The second phase of Marvel Studios' Cinematic Universe has been extremely lucrative for the comic book film studio at the box office, though after two movie sequels (Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World) and the initial two-thirds of a debut TV series (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) that've prompted overall lukewarm reactions from the hardcore fan-base, it feels like the MCU could stand to start mixing things up more.
Fortunately, the fast-approaching Captain America: The Winter Soldier has generated the most positive critical buzz for a Phase 2 release yet, while things ought to get all the more wild when Marvel goes full-blown cosmic with Guardians of the Galaxy. Not to mention, with talk of how the Cap sequel shakes things up - with aftereffects that will be felt in all Earth-based quarters of the MCU - that could be the film to inject some fresh energy into Marvel Studios' superhero-populated world.
Throughout marketing for the Captain America sequel, however, there's been an elephant in the room: the eponymous Winter Soldier, whose unmasked face has been revealed in full multiple times. Yet, perhaps in an effort to maintain the surprise for those not well-versed in the history of the Captain America comic books (and/or those who simply don't recognize the Winter Soldier actor right off the bat), there's never been an explicit reference to his true identity in the film's trailers and commercials to date.
That changes today, with a new featurette where (at last) the producers and stars of the movie flat-our acknowledge that this dangerous assassin/agent with a cyborg arm is none other than Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Steve Roger's (Chris Evans) old friend who seemingly fell to his death on a mission back during Cap's WWII days in Captain America: The First Avenger.
As Marvel head Kevin Feige implies in the above featurette, Ed Brubaker's acclaimed Winter Soldier comic book storyline is one that can be mined for rich dramatic material, and early reviews for the Captain America movie sequel suggest that the Russo brothers - directing from a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely - have indeed been able to adapt Brubaker's source material into something special (i.e. Steve's personal conflict is the emotional core to the Russos' superhero/political thriller genre mashup).
Evans' recent confirmation of his intention to leave the MCU after fulfilling his original contractual obligations raises even more questions about Bucky's future, not least of all because Stan still has several more film obligations to fulfill on his own contract after Cap 2. Will Bucky eventually become the new Captain America onscreen (as many have already guessed) - and, if so, what will be the circumstance surrounding his next upgrade in the MCU continuity?
Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens in U.S. theaters on April 4th, 2014.