This Friday, Captain America: The Winter Soldier arrives in theaters, and the buzz seems to indicate not only another hit for Marvel Studios, but one of the more unique entries in its film series thus far. Among comic book fans, it certainly doesn't hurt that the film takes its name and important story elements from one of the most celebrated Captain America stories in the character's entire 73-year history, that also managed to reintroduce one of the most beloved supporting characters from the early days of Timely/Marvel Comics.
Not only that, but the creative team also managed to make the character of the Winter Soldier one of the most engaging in Marvel's contemporary library. With actor Chris Evans talking publicly about his desire to fulfill his existing Marvel contract before retiring from acting altogether, the arrival of The Winter Soldier film seems particularly fortuitous, especially considering the character's eventual fate after his high-impact reintroduction, and what his return meant for the mantle of Captain America himself.
Please note: if you're currently unaware of the Winter Soldier's real identity, please stop reading until you've either read the original comics story or seen the new film.
Chris Evans and the Fate of Steve Rogers
The original publication of the "Winter Soldier" comic book arc in the mid-2000s started the ongoing Captain America series on a road leading to one of the most talked about Marvel stories of that entire decade. In the aftermath of the Civil War story arc, Steve Rogers was killed, leaving the Marvel universe without Captain America.
The last page of Captain America #25 from 2007 was a harsh and uncompromising look at the Avenger's body, leaving readers full of both emotion and questions. While no comic book character stays dead forever, the interim saw the Winter Soldier, Cap's wartime brother Bucky Barnes, step in to fill the conspicuous absence as best he knew how, and he would serve as Captain America for nearly two years before Rogers returned to his mantle full time.
Chris Evans, who's been Marvel Studios' Steve Rogers since 2011, has a six-film deal to continue to bring Captain America to life. The First Avenger, The Avengers, The Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron fulfill four of those, and it's expected that he will appear in at least one more solo Captain America film, and perhaps one more Avengers film before he hangs up his acting career for good. Sebastian Stan, who's played Bucky Barnes in both solo Cap films, has a staggering nine-picture deal with Marvel to bring Bucky to life. While not definitive, this may be at least indicative of the studio passing the mantle of Captain America onto him, as has happened in the comics.
While it's far from certain, it's exceedingly fun to look at the facts of both actors' contracts with Marvel, what the source material has done in the past, as well as what the implications can be on the Captain America portion of Marvel's cinematic universe. After spending multiple solo and team-up films establishing Steve Rogers as one of the definitive leaders of the ultimate superhero team, would the studio actually switch the man underneath Cap's mask when Evans' time is up, or would it merely recast Steve Rogers?
Why Bucky As Cap Works
Here's why fans should hope that Bucky gets a turn as the Star-Spangled Avenger: for one, it makes the series interesting, and adds a new element of "legacy" to the Marvel cinematic universe. It's certainly not necessary that Steve Rogers be killed off in Evans' final Marvel film, but creating a scenario in which the hero has to leave active duty with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers always leaves room for the character to return, and will also allow an audience with an easier transition between Evans and the eventuality of recasting Steve Rogers.
Some may ask why that would be necessary, but consider this example: if you got a group of Batman fans into a room together, comprised of both comics and general movie fans, they would all likely agree that the only true Batman is Bruce Wayne. Anyone else under the mask is a pretender to the throne. In the comics, whenever a primary character's identity is taken up by someone else, it's always temporary, and this is true in the cases of both Batman and Captain America. Having an "interlude" of sorts with Bucky serving as Cap will both fulfill the need of having Captain America appear in new films with a face and actor familiar to audiences, while also giving audiences a chance to reshape their conceptions of who Cap is, and what his presence means for Marvel-universe stories.
Sebastian Stan is a solid, reliable and likable actor. Having him take up the Cap mantle from Chris Evans will provide audiences with an easier transition into a new star, since it seems highly likely that Steve Rogers would eventually have to be recast anyways. It also allows audiences to get used to the idea of major Marvel characters showing up in future films with new faces.
Marvel Fans Have to Get Used to Recasting
As much as audiences have loved him, and as handsomely as he has been compensated for his appearances, Robert Downey, Jr. will not remain Tony Stark forever. It's pretty clear through the critical receptions and box office receipts that Iron Man is Marvel's rock star, but in a recent interview with Variety, Downey, Jr. makes no bones about the fact that Tony Stark isn't a role that the 48-year-old actor can, or will, play forever. "The smart money is you have to look at everybody’s age. I’ll put myself at the top of the list," he said. "Sooner or later, they’ve got to start over and get somebody young. I’m not there with them yet. It really is the closest thing to being a beloved contract player with a big old-timey studio that there is right now."
The best way to introduce new faces into previously established characters is to do so slowly and carefully. Having Sebastian Stan serve as Captain America during the transition to a new Steve Rogers, and perhaps even having Don Cheadle's James Rhodes serve as a new Iron Man to ease us into a new Tony Stark may be the best way to do that, while also exploiting new situations and refreshing the plot lines a bit before the Marvel universe gets back to more familiar business.
In more ways than one, Marvel Studios is taking lessons from the playbook of its comic book counterpart. This is a strategy that continuously published comics used a lot in the past, and if we have to say good-bye to the actors who've played their parts so well in the first two "phases" of the Marvel cinematic universe, maybe a transitional phase led by Bucky and Rhodey would be a viable way to keep things interesting. You also maintain the integrity of continuity, and give a couple of other actors a chance to shine in the process.
What do you think? Should Marvel Studios simply recast the major roles right away when a contract goes up, or is the idea of a transitional "phase" starring Bucky or Rhodey a good alternative? Leave your comments and ideas below, and enjoy the new Captain America adventure in theaters this weekend! We'll see you next week with a new edition of Comics on Film, right here at Movies.com.
Chris Clow is a geek. He is a comic book expert and former retailer, and freelance contributor to GeekNation.com, The Huffington Post, and Batman-On-Film.com. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film every Wednesday right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.
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