Helen O’Hara, editor-at-large and freelancer at Empire Magazine and one of the hosts of the Empire Podcast, joins Daryl and Jay to dig deeper into Captain America’s character journey throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Has Cap changed? How so? Does his character arc work? Does his character stand the test of time? The Story Geeks dig deeper into Helen and Daryl’s favorite MCU character…
Also… be sure to read Ashley‘s thoughts below!
All of these questions were curated by Daryl Smith for The Story Geeks podcast and Ashley’s related blog post!
As you rank Marvel Cinematic Universe characters, where does Captain America fit in?
Captain America ends up at #4 on my favorite MCU characters list, behind Iron Man at #1, Rocket at #2, and Doctor Strange at #3. What’s interesting about Cap is that he’s maybe the most universally loved Avenger. I think that has a lot to do with Chris Evans’ fantastic portrayal of the character, and also to do with just how relatable the character is. Before he became a superhero, Steve Rogers was an average guy who didn’t necessarily stand out in a crowd. However, Steve has always possessed an inner strength and a deep-seated moral code, and that’s what makes him great — not the superpowers he acquires after taking the super soldier serum.
Walking through his journey movie by movie, how would you sum up the guiding theme(s) for Steve Rogers in…
Captain America: The First Avenger
Theme: Strength of character matters more than physical strength.
Steve Rogers may have been viewed as weak by many of his peers, but his courage, kindness, and dedication to doing what is right make him a great man.
Theme: You can accomplish more together than you can accomplish alone.
Steve has a different philosophy than some of the other Avengers (particularly Tony Stark, a conflict that builds throughout these films). But he learns the value of teaming up with the other Avengers, even though their partnership is sometimes a dysfunctional one.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Theme: It’s dangerous to blindly serve a cause.
Steve faithfully serves S.H.I.E.L.D. in this film…up until the moment he learns it’s been taken over by Hydra. The lesson Steve learns in this movie (that continues to impact him later in the MCU) is that it’s necessary to hold those in authority accountable and that sometimes doing your duty requires you to go against the orders you’ve been given.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Theme: This one’s hard for me, as “Age of Ultron” is my least favorite MCU film and I felt its themes were not handled as well as they could have been. The movie does play with a few of the same themes that come up in “The Winter Soldier” and “Civil War,” so I might just move on to the next one…
Captain America: Civil War
Theme: Stick to your convictions — even when it costs you.
Steve feels that it would be wrong to sign the Sokovia Accords and he also feels that his friend Bucky Barnes is still worthy of redemption. These two beliefs cost him very dearly in “Civil War,” yet even though he has to walk away from the Avengers and become an exile, he refuses to compromise on his ideals.
Avengers: Infinity War
Theme: With great power comes great responsibility.
Apparently I just can’t write a superhero-themed article without bringing up this quote. And, as I always say, even though it’s a cliche by this point, it’s absolutely true. Steve — and the rest of the Avengers + the Guardians of the Galaxy — have been given great power, and with that comes the responsibility to defeat someone no one else can: Thanos. Steve is willing to sacrifice everything he has left to defeat Thanos, and he may be called to give his life for the cause…but more on that later.
As someone who has been powerless, Steve “hates bullies.” That’s his mindset before the super soldier serum, and I don’t think he ever loses it throughout the MCU. How do you think his desire to help the helpless impacts the other heroes around him? How does it impact you personally?
Steve’s willingness to stand up to bullies is one of his most endearing qualities. His selfless and compassionate leadership inspires the other Avengers to be better people and to keep their focus on helping the defenseless (rather than the internal politics that sometimes drag them down). His passion for helping others means he will never back down from a fight, even if it’s against the biggest bully in the universe, Thanos.
As someone who has been bullied in the past, I appreciate seeing Steve stand up to bullies. Even after he becomes a powerful superhero and could easily use his powers to control others, he always puts others’ needs before his own. His lack of bitterness about his painful past is also important; you can’t let resentment over past offenses poison your future. Steve rises above all that, letting his past experiences motivate him to be a defender of the bullied and helpless.
The super soldier serum seemingly gives Steve the opportunity to be who he wants to be. Do you find yourself wishing you could experience something similar, or is it not all it’s cracked up to be?
Sometimes I do think it would be awesome to have superpowers and become a better/cooler version of myself. I could use “magic” like Doctor Strange, have super strength like Captain America, or fly like Thor.
However, having superpowers comes with a lot of pressure to use those powers wisely. It’s kind of like being a doctor on call; you’d always have to be ready to respond to an emergency, and if you said “No, I can’t make it,” then people might die because you decided to stay home. You’d always be under public scrutiny, and people would probably try to control you and manipulate you into using your powers for their own benefit. It might be lonely too, depending on if anyone else around you also had powers.
I think Cap actually experiences a lot of loneliness, since he was ripped out of his own time and most of the people he loved are now gone. That’s probably why he’s so dedicated to redeeming Bucky; Bucky is maybe the one person who can understand what Cap’s going through and provides an important link to his past.
Steve is summed up nicely in Sharon Carter’s speech from Peggy’s memorial service. She says, “…compromise when you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move. It is your duty, to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye and say, No…you move.” His ironclad commitment to his ideals are a core driving force for him. Do you think that always leads him in the right direction, or does it sometimes get him into undue trouble?
Steve’s commitment to his ideals is, for the most part, a positive quality. He is dedicated to doing what is right, and he’s willing to make sacrifices for the sake of duty. He won’t abandon causes or people he believes in. However, this unwavering resolve does sometimes get him into trouble.
I personally believe he should have found a way to compromise on the Sokovia Accords, rather than choosing to go his own way and become a fugitive. Although his refusal to compromise was driven by a desire to do the right thing, he ends up creating a lot of conflict and dividing the Avengers. By the time we get to “Infinity War,” Steve seems weary and disheartened, and it’s possible he regrets some of his choices.
While it’s good to stand firm in your beliefs, sometimes compromise is necessary and healthy. In some instances (though not all), “if the whole world is telling you to move,” the wise choice is to say, “How about we meet halfway?”
We have to talk about Bucky! One of my favorite aspects of Steve is his loyalty, especially to Bucky Barnes. He will not give up on his friend, even when everyone else has. Do you think he was right the whole time? Should he have handled Bucky differently? How important do you think his treatment of the situation is as a model for Marvel fans?
Steve Rogers is definitely the kind of person I’d like to have as a friend. He’s incredibly loyal and never abandons his friends, even if it would seemingly benefit him to do so. I love that Bucky was a great friend to Steve even before Steve became a super soldier, which is why I think Steve values their friendship so much.
I think Steve was right to believe that Bucky was still worthy of redemption and to keep trying to help him come back from the dark side. He saw the goodness in Bucky, even though no one else did. Still, I think he could have found a way to handle the conflict surrounding Bucky in “Civil War” a little better. He should have told Tony sooner that Bucky killed Tony’s parents; even though Bucky was under mind control at the time, Steve shouldn’t have kept that secret just to protect Bucky. It’s also up for debate just how responsible Bucky