. Steve looks up to see a portal open and Sam flies out of it. One by one, more heroes appear, including Bucky. As it turns out, this fight was the 1 in 14 million chance Doctor Strange spoke of in Infinity War, and the Avengers beat Thanos this time, at the cost of Tony Stark’s life. After attending the funeral, Steve is set to return the stones to the past and return to the present instantly, but after a quick convo with Bucky, it becomes clear Cap isn’t staying around. While Sam is still trying to find out where Cap has gone, Bucky notices an old man by sitting by the lake. He calls Sam over and gestures at him to speak to the stranger. Lo and behold, it’s Steve. Your boy went back into the past, tracked down Peggy Carter, and lived a full life of romantic bliss with her. He’s old as hell now and no, he’s not gonna go back to being young. He’s also got a gift for Sam: a brand-new shield, marking Sam as his choice to be the next Captain America.
Why It Matters
At separate times in the comics, Bucky and Sam have donned the mantle of Captain America, so when Endgame first came out, there was a debate as to why Cap gave Sam the shield instead of Bucky. It’s a fair question: Why wouldn’t Cap give the shield to his oldest and most trusted friend? Bucky may not feel worthy because of his checkered past, but at the same time, Sam may not feel worthy stepping into Captain America’s shoes. It’s a conversation the Avengers themselves have had about Thor’s hammer, but never about Cap’s shield. What makes a person worthy of being Captain America? The Falcon and the Winter Soldier looks to answer that question.
And there you have it—assuming you actually watched everything I told you to watch, you are all caught up on Sam and Bucky. Enjoy the show when it drops next week.