According to showrunner Malcolm Spellman, his new Marvel Cinematic Universe TV series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier exists because of a 12-second joke in Captain America: Civil War. Squeezed into the back seat of a tiny European car, the feared assassin known as the Winter Soldier asks Sam Wilson — the superhero known as Falcon — to move his front seat up a bit, to free up some leg room. “No,” Sam replies testily, and a Marvel TV series was born.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: Civil War was a long time ago — Thanos wasn’t even in it! And with Falcon and the Winter Soldier both blipped into dust at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, it’s been a while since either of them has had much to do in an MCU installment.
With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier hitting Disney Plus on Friday (at the always-fun time of 3:01 a.m. PT), let’s go over what everyone should know about Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes before swooping in.
We last saw Sam in Avengers: Endgame, as an aged Steve Rogers gave him his shield and the blessing to take it up as a new Captain America. But the first time we saw Sam (in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier), he was an Air Force veteran and counselor who had a jogging-related meet cute with Steve Rogers on the Washington Mall.
Meeting Sam turned out to be emotionally fruitful for Steve, as the two easily struck up a friendship, and logistically fruitful, as Sam was the only surviving member of the Air Force’s experimental elite Pararescue squad. With a specialized mechanical wing-suit, Sam could fly like an eagle, or at least like a falcon.
After the fall of Hydra, Sam helped Steve out by searching for Bucky, and eventually joined the Avengers (in Avengers: Age of Ultron) and fought Ant-Man in a cameo in Ant-Man. When the Avengers split over the Sokovia Accords (Captain America: Civil War), Sam stayed loyal to Steve, becoming a fugitive from the law. Sam was a victim of Thanos’ snap (Avengers: Infinity War), but helped rally an army of resurrected heroes to defeat the Mad Titan forever (Avengers: Endgame).
The Winter Soldier
When we last saw Bucky Barnes, he was watching while Steve Rogers gave his shield to Sam Wilson. When we first saw him, it was 1942, and Bucky was about to ship out for the German front of World War II, leaving behind his best friend, the frail but brave soldier Steve Rogers.
Little did he know that Steve was about to get a big helping of Super Soldier Serum, enabling him to rescue Bucky and his fellow combatants from a Hydra prisoner-of-war camp. Bucky was eventually lost in a raid on a Hydra supply train and presumed dead (Captain America: the First Avenger). But he was actually only mostly dead.
Hydra captured Bucky, replaced his shattered left arm with a metal one, and with the effects of the imitation Super Soldier Serum the organization had injected him with while he was a POW, nurtured his supernatural strength and reflexes. Then they brainwashed him into becoming the near-legendary assassin known as the Winter Soldier. For the next 60 years, Hydra sent Bucky on deadly missions when they needed him, then wiped his memory and chucked him in cryogenic storage when they didn’t.
This was all uncovered by Steve Rogers when Hydra sent the Winter Soldier to kill Nick Fury, in preparation for a long-awaited global takeover. Steve managed to bring Bucky to his senses, but he went into hiding to sort out his extremely scrambled brain (Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Next, the angered Sokovian mastermind Helmut Zemo framed Bucky for some crimes and sent him into a killing frenzy using a subliminal trigger phrase that Soviet operatives implanted in his mind back in his Hydra days.
After sorting all that out, Cap went on the run from the law, and Bucky was placed back in cryogenic stasis — but this time in the hyper-advanced African nation of Wakanda, whose national hero and king Black Panther promised Steve that his scientists (i.e., Shuri) could restore Bucky’s full memories and get rid of that pesky murder phrase (Captain America: Civil War). Bucky got to live at least a few days of a peaceful, unfrozen life in Wakanda before Thanos came to town and he was swept up in that battle, where he was among the 50% of all people who were dissolved into ash by the Mad Titan’s whim (Avengers: Infinity War), only to be resurrected by Bruce Banner five years later (Avengers: Endgame).
But Bucky and Sam aren’t the only characters with MCU history coming back for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — they’re just the ones in the title.
When we last saw Sharon Carter, she smuggled vital equipment — costumes and gear — to Captain America and his allies, and awkwardly smooched him (Captain America: Civil War) as Sam and Bucky watched from that tiny car. But we first saw Sharon, niece of Cap’s WWII era love Peggy Carter, when she was the SHIELD agent assigned to monitor Steve Rogers’ assimilation into modern life (Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
The last time we saw Helmut Zemo, Wakandan hero T’Challa, a.k.a. the Black Panther, had captured him and turned him over to the Joint Counter Terrorist Centre for doing quite a lot of crimes, including killing T’Challa’s dad, the king of Wakanda. Zemo is Sokovian, and when his wife and children were killed in Ultron’s attack (Avengers: Age of Ultron) he blamed the Avengers for creating the evil machine intelligence. (Fair. They did do that.)
He concocted a scheme to frame Captain America’s long-lost best friend turned brainwashed assassin for some murders he didn’t commit, and also reveal some of the secret murders he actually did commit while brainwashed. Specifically, he showed Steve and Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, that Bucky killed Tony’s parents, Maria and Howard Stark, while making their deaths look like a car accident. The ensuing rift between Captain America, loyal to Bucky, and Iron Man, really mad about his parents, sundered the Avengers — and Zemo’s revenge was complete (Captain America: Civil War).
Batroc the Leaper
That’s right, there’s one more returning villain in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier!
What do you mean you don’t remember Batroc the Leaper? He’s that guy Captain America said “On va voir” to! When last we saw Batroc, he was a French pirate and Steve Rogers kicked his butt in a pretty impressive hand-to-hand fight (Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
That was also the first time we saw Batroc. But according to casting information, we’ll see him again in Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Hopefully he’ll be just as nattily dressed.