The age of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’
In Marvel comics
In the present day, former Soviet General Aleksander Lukin, also a former student of Karpov, instructs the Winter Soldier to launch a terrorist attack on Philadelphia and extract the Cosmic Cube (AKA the Tesseract). Once Captain America tracks the Winter Soldier down, he uses the Cosmic Cube to restore Bucky’s memories, after which Bucky destroys the cube and flees.
After a while, Bucky resurfaces and asks Director Fury for a job. In the wake of the Superhuman Registration Act (developed in the Civil War series event), Fury assigns him to protect Captain America and get involved in covert operations. After Rogers is seemingly assassinated, Bucky steps into the star-spangled uniform. Later it’s revealed that Rogers is still alive, but Rogers gives his blessing for Bucky to continue being Captain America, hanging up his own uniform. The rest of Bucky’s history is a back and forth of him switching between being Captain America and the Winter Soldier (among various other interesting storylines). At least for now.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe
In essence, the Winter Soldier is a ruthless killing machine who has no memory of his former life. In the present day, after Nick Fury finds out about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s corruption, HYDRA leader Alexander Pierce assigns the Winter Soldier to murder Fury. This sets off the chain of events seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier that leads to Steve Rogers finding out the truth about his best friend.
When the Winter Soldier begins to show signs of remembering his past, Pierce has him electrocuted in order to reprogram him and wipe all of his memories once more. Meanwhile, overcome with confusion and guilt, Rogers does everything he can to spare the Winter Soldier and try to jog his memory. In the climax of the film, Rogers repeatedly asks the Winter Soldier not to make him fight and later completely surrenders himself to the Winter Soldier in the hopes that his friend will regain his memories. While the Winter Soldier doesn’t completely remember Rogers, he’s slightly moved by Rogers’ refusal to fight and shows signs of recognition when told “I’m with you ’til the end of the line.”
The last we see of the Winter Soldier in the second installment of Captain America, he saves Rogers from drowning and then sets off on what we assume to be a mission to discover who he really is, starting with visiting the Captain America exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum.
So what happens now in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
At this point, there’s so much potential for Sebastian Stan’s Bucky/Winter Soldier. Not to take away from the storytelling side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Stan recently revealed that he signed a nine-picture deal with Marvel Studios. For reference, Chris Evans only signed on for six movies. This leads us to believe that we’ve only scratched the surface of the story of the Winter Soldier.
Given the rich history of the character in the comics, here are two ways we could see the Marvel Cinematic Universe expanding on Bucky:
Bucky will regain his memories through some sort of interaction with the Tesseract
The Tesseract/Cube/Cosmic Cube (whatever you’d like to call it) has been a sort of MacGuffin of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Captain America: The First Avenger. While it has furthered plotlines, it hasn’t really had a direct purpose or impact. It’s always been part of a subordinate plot. However, because the Cosmic Cube causes Bucky to regain his memories in the comics, it’s very possible that the Tesseract will do the same sort of thing in the movies, giving Bucky an even greater role. While we can’t see it happening during Avengers: Age of Ultron, there’s definite potential for this storyline in Phase Three, especially since Guardians of the Galaxy is supposed to set up the third Avengers.
Bucky eventually dons the stars and stripes, taking over from Steve Rogers
The street fight scene that occurs halfway through Captain America: The Winter Soldier is very quick cut and fast-paced. However, the action and the camera work slows for a few seconds to linger on the Winter Soldier holding Captain America’s shield (see photo above). While the shot could have been included to serve to emphasize the differences between the two characters, it could also be a small nod of what’s to come. Because it’s canon for Bucky to someday become Captain America (and because Stan has a pretty solid contract), we’re pretty confident in our hypothesis that he’ll one day take over for Rogers.