Captain America: The Winter Soldier is now in theaters, earning both critical acclaim (read our review) and securing another box office win for Marvel Studios. While we have a separate article breaking down all of the many Captain America 2 Easter eggs that fans are buzzing about, as always we want to break down the mid-credits and post-credits button scenes included in the film. Thor: The Dark World had button scenes revealing much about the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and The Winter Soldier did much the same.

Our discussion is going to be full of SPOILERS from here on out – not just for The Winter Soldier, but every Marvel movie and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode we’ve seen so far. READ NO FURTHER unless you’re all caught up. Even though most of our discussion will be speculation, a lot of it could be considered FUTURE SPOILERS for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You have been warned.

***SPOILERS FOLLOW ***

Mid-Credits Scene: ‘The Age of Miracles’

The Winter Soldier mid-credits scene was a direct lead-in to The Avengers: Age of Ultronand was directed by Joss Whedon. In the aftermath of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s collapse and the revelation of HYDRA’s infiltration, we find ourselves in the underground bunker of one Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann). The Baron is heard chatting with an underling, assessing HYDRA’s situation in the aftermath of Alexander Pierce and Project Insight’s failure.

Strucker’s dialogue reveals that HYDRA has many bases still in operation, but this particular one is special: here they are housing Loki’s mind-controlling scepter from The Avengers, a weapon that Strucker confesses has taught them much, even though they’ve only “scratched the surface.” One big thing they’ve accomplished is some kind of experimentation on human beings that has resulted in a tremendous success: And with that, we meet “The Twins.”

Casual viewers may have been left wondering who the two crazy young people in the Silence of the Lambs-style holding cells were, but Marvel Comics fans surely recognized twin characters Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Quciksilver still has super-speed abilities (which he needs to learn to control, from the looks of things), but Scarlet Witch’s reality-altering “hex” powers seem to have been re-imagined as telekinesis. (Remember, telepathy, telekinesis – and even clairvoyance – aren’t phenomenon that exist in the MCU, as mutants, the characters who possess these gifts, are legally the property of Fox and can’t be used in Marvel Studios films.)

WHY IT MATTERS: This mid-credits scene is quick, but it sure is loaded:

  1. We are introduced to a major Marvel villain (READ MORE on Baron von Strucker).
  2. We are introduced to the next phase of threat, with HYDRA now operating as the foe “Captain America and his colorful friends” will have to battle across the globe.
  3. We meet two major characters from Avengers mythos (Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch).
  4. We learn that Loki’s scepter (that still undefined MacGuffin) is still very much in play – and still in the wrong hands.
  5. Most importantly, we officially enter “The Age of Miracles”.

Up until this point, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has consisted of a “superhero” team membered by a science-created super soldier (Captain America); a science-created super-soldier failure (Hulk); a tech genius (Iron Man); a “godlien” (Thor); and some highly trained operatives (the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). That doesn’t leave a lot of room to explain the wide array of Marvel Comics superpowers, like flight, super-speed, energy projection, psychic abilities, invulnerability, etc. That won’t be a problem going forward, since Strucker’s experiments on “The Twins” have successfully opened the door to explainable super powers in the MCU. How he achieved that success remains to be seen – but there have been clues.

Interestingly enough, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.DTV series has been the most likely forefront for developing this aspect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; a fact recently evidenced by revelations about that mysterious blue corpse in the “Guest House” facility (CLICK the IMAGE above to learn more). Along with films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Easter eggs like a Doctor Strange name-drop in Captain America 2, it’s clear that Marvel Studios is opening the floodgates to a whole universe of super-powered possibilities – from the extraterrestrial to the supernatural. We’re looking forward to seeing how “The Twins” change the game in The Avengers: Age of Ultron – and which characters we could see in the MCU thereafter.

Post-Credits Scene: Captain America II

Comic book fans who read writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting’s “Winter Soldier” story arc – and beyond – already know what the future holds for Bucky Barnes; however, movie fans have only been given teases they may not have even picked up on. Especially when the main tease came in the form of a vague post-credits scene viewers sat an extra five minutes to see in the theater.

In the scene, we head back to the Smithsonian Museum for one last visit to the Captain America and The Howling Commandos exhibit. This time, instead of Steve Rogers it is Bucky Barnes visiting the site, finally coming face to face with his own memorial as a fallen American hero. As The Winter Soldier starts to read his own lost history, Steve Rogers’ words start to click into place, and Bucky Barnes seemingly starts to find his way back from the darkness.

WHY IT MATTERS: This post-credits scene (or a random shot of Winter Solider holding Cap’s shield in the middle of the film), may seem like small matters to the uninformed – but they’re definitely a big deal. In the comics, when Bucky regains control of his own mind, and Steve Rogers eventually falls in battle, it is Bucky who honors his friend’s memory by taking up the Captain America mantle. The same thing could very well happen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Here are some real-world facts: Captain America star Chris Evans is stepping back from acting after his Marvel contract is up (6 films in total). He’s done three of his six (Cap 1&2 and Avengers  – Thor 2 doesn’t count) and the last three are presumably Avengers 2Captain America 3 and Avengers 3. Winter Soldier/Bucky actor Sebastian Stan has a 9-film contract with Marvel; he’s only done two films so far. With the source material paving the way, and real-world factors providing the incentive, how do you think Marvel could eventually get the most out of those seven films they have left with Stan – while still getting the most out of the Captain America brand? Yeah, the writing is definitely on the wall…

Don’t be surprised if Thanos finally brings down The First Avenger in Avengers 3. And if that film ends somewhere with Bucky Barnes taking up the Captain’s shield, you’ll be able to look back at The Winter Soldier‘s final moments and know that the epic transition began with this small step.

SEE ALSO: Future Plans for the Marvel Movie Universe

Captain America: The Winter Soldier hits theaters April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on July 17, 2015, and unannounced films for May 6 2016, July 8 2016 and May 5 2017.