The first week of April marks the first week of summer blockbuster season, which lately has been bearing a strong resemblance to Christmas decorations by arriving earlier and earlier.
Seasons of the past five years or so haven't been complete without a Marvel offering, from the great The Avengers to the easily and officially forgotten The Incredible Hulk. Tomorrow brings Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the second movie staring the most pop-culture illiterate superhero in the Marvel canon.
To most moviegoers, it'll be just another franchise installment. But for those who spend their free time following the comic book's complicated mythos, one of the new film's title characters holds not just a shield, but also the key to the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) of the near future.
(Warning: There will be mild spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier ahead. If you want to go into the movie completely surprised, stop here.)
One of the most elusive parts of the Captain America trailer was its subtitled villain, who spent most of the movie's promotional material with his face in shadow. Sharp-eyed viewers of Cap's first cinematic outing, however, might have gotten a sneaking sense of deja-vu. Indeed, the mysterious Soviet assassin the Winter Soldier has appeared on movie screens before — falling to his death off a train in the Alps, while Steve Rogers reached out in horror. Comic book fans knew from the first trailer that Cap's new foe was none other than his former best friend, Bucky Barnes, who had a supporting role in the first film. Bucky was captured, experimented on, and brainwashed into a bloody career path in the comics, but eventually got better. Later, a de-brainwashed Bucky even became Steve's replacement.
In the comic's Civil War arc, Steve Rogers dies of a sniper attack and Bucky takes up the shield and the spandex in his name. Between Bucky's introduction and the increasingly dark tone the MCU as a whole seems to be taking, it seems logical that the same thing will happen on screen.
Two outside factors seem only to further cement the theory: Cap's actor Chris Evans and his director Joss Whedon. Chris Evans only has a six-movie contract with Marvel, which The Winter Soldier marks the halfway point of, while Bucky's Sebastian Stan has signed on for nine. Furthermore, Whedon is still the man in charge of most of the MCU, at least in a backstage capacity. It takes only a few Tumblr memes from his previous works to realize the man's signature plot twist — the sudden, unexpected death of a beloved character. And who's more beloved, and seemingly unkillable, then Cappy himself?
Of course, this is all speculation at this point, albeit well-researched speculation by well-researched nerds. But if you choose to catch the summer's kickoff blockbuster this season, it's still probably best to walk into the theater Friday night with one piece of advice: Don't get attached.