The online release of the new Super Bowl TV spot for Marvel Studios' Captain America: Civil War has brought some enticing new glimpses of returning character Bucky Barnes, better known as the infamous Winter Soldier. But first, let's get a second (or eighteenth) look at the footage:
The third film in the Captain America franchise will also mark the third major on-screen appearance of Steve Rogers' fellow WWII veteran and childhood friend Bucky Barnes as played by Sebastian Stan.
After the events of [Captain America: The Winter Soldier](tag:254973), the former friend turned brainwashed assassin Barnes was last seen on the run from the authorities. After many decades of torture, repeated cryo-stasis, and mental programming beneath the cruel thumb of Hydra, Barnes was shown to be finally reconnecting with his past and rediscovering his true identity as a war hero and martyr in the battle against the genocidal Red Skull's Hydra faction. The film ends with Steve Rogers setting out to find his lost friend with the help of a newly acquired ally, Sam Wilson (aka Falcon).
In last year's [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](tag:293035) we received the update that Wilson had yet to make any large gains in the ongoing search for the rogue Barnes, that he had been chasing nothing but "cold leads". However the first released trailer and new TV spot for [Captain America: Civil War](tag:994409) as well as the post credit scene in Ant-Man make it clear that Bucky will be back in the spotlight for the third outing.
With tensions high following the disastrous incidents in Sokovia, and Washington D.C. as well as the all-but-guaranteed catastrophic event set to unfold in the opening minutes of Captain America: Civil War it seems that the public and governmental outcry for sanctions against the unregulated activity and operations of powered people (as embodied by the Sokovia Accords) will be at an all time high. With such a checkered past--operating globally over the decades as a brainwashed enforcer for Hydra, causing the chaos at the Triskelion SHIELD base, and having possibly had a shiny metal hand in the suspicious deaths of Howard and Maria Stark--Bucky Barnes will be in the crosshairs of not only several powerful government agencies, but also at least one certain vengeful billionaire genius (More on that later).
Bucky Barnes will clearly serve as the central linchpin in the ideological conflict between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, with Rogers standing up for his compromised friend, and Stark demanding he face the consequences for his past actions. However as the new TV spot suggests, there is more to Barnes in Captain America: Civil War than meets the eye.
While some of the previous trailer and new TV spot appear to show Barnes as fairly chummy with Steve Rogers and his band of New Avengers/resistance fighters, other portions of the new footage are more troubling:
For one, this spectacular sequence seems to show Barnes attempting to assassinate Tony Stark at point blank range (narrowly avoided by some impressive tech from Tony's ever-increasing arsenal of gadgets and suits). This is clearly an act of aggression, as Barnes does not appear to be on the run as other footage has suggested (though he is wearing the same shirt as the previously released Ant-Man post-credit tag). Furthermore, the crazed look in his eye and the coldness with which he makes such a blatant attempt on Stark's life seems more akin to his previous alias as a brainwashed super soldier, than as the loyal friend of Steve Rogers, leading to speculation that there may still be aspects of his Hydra conditioning that will surface during the film.
Which brings us to what may be the most intriguing shot in the trailer...
Bucky is shown to be hooked up to a Cold War-esque sci-fi machine, and seems to be in some sort of induced coma. There are unfamiliar additions to his armour (i.e. the blue lit electrodes) and an array of thick cables within the decidedly evil looking contraption. His suspension on wires is visually not unlike a marionette doll, hinting at the possibility that someone else may be pulling the strings, and controlling his actions in the film.
The last time we saw Bucky Barnes in a similar sort of stasis, he was being debriefed before having his memory wiped by his Hydra masters during Captain America: The Winter Soldier. With his previous handler Senator Alexander Pierce now dead, Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier has fallen out of the influence of Hydra, now living on the run and looking to repent for his actions. However with a new head of Hydra stepping into the picture, this may prove harder than it seems.
