With Captain America: Civil War now well out of the way (not long till the DVD and Blu-ray release though), and only solo movies to go next year, the focus of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is now firmly on the next ensemble piece Avengers: Infinity War. The cast list is far from confirmed, with the Infinity War script not yet officially finalized, but we've still been getting some very exciting little snippets of news coming out of the Marvel camp as of late.
You might have missed this particular one, but according to a report from earlier this month by The Hollywood Reporter, Sebastian Stan — who portrays James "Bucky" Barnes/the Winter Soldier — will be returning for Avengers: Infinity War.
While there's speculation that we'll be seeing a new character appearing — speculation fueled in part by the Russo brothers themselves — we also know that we're going to see the vast majority of the superheroes we've met so far in the MCU returning too, at least in part. So, this means the Winter Soldier will be returning — but he's one of the few characters that we might not have expected to see in Infinity War.
Bye Bye Bucky
The conclusion of Civil War left Bucky Barnes in a delicate position. Facing up to the ghosts of sins past through his confrontation with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in the Siberian HYDRA outpost as he tried to overcome the Winter Soldier programming that still holds his mind in its thrall.
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Bucky has had perhaps one of the most engaging character arcs over the run of the MCU so far. As Ed Brubaker did with the comics when he brought Bucky back as the Winter Soldier nearly 40 years after he was killed off in the comics, the MCU has taken what could've been a minor character killed off as part of Steve Roger's (Chris Evans) origin story and made him one of the most interesting characters in the whole universe.
Indeed his very existence was the driving force behind Cap's decision to oppose General "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) and the Sokovia Accords in Civil War. And you can bet we haven't seen the last of him, as the Russo brothers are very interested in further developing the dynamic between Steve and Bucky as we roll into Infinity War.
As Anthony Russo told Slash Film at a press junket back in May:
"The other relationship that's still exciting to us is, again, Cap and Bucky. The wonderful thing about this movie, which started in 'Winter Soldier', is that Cap had a belief in him, that there's still a human being inside the Winter Soldier that he can save and that he can reach, and he's gone to incredible lengths now, with incredible faith, that that's waiting for him if he goes there. He's found that human being inside Bucky Barnes, but who is that guy going forward? Just because he's found and he's there, he's still this crazy, bastard hybrid of who he used to be in 'The First Avenger' and this killing machine."
Though Civil War promised us redemption for Bucky Barnes, there wasn't all that much to be had there. Infinity War looks set to expand upon his inner conflict as he becomes fully actualized — no longer Bucky Barnes, but no longer the Winter Soldier either.
There are a few ways we can already speculate upon regarding how this inner conflict will be resolved. There's the possibility of Doctor Strange stepping in to help out once he's introduced to the MCU later this year, or the application of Tony Stark's mysterious B.A.R.F. technology, which we saw employed at the beginning of Civil War.
But, could a certain black cat help him out, now that he and Bucky have crossed paths?
Black Panther Enters The Fray
Chadwick Boseman crashed into the MCU with a hell of a lot of style when he arrived as Black Panther/T'Challa in Captain America: Civil War, instantly cementing the upcoming Black Panther movie as one to watch out for. As we all know by now, Civil War left off with Bucky entering stasis in Wakanda, watched over by T'Challa who had previously spent most of the movie trying to claw his face off.
His change of heart came when T'Challa realized that it was in fact Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl) behind the death of his father, T'Chaka (John Kani), not Bucky Barnes. Being the diplomatic sort, he offered Bucky, Cap and presumably the rest of the defecting Avengers team sanctuary in Wakanda, where he conveniently had a bunch of cryo tubes kicking around.
Earlier this month, Black Panther screenwriter Joe Robert Cole told Slash Film that T'Challa's solo movie will pick up with the now-King of Wakanda after the events of Civil War, presumably leading on from the new take on Black Panther's origin story that we saw in Civil War itself.
"Our standalone movie will begin shortly after 'Civil War' ends. So we'll be able to see [T'Challa] mourning and him starting to take command as king of his own nation. Lots of things are going to occur within regards to that. The country will be under threat from inside and out so we’ll learn what Wakanda is, that nation, as the most technologically advanced nation on the planet. Also, as Wakanda's rise to prominence happens, it will affect the MCU moving forward which is really exciting."
Putting these two pieces of news together, it's looking ever more likely that we'll see the Winter Soldier popping up in Black Panther on the road to his role in Infinity War. Bucky and Black Panther don't really have a history of partnership in the comics though, so how it plays out is anyone's guess at this stage.
But since we've learned that Michael B. Jordan's villain Erik Killmonger might be partnering up with Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis) to take down Black Panther in the solo movie, it might be that T'Challa can use all the help he can get.
Or it could just be that Steve decides to pop along and wake Bucky up to help out during Infinity War without there being a prior set up in Black Panther, but that seems like a pretty weak way of going about it, given the strong set-up so far. We'll find out for sure when Black Panther releases in the far flung reaches of time that is July 6, 2018.
Do you think we'll see Bucky Barnes in Black Panther? Have your say in the comments below!