While Sam Wilson's Falcon became the new Captain America at the end of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+, Bucky's future was left unknown.
It wasn't until the 2022 D23 Expo that Bucky was confirmed to be joining the cast of 2024's Thunderbolts, a government-commissioned team of anti-heroes.
Now that Phase 5 of the MCU is officially underway, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has revealed just what the Winter Soldier's position within this ragtag team will be, and it's not one that was expected.
Bucky Barnes' Phase 5 Role
"That's another one. We've got a lot of things that start shooting relatively soon. What's fun about that, and I sort of said this at D23, is that they are barely heroes. None of them would consider themselves heroes. When your de facto leader is Bucky Barnes, that's sort of all you need to know. That's the trickle down."
In the concept art shown at the 2022 D23, Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova was at the center of this team of "barely heroes," leading some to believe that she was at the helm with Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Val working in the background.
But even though Bucky is the Thunderbolts point man, Feige still took time to discuss Yelena, as well as David Harbour's Red Guardian, saying:
"But again, it goes to the amazing work that [casting director] Sarah Finn has done across the whole MCU. You've got David Harbour and Florence Pugh and these people who are at the top of their game and popping in everything they're doing. They're already here and established in the MCU, and we get to build the movie around them."
In addition to Bucky, Yelena, and the Red Guardian, John Walker's U.S. Agent will also be part of the Thunderbolts, as well as Ant-Man and The Wasp's Ghost and Black Widow's Taskmaster.
Is Bucky Barnes Finally in Control?
While it's true that Bucky Barnes led the Thunderbolts in one comic book version of the team, there have been various Thunderbolt stories and rosters through the years.
Also, the MCU's own Bucky appeared to have found some level of peace at the end of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, begging the question of why he would want to lead this team - and particularly Walker's U.S. Agent - to begin with.
Audiences are expecting Captain America: New World Order, which happens to star the Thunderbolts' namesake, "Thunderbolt" Ross, and Anthony Mackie's Captain America, to lay the groundwork for this ensemble.
But regardless of why Bucky is calling the shots, it's about time Sebastian Stan is given the opportunity to take a leading role within the MCU.
This shift, coupled with the dynamic between himself and the rest of the film's cast of complex characters, has the potential to make Thunderbolts one of the MCU's most anticipated Phase 5 films.
Thunderbolts arrives in theaters on July 26, 2024.