Sebastian Stan is being underserved by the role of Bucky Barnes in the MCU. His character has one of the best arcs in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far and is one with the most potential as the franchise moves into Phase 4, but that barely scratches the surface of the talent that Stan displays in his non-superhero outings.
Of course, Sebastian Stan is best known for playing Bucky Barnes, later villain The Winter Soldier and now redeemed hero White Wolf, in the MCU. It's quite possibly the best movie role in the entire franchise; whereas Captain America and Iron Man are icons rooted in the comics, so much of what makes Bucky great lies in how he's been worked into the cinematic universe. The Captain America trilogy is more his story than Steve Rogers, allowing Stan to explore an all-American hero turned bad, struggling with his past, identity and place in society.
And Marvel knew he'd be big. When he first signed on for Captain America: The First Avenger, Stan signed a massive nine-movie contract. For comparison, Chris Evans was initially only locked in for six appearances as the titular Star-Spangled Avenger. In fact, at that point, only Samuel L. Jackson had a comparable contract as Nick Fury. This has, with the help of comic book precedent and a few teases in the films themselves, led to rampant speculation he'll be the next Captain America.
However, after his third appearance in Captain America: Civil War rounding off the Winter Soldier arc and making him a hero, Bucky's been in something of narrative stasis. He sat Black Panther out despite a tease in Civil War's mid-credits tease (a smart move for the Wakanda movie) and had very little to do in Avengers: Infinity War beyond shake Steve Rogers' hand and turn to dust. There are still four movies left on his original deal after Avengers 4, but even then there's the question of how he'll be used; after overt Cap set up, recent discussion has begun to shift towards frenemy Sam Wilson aka Falcon.
It's outside of the MCU where you've recently been able to see Sebastian Stan at his best. While Bucky's been going through a tortured MCU arc, his actor's been using the increased status to slowly build up a strong filmography of supporting roles. He played Jeff Gillooly, the poor schemer of an ex-husband to figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) in last year's I, Tonya, and in the upcoming Destroyer is just as captivating as Nicole Kidman's undercover cop partner. Both of these movies see Stan get completely lost in layered renditions of simple archetypes that exist primarily to serve the arc of the female protagonist. They are the definition of great supporting roles, the type that flies under the radar but are more than worthy of awards consideration.
Hopefully, both sides of Stan's career grow. He is evidently capable of a lot more than he is currently being given and, if provided with the lead role in a key movie, could waltz into the awards discussion. Thankfully, the future is bright. Once he's inevitably resurrected from Thanos' snap in Avengers 4, Bucky is rumored to have a Disney+ show with Falcon, one that will put the spotlight on the Captain America support and (hopefully) explore them as characters outside of potential Steve Rogers' replacements. And on the non-Marvel side, he's currently set to lead multiple interesting films that should finally give him the spotlight.
Forget it being a great time to be a superhero fan - it's going to be a great time to be a Stan stan.
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019
- Destroyer (2018) release date: Dec 25, 2018