In the Defense of a Non-Villain

A lot of people (my mom) accuse me of only liking Bucky Barnes, AKA the Winter Soldier from the most recent Captain America movie, because he’s hot. To that I say, maybe. But if it were purely physical attraction, would my heart pound every time someone accused him of being a villain? Would I feel it’s my own personal sworn duty to demand justice on his behalf? Is it so unreasonable to feel that Bucky and I would make the most beautiful couple and have the most adorable, brown-haired green-eyed babies?

Maybe.

A brief, spoiler-riddled history of Bucky Barnes, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: he was Steve Rogers’s best friend since childhood, and when he went off to war, he was captured and experimented on. Steve saved him and a ton of other guys, but he’d already been injected with a crude attempt at the serum that turned Steve Rogers from super cute to super hot. (Side note: the serum didn’t change Bucky’s appearance because he was already the latter.) Fast forward a few years, he fell from a train in the Alps trying to capture a bad guy, and was presumed Killed In Action. Fast forward to 2014 and we discover Bucky didn’t actually die. He was found and turned into a human weapon, dubbed the Winter Soldier. Over the next seven decades, he was tortured, brainwashed, and forced to carry out assassinations and cause general chaos around the world. If all that isn’t bad enough, HYDRA didn’t let him cut his hair for like, years, making him look all greasy and extra-scary. Conveniently, Steve emerged from his icicle just a couple of years before HYDRA was about to kill millions of people using none other than Steve’s dead best friend as the keystone of their plan. And you can probably guess what happened next.

To summarize, the Winter Soldier tried to kill Steve a bunch of times, and he did kill dozens if not hundreds of other people. It doesn’t matter if he looked like a kicked puppy while he did it, murder is murder. I get that. And I don’t excuse it.

I’m just saying. He didn’t mean it.

Think about it. Bucky as the Winter Soldier was clearly being controlled by HYDRA; he was a good guy throughout the war until he was captured and experimented on. God knows what they did to his mind, but if he doesn’t even remember his best friend, it can’t be good. They took Bucky Barnes and buried him under decades of torture and mind control. Most viewers sympathize with Bucky, who was a dashing young officer headed off to war at the beginning of the first movie. He had a dazzling smile, he was good with the ‘dames,’ and he was just an all-American Good Guy. To see him taken and turned into a weapon against his will is horrifying, but it’s one of the most interesting aspects of the Captain America storyline. Some people, however, seem to miss all of this in favor of viewing Bucky as a token ‘good guy turned evil,’ on the same level as Loki (who had the advantage of free will that Bucky didn’t have). Often, these people are in the media.

There’s one interview by HuffPost Live which is particularly offensive to Bucky supporters. The interviewer introduces Sebastian Stan, who plays Bucky in the movies, by saying, “The man behind the villain, bringing the mayhem to our iconic superhero, joins me today.” The camera switches to Sebastian and an expression that can be none other than the face you make when you’re trying really, really hard to convince yourself not to kill someone. He takes in a deep breath, his eyes wide, and then he turns toward the interviewer with a forced smile.

Sebastian always responds to ignorant people politely. It’s his job. But it isn’t my job.

I’m calling everyone out on their bullshit. If you think Bucky is the villain of Captain America: the Winter Soldier, then I think you may have actually slept through the movie. To me it’s obvious that the villain, and what Steve’s fighting against (because Steve doesn’t actually fight the Winter Soldier once he realizes who it is), is HYDRA. You know, the super evil Nazi-rogue organization he fought against in the first movie. He fell asleep for 70 years and woke up in the 21st century with the hopes that HYDRA was long gone.

Alas, HYDRA was still alive and just as evil as ever. The new leading asshole of HYDRA was Alexander Pierce. People who think Bucky was the villain or evil in any way must have missed the scene in which Bucky is latched to a metal chair and with guns trained on him from several different sides, looking as terrified and confused as a kid whose lollipop has just been taken away. Alexander Pierce walks into Bucky’s prison and gives him a little pep talk, telling him, “You shaped the century. And I need you to do it again.” Bucky ignores him and keeps asking about “the man on the bridge” (AKA Steve, Bucky’s BFF). Pierce slaps him. Everyone’s heart breaks.

The year is 2015 and people still believe Bucky Barnes is a villain. It seems obvious to me that HYDRA is the villain. Alexander Pierce is the villain. Bucky Barnes is a victim, being forced to carry out HYDRA’s evil wishes.

I could go into how this speaks to societal views and things like victim-blaming, but I don’t think it’s that deep. I’m pretty sure it’s just a bunch of people misunderstanding a movie, and then saying ignorant things in interviews with actors. So many interviewers don’t do their research beforehand, and they end up saying ridiculous things that annoy the actors. While I think that interviewing famous people would be a stressful job, I also think that you should only do it if you actually know what you’re talking about. (See: the time an interviewer suggested to Darren Criss, who played Harry Potter in the internet smash hit A Very Potter Musical, that he should make a musical about Harry Potter. His reaction was kind of hilarious, but mostly just super awkward.)

It isn’t only interviewers who have issues closely watching movies. Our consumption of media has become increasingly vapid while plots are becoming thinner. In movies that are complex, it’s the job of the audience to view them as such. When we don’t take the time to think about and interpret movies, TV shows, books, and other forms of entertainment, we’re wasting the potential of those things to stretch our minds. People who see Bucky with a gun and face paint and say, “Oh, he’s a villain,” miss out on the heartbreaking realization of the psychological torture he’s been put through since WWII. It adds a whole new layer to the movie, making it that much better.

This whole trend of calling Bucky a villain better end before Captain America: Civil War comes out, because I don’t have the patience for the myriad of ways in which people will inevitably write off his tragic character arc. If you want to wildly misinterpret – or, rather, fail to interpret – a movie, go watch American Sniper. Please stay away from Captain America.

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