Warning: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" spoilers are ahead!
Captain America has faced the Winter Soldier and lived to tell the tale. But what's next for the star-spangled super-soldier?
Well, we know what's next: "The Avengers: Age of Ultron," Joss Whedon's superhero sequel hitting theaters next year. Chris Evans will be back slinging the shield as Steve Rogers in that film, and we can only guess how "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" will impact the "Avengers" sequel.
For one, we can count on more Winter Soldier. Even though he owns half of the movie's title, the brainwashed Bucky Barnes was more of a prop than a full-functioning character in the "Captain America" sequel. But by the end of the movie, his memories have been restored. He knows who he is, and he's on a mission to find out even more about how he became one of the deadliest spies the world has ever known.
We also know that Steve hasn't given up on his old friend. Black Widow supplies Steve with Russian intelligence that should shine more of a light on the Winter Soldier mystery. He's not alone, either. Sam "Falcon" Wilson signed on to help Steve's search for Bucky. The two are so tightly linked, that it wouldn't be surprising if the next movie is called "Captain America and the Falcon," just like the classic comics.
Then again, never forget about Natasha Romanoff. Just as Cap and Falcon went off on their own mission to find Bucky, the Soviet expat has plans of her own. Her aliases are burned, and her covers are blown, now that S.H.I.E.L.D. is dead and gone. Whatever it is she's about to dig into, chances are good we'll see the results in the "Winter Soldier" sequel. "Captain America: Black Widow," anyone?
Another character with secrets of his own to explore: Nick Fury. Presumed dead and on the run, Fury's out on his own, rocking sunglasses and working between the cracks. After getting his best action scene yet in a Marvel movie, there's only room to go up from here.
As for who Cap will battle in the "Winter Soldier" sequel, it's easy to assume HYDRA will somehow be involved. He cut off one head of the snake by dismantling S.H.I.E.L.D., but Cap's oldest foes won't go down so easily. If there's one through-line connecting the "Captain America" movies, it's HYDRA; don't expect that to change anytime soon.
What's really exciting about the possibilities of a "Winter Soldier" sequel is just how much material remains unexplored. Ed Brubaker's critically acclaimed "Captain America" comics provided much of the bedrock for "Winter Soldier," but much of his story remains untapped for future sequels.
There's a larger role for Sharon Carter, alias Agent 13, to play, for example. There are other villains who haven't reached their potential, like Brock "Crossbones" Rumlow, who is all but guaranteed for a return appearance, this time with his familiar costume. There's even Sin, the daughter of the Red Skull, to consider.
All of which is to say, as fantastic as "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" was, the sequel is primed and positioned to be even better — especially with the Russo brothers and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely back on board. Even as Cap sinks further into the shadows, the franchise has nowhere to go but up.
What do you want to see in the "Winter Soldier" sequel?