The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: What you need to know before watching

The Marvel Cinematic Universe took a year off in 2020, but it’s returned in a big way thanks to WandaVision and a slate of other new shows premiering on streaming service Disney+ in the coming months. The next series to debut is The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which has Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan reprising their MCU roles as Captain America’s high-flying partner, Sam Wilson, and former war buddy (now cyborg assassin), James “Bucky” Barnes, respectively.

Set to premiere March 19 on Disney+, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier follows Wilson and Barnes as they deal with the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame and the ramifications of a world that’s without Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) — but with a new Captain America. In order to get you up to speed with the current status of Falcon, Winter Soldier, and the rest of the series’ heroes and villains, here’s everything you need to know before jumping into The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

Note: Discussion of plot points from prior Marvel Cinematic Universe movies will occur from this point forward, so consider this a spoiler warning.

Winter Soldier 101

James “Bucky” Barnes and Sam Wilson are Steve Rogers’ closest friends from his childhood and the modern era, respectively, with Barnes first introduced in the 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger and Wilson making his MCU debut in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

A skilled soldier who fought alongside Rogers during World War II, Barnes was presumed dead after suffering an accident during a dangerous mission. In The Winter Soldier, however, it was revealed that Barnes was captured, brainwashed, and augmented with various cybernetic enhancements (including a new left arm) by the Soviet Union and the terrorist organization HYDRA. He spent the next few decades operating as HYDRA’s top assassin until Rogers tracked him down and forced him to get the help he needed to cleanse his mind and body, with some help from Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) of Wakanda.

After battling alongside Captain America and the rest of Earth’s protectors against Thanos, Barnes was one of many heroes to disappear when Thanos snapped his fingers in Avengers: Infinity War. He was then brought back along with many of his fellow heroes in Avengers: Endgame, and joined the final, climactic fight against Thanos.

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What about Falcon?

A pararescue expert with the United States Air Force, Sam Wilson met Steve Rogers while working with soldiers who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. The two became fast friends, and Rogers sought out Wilson when he discovered that HYDRA had infiltrated the U.S. government and needed someone he could trust. In The Winter Soldier, Wilson obtained a prototype military wingsuit and assisted Rogers in not only stopping HYDRA’s sinister plans but also tracking down the brainwashed Barnes.

Along with Barnes, Wilson is one of Rogers’ most trusted allies, and the pair have often found themselves teamed up as reluctant partners while Rogers is otherwise occupied. And, like Barnes, Wilson was also among the heroes who were snapped away by Thanos during Infinity War only to return in Endgame.

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Whose shield?

During the closing scenes of Avengers: Endgame, Steve Rogers traveled into the past to return some of the Infinity Stones to their previous locations in the MCU timeline but decided to remain in the 1940s to live out the rest of his life with the woman he loved, Peggy Carter. He eventually reunited with Barnes and Wilson in the present day, now decades older than when they last saw him, and passed his shield — and, seemingly, the mantle of Captain America — to Wilson.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is expected to explore Wilson’s role as the new Captain America and what it means for him to become the iconic hero — and how Barnes’ relationship to both Rogers and Wilson shapes this new iteration of the famous hero.

The familiar faces

Mackie and Stan won’t be the only MCU actors returning for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. The pair will be joined by various heroes, villains, and supporting characters from earlier Marvel films too.

Foremost among the returning MCU cast members is Daniel Brühl as the diabolical Baron Helmut Zemo, who secretly orchestrated the events that tore apart the Avengers in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and put Iron Man and Captain America on opposing sides of a bitter feud. A former military commander for the fictional nation of Sokovia, Zemo blames the Avengers for the death of his family during the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Baron Zemo is a longstanding villain in Marvel Comics lore whose brilliant tactical mind has made him one of the Avengers’ greatest foes, and his MCU counterpart has already established himself as a dangerous threat.

Zemo was last seen in the custody of the CIA’s Joint Counter Terrorist Centre after being apprehended by Black Panther.

Also returning is Emily VanCamp as former S.H.I.E.L.D. and CIA agent Sharon Carter, who was introduced in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and is the great-niece of Rogers’ first love, Peggy Carter. She’ll be joined by Don Cheadle, reprising his role as James “Rhodey” Rhodes, the Avenger and former U.S. Air Force officer who was given Tony Stark’s War Machine armor. On the other side of the hero-villain spectrum, Georges St-Pierre will reprise his Winter Soldier role as the mercenary Georges Batroc (aka Batroc the Leaper).

Introducing John Walker

One of the newcomers to the MCU making his debut in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is Overlord actor Wyatt Russell as John F. Walker, who is chosen by the U.S. government to be Captain America’s successor. Little is known about the MCU version of Walker, but in Marvel Comics lore, John Walker was the government’s choice to replace Steve Rogers as Captain America when he refused to follow the U.S. military’s orders. Originally known as Super-Patriot, he temporarily replaced Rogers as a more militaristic, aggressively nationalistic Captain America and later adopted the codename U.S. Agent after Rogers returned to the role.

With Wilson established as the shield-slinger in the MCU, Walker’s introduction puts him on a collision course with Rogers’ heir to the Captain America mantle.

What about WandaVision?

Now that the MCU is rolling along again, everyone’s wondering where all the recent and upcoming stories fit in Marvel’s long (and getting longer) cinematic timeline.

Marvel hasn’t released any official details about the exact chronological setting for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but we do know it’s set after the events of Avengers: EndgameWandaVision was set around the same time, but thanks to that show’s (literally) encapsulated nature, it’s unlikely the events of the two Disney+ shows will intersect, even if they overlap in the MCU timeline.

Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premieres March 19 on the Disney+ streaming service.

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