On the face of it, just like Tony Stark, Steve Rogers MCU arc as the first Captain America, is centred around reinvention – he literally starts out as a skinny little guy who transforms into the infinitely impressive real-world Chris Evans.
And on a deeper level, he goes from a goody two shoes, rule-following soldier to someone who leads the charge against HYDRA’s secret infiltration of SHIELD, and has a complete distrust for any kind of oversight or structure from there onward – which leads into the conflicting ideology between him and Tony Stark in Civil War Right? I’m not so sure if that’s right actually.
In fact, I’ll start by pointing out that Captain America was not the goody-two-shoes soldier at all, or at least not in the way people typically think.
He was always willing to sacrifice himself, break the rules, and do whatever it took to do the right thing, regardless of orders.
In fact, the first chance he got, in the First Avenger, literally just after getting the super-soldier serum Steve chases Kruger through New York without even stopping to think about it…
Then after being sidelined, he defies direct orders and risks his life to infiltrate a HYDRA base and save Bucky and his unit. And showing how ready he is to accept what he has done was against the rules, he literally turns himself in to be court marshalled when he gets back to the allied base.
The movie of course ends with Steve making the ultimate sacrifice and crashing the HYDRA plane into the ice to stop the bomb from getting to New York at the expense of his own life.
It’s also important to take a look at the two times he says “I can do this all day” in the First Avenger, the first is behind the movie theatre, and later he says it while seemingly captured by HYDRA and the Red Skull.
Both times it’s a statement of defiance and relentlessness – it seems obvious but I think the context and what he means by that line changes as the movies go on…
This continues into Avengers where although he is against Tony’s cavalier attitude towards trusting Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D he clearly doesn’t trust Fury either and is really not happy when he finds out their secret Phase Two Tesseract weapon plans.
From the first movie onwards, it is clear that Cap has always been willing to do the right thing (or what he thinks is the right thing) no matter the cost or consequence, or who is telling him what to do
So I’d argue Cap doesn’t really change at all – in terms of who he is on the inside – throughout most of these movies – he grows and matures definitely, but underneath it, not so much.
This leads right into the Winter Soldier, where Cap realises for himself that it doesn’t matter who is telling him what to do, he just needs to do what he believes is right – something we’ve been Abel to see from the outside all along.
Winter Soldier is of course a huge shake-up for not just Captain America, Black Widow and Nick Fury, but the entire MCU.
The HYDRA and Winter Soldier reveals culminate in taking away from Captain America the one thing he is familiar with in the modern-day, the military structure, and with it the belief that no matter what you’re doing it’s for the greater good.
I think it’s this realisation for Cap that pushes his character much further, I’d argue he’s always been willing to do what’s right no matter what – but has undeniably put his faith into the wrong people – and now he doesn’t trust anyone or any kind of oversight.
For Steve, the SHIELD betrayal is bad enough, but the fact that it was HYDRA all along, the organisation he sacrificed his life to stop, is an extra knife in the back, and on that teaches him a valuable lesson about trust – that he arguably takes a little too seriously at times.
The other side to Cap’s Winter Soldier progression is Bucky, and the element of Steve being with Bucky “to the end of the line”.
Again emphasising the idea that for Steve there are things more important than his orders.
In Winter Soldier Cap admits that bad things were done in the war to fight for freedom, and what SHIELD/HYDRA is becoming is the opposite of that. All of which is nicely put into his line: “The price of freedom is high, it always has been, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay”.
Going into Age of Ultron, Captain America is, by Tony’s own admission, the leader of the Avengers. He’s settled into his modern-day life, as an Avenger much more, and is way more relaxed – despite the whole language thing. In Sokovia Cap makes it clear that he isn’t okay with sacrificing anyone, even if it means to save even more… and that ultimately a new him came out of the ice.
I’m not totally sure about that, but maybe a purer version, one that distils back to what the skinny Steve was about – not giving up and always fighting the big bully.
Cap’s entire arc so far – which again Ill maintain is always who Steve Rogers has been – comes to fruition in Civil War, where he is pitted against Tony Stark in a battle of ideologies.
On one side is Tony, who believes that the Avengers should be registered and act when sanctioned, and if not they should be imprisoned and stopped.
On the other side is Steve, who has seen the dangers of blindly following orders (both in the second world war, and with S.H.I.E.L.D), and believes that heroes should be able to act if they need to regardless of oversight.
A smart detail here is that even though Spider-Man is team Iron Man, his “if you’re able to help, you should” which is the MCU version of “with great power comes great responsibility” – is actually the same argument as Cap, not Iron Man – and I think ultimately Tony realises that.
It gets even more interesting when you look at Iron Man’s character arc, which has always been about taking responsibility for your actions, and helping where you can – even Iron Man is kind of on Cap’s side, he’s just been overcome with guilt and a need for oversight.
The wrinkle in Cap’s character here is that he believes people should be able to act when they want, regardless of being told not to do something – and yet he kind of goes against his own idea by hiding that Bucky killed the Starks from Tony.
