Bucky Take the Wheel
Here is the thesis of this post: BUCKY BARNES IS NOT A VILLAIN.
Here is the evidence: HE’S NOT A GODDAMN VILLAIN.
Not satisfied? I already cannot with you, in that case, but I’ll break it down because sometimes it’s hard to separate “man who kills people just to kill people” from “man who was captured and brainwashed into killing people,” so– OH, WAIT, NO. IT’S NOT THAT HARD. Okay, okay, I’ll stop being a dick. So let’s talk about Bucky Barnes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and why people should stop calling this man the bad guy. Also, just to state the obvious, here is your warning that THIS POST WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER.
If you didn’t pay any attention in Captain America: The First Avenger–which, if you’ve only seen it once, I’d understand because Chris Evans, body, bzuhhhhh–the very first time we meet Bucky is an alley outside of a movie theater where he shows up to save his best friend from getting his ass beat. It’s a quick way to establish the length of their friendship and how important they are to each other; Bucky is so important, in fact, that Steve later drops down into Red Skull territory because of the minuscule chance that Bucky might be alive after being taken prisoner. Chinhands!
That friendship right there is a huge part of The Winter Soldier, and it’s my favorite relationship of any kind in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). One of the things I loved most about TWS—aside from the fact that the filmmakers and screenwriters weren’t afraid to make Natasha the femme fatale with a vulnerable side because A WOMAN IS STILL STRONG EVEN IF SHE STUMBLES SOMETIMES but we can talk about that another day—was the way the film was so unapologetic about how much love there is between Steve and Bucky. Whether you’re in fandom and ‘ship it or not, there’s no denying that these guys adore each other and I guess it’s easy to lose sight of that when Bucky is trying to assassinate Steve except AGAIN, NO, IT’S REALLY NOT EASY AT ALL.
The film is very specific about framing Bucky as a victim which is why I don’t even remotely understand why people throw the word “villain” around like it’s nothing. If you want to pinpoint a bad guy in TWS, HOW ABOUT TAKING A LOOK AT ALEXANDER PIERCE???? ARNIM ZOLA??????????? HYDRA AS A WHOLE????????????????????????????????????????? Watch the scene in the bank and tell me that when Pierce orders the docs to “wipe him,” Bucky is the one at fault. Watch the subtleties in Sebastian Stan’s expression—the confusion, the frustration, the anger, the desire to remember because he knew him—and tell me that Bucky Barnes deserves to be called the bad guy.
Watch the way he accepts the mouthpiece that’s given to him to muffle his screams, resigned like he’s used to this, like he’s been subjected to this so many times before; it’s heartbreaking. This is why the flashback was included, the one with Bucky telling Steve that he’s “with him ‘til the end of the line, pal” and wow, I’m not even going to lie, I’MA CRY RIGHT NOW BECAUSE FOR A MAN SO GOOD AND KIND AND WILLING TO DO ANYTHING FOR HIS BEST FRIEND TO GO FROM WHO HE’D BEEN THEN TO THE AMENSIAC KILLING MACHINE HE IS NOW IS A TRAGEDY, OKAY, IT’S A GODDAMN TRAGEDY AND EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE AS MANY BUCKY BARNES FEELINGS AS I DO.
Can we also take a second to address that bizarre trend of comparing Bucky to LOKI, OF ALL PEOPLE?????????
IS IT BECAUSE THEY BOTH HAVE LUSCIOUS DARK LOCKS (except Loki could probably use some of Bucky’s shampoo and conditioner) AND THEIR STUPIDLY. BLUE. EYES??????????????? No, I just don’t get it and would love if someone would explain it to me because how could Bucky Barnes, a man who has very obviously brainwashed into doing what he’s doing, be on the same level as Loki, a god who is willing to “kill eighty people in two days” (The Avengers) because he’s pissy at the brother he’d already screwed over? “He’s adopted” always gets a laugh but if every adopted person in the world was able to use that as an excuse, we’d be overrun with serial killers. Daddy didn’t make Loki do it, brother didn’t make Loki do it, Loki is doing what he does BECAUSE HE CHOOSES TO DO IT.
