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The Ending Of Captain America: The Winter Soldier Explained

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is regarded as one of the finest films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movie boasts a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, placing it in the franchise's top ten highest rated movies at the time of this writing. Then again, some fans of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and his patriotic alter ego would argue that it should be even further up that list.

Maybe that's because Captain America: The Winter Soldier marked a significant turning point for the MCU. Not only did it introduce directors Joe and Anthony Russo to the fold — a pair who would go on to play a key part in the development of the franchise with Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame — it also showed that there was much more to Marvel movies than mindless entertainment. 

Inspired by the paranoid political thrillers of the 1970s, the movie addresses topics like institutional corruption, government overreach, and troubled patriotism. Alan J. Pakula would be proud. In the film, S.H.I.E.L.D. is exposed as a corrupt organization (having been infiltrated by HYDRA agents in the aftermath of World War II), and this forces Cap to rethink his priorities. And if that's not bad enough, it's also turned out that Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Steve's old war buddy, is working for the enemy against his own free will.

It all climaxes with a spectacular showdown, but what exactly makes The Winter Soldier's ending so significant?

What the ending of Captain America: The Winter Soldier says about Steve Rogers

After S.H.I.E.L.D is revealed to have been nothing more than a lie, Steve and fellow Avenger Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), team up to take down the corrupt espionage unit. This forces them to forget about everything they once knew, but Steve isn't willing to give up on his past life completely.

During his final battle with Bucky, Steve refuses to fight back in an effort to get through to his old friend. Bucky then knocks Steve out of a Helicarrier into the river below. However, Cap's tactics clearly worked, as Bucky proceeds to save him from the water.

Steve's refusal to fight his own friend says a lot about him. As is always the case with the most inspiring superheroes, he isn't willing to give up on those who deserve to be saved. He will always help a friend in need if there is good in them, even if that means potentially losing his own life in the process.

More importantly, their climactic fight is an awakening of sorts for Steve. It ties into some of the film's main themes, such as the importance of friendship and reconnecting with one's fundamental truths and values when the world outside is in disarray. After all, this is a world in which Steve is out of place and trying to find his purpose again. It took time for him to adjust to the modern era after waking up in a new century. His connection with Bucky and his instinct to continue reaching out to his old friend push him to realize that his core values will always keep him on the right path.

How does the ending of Captain America: The Winter Soldier change the MCU?

While The Avengers gave Marvel its first mega team-up movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier built on that ambition with aplomb. Granted, Marvel had introduced several key players in solo movies prior to this one, but the Russo brothers' acclaimed sequel showed that multiple heroes could seamlessly mingle in the so-called self-contained efforts. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow, Bucky, and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) are given meaningful roles in their own right, and the film cements them as key players in the MCU moving forward.

One of the final scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier sees Steve and Falcon join forces to find Bucky, with the aim of bringing the former HYDRA pawn back to the side of wholesomeness and heroism. Not only did that moment play a crucial part in Bucky's road to redemption, but it also set some events in motion that would lead the saga well into the future.

Some of the repurcussions of Captain America: The Winter Soldier are still being felt to this day. Look no further than the upcoming Disney+ original series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to see how the film's had a long-lasting impact on the franchise. These two characters who first clashed in this movie are now set to play a significant part in defining Phase 4 of the MCU.