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At this stage in the game, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is literally growing bigger and bigger every week. If the comic book movie studio isn’t putting out a new movie, it’s releasing one of its films on Blu-ray and DVD, creating a new short film or airing a new episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. For those who don’t follow the material religiously it can be a bit tricky keeping up with all of the various changes. Fortunately, we’re here to help.
Just as I do with all new comic book movies, I have put together a helpful guide that will shine a bit of light on some of the important comic book and Marvel Cinematic Universe elements that find their way into Joe and Anthony Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Who is Bucky Barnes? What is HYDRA? How do they fit into the plot? Read on to find out!
WARNING: This article contains some minor spoilers about Captain America: The Winter Soldier at the very end. While the first seven entries are safe, the last few may affect the surprise element of certain aspects of the film – but not in any kind of devastating way that will destroy the whole movie. It’s all just good-to-know information for those who don’t know anything. We'll give you another warning before you get to those!
Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain AmericaWho Is He? Born Steve Rogers, Captain America began life as a sickly young orphan who wanted to do nothing more than fight for his country in World War II. When his incredible heart was recognized by a brilliant scientist named Dr. Abraham Erskine, Rogers was given what’s known as the Super Soldier Serum, which turned him into the perfect human specimen. He used those new powers to fight against the evil organization H.Y.D.R.A. and protect the U.S. from their expanding forces. While trying to save the world back in the 1940s, he wound up crashing a large airship into the Arctic Circle and was frozen alive, only to be brought back when discovered by S.H.I.E.L.D.
How Does He Fit? Following the events in The Avengers, Captain America is still very much trying to figure out the modern world in The First Avenger. He has enlisted with S.H.I.E.L.D. to work as a field agent, though he quickly discovers that his black and white view of morality may not entirely mesh with the world’s most powerful clandestine organization.
Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black WidowWho Is She? We first met Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow back in Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, when she was sent in by S.H.I.E.L.D. to spy on Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), but she has become a much bigger part of the universe since then. Not only did we get to see her fight alongside The Avengers in the Battle of New York, each new film has also revealed a bit more of her origin story and her early years as a Russian-trained assassin.
How Does She Fit? While Captain America is a Boy Scout with a very black-and-white view of morality, Black Widow is basically the total opposite. While she is fighting on the same side as Cap and is his greatest ally in the new movie, she also proves to be a fantastic foil with a world perspective a lot different than her partner’s.
Nick FuryWho Is He? The man with the plan. The master spy. The director of S.H.I.E.L.D. There are many ways to describe Nicholas J. Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), but perhaps the best way would be to call him the eyepatch/leather duster-wearing badass. He was the one who first thought to bring the Avengers together as a special team and he’s had a hand in just about every development in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since it began.
How Does He Fit? After playing bit parts and supporting roles in three other Marvel Studios film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier finally gives Fury his time to shine. The movie gives us a deeper insight to the goings-on at S.H.I.E.L.D., and as a result we learn a bit more about both Fury’s day-to-day life and his past.
Bucky Barnes a.k.a. The Winter SoldierWho Is He? As seen in Captain America: The First Avenger, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) was Steve Rogers’ best friend before going to fight the Nazis in World War II, and the two even fought together as part of a unit known as the Howling Commandos. Tragically, however, Bucky died while trying to protect Steve while on a mission… or did he?
How Does He Fit? When we are reintroduced to Bucky in the sequel, he has undergone a few alterations. The people who discovered his body during World War II not only brought him back to life, but equipped him with a metal arm and wiped all memories from his mind. Reborn as The Winter Soldier, Bucky has become one of the most dangerous assassins in the world, and there is only one man who can stop him.
Sam Wilson a.k.a. FalconWho Is He? It didn’t actually happen until 1969, but Falcon was actually the first mainstream African-American superhero in not just Marvel Comics, but mainstream comics as well. He was first introduced as an associate of Captain America’s and is able to help in big time missions thanks to a wing suit that allows him to fly.
How Does He Fit? Captain America: The Winter Soldier marks the first time that Falcon has ever been shown in live-action, but he jumps into the action very quickly. Played by Anthony Mackie, Sam Wilson is portrayed as a war veteran who is not only able to relate to Captain America as a solider, but also has his own cool backstory from working in a specialized airborne unit…
S.H.I.E.L.D.What Is It? An acronym for the clunkily-titled Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a super clandestine organization that keeps an eye on potentially dangerous threats all around the world, dealing with matters beyond most people's comprehension, from super powered individuals to extraterrestrials. Responsible for clean-up and debriefing after super powered "incidents" they have way more power in world affairs than you could possibly know.
