WARNING: contains some spoilers for Avengers: Endgame
WARNING: some of the topics (PTSD, trauma, mental illness) and the way they are addressed in this article can be potentially harmful or triggering.
I am in no way a professional writer, I only wished for a way to get my thoughts down clearly.
When James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes was first introduced to the MCU in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger admittedly little to no-one had a clue who he was. In more ways than his age he was a completely different character from the quippy teen sidekick from the golden age of comics, but the MCU quickly managed to bring life and love for a character with little less than 50 minutes total screen time in his now five main movie appearances so far.
Actor Sebastian Stan has worked extremely hard over the years to talk eloquently about the ideas of PTSD and other mental health issues that are associated with the character, often taking the time with fans to discuss the importance of portraying such struggles in a nuanced and respective manor, and listening to the impact of portraying such struggles has on an audience.
However, this sentiment seems to only go so far with the creative team behind the character.
Since the release of Avengers: Endgame in the last two weeks, screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely have sat down with BUILD Series to discuss the movie spoiler free. In this interview, when asked if they feel they gave a satisfying conclusion to one of the franchise’s most beloved friendships, Steve & Bucky, the two writers suggest that yes, they did. They feel as since Bucky is now “healthy” after decades of brainwashing and torture, Steve is free to move on from their friendship that started in a playground nearly a century ago and carried them through war, death and to their eventual reunion in the 21st century as two men out of time.
An ironic use of “move on” considering the actions Cap takes at the end of the movie by deciding to live in the past with a woman he knows lived a long and good life, with a husband and kids. Moving on from a woman you knew for two years on and off seems completely impossible compared to leaving a friend you’ve known since before you were ten years old. But all that is another point of this movie the writers and directors are continuously contradicting each other on.
So why is this interview relevant?
Well, a few hours after this was broadcast an interview with the Russo Brothers was released by USA Today to discuss major spoilers for the movie. When discussing their decision to have Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson (Falcon) take over the mantle of Captain America, they had this to say:
“So far as matching the level of integrity of Captain America, Sam is pound for pound as morally forthright as anyone in the Marvel universe. And Bucky’s a damaged character.”
Ouch. So not only is Bucky’s mental progress viewed completely different from what little has been offered onscreen, but apparently not even the two major creative parties of the movie can agree on where Bucky’s mental state is at. But aside from both giving completely different answers, it’s a rather disgusting way to describe a trauma survivor. Bucky is not a broken toy, he is a free thinking, calm and pleasant character in his minimal amount of screen time since Civil War, and frankly the Russo Brothers bizarre excuses as for why Bucky wasn’t chosen to take the mantle are riddled with ableism. Instead of coming up with an intelligent and respectable answer as to why someone still dealing with PTSD and decades of trauma should maybe stick to being themselves before trying to fit into an idealistic and politically charged role, they put down the character’s mental state as a trump card, an ‘aha sorry but-’ moment that has left a sour taste in fans mouths.
As of May 6th, at the moment I am editing what I have written of this so far, another interview with the Russo Brothers was released by SIRIUSXM and they gave even more stigmatizing and downright incorrect excuses as to why Bucky couldn’t wield the shield.
More long winding drivel about how damaged and unstable Bucky supposedly is in comparison to Sam, even going as far to say he can’t be trusted with a “weapon” because he could end up killing more people? Aren’t these the same two men who supposedly revitalized Cap into a hard hitting killer in Winter Soldier? I’ve watched the film too many times to suddenly be misremembering ALL of the fight scenes. Why all of a sudden is the indestructible shield that a super strong Steve Rogers used to hurl at necks such a dangerous weapon if it was in the hands of someone with supposed mental instability. Has Bucky lost the ability to distinguish friend from foe again? Remember in the moments since being de-triggered by Shuri that Bucky has turned back into a killing machine again? No? Me neither. (Not that he has enough screen time other than as a pawn for Steve’s emotions).
For some reason these two continue to talk about this character with no respect or even awareness at the messages their words convey to people with PTSD, trauma survivors, and people struggling with other mental health issues. The message that you can’t be trusted with much any more now that you’ve been through trauma?
Bucky is mentally healthy enough to be left as the new ‘man out of time’ by his best friend, but not enough to even just use a ‘weapon’ that he’s already had use of before and carried with precision.
This is not a problem with them choosing Sam to take up the mantle. They are right in that he is very strong willed and a kindred spirit with Steve Rogers himself, but this explanation comes at the expense of completely dismissing the progress a beloved character has been through in canon, and reducing him to only ‘a damaged character’. Sam should be given the shield because he is a good fit, he’s headstrong and hardworking. It should NOT be because of a forced notion that Bucky can’t do it.
Here’s a more eloquently put response by Sebastian Stan about the idea of Bucky taking the mantle and the issues that would bring, once again respectfully keeping in mind Bucky’s headspace rather than, pardon my french, making shit up.
Is it surprising that this creative team also said that Bucky needed to be reintroduced to cryo at the end of Captain America: Civil War as a punishment for his own abuse and mind control? No.
All this dismissive and lazy talk about the mental state of characters is unsurprising given Avengers: Endgame’s overall poor handling of depression, panic attacks and trauma response. Rocket at one point slaps Thor out of a panic attack and tells him to pull himself together, something from first hand experience I know is the worst thing you can do to someone in that mental state.
It appears thoughtful and healthy portrayals of mental illness and how to handle them are only once every few years in the MCU, last and almost definitely the only entry being Iron Man 3.
Someone at Marvel needs to start listening to their viewers responses to these issues if they actually want to keep up the charade of them caring about representation. These issues are more than surface level.