Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes are two of the pioneering characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Their turbulent friendship is one that not only has withstood time, but has also driven many narratives within the MCU. Steve’s loyalty to Bucky even where he would be risking his life is what has made this duo so loved by audiences. With the pair currently separated due to Bucky being one of the many who fell victim to Thanos’ snap at the end of Infinity War, let us look back at the pair’s friendship.
World War Two Era
Steve and Bucky’s friendship is established at the very beginning of Captain America’s origin story when Bucky defends pre-serum Steve from physical harm. Soon after, Bucky is deployed with the military and is separated from Steve. The banter the two share clearly derives from a long friendship. They grew up together, making it emotional when Colonel Phillips suggests he signed a condolence letter and thought he saw the name Barnes, making Steve think Bucky died on the battlefield. When Bucky is saved by Steve from the Hydra facility, he is shocked by Steve’s new post serum strength and physique. Steve is finally able to protect and defend him, the way Bucky did for him for years when Steve could not stand up for himself. The concept of Steve protecting Bucky later becomes a big moral conflict and plotline within the MCU. For the rest of this film, Bucky is Cap’s right-hand man and fights beside him until his tragic ‘death’ when he falls off the train, leaving Steve with feelings of grief.
Winter Soldier Era
After spending 66 years frozen, Steve wakes up with the world he knew gone. Peggy is in her old age and on her death bed and he has no one else. In an intense fight sequence on a highway, Steve and Natasha take on a masked assassin. When the mask eventually falls off, Steve recognizes the Winter Soldier as his best friend Bucky. Considering he was thought to be dead, this comes as quite a shock. When Bucky slowly begins to realize he also knows Steve, his memories are wiped by Hydra once again. The ending of the film, however, is a testament to the strength of their friendship as even as Winter Soldier. Despite Bucky spending most of the final act of the film trying to kill Steve, he has mercy and pull him out of the river. In the post-credit scene we see Bucky exploring his past and learning about his friendship with Steve before he became a brainwashed super-assassin.
Civil War Era
Civil War was a critical turning point in the MCU. The avengers ultimately split up for two reasons; Steve not wanting to sign the Sokovia Accords and his protection of Bucky. After the bombing of the UN, Steve heads to Romania. This is where Bucky has been seeking refuge and trying to live a normal low key life. It is in this film we see the two’s friendship begin to slowly established to its original state, exemplified when Steve asks ‘Which Bucky am I talking to?’ and Bucky replies laughing ‘You use to wear newspapers in your shoes’. In this moment Steve looks relived, Bucky’s memories are starting to return and his best friend with them. This is why Steve defends Bucky so intensely because he can finally see the real Bucky Barnes without the Winter soldier facade and he is all Steve has left now that Peggy has died. Bucky is truly his only gateway to comfort in this new world he thought he had to face alone. This is why when it comes to that final fight scene, he fights for Bucky, knowing he is nothing but a victim. It was never Bucky who killed Howard and Maria Stark, it was Winter Soldier, the part of his duality that is controlled by others to make him a weapon. Where Tony is blinded by his anger, Steve sees the real Bucky. This showdown is what causes the Avengers to officially split. T’Challa offers to put Bucky in a Cryostasis Chamber for the sake of his safety, hidden in the protection of Wakanda as T’Challa understands that both his father and Bucky are victims. It is clear Steve struggles with this decision, as for a period of time he is alone in this world again.
Infinity War Era
Infinity War gives us a brief reunion between the pair when Steve first arrives in Wakanda. Their embrace and the smiles on their faces is a testament to the comfort of seeing their old pal again. We see solo action from the two throughout the movie, but it isn’t until the fatal events of Thanos’s snap that we see them together again. Bucky is the first person to fall victim, with his final word being ‘Steve’, Steve is forced to watch his best friend disintegrate right before his eyes leaving him in a state of shock. With Avengers: Endgame right around the corner, it is safe to assume Steve will fight to Avenge his best friend, like he has in the past. We can only hope that if Steve’s fate is to die in Endgame, this pair gets their final reunion and closure to what has been an incredibly dramatic, emotional and heartfelt friendship arc.