‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’: Sebastian Stan Has Technically Played 3 Different Characters in the MCU

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is Marvel’s latest hit, following the continuing adventures of Sam “The Falcon” Wilson and James “Bucky” Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier. Sebastian Stan portrays Bucky, and it’s a complicated, multi-layered character to say the least.

Many fans have been impressed with his performance for one simple reason: throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he’s actually played three characters rolled up into one person. 

The character arc of James “Bucky” Barnes

Sebastian Stan
Sebastian Stan | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

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We first meet Bucky in Captain America: The First Avenger. In that film, he’s the best friend of the protagonist, Steve Rogers. Bucky supports Steve and even fights alongside him before tragically seeming to die at the hands of HYDRA. His death serves as a catalyst in Steve’s desire to finish the job and defeat the Red Skull and HYDRA once and for all. 

When we next meet the character, it’s in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Here, he’s in a much different form. In the present day, Steve comes to find out Bucky was resurrected by HYDRA and brainwashed into doing their bidding. Steve defeats HYDRA and spares his former friend’s life. In Captain America: Civil War, Bucky is shown attempting to hide, no longer an agent of HYDRA. He’s framed for the death of King T’Chaka. After his name is cleared, T’Challa allows him the opportunity to overcome his HYDRA training by resting and recuperating in Wakanda. 

Bucky helps the Avengers fight Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War before being dusted by the snap. He returns in Avengers: Endgame to help finally defeat Thanos once and for all. 

How ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ continues Bucky’s story

In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Bucky is now coping with the fact that he’s a man from another time. His best friend is gone. The only connection he has is Sam Wilson. Bucky grapples with the reality of the evil acts he committed. He’s in therapy and trying to make amends for his past. He reunites with Sam to track a mysterious group of Super Soldiers known as the Flag Smashers. The show attempts to tackle the question of where Bucky goes from here. How does someone who did so many horrible things move on to contribute some good to the world? 

Sebastian Stan has technically played three characters in the MCU

One MCU fan discussed Stan’s performance on Reddit, especially in light of his recent turn on his own Disney+ series. They pointed out that what makes his run throughout these movies and TV show so notable is that his character has changed so much. You could even say he’s playing different characters: 

“I’m most impressed with Sebastian Stan. He’s now played three separate characters in the MCU… even though they’re actually the same guy. “

First, Stan played Bucky Barnes, loyal friends to Steve in the 1940s during World War II. Then he portrayed the villainous Winter Soldier, a brainwashed assassin and agent of HYDRA. Since then, he’s played Bucky (or the “White Wolf” as the Wakandans called him), a man who was twisted into evil but has now reformed to a different version of his past self. 

So, if you’re keeping score, Stan has played Bucky, the Winter Soldier, and the White Wolf. Three characters all contained within one complex man. 

The challenge for Stan is that all three of these “characters” vary in how they look and act, yet all three have to retain some semblance of similarity. They’re all the same person. That’s what makes The Falcon and the Winter Soldier so compelling. Marvel fans get to watch Bucky continue to develop and grow.