Marvel Cinematic Universe profile: A look at Sebastian Stan’s career

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 02: Sebastian Stan attends The 2022 Met Gala Celebrating "In America: An Anthology of Fashion" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 02, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 02: Sebastian Stan attends The 2022 Met Gala Celebrating "In America: An Anthology of Fashion" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 02, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage) /

Bucky Barnes is one of the most important sidekicks in the Marvel comics, and his kinetic character arc is brought to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in spectacular fashion by Sebastian Stan.

When we first meet Bucky, in Captain America: The First Avenger, he feels the need to protect his frail yet courageous companion, Steve Rogers. Stan stands tall opposite Chris Evans’ visually altered little guy. Bucky is a valiant soldier heading off to war, while Steve’s limitless determination earns him the chance of becoming a super soldier. The next time they meet in Europe, the roles are flipped, and Steve is rescuing Bucky.

The duo are inseparable and Bucky is first on Captain Rogers’ list for his team of Hydra stomping Howling Commandos. Steve is torn by the loss of his childhood pal during a daring mission and that certainly could have been the end of Stan’s career as Bucky. But luckily Kevin Feige and the Russo Brothers made the bold choice of following Bucky’s comic book chronicles, reconstructing him into the eponymous adversary in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Stan is called on to inverse his charming smile as the brainwashed covert assassin.

One of the most touching moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is when Steve makes an anguished attempt to reach his old friend and a flicker of hope is faintly lit in Bucky’s eyes. This progression, for Steve and Bucky, is unreservedly rewarded in Captain America: Civil War. A major part of the plot is built around Steve’s willingness to do anything to get his Bucky back. In Civil War, Stan takes full advantage of the opportunity to externalize his character’s multiple dimensions; repositioning the unwavering soldier as someone who grapples with the consequences of his uncontrollable actions and comes to terms with the inherit potential danger of his very presence, while never yielding his personal principles.

Bucky is rehabilitated in Wakanda and has an end-credits cameo in Black Panther. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier flashbacks reveal how his unwillingly conditioned mindset was methodically dismantled in favor for his White Wolf persona. As his old self again, Bucky suits up to join the Avengers in Infinity War, fearlessly heading into battle against Thanos’ ferocious Outriders. He is then one of the unlucky 50% who vanishes when Thanos wields the cumulated Infinity Gauntlet.

Then, Sebastian Stan is a part of one of the largest casts in cinema history in Avengers: Endgame. He drops into the final battle and ultimately says his farewell to Steve in the closing moments of the film. Bucky’s last exchange with Captain America is a reverse of what his companion says to him early on in The First Avenger, where Bucky tells Steve not to do anything stupid until he gets back, to which a pre-super soldier Rogers replies “How can I? You’re taking all the stupid with you”.

Stan fleshes out the character even more in the Disney Plus series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which is essentially a dual story of Sam Wilson reconciling the significance of a black man becoming Captain America and Bucky redeeming himself for the unforgivable deeds he committed as the brainwashed Winter Soldier. The transition from blockbuster movies to a serialized streaming platform is seamless for Stan, plus it also puts him in a well-deserved spotlight.

Sebastian Stan was previously no stranger to television work, with stints on Gossip Girl, Kings, and as the Mad Hatter in Once Upon a Time. He recently followed his MCU show up with the biographical miniseries Pam and Tommy, where he turns up the energy to 11 as rock drummer Tommy Lee.

But first, Stan worked his way up in feature films, in bit parts opposite celebrated actors. He plays the stylish buddy of Jesse Eisenberg’s titular protagonist in The Education of Charlie Banks. He is an aggressive addict who tries to provoke Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married and then he hits on Natalie Portman in Black Swan.

Stan’s career gained more momentum after joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He is suitable as Meryl Streep’s son in Jonathan Demme’s Ricki and the Flash, where he is the sane one in a dysfunctional family. Since a portion of the plot is centered around his character’s marriage, Stan is assigned to awkwardly smile his way through the ongoing familial unpleasantness. In The Martian, he is a member of an ensemble that can rival a Marvel film, working under Jessica Chastain’s command to rescue Matt Damon’s stranded astronaut.

Stan’s small role as a Nascar driver in Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky is just as amusing as the rest of the film. His character’s whole scenario is comical – a racer who is obsessive about what he consumes, only to be pressured by a sponsor to take a swig of the advertised alcohol, causing him to pass out mid-race. MCU fans are well aware how great Stan is at playing the stiff, serious type in comedic situations. I Tonya is a perfect illustration of this; accessing an assortment of smirks, winces, and furrowed eyebrows to convey Tonya Harding’s embittered lover in a droll milieu. Stan steps up his game to give a career best alongside stellar performances by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney.

He also has the ability to portray an insensitive, malicious person, like in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, a Shirley Jackson adaptation where Stan deploys his charm to weasel his way into his cousin’s fortune. More recently, in the body horror flick, Fresh, Stan is his typical appealing self when he lures in poor Daisy Edgar Jones, only to disclose he is a sadistic broker of human flesh. Even when he reveals his true nature, he remains as cool and down to earth as a lady butcherer can be – he dances around gleefully and sings with a Joker-sized smile while cutting up body parts.

Sebastian Stan’s Top 10 Movie Roles
1. Jeff Gillooly in I Tonya
2. Chris in Destroyer
3. Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes in the MCU
4. Scott Huffman in The Last Full Measure
5. Deputy Lee Bodecker in The Devil All the Time
6. Charles Blackwood in We Have Always Lived in the Castle
7. Steve in Fresh
8. Dayton White in Logan Lucky
9. Dr. Beck in The Martian
10. Josh Brummel in Ricki and the Flash

Stan’s best cinematic performance is in I Tonya, with Bucky Barnes not too far behind. Other great roles in his Top 5 are Destroyer, The Last Full Measure, and The Devil All the Time. Destroyer is a superbly grounded part in particularly weighty material with Nicole Kidman as his partner (professionally, romantically, and criminally). In The Last Full Measure, Stan earns top billing, and while he is absent from the film’s crucial flashback scenes, he does share touching screentime with the late William Hurt and the late Christopher Plummer. His unscrupulous officer fills out the excellent cast in the underappreciated crime thriller The Devil All the Time.

Although Sebastian Stan is not currently confirmed for an upcoming Marvel project, there is a promising chance that he will help out his current partner in Captain America: New World Order or he could potentially bump heads with former acquaintances like Baron Zemo or Sharon Carter in the Thunderbolts feature.

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What is your favorite Sebastian Stan role? Are you hoping to see more of him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Let us know in the comments below.