How Does It Fit? Over the last six years we’ve grown to see S.H.I.E.L.D. as a force for good in the world of global politics, but in Captain America: The Winter Solider their motivations definitely start coming into question. As mentioned earlier, the film’s titular hero finds himself taking some serious issues with the way that the organization chooses to conduct its global affairs in the story, and as a result we begin to question who is really fighting for the right side.
HYDRAWhat Is It? As Peggy Carter explained in Captain America: The First Avenger, HYDRA began as the Nazi deep science division run by Johann Schmidt, aka The Red Skull during World War II. Even though the name of the organization is in all capital letters, it actually isn’t an acronym. Instead, the name refers to the mythical creature that, when beheaded, would grow two heads in the original head’s place (referring to the groups growing power and reach). HYDRA’s armies are massive and equipped with technologies that exceed even modern standards. Their symbol is a skull with six tentacles and they salute by extending both fists and proclaiming "Hail HYDRA!"
How Does It Fit? If the folks over at S.H.I.E.L.D. are considered the good guys, then the members of HYDRA are definitely the bad guys. Captain America did his part to put a serious dent in their operations during World War II, but the group managed to stay strong and underground throughout the rest of the century. Now may be the time for them to unleash their specific brand of evil against the modern world…
LIGHT SPOILERS ARE COMING ON THE NEXT FEW PAGES!
LAST SPOILER WARNING
Arnim ZolaWho Is He? Arnim Zola - much like his former boss Red Skull - is a genius, though he is more of an inventor than he is a military strategist. During World War II he worked for HYDRA and secretly developed weapons never before conceived by mankind. When we last saw him in Captain America: The First Avenger things weren’t going so well, as he had been captured by S.H.I.E.L.D. forces and made to divulge important details about HYDRA plans.
How Does He Fit? We knew for a long time that Toby Jones would be coming back to play Arnim Zola in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but the actual role he plays in the film’s plot is something that should be kept a secret until you get to see the movie for yourself. Just know who he is and what side he fights for and you’ll be able to follow along.
Dr. Stephen StrangeWho Is He? In Marvel movies, the closest things we’ve seen to "magic" are the powers possessed by Thor and his fellow Asgardians, but soon the studio will be taking magic to a whole new level. Introduced in the comics back in the early 1960s, Dr. Stephen Strange began his adult life as a genius surgeon, but lost everything when he damaged his hands in a car accident. While on a global search for some kind of cure, Strange found himself on a path that led him to become a master of the mystical arts and a powerful force for good in a world filled with evil.
How Does He Fit? Don’t get your hopes up too high and expect a cameo. Doctor Strange is merely mentioned in a line of dialogue in Captain America: The Winter Solider. Still, it’s good to know who he is and why he is important, because he will soon be playing a very important role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Baron Wolfgang von StruckerWho Is He? Red Skull may have been transported to some unknown place with the Tesseract in Captain America: The First Avenger, but don’t think that means HYDRA has been without leadership. That’s where Baron Wolfgang von Strucker comes in. While we don’t know how the character’s origin story will be portrayed in the Marvel movies, but in the comics he is a highly intelligent, incredibly powerful figure who has used serum experimentation to retard his own aging and has remained young and strong for decades.
How Does He Fit? While I won’t give away too many details about the character’s introduction, he is part of the aforementioned end credits sequence in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. If you are really desperate to find out more about involvement, click over here.
QuicksilverWho Is He? Usain Bolt can run 200m in less than 20 seconds, but that’s absolutely nothing compared to Pietro Maximoff, a.k.a. Quicksilver. In Marvel comics he is a hero who, thanks to a specific genetic mutation, is able to run at lightning fast speeds, and is both the son of the supervillain Magneto and the brother of fellow mutant Scarlet Witch. All that said, because Fox owns the rights to the X-Men characters and the word "Mutant," you can be sure that Marvel Studios’ version of Quicksilver won’t have ties to Magneto and will be equipped with a different explanation for his powers.
How Does He Fit? Like the case with Baron von Strucker, some details are best seen up on the big screen. Go over here for more hardcore spoilers.
Scarlet WitchWho Is She? Much like Quicksilver in the comics, Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. Scarlet Witch was born a child of Magneto and has her own genetic mutation, but instead of being able to move fast, she instead can manipulate probability and alter reality. And to borrow a phrase from actress Elizabeth Olsen, "she is a messed up lady."
How Does He Fit? I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but given that she is part of the end credits sequence, I’m not going to tell you the secrets of Scarlet Witch here. Like with the Baron and her brother, however, you can get more details here.