The Thunderbolts movie that may be coming to the MCU’s Phase 4 could bring back Bucky Barnes sooner than expected, possibly making him closer to Baron Zemo before he reunites with Sam Wilson in Captain America 4. Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes has always been connected to the Captain America mantle. He was the one who stood by Steve Rogers’ side well before Steve received the Super Soldier serum. Like his best friend, Bucky was also a man out of time after reincorporating to the modern world. Now, Bucky’s relationship with the Thunderbolts could be the first time he can forge his own path outside the shadow of Steve Rogers or his successor, Sam Wilson.
The Winter Soldier’s most famous run-in with the Thunderbolts saw the Winter Soldier as the leader of the team while trying to control Kobik, a powerful personification of the Cosmic Cube (renamed the “Tesseract” in the MCU). Bucky’s Thunderbolts were composed of Moonstone, Atlas, Fixer, MACH-X, and Kobik herself. Even though their partnership was brief, they crossed paths with the Squadron Supreme, the Inhumans, and Baron Zemo’s own team, the Masters of Evil, who ultimately succeeded in breaking the team apart.
With Phase 4 leaving the Infinity Stones behind, it’s unlikely that the MCU’s version of the Thunderbolts will assemble to resolve a conflict that involves the Tesseract or another piece of the Infinity Gauntlet. What does seem probable is that Baron Zemo and Bucky Barnes become central members of the Thunderbolts. As the original founder of the team, Zemo is a key character, and considering Zemo’s history with the Winter Soldier in the MCU, the Thunderbolts movie seems more than likely to include Bucky either as their enemy or as a reluctant member. This, however, could undermine Bucky’s attempts to leave the Winter Soldier behind, which were teased to culminate in a positive transformation by the time Sam Wilson wields the shield again in Captain America 4.
The ending of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier left fans waiting for Bucky to take up a new moniker, as it was logical for him to do it at the same time Sam Wilson finally accepted Captain America’s shield and the responsibility that comes with it. Although the opportunity to start calling Bucky the “White Wolf” was clear, the MCU decided to postpone the last stages of his redemption for a future appearance. Now, Bucky’s new relationships with villains and anti-heroes in a Thunderbolts movie run the risk of undoing his redemption ahead of his next adventure with Sam in Captain America 4. However, it could be even more exciting to see Bucky’s tense interactions with potential members of the team such as Baron Zemo, who tried to frame him as a terrorist during Captain America: Civil War; US Agent, who tarnished Steve Rogers’ legacy as Captain America; and Taskmaster, who shares Bucky’s pain as a victim of brainwashing.
Perhaps it would be appropriate to give Bucky Barnes enough time to find himself off-screen and make a triumphant comeback as a full-fledged hero in Captain America 4, which could serve as a reversal of his shocking return as a living weapon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Alternatively, Bucky’s alliance with Baron Zemo and the Thunderbolts could present him with interesting obstacles in his quest to redeem himself, and he could see himself forced to do morally ambiguous deeds alongside the people he disagrees with the most before quitting and joining Captain America’s righteous fight once again.