Now that the Avengers: Endgame spoiler embargo has been lifted for awhile, it’s time for us to take a look at the “endgame” of each of the original six Avengers and see how they got to this point in their respective journeys. Captain America’s character arc seemingly had no possibilities for a proper fitting end, but did the filmmakers manage to defy the odds and make one happen?
For an 11-year saga spanning over 20 films, the MCU has been remarkably consistent with details and characterization over the years. However, it hasn’t been perfect, and one of the relatively prominent issues with characterization throughout the Infinity Saga was that of Steve Rogers. Depending on the movie, he was either an eager but naive hero learning of the darkness of war and the world in general, a more cartoonish boy scout of a hero with much less depth, or whatever the filmmakers needed him to be for the sake of the plot (the last two Avengers movies).
The first two of these listed “roles” worked for the most part; Steve was very likeable and compelling in The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier and even though he was mostly reduced to comic relief in the first two Avengers movies it was somewhat understandable since the studio was still just learning how to master the art of the crossover. But in Phase 3 things got murky. In Captain America: Civil War the arc from his previous two solo movies developed further, with Steve ultimately turning his back on the system he’d had so much faith in back in the 40’s. This could have been a very compelling arc for this character, but things ended up taking a turn for the worse, and the vast majority of the character development he’d undergone after coming out of the ice was undone by the end of Endgame.
I think part of the issue was that Steve didn’t get enough screentime for proper development in Phase 3. He was forced to share what was labelled as his third solo movie with the majority of the other Avengers and the “starring role” with Tony Stark, a decision that ultimately made Civil War stronger as a whole but also one that hindered its supposed main character’s development. And while Steve and Tony had a fairly even amount of dedicated plot focus in Civil War, the same can’t be said about the rest of Phase 3. While both appeared in a few Spider-Man: Far From Home scenes, Cap’s were nothing more than fun cameos while Tony’s actually gave us the chance to check in with him during the fallout of Civil War. And in Avengers: Infinity War, Tony had about three times as much screentime as Steve….yikes.
All of this left huge gaps in the latter’s story, and since we never learned about what went on during the time he and some of the other ex-Avengers were on the run, lines like “we don’t trade lives” made little sense considering the last time we saw Steve he was passionately arguing that “we try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes that doesn’t mean everybody. But if we can’t find a way to live with that, next time… maybe nobody gets saved”.
And then we came to Avengers: Endgame, in which his characterization shifted yet again. In this film more than any other, it’s clear directors Anthony and Joe Russo think Captain America is a great hero who should be rewarded and celebrated. However, the way they went about it regressed his character arc, detracted from other character’s arcs, and took away some of the things that made him so great in the first place.
I’ll get this one out of the way first: as exciting as it was to see Cap finally lift Mjolnir during the final battle against Thanos after moving it slightly during Avengers: Age of Ultron…it shouldn’t have happened. At least, not in this movie. In my “Endgame of Thor” article I discussed the power and meaning behind the scene in which he discovers he is still able to summon Mjolnir despite his downward spiral into depression and hopelessness. A scene that has largely been overshadowed by Cap’s moment with it later on in the movie.
The hammer shenanigans may have been all fun and games in Age of Ultron, but Mjolnir represents so much more in Endgame. Thor really should have been the only person to wield it in this movie, especially considering how much Cap’s scene with it overshadowed his own. The Cap and Mjolnir thing should have been contained in Age of Ultron with him wielding it in the final battle there after “being polite” earlier – filmmaker’s words! – especially since he seemed to be having some doubts of his own in that film and it would have given him a bit more to do in that move than just critique everyone’s language. (Plus, how cool would it have been to see Thor wield both Mjolnir and Stormbreaker simultaneously during the big battle?)
With that out of the way, let’s dive into the bigger issues with Cap in this movie. The fact that sacrifice was a huge theme here – “whatever it takes” and all that – really highlighted the problem with Cap’s story in it, because for a character that seemed to be defined by sacrifice throughout the Infinity Saga, Steve Rogers sure hadn’t given up all that much by the time the dust settled in Endgame.
This is why his inclusion (as well as Scott’s) in the scene at Tony’s house in an attempt to get him to help the Avengers save the dusted didn’t really fit with the story. Steve telling Tony to join the fight that could (and ultimately would) ultimately result in him losing his life makes him look like a jerk on a re-watch because he was basically talking the talk but didn’t end up walking the walk. Not only did he give up basically nothing in this movie, the one major sacrifice he made during this saga ended up being undone. So yeah, that scene really should have been strictly between Natasha and Tony, the only two heroes to eventually pay the ultimate price by the film’s end, not someone who would not only sacrifice pretty much nothing, but negate the one major sacrifice he did make over the course of these movies.