He pulls a very Nick Fury move here, saying that he was hiding the truth to stop Tony from doing something – yeah what Tony might do is try to kill Bucky, but it might have been different if Cap approached the scenario differently. Cap is pushed even further by Sharon’s speech at Peggy’s funeral.
Which encapsulates Cap’s argument in the movie, and helps reinforce who he has always been.
At the end of Civil War, Cap realises that this has always been his character, and that neither the army nor Avengers were truly his home, and that he always needs the freedom to act as he believes, rather than be held back or restrained.
Ultimately Cap is pushed to the furthest extremes of being the person willing to do the right thing no matter the consequences – by accepting to be a fugitive, for the right to fight for what he believes in…
Really I think he just saw Bucky being a fugitive and like any good best friend was like, that looks so cool – I’m doing that too.
The Captain America we get to in Avengers: Infinity War, is still on the run and presumably has been helping the world where he can with his secret Avengers.
But when it becomes clear that Tony is missing and that the world needs him, he heads straight to the Avengers facility, makes it clear he wants to help, and doesn’t care about the consequences – it’s everything he has always stood for, and leads to him leading the charge against Thanos in Wakanda… where he is ready to die, but unwilling to sacrifice anyone else, like Vision, to win… But this time he doesn’t win.
After Cap’s reunion with Tony in Endgame doesn’t rally the troops into finding an immediate solution, and even finding Thanos (and killing him) doesn’t help. Endgame jumps forward five years.
Now Cap is running a support group, but it’s clear he doesn’t believe what he is telling people – and that he can’t move on, no matter what he says or does.
Cap’s sense of optimism has diminished, but his drive to do what’s right has mixed with the unimaginable loss and a personal sense of failure, totalling to a Cap that is trying to help in a smaller way – but one who is clearly not a part of Natasha’s new intergalactic Avengers team.
Although it doesn’t take too long for his optimism, to come back, at least in part, with Scott Lang’s return from the Quantum Realm, Cap tells Tony that he “doesn’t believe” they would mess up a snap any worse than what Thanos did.
You know, with little to no understanding of the stones, what Thanos did, or any of it really.
Cap makes it clear he wants a second chance for everyone – and where Tony initially refuses to help as he already has his second chance – it’s clear that Cap isn’t really acting for himself (although I’m sure he’d like to see Bucky and Sam again), but it’s once again a direct contrast to Tony.
Where Tony is acting somewhat selfishly – Steve is acting selflessly – wanting to help the whole planet have a second chance – without really having any directly personal motivations.. kind of.
But once the Time Heist begins, is where Cap’s arc starts to come full circle, and we see how far he has come – by literally seeing him fight his younger, more self-righteous and more naive self.
Cap says “Hail Hydra” is a great homage to the Winter Soldier elevator scene, showing that now he uses his brains, rather than trying to punch his way out.
This comes back when the younger Cap says “I can do this all day” to which the older Cap says “Yeah I know” – the older Cap is very different to the fresh out of the Ice Cap – although there is no denying that no matter how naive he was, he has always had a great ass.
From there Captain America and Tony show their trust for each (which was already set up with Tony returning the shield), by going back to 1970 together, with the risk that it might ruin the whole plan.
Where Tony has an emotional and very relevant meeting with his own father, that helps cement who he has become as a hero. Captain America kind of has the opposite – where he sees Peggy, and rather than be reminded of everything he has gained and become like Tony – he sees everything he lost.
And before we get to the ultimate, end for Steve – we do get a bunch of awesome scenes that show off how good of a leader he is, how relentless he is at fighting for what’s right – oh and by the way he IS worthy enough to wield Mjölnir.
But in the end, after the Avengers and more specifically Iron Man save the universe… seriously why was the focus on getting the stones to the Quantum tunnel then and there.
Why didn’t they just take the stones as far from Thanos as possible – and say okay let’s stop just all fighting these random Chitarui monster things, and lets just everyone charge at and then kill Thanos – then we can get the stones back to where they belong with plenty of time on our hands.
But anyway – in the end, as Cap goes to take the stones back – Bucky, Steves fellow century-old super soldier knows that Steve isn’t coming back from returning the stones.. and he was right.
Instead of Steve returning to the platform a few seconds after leaving, a much older Steve arrives. How exactly the time travel works, and how the parallel universes get created, and in which one Steve was actually in is all a bit messy, but his arc ends with the passing of the Shield to Sam, stating that the shield is now his and that the world needs a Captain America.
The movie ends with Steve and Peggy together at last, in his words, “trying some of that life” that Tony always told him to get.
Steve Rogers was a hero through and through, and never let anyone or anything stop him from doing the right thing – so there is absolutely no way that in his new life and reality with Peggy that he just retired from superhero-ing (he surely just immediately went to SHEILD and got Zola, and was like – this dude is HYDRA, and so are all of these guys).
And yet, thanks in large part to Tony Stark, Steve realised that he didn’t belong anywhere but his own time, and that after decades worth of fighting and doing the right thing, he deserved a little happiness of his own
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