SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Captain America: Civil War. If you haven’t had the chance to see the film yet, and don’t wish to know any specific details about what happens in the movie, we recommend clicking away to another one of our wonderful articles.
Last year, while doing press for The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige revealed to us a fantastic little Easter egg that was hidden in each of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 2 movies: as a reference to Star Wars, each feature included a sequence where a character got either a hand or a full arm chopped off. At the time, it seemed like this was a tradition that would end after Ant-Man (the final Phase 2 film), but it seems that the run is continuing in Phase 3, as Captain America: Civil War has yet another individual losing a limb from their torso – specifically Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes a.k.a. The Winter Soldier.
The moment in question occurs in the climactic final battle between Captain America, Winter Soldier and Iron Man, while they are duking it out in the secret Hydra Base (Tony Stark flipping out over the fact that Bucky killed his parents). The brainwashed former assassin does what he can to try and disable his opponent’s armor by grabbing at the arc reactor that powers it, but this turns out to be a bad move. As we’ve seen him do in previous movies, Iron Man defends himself by diverting power to his chest piece, and fires an energy beam that not only knocks the Winter Soldier back, but completely severs his metal arm off at the shoulder. This not only manages to take Bucky out of the fight almost entirely – leaving Cap and Tony to duke it out – but it’s not even replaced by the time the mid-credits scene rolls and Steve Rogers’ best friend is put back into cryogenic sleep.
The tradition of characters getting their arms cut off in Star Wars first began in the cantina scene of the 1977 original, and almost every movie in the franchise since then has featured some sort of limb slicing. Marvel Studios began its tribute to this bit of trivia with Shane Black’s Iron Man 3, and every film in the franchise since then has done it as well. You can watch a selection of these moments – from Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy - in the super cut below:
Not included in this video is the scene from Avengers: Age of Ultron where the robotic villain cuts off the arm of Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klaue; or the moment in Ant-Man where Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross is shrinking piece by piece (not to mention Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson losing his hand in the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2 finale). You’ll notice from the Captain America: The Winter Soldier clip that this is actually the second time that Bucky has been on the wrong side of this little Easter egg, having first lost his arm after his unfortunate train accident during World War II.
Whether or not the tradition of limb/appendage removal will continue in Marvel movies past this point is unknown, though it is worth mentioning that the titular character in Doctor Strange finds himself propelled towards superhero-dom after badly damaging his hands in a bad car accident. We’ll just have to wait and see if it goes further than that!