Both Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson are great choices to take up the mantle of Captain America in the MCU.
This story contains spoilers for the ending of Avengers: Infinity War.
Steve Rogers may have lived to see another day at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, but his days as Captain America are contractually numbered. Presumably, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will pass the vibranium shield onto an already-established character in the MCU following the still as-of-yet-untitled Avengers 4. But who will it be?
In the comics, both Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson take over for their friend. Sure, they were both a victim of Thanos’ snap come the end of Infinity War, but we’re skeptical either death will stick. Which one should become Captain America following Chris Evans’ inevitable departure? Let’s look at the pros and cons…
Bucky Barnes as Captain America
If Sebastian Stan’s comments are anything to go by, the possibility that Bucky will assume the Captain America mantle after Steve Rogers is more likely — but nothing is certainly set in stone (at least if you’re not a Marvel insider). In many respects, a Bucky-Cap would be more emotionally rewarding than seeing Sam Wilson take up the job. We have spent more time with Bucky, who was introduced in Phase One in Captain America: The First Avenger and he has had a much more tragic backstory (though Sam has, admittedly, endured his fair share of trauma).
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building a Bucky redemption story since Phase One, when he was first introduced as a hero, to Phase Two, when it was discovered that he was turned into a villain against his will, to Phase Three, where his salvation is the emotional linchpin to the civil war between Tony and Steve. Bucky is arguably more important than any other supporting character in the MCU. It wouldn’t be surprising if it was Marvel’s plan to eventually give him the shield. More than that, it would be incredibly rewarding as a viewer: the perfect next step for Bucky’s larger MCU character arc.
Sam Wilson as Captain America
Bucky may seem the likeliest choice for the MCU’s next Cap, but I wouldn’t count Sam Wilson out just yet. Introduced in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Sam has been Steve’s closest confidante and most trusted ally ever since. When Bucky was off trying to work through the layers and layers of programming Hydra forced upon him, Sam was helping Steve work through his own trauma — something The Avengers could use a little more of, to be honest.
Sam not only has some badass Falcon skills (and wing-less hand-to-hand combat skills, which he showed off in his fight with Rumlow in the third act of The Winter Soldier), but he is arguably the most mentally healthy of all of The Avengers — he certainly is better balanced than Bucky. Sure, “Best Mental Health — The Avengers” isn’t an incredibly competitive category — these heroes are justifiably messed up from all of the trauma they have respectively and collectively experienced — but it’s a valid one.
As Steve has proven time and time again, Captain America often has to function as the steady, reliable leader of the group. The Avengers rely on Steve’s (mostly) even-keeled leadership to stay together. As Civil War proves, when Steve’s leadership and dedication to team allegiance is compromised, The Avengers will splinter.
Bucky is arguably a better fighter than Sam, but Sam is a much better choice for leader. With his background as a facilitator of PTSD soldier support groups, he’s kind of the perfect guy for the job because, let’s face it, what The Avengers need right now more than anything else, is a good therapist.