Which brings us to Steve’s, well, “endgame”. Captain America’s arc over the six movies prior to this finale mainly focused on two things: his loyalty to and desire to protect childhood friend Bucky Barnes, and finding his place in a world he never felt like he belonged in. At the end of each of his solo films he lost him in one way or another (falling off a train, disappearing after saving him, cryosleep) and in Infinity War this happens once again as Bucky vanishes before his eyes thanks to the snap done by Thanos to eliminate half of all life from the universe.
Which is why it’s so weird that when we get to Endgame and everyone is mourning over those they were closest to being lost in the Decimation, Steve is pining over his long-lost love Peggy Carter. Now, don’t get me wrong, Steve’s relationship with Peggy was always an important part of his story. In The First Avenger she was one of the few people who had faith in his abilities as a soldier even before he was given the serum. In The Winter Soldier and Civil War she was still a key presence in his life, and in these films – particularly the latter – we saw Steve grow to accept the prospect of romance between the two as long-gone but carry her spirit and the lessons he learned from her forward in his life. He knows he has to move on, but makes sure her legacy lives on.
But in Endgame, most of this development was negated, and we were back to seeing Steve pining over Peggy like he did all the way back in The Avengers (well, the deleted scenes, anyway). And this, of course, culminated in returning to the past to live out the rest of his life with her. This sounds cute on paper, but it definitely didn’t work as an ending for Steve’s arc. His whole journey after waking up in the 2010’s was about finding his place in the world and moving on. And for awhile, he seemed to be doing just that. So his choices in Endgame didn’t really add up in the end.
By heading back to the past Steve straight-up abandoned his friends, many of whom had just lost two others and several of whom were suffering some sort of lingering trauma (Sam, Wanda, and most of all Bucky, who was not only arguably his biggest motivation throughout his story and was the only person who also had the experience of being dropped into the future). And don’t even get me started on the implications on him feeling more comfortable in a time of rampant racism and sexism after all he’d been through in both the past and the present. None of this sounds like the Steve Rogers we knew in most of the other movies.
And Peggy – who by Endgame had two seasons as the main character of a television series under her belt – was reduced to little more than a love interest who existed to be desired and serve as a “reward” at the end of the movie. This was especially disappointing because she was always more than that, even back in The First Avenger (which was produced during Phase 1, an era chock full of women who had little existence other than being the “love interest”). And it negates much of her arc about moving on, too, because even if Steve went back to an alternate timeline (which he better have, based on the rules of tie travel set up in the film and also because it makes this ending slightly less awful than if he went back in the main timeline) it shows she never really moved on either.
So if this was the wrong way to wrap up Captain America’s character arc, what would have been the “right” one? The truth is, with the way his character was handled throughout the movies and his lack of screentime in Phase 3, I can’t really think of a fully satisfying ending for Steve. I was never part of the “Steve needs to die” camp, because it would mean he was never able to move on from a life at war. But at the same time, simply retiring wouldn’t exactly have worked either. Sitting back and not trying to make the world a better place seems wildly out of character for him. (I’m well aware they wanted Steve to become “more selfish” as a counterpart to Tony’s trajectory, but they didn’t dedicate enough time to exploring that for it to be truly believable.)
However, going back in time permanently was the worst possible ending for Steve because it brought out the worst of both worlds: never really moving on from his past and kicking back while terrible things were going on (the aforementioned racism and sexism, plus all the Winter Soldier stuff through the decades). Plus it was a slap in the face to Tony Stark, because Steve’s reasoning of “taking his advice and getting a life” didn’t really fly. Tony was always “the futurist” who always wanted a better tomorrow, and I doubt he would have been very keen on Steve running away from the future in the way he did.
Like I said, there was no possible way to wrap up Steve’s story in a wholly satisfying fashion. The best way I can come up with to end his story and write him out of the MCU with would be to have him stay in the present and work behind-the-scenes to help deal with situations gone south rather than on the front-line – maybe even travelling the world o galaxy helping people at times, explaining his absence in things like the upcoming Falcon and The Winter Soldier series – allowing him to finally “get a life”.
As for “The Dance” with Peggy, I would have liked to see them have it during the time heist in either the 1970’s scene in which she would tell him about her life since the war or in a scene of him getting sent back to the time they were supposed to have their first one (either accidentally or on purpose). In either case, he would briefly contemplate staying to be with her but would ultimately realize/remember she had an amazing life after their time together and finally fully move on from his yearning to be with her.
Steve Rogers had some great moments in the MCU and played a very important role in its story and success, which is why it’s such a shame that the end of his story felt haphazardly thrown together. (Seriously, they’d had this planned for years and didn’t realize some of the implications and didn’t care enough to make it work or come up with something better.) Thankfully, we’ll always have the good times, but here’s hoping whoever’s in charge of the next Captain America’s arc is better at crafting it from beginning to end (emphasis on end).