Although Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers have been fixtures of each other’s character arcs, their relationship went ignored in Avengers: Endgame, undermining not only one a crucial storyline, but Captain America’s entire characterization. Major spoilers lie ahead.
Avengers: Endgame was a movie with a runtime so long, fans called for an intermission. Avengers: Endgame was a movie that contained seemingly thousands of relationships. It carefully made space for Carol to see Nick Fury snapped on a screen, gave us Rocket fighting openly for his family back, and actually let Clint become a murderer to avenge the pain of losing his wife and kids. This movie had time for Shuri and T’Challa to find peace in Wakanda, for Scott to grasp Hope in battle, for Peter to finally get his hug from Mr. Stark, for Wanda to mourn Vision, and for Sam to crackle to life in Steve’s ear. It even had time for Star-Lord to reunite with a Gamora that didn’t know him at all.
And yet nowhere, after, at minimum. two, arguably, four, movies with their relationship at center, was there time for even so much as a second of closure for the battle-tested, inseparable since childhood, through sickness, tragedy, Hydra, and the end of the world, friendship of Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes.
There are really two key parts of Endgame, before the snap is un-snapped and after, two key parts which, based on everything the audience has seen of Steve Rogers, should, if not revolve around, at least contain one Bucky Barnes.
But they don’t.
In Infinity War, it is Bucky that Steve sees disintegrating in front of his eyes, a position that is occupied, contextually and narratively, by the most important person a hero could lose. But for Steve, unlike any of the other heroes who lose their loves, this is not the first time he has watched Bucky slip from between his fingers, it is not even the second, it is not even the third. Time and time, movie after movie, Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes battle fiercely for each other, defend each other, protect each other, and always, always, lose each other, and yet it is Peggy that Steve mentions in his therapy group as the loss that haunts him. Peggy who has been dead for almost eight years now. in Steve Rogers’s life. Peggy, who has nothing to do with the snap at all. Peggy, when it is Bucky who blew into the wind.
This repeats, egregiously, as the team suits up to fight Thanos for the first time in the movie, with Steve looking at Peggy’s picture in his compass before telling Nat that “if this doesn’t work, [he] doesn’t know what he’ll do.” But if it does work, it’s Bucky he’ll be getting back. Peggy has nothing to do with this narrative moment, and yet she stands in, where, for every other hero, the person they saw vanish, or whose vanishing they feel the most, is featured.
For instance, when Tony finally returns from space and Steve runs to him, Tony tells him, “I lost the kid.” [Peter]. Rocket yells at Thor to pull it together because he needs to get his family back. [Groot]. Carol and Nat both think about Nick, even though they didn’t see him vanish. Clint talks about nothing except for the loss of his family. But for Steve, Bucky is carefully removed.
Even more glaring though, is the absence of a scene in the second part of the movie, during the final battle. Every. Literally, EVERY character who could possibly reunite with another, does. Steve and Sam, Steve and T’Challa, Rocket and Groot, Tony and Peter, Hope and Scott, Okoye and T’Challa, Tony and Doctor Strange, and yet, there is not a single moment, as all the characters step back from non-existence into existence, where Bucky and Steve find each other. As the original “battle-tested friendship,” this seems like an impossible oversight.
Bucky and Steve have battled together for a century, have been at each other’s sides fight after fight. Not even a thousand years of torture or Steve’s love of his new family prevented that in the other Captain America movies. And yet here, the full circle of Steve seeing Bucky vanish into dust never comes. They don’t find each other, they don’t look for each other, they don’t speak to each other. The movie tells us that narratively Doctor Strange and Tony have more of a relationship than Bucky and Steve.
They may as well be strangers.
The Ending & Why it Ruins Steve
All of this seems so against Steve’s DNA, that it shakes the character. Steve Rogers, who once said, “even when I had nothing, I had Bucky,” who fought Tony and dismantled the Avengers for Bucky, who took on every nation of the world to defend his best friend, does not seem like the kind of man who would suddenly forget a century of loyalty. However, the relationship is construed between them, as brothers, as comrades-in-arms, as friends, as more. Bucky was once the only person Steve had in this world, and Steve is now the only person Bucky has.
