As of yesterday morning, I hadn’t yet watched the premiere episode of Disney+’s The Falcon and the Winter Solider, which debuted on March 19. Then, my colleagues started talking about James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and his time in therapy. I was informed that Bucky, a brunette man with the face of a cologne ad model, was dealing with feelings of displacement. While Bucky may look like someone fit enough to star in a horny teen warlock drama in the last decade-and-a-half, he’s much, much, much older than he seems.
This detail immediately reminded me of another gorgeous, brown-haired, deeply sad, and very supernatural gentleman haunted by the sins of his past: Edward “Hold On Tight, Spider Monkey” Cullen. So I watched The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s pilot, “New World Order,” to see just how similar these two broody fellows indeed are. The answer: Extremely. The difference comes down to the very divergent ways Twilight and Falcon and the Winter Soldier treat the advanced ages of their tragic heroes.
Technically, Edward, played by Robert Pattison in the Twilight films, is markedly older than Bucky. According to Stephenie Meyers’ initial Twilight books, Edward was born in June 1901, making the fictional character 120 years old this summer (sexy!). As Bucky announces in therapy during “New World Order,” he’s 106 years old. But, in terms of Twilight’s narrative framework, Edward is meant to be a spry 104, since Meyers’ novel debuted in 2005. Considering the time frame of Meyers’ four-book series, Edward is probably about 106 by the end of The Twilight Saga. This means that, in terms of their respective stories, we’re meeting Edward and Bucky right at the same place: over the centennial hill.
At face value, Twilight and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s marketing bank on you walking into their tales hot and bothered for characters who remember a time well before the Polio vaccine. They hope their impossibly chiseled jawlines and broad chests will make you forget these characters are old enough to be your great-grandfather (if not great, great-grandfather). Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart in the Twilight movies) never takes a moment to consider what it means that her boyfriend has been 17 for “a while;” Bella’s family doesn’t get the opportunity to grapple with the idea that their daughter’s life partner has already lived countless lives before she was even born.
Yet, the more you watch The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, the more you realize the series is a response to that kind of willful obliviousness. As Bucky’s therapist Dr. Raynor (Amy Aquino) tells him, he should feel like his life is looking up. Bucky is in possession of his own mind after years of brainwashing at the hands of the villainous Hydra cabal, and he’s going to be pardoned for his actions under Hydra’s control — he’s finally free. The underlying suggestion is that it doesn’t hurt that 106-year-old Bucky is freshly liberated in the body of a 30something year old man with movie star looks. The Falcon and Winter Soldier doesn’t have to say that part — it shows us by revealing just how quickly a woman will agree to a date with Bucky over the din of a packed restaurant with nothing but the help of a geriatric wingman (Ken Takemoto).
A lot of projects would lean into the romance of Bucky finding love with an equally good-looking person while completely out of step with the times. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier instead focuses on the very real loneliness plaguing him. “You gotta warm up, and I haven’t danced since 1943,” Bucky complains, contemplating the difficult finesse of twenty-first century dating. During drinks with genuinely youthful waitress Leah (Miki Ishikawa), Bucky bemoans the alienation and confusion of dating apps. Leah compares Bucky to her dad, and it’s not a compliment. Bucky stiffens at the mere suggestion of such a vibrant woman reading his mind. It’s impossible for Bucky to connect to someone like Leah, no matter how winning they look together. This is what a date between a centenarian and someone born in the run-up to Y2K would actually look like — sorry, Bella.
If Falcon and the Winter Soldier was really brave, it would have Bucky end up with one of those “young” 90-year-olds he jokes about in the premiere. Now that's someone who would be happy to criticize tiger selfies with him.