When Sargent James Buchanan Barnes was first introduced to all of us very fortunate viewers in the 2010 film Captain America: The First Avenger, comic fans and fangirls alike were excited. Steve Roger’s right hand man, the guy who got him out of scraps was here. Bucky knew Steve better than Steve knew himself. For some, it was his sheer presence that made the movie better. With others, it was knowing his history from the comics that amped the excitement for future movies. For me, it was the relationship these two characters shared.
The Start Of It All
The little things throughout the movie really established how much these two meant to each other, even if it was just banter. When we’re first introduced to Bucky, poor, puny, pre-serum Steve was being beaten in a back alley for standing up to a bully. Bucky comes in with the “Hey! Pick on someone your own size!” and the rest is history. From the beginning, the writers establish that Bucky cares about Steve like a little brother, and is always watching out for him. Even on their double date, Steve wanders off. Instead of just enjoying his date, Bucky flips out and starts looking for him. He even leaves the two girls behind to search for his friend. The minute Bucky ships off, we know that he will be an important character to Steve. So why did Marvel do him so dirty?
Okay, here’s the thing. Bucky has been Steve’s best friend for the longest time (nearly 100 years by the time Endgame rolls around). They make this apparent with the scene in The First Avenger, where Steve tries to get drunk after watching Bucky die. Clearly losing his best friend hit him very hard. We also see evidence of this in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), when Steve discovers that the masked assassin is actually his thought-to-be-deceased friend.
Instead of making this a central part of Steve’s post-ice depression, the focus is on Peggy Carter. A women Steve had very little on screen interaction with and no real relationship. He hadn’t even kissed her before he went under the ice, nor had they had a proper date, so his obsession with her doesn’t make much sense. If anything, he was very infatuated with her, and him carrying around her picture is anything but romantic realistically. (I do really love Peggy, and I cried happy tears when they finally got their dance, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense otherwise).
The Girlfriend (pt. 2)
There’s a whole different side to this part, however. Peggy is portrayed as the love of Steve’s life, and this is proven in Avengers: Endgame (2019), where we learn Steve traveled back in time to be with her. They finally got their dance, they get to live happily ever after, and Old Steve gets to grow old and have a family while Young Steve suffers through the events of the last 11 years in film. So WHY did they make Steve and Sharon such a big deal in Captain America: Civil War (2016)? Not only did Bucky get shafted as an important part of Steve’s life, but then they screwed Peggy over as well by having Steve share a kiss with her niece, right after her funeral.
On top of all that, Peggy has been alive the entire time Cap came out of the ice up until the events of Civil War so why didn’t they make his love for her and his obsession over her more prominent? The man carries a picture of her around and constantly looks at it, and we only get one scene where he visits her in the hospital before she dies. And to really put the cherry on top, he kisses Sharon just moments after the funeral. None of this makes sense.
I freaking love Sam Wilson, but when he was introduced to us in The Winter Soldier, it’s made very clear that Sam is going to be more important than Bucky ever was. Sam was known from that point forward as Captain America’s best friend. He was the Rhodey to his Stark, the Nat to his Clint. Even though Bucky was literally reintroduced in that same movie. Yes, he may have been a “Bad Guy” (and I say bad guy very loosely), but even in Civil War, he is seen as more of a wounded animal caught in the crosshairs than as Steve’s best friend. Sam has that title on lock, and we really see that in Endgame, when Steve passes on the mantel of “Captain America”.
My issue with this isn’t that Sam took over. I really love Sam Wilson, and I love his banter with Bucky even more. It’s very interesting to see two different sides of Steve’s life interacting with one another. Especially after Steve retires, their relationship with each other is more important than ever as it sets up the Disney + show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2020) (which you can read more about here). It’s just frustrating to see the impact Bucky has on Steve throughout the films, and then to not even see their friendship develop.
Speaking of Falcon getting the shield. I am very excited to see where they go with this. However, the Russo Brother’s gave one of the worst excuses to not giving Bucky the shield that I have ever seen. I agree with the fact that Civil War screwed up his image. Director Anthony Russo also said, though; that “Ever since [Sam and Steve] met in 2014, there seemed [to be] a very common bond… in terms of military background, their humility, their commitment to serving,” (Russo).
This is a dumb excuse. And like I said, I understand why they didn’t head in this direction. But those reasons undermine a lot of what Bucky has done in the past five movies he is in. Military background? The whole first movie is Bucky and Steve serving in the military together. Their humility? Bucky selflessly dies trying to help Steve finish their mission. He constantly risks getting beaten up to help Steve out of scraps. Commitment to serving? The end credit scene in Black Panther (2018) shows him returning to duty regardless of his health, because he knows it’s right. With all that said, saying the bond with Sam is stronger is wrong because Steve has that bond with Bucky as well.
The Civil War
Civil War was a movie about betrayal, trust, morals, and friendship above all else. The whole plot of the movie is that Bucky gets framed for something and Cap tries to help him. The result was that Iron Man stopped talking to Captain America until the events of Endgame. What really gets me about this movie is that this is the most amount of content we get involving Steve and Bucky together:
- Steve helping Bucky out, instead of the other way around
- dedication and trust building between the two of them (and with Sam Wilson)
- The start of Falcon and Winter Soldier as a duo
- Steve and Bucky reminiscing the past
- Steve and Bucky fighting side-by-side like the old days
We get all this within the movie, and at the end of it all we get an injured Bucky and one of the last on screen conversations the friends have together. After this movie ends, it’s two sentences and Bucky’s death and Cap retiring.
Movies That Could’ve Done More
Avengers: Infinity War (2018) would have been the perfect opportunity for a little more growth within their friendship. Instead, we got a hug and a little comment and nothing more. There was no checking up on how Shuri’s therapy was helping him. There has been more friendship building between Captain America and Vision than there has been with Bucky. At the end of Endgame, we get the heartbreaking “Steve?” from Bucky before he disintegrates, but it doesn’t hit home like it did in The First Avenger. Steve mourned Bucky’s death, so much that I believe it helped contribute to him landing the place in the ice.
Watching Bucky die again should have triggered his PTSD. If it did, we didn’t see any of it. In Endgame, Steve does lead a PTSD therapy group for those who lost their loved ones, but he doesn’t mention Bucky or Sam at all in that. This would’ve been the perfect opportunity for us as an audience to see that Captain America struggles too, but we didn’t get that either.
Overall, I feel like Bucky really deserved better treatment within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m hopeful that the new tv show on Disney + will give him the recognition he deserves and as well as opens a new door for a bigger role in the future of the Avengers. After all, he deserves a happy ending as well.