But nothing, nothing, was as character assassinating to one Steve Rogers as the final moments of the film where Steve decides to abandon his current timeline to dance and marry his one-time crush, Peggy Carter.
It’s fascinating because Steve never refers to Peggy as the “love of his life” in any other movie before Endgame. In fact, Peggy is an undercurrent, but not overly involved with Steve throughout his narrative journey, even in The First Avenger when they are both alive and both the same age. Endgame writer, Christopher Markus, even once referred to Peggy as “a woman Steve once kissed.”
It is instead Bucky who Steve loses, fights for, and saves, over and over again in his arc. And it is Bucky that Steve leaves, callously, at the end of the movie to find Peggy.
More from Marvel Cinematic Universe
- Loki season 2 finale does set the stage for Kang Dynasty
- Marvel: (Spoiler) exits Avengers: The Kang Dynasty
- Will Loki air a new bonus episode tonight? (November 16, 2023)
- What If…? season 2 gets premiere date (and there’s a major twist)
- Marvel rumors hint Pedro Pascal has been cast in key Fantastic Four role
This is a strange, selfish, and un-Steve Rogers like thing to do and insults both of the people who are closest to him. Peggy, we know from the Agent Carter TV series and from The Winter Soldier, lived a full life, of which she was proud. She tells Steve that she lived her life and her only regret is that he didn’t get to live his. She had a family (a member of which Steve kisses in Civil War), she builds S.H.I.E.L.D, she is a boss, and a powerful woman. And in ten seconds, Endgame relegates her to “Steve’s wife,” showing her as an object of his affections, merely there to fulfill some strange, domestic fantasy which neither one of them has ever expressed an interest in living out. Peggy has no lines in Endgame, she is there to be peered at and held by Steve. She is not a real character. She has not even had any meaningful character evolution with Steve. She is a woman he kissed once, and now she is his wife. And that’s all she is allowed to be.
It is hard to believe Steve Rogers would want this for a woman he admired as much as Peggy Carter. It is hard to believe he would ignore her expressly telling him she lived a life, a life she could never meaningfully understand losing, even if Steve explains it to her, just to play out a half-baked dream he had a century ago.
And as for Bucky. Where to begin.
Bucky is sad in the last scene of Endgame, which is a confusing choice if the audience is meant to believe that what Steve is doing is just dandy. He seems reluctant, tired, and upset in the ten seconds of interaction they have, he tells Steve he will miss him, he barely makes eye contact. And Steve. Steve doesn’t really seem to care. He doesn’t seem to understand that he’s dooming his best friend to what his own worst nightmare was, being alone in the present without anyone who could understand what that is like. This desire to have shared experience is one of the main reasons Steve is so desperate to get Bucky back in his movies, and all at once, he can’t remember that at all. Perhaps viewers are meant to believe Bucky is no longer alone, and yet, Wakanda aside, where potentially he is friends with Shuri, Steve aside, Bucky has spent no meaningful time, no time at all, with the rest of the remaining team, none that we’ve seen and none even that the storyline set up allows for.
Steve is leaving Bucky alone, alone after Hydra, after being hunted, after dying. And he doesn’t even seem to care.
After four movies devoted to their relationship, this is an insult to the fans and a dismantling of Steve Rogers, who is not a perfect soldier, but a good man. Steve Rogers, who would never do this.
Why was even a second of closure too much for Endgame to hand over?
The answer lies in Marvel’s inability to process the way the relationship between Steve and Bucky has played out, even as they themselves created it. Bucky’s pain is alien to them. His vulnerability, his arguably feminine role as the damsel, always in distress, as the weapon, an object to be used not heard, as a man whose trauma is so ingrained into his character that it can’t be turned into stoic snark, like Tony’s is, or humor, like Thor’s, and instead sits bright on the surface, are all beyond the scope of understanding. And the notion that it is not a woman who takes him into her arms and heals him, but Steve, drives it to unshowable.
As others have written, there is such a deep intimacy between Steve and Bucky, such a powerful love and an intensity of loss, that if they are together, they must express it, and that expression is taboo. For the fans to like it, is taboo. And the only way to deal with it is to separate them.
In direct contradiction to everything that has come before in Marvel’s own universe, Marvel refuses to give Bucky and Steve the closure they deserve.
At the end of the line, the story goes unfinished.