Throughout the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s no friendship greater than the one between Captain America himself, Steve Rogers, and his childhood friend Bucky Barnes, aka “The Winter Soldier.” Starting with 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger and continuing through to 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, the story of these two boys from Brooklyn and their paths through history has been a staple of the MCU, and has been equally as compelling as the drama that surrounded it.
The brotherhood shown between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes is a strong thread that’s rewarded those who have followed closely. Now, with a definitive conclusion to that story in hand, their relationship can be recapped through each of their significant encounters in Marvel history. Starting, of course, with the first film to feature their characters, Captain America: The First Avenger.
Captain America: The First Avenger
It all began in Brooklyn, when Sgt. James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes and Steve Rogers became pals in their formative years. They promised to remain friends “’til the end of the line,” and Rogers’ family-free life was made easier with his best friend by his side. Eventually, the two served together in World War II, alongside Dum Dum Dugan and the Howling Commandos.
As seen in Captain America: The First Avenger, the pair spent time executing secret operations for the SSR against HYDRA, and it was during one of these missions that Bucky supposedly got killed. An accident threw him off of a train carrying high value target/HYDRA scientist Dr. Arnim Zola.
Steve was left to assume his friend had been lost for good. The truth was much scarier than he could have ever imagined, though, as learned whenever he saw Bucky again. Of course, he was going by a different name, and he served a different purpose by time he did.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
As it turned out, Bucky Barnes didn’t die, but rather he lost his arm and was in really bad shape after the train incident. HYDRA nursed him back to health, naturally, and gave him not only the finest brainwashing, but also a killer metallic arm.
Now dubbed “The Winter Soldier,” Bucky Barnes got put into cryogenic stasis, only to be released when a mission required his skills as an assassin. It’s because of his help that HYDRA was able to infiltrate SHIELD and bring about those chaotic consequences in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Through Steve Rogers’ refusal to fight his best friend, he’s able to crack his programming to a certain degree and start the process that would allow him to start becoming Bucky Barnes once again. leaving a vulnerable man in a world he’s totally unfamiliar with. It’d still be a little while before the two would become the friends they once were.
Captain America: Civil War
While still not his former self, Bucky Barnes starts turning a crucial corner in Captain America: Civil War. Through Colonel Zemo’s efforts to frame and control him, we learn that not only is Bucky still susceptible to the brainwashing that HYDRA programmed him with, but that Steve Rogers is still a key to undoing it.
Their friendship led to Captain America and Winter Soldier's adventure mission, which broke the freshly ratified Socovia Accords, with the pair getting into some heroics that eventually uncovered a horrific truth. Bucky’s Winter Soldier persona was behind the death of Tony Stark’s parents in 1991!
Rogers, a loyal friend, fought his Avengers compatriot to save his friend’s life, which created a rift among their ranks. Being spared from death, and under the auspices of King T’Challa, Bucky Barnes got put into cryogenic stasis one last time, in the hopes of wiping out his Winter Soldier programming.
Avengers: Infinity War
By the time Avengers: Infinity War required Bucky’s services, he’d been given a brand new arm and a new name as well. Known now as “White Wolf," he was reunited yet again with Steve Rogers, who had grown a beard and ditched his typical Captain America persona.
As these friends were reunited, so were The Avengers, in an all-out offensive to protect the final Infinity Stones from falling into Thanos’ hands. Despite a valiant effort, and Bucky’s effective partnerships with The Falcon and Rocket Raccoon, the Infinity Gauntlet was completed, and The Decimation was complete.
Just when Steve and Bucky thought their friendship couldn’t be thwarted by anything greater than time and cryogenics, the former Winter Soldier found himself snapped out of existence. Left behind, Steve mourned his friend, using that grief to power him through one "last" adventure.
With half of all life snapped away, Steve Rogers once more donned his more traditional, clean-shaven look when he engaged in the battle to undo the events of Avengers: Infinity War. By the time he walked onto the field of battle at the end of Avengers: Endgame, he was back in full Captain America regalia once more.
Bucky Barnes found himself back in the fray as well, as Professor Hulk’s counter-snap brought him and all the other Avengers back from five years of Decimated history. He and Steve both found themselves as valuable as ever in the fight to restore balance to the world.
After the tremendous battle had settled, and the fallen had been mourned, Steve Rogers headed off into the time stream a final time, in order to return the Infinity Stones to their rightful places. Still his best and truest friend, Bucky understood that it was one of the last times he’d see Steve, knowing his intentions to stay back in time with Peggy.
Saying his final goodbyes to his best friend, Steve Rogers stepped into the Pym Particle accelerator and vanished. The last we saw of him is his conversation with Sam Wilson, as the now-older Steve handed his shield over to Falcon for safe keeping. As Bucky watched on, nodding his approval, Sam accepted the shield, and possibly the mantle of Captain America.
What Sam cannot take, though, is the decades of friendship between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes. They may have been on opposite sides for a time as Captain America and The Winter Soldier, but the Brooklyn bond of their youths brought them back together, undoing a lot of horrible things that happened along the way.
The future for Steve Rogers may be a happy retirement, but Bucky Barnes will be seen again soon enough. He has a score to settle with Baron Zemo, and he has a new friend/partner in Sam Wilson that will get expanded in their Disney+ journey for the new TV series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. We’ll see how that turns out when the series debuts at some point in fall of 2020.