I should disclaim all of this by saying that I do love seeing Loki on the big screen. He’s a delightful little shit but at the same time, I never want to confuse enjoying the way he’s portrayed with enjoying the pain and suffering he causes. There’s a distinct difference there, and I don’t think it should be ignored. Loki is a complex character, to be sure, and it’s a testament to both the writing and the acting that there are certainly times when I’ve felt sorry for him, pitied him, even wanted him to get his way; but to woobify Loki, to make excuses for the more deplorable things he’s done just to, what, feel better about liking someone capable of that? I don’t think that’s okay. You like him as a villain? OWN IT. Appreciate the character for what and who he is, not what we want him to be in fan fiction. Let’s try not say that having a hard life is a perfectly valid reason for him to do what he does by choice.
Look, here’s the deal, I adore Tom Hiddleston. I think he’s an incredibly talented actor and I had dream once where he wooed me by taking me on cutesy, romantic dates–THIS WASN’T EVEN A ZEXY TIEMS DREAM, IT WAS JUST HIDDLES TAKING ME ON DATES LIKE ROWING A GODDAMN BOAT, WHO GOES OUT FOR GODDAMN BOAT ROWING DATES ANYMORE?–and I think he’s proven more than once that he holds this character close to his heart:
“The thing is he always keeps people guessing. One of the most interesting conversations Chris [Hemsworth] and I kept having was, “What does Loki want in the end?” What does he want? I was unable to come up with a definitive answer. Perhaps because I don’t think Loki even knows. He’s become so accustomed to occupying opposition. Whatever the status quo is, he’s opposed to it. That’s why he’s a trickster, a shapeshifter, a deceiver, a strategist, a manipulator.” — Tom Hiddleston
You know who else holds his character close to his heart, knows his character inside and out, has researched the very things that make his character tick? You’ve probably guessed it.
“He had to be a realistic threat. I never approached it in the sense that he is a villain or should be a really villainous character but that he was a threat.” — Sebastian Stan
Think about what these movies show us: Bucky, clinging to life and having lost an arm after falling from a moving train; Bucky, captured again and experimented on, having a shiny new metal arm that also serves as a secondary murder weapon attached against his will; Bucky, brainwashed over and over and over again until he can’t even remember the face of the one man he would have followed anymore. The first line Bucky says (in English, at least) in TWS is “who the hell is Bucky?” and that really says it all. While Bucky is essential to the existence of the Winter Soldier, they are not one in the same because Bucky Barnes would never do the things he does as the Winter Soldier if he still had any sort of control over his own mind.
One of the last scenes of TWS is the big showdown between Steve and Bucky, culminating in a parallel shot of Bucky hanging from one of the helicarriers as he watches Steve fall. “I’m with you ‘til the end of the line,” Steve says to him, an echo of the very thing Bucky had told him an entire lifetime ago. It’s in that moment that the Winter Soldier ceases to be what Hydra wants him to be—calculated, cold-hearted, a machine. The words resonate in him; it’s perfectly clear in his expression. HE’S JAMES BUCHANAN BARNES. HE’S STEVE’S FRIEND AND MAYBE HE DOESN’T REMEMBER THAT BUT IT MEANS SOMETHING THAT THERE’S THIS ONE IDIOT MAN IN THE WORLD WHO IS WILLING TO THROW DOWN HIS SHIELD AND STOP FIGHTING BECAUSE OF WHO BUCKY IS BEYOND THE METAL ARM. The worst part is that before Steve says that, Bucky is still in full Winter Soldier mode: “You’re my mission.”
A true villain isn’t going to be changed by the power of love but Bucky Barnes is. He saves Steve’s life in a way Steve couldn’t do for him and why? Because for the first time [in for]ever, someone has treated him like he’s important for more than just the cause. R.I.P. ME, HERE LIES THE WIENER SOLDIER, SHE CRIED HERSELF AN ENTIRE OCEAN OF FEELS AND DROWNED IN IT.
So, gentle readers, if the obvious wasn’t already, well, obvious to you then I hope it is now. As I sit at my desk with eyeliner and mascara melting around my eyes like the Winter Soldier’s raccoon sad face, I hold my hands up to Raptor Jesus and hope that people can begin to be a little bit more careful about villainizing a victim and, in the same token, victimizing a true villain. Bucky Barnes is a gift, y’all, and Sebastian Stan gave us so much to read into for this character in only 21 lines of dialogue and a considerably short amount of screen time. Share your thoughts below on Bucky, on Loki, or on any other characters you think have been disserviced by a bad label, and always remember: this Wiener Soldier is with you ‘til the end of the line.
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