With the confirmation that classic Hydra baddie Baron Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) will have a villainous role in the film, it seems increasingly likely that he will have incentive to encourage the creation of the Sokovia Accords, the legislation that will ultimately divide the Avengers. Marvel Boss Kevin Feige described the MCU version of Baron Zemo:
“I will say that his character is very much a product of the Cinematic Universe and all that has occurred within that universe up to this point.”
Framing Bucky Barnes for an international crime, or better yet, brainwashing him into actually doing it could be a brilliant move, pushing things to a boiling point between Cap and Stark's respective camps. While we have yet to see Brühl's take on the character, it is safe to say he will be up to some nefarious plotting, and may be looking to reclaim the Winter Soldier as a valuable asset for his organization.
Could Baron Zemo have recaptured Bucky and induced a relapse into his Winter Soldier alias through resumed brainwashing/experimentation? Alas it is unclear where this mysterious scene fits into the MCU chronology. On one hand, Bucky could be captive in one of the surviving Hydra bases, where Steve finally finds him after his global search and liberates him from being reincorporated into future manipulations. Alternatively, it could very well be a flashback scene given the seemingly lower tech (albeit very sinister) incubator-like machine. More evidence for flashback material comes by the unreliable, but often telling IMDB casting page for Captain America: Civil War, which credits Russian actor Gene Farber as playing the character Karpov.
If true, this is most certainly in reference to Vasily Karpov: a Soviet officer who had a large role in the creation and reprogramming of the Winter Soldier in the comics. The MCU Winter Soldier is confirmed to have spent time in the custody of the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War, possibly on a mutually beneficial lend from Hydra. It would also make sense to jump back in time to re-familiarize the audience with the circumstances of Bucky's transformation into the feared "Iron Fist of Hydra".
Although it could be that the MCU version of Karpov's character is reimagined as living in the contemporary timeline, it seems like flashbacks to the creation of the Winter Soldier are all but inevitable in order to fully demonstrate the process by which he was brainwashed in the past, as well as the extent of the damage he has caused in the decades since his creation. As Alexander Pierce said to Barnes, "You shaped the century". Indeed, the fallout from the Winter Soldier's global operations might also extend to the family and homeland of another new addition to the MCU, one who is also rumoured to have his own personal beef with Bucky: the decorated prince and sovereign warrior protector of Wakanda, T'Challa, the Black Panther.
There have been many theories going around about why the Black Panther is on the hunt for Bucky. Some have guessed that the Winter Soldier may have been involved in the death of T'Challa's father or other royal family member while on a mission for Hydra. Others have rejected that possibility (leaving that assassination to classic Black Panther villain, Age of Ultron's Ulysses Klaue) and instead point to the apparent framing of Bucky for the bombing of what appears in the first trailer to be the United Nations. Still others have theorized that Bucky's arm, which may be made of vibranium, is considered stolen goods from Black Panther's home country of Wakanda, and symbolically an abhorrent use of their greatest natural resource.
Whatever the reason for Black Panther's pursuit, it means that Bucky has yet another big target on his back, and from a very capable and dangerous foe. Now with such stacked odds against him, the final twist in the knife would be to reveal that Hydra still has a hold over Bucky, and that the resurgence of his cognitive reprogramming by the evil organization will be the final straw, leading to the ultimate incrimination of Bucky and all of his compatriots.
For Steve Rogers to stand up against friends and allies alike, only to have Stark's doubts about Bucky's loyalties actualized would be a fitting gut-punch, and a truly disturbing twist, demonstrating the continued influence of Hydra in world affairs. With all of the inter-fighting between heroes in Captain America: Civil War, the subsequent chaos and distraction will be a rare opportunity for Baron Zemo to step in, reactivate Bucky's sleeper conditioning, and manipulate the scenario to his advantage.
Steve and Bucky's relationship has been one of the core tenets of the Captain America franchise; despite trying circumstances, the two of them share a bond as men out-of-time. Their friendship's ability to transcend the century and a vastly changed world has been and will continue to be a recurring theme of the trilogy, and likewise, before it's over Hydra too must rear its ugly Lovecraftian head one more time.
Divided we fall indeed.