Now that WandaVision has officially ended — sob — the Marvel Cinematic Universe is moving full-steam ahead to a different, less witchy corner of its vast superhero cosmos with new Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. The new MCU offering will focus on the eponymous partnership between Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), and from the looks of it, this duo is more contentious than dynamic.
As one of the first projects of the highly-anticipated fourth phase and the next MCU show on Disney+ right after the widely successful WandaVision, the stakes are high for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. So high, in fact, that one might be wondering why exactly the story of Sam and Bucky's reluctant team up is situated so early in a jam-packed lineup that includes the likes of Thor 2, The Eternals and so much more. But don't be confused by this pair's status as mere mortals — their story is pivotal to the chain of events still to come in Phase Four.
"We have a future charted for characters post-Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but I don't want to say much more than that," teased Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige in conversation with Entertainment Weekly.
Suffice to say, these guys are pretty important to this next chapter of the MCU. Before you do a deep dive into their adventures post-Thanos (Josh Brolin), here's where they came from (and why you should care).
What You Should Know About: Sam Wilson/The Falcon
We first met Sam (Mackie) in the 2014 film Captain America: The Winter Soldier. A military veteran who abandoned active duty for a calm life counseling fellow vets dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, Sam became fast friends with Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans) after bumping into him during their respective morning runs. The friendship quickly became an allyship when Sam joined forces with Steve and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to stop the nefarious schemes of underground terrorist group HYDRA — a mission that would also lead them directly to the mysterious Winter Soldier, Steve's long-lost friend Bucky Barnes (Stan).
Sam became an unofficial member of the Avengers in Age of Ultron, helping Steve and the gang take down a terrifying sentient A.I. set on destroying the earth. And later, in Captain America: Civil War, he'd side with his best friend in the in-house fight for superhero heroes rights. At the same time, he and Steve were actively hunting Bucky down, desperate to reach him before Wakandan king T'Challa (the late Chadwick Boseman) could get to him first.
By the events of Infinity War and Endgame, Sam was a full-fledged member of the Avengers' B-team. He unfortunately was dusted in Thanos' snap, but when he returned, he was among the league of heroes battling the titan and his intergalactic army. At the end of the Endgame, Steve traveled to the future so that he could spend time with his one true love Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), only returning after aging several decades (who knew Steve could age?). Now too old to carry his iconic vibranium shield, Steve passed on the mantle to his best friend Sam, a hero who had also dedicated his life to keeping his country safe.
So yeah, Captain America is Black now. But given everything that this country stands for, the new gig might be more challenging for Sam than he expected. Plus, he has to work with Steve's other best friend, a guy who was a brainwashed assassin just a few movies ago...
What You Should Know About: Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier
It's totally possible that after everything that's gone down, you genuinely don't like Bucky, and that's totally fair; he's been on some bullshit since we first met him. The anti-hero was one of the main villains of Captain America's first solo film, a soldier turned into a living weapon by HYDRA in order to carry out a monstrous terror plot. Brainwashing Bucky into forgetting his previous life and even fitting him with a powerful cybernetic arm, HYDRA was able to use the Winter Soldier to further its agenda of chaos — that is, until Captain America was made aware of their plan.
Steve's search for Bucky continued well into his second solo film Captain America: Civil War, which put him at odds with friend and comrade Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.). In addition to disagreeing about the rights of the Avengers, Tony discovered that his parents' death all those years was not due to a car accident after all; a mind-controlled Bucky had been dispatched to steal samples of the Super Soldier Serum from the Starks' car and murdered them in the process. Heartbroken by the discovery and furious at Steve's knowledge of it, the Avengers leaders engaged in near-fatal combat until Steve and Bucky escaped. At the end of the film, the reunited friends find respite in Wakanda under the protection of T'Challa and his Dora Milaje, where Bucky is armored with a new arm and freed from his mind control.
When the Avengers take on Thanos, Bucky has been forgiven and accepted into the fold. He doesn't last long in the fight — he gets dusted too — but by the end of the war to end all wars, the Winter Soldier is left standing. With Steve now too old to fight the good fight, Bucky knows that he has a responsibility to play a bigger part in protecting the world, even if that means teaming up with someone he doesn't quite see eye to eye with.
What You Should Know About: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
This brings us to present day, shortly after the events of Endgame. As the next Captain America, Sam is trying to come to terms with the implications of his new gig. And Bucky, a full-blown villain turned hesitant hero who just lost his only friend, can't quite figure out his place in this new world (don't forget that he's literally 100 years old and hasn't been a normal person since World War II). The two men, born in different times and driven by vastly different circumstances, find themselves working side-by-side again, this time without the steady calm of their mutual friend Steve to keep them from each other's throats.
"So we're partners?" Bucky questions in the final trailer.
"Co-workers," corrects Sam. "Not necessarily a team."
A storyline that takes grudging co-workers and transforms them into best friends forever? We'll absolutely take it. Get ready — the first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier officially drops on March 19, only on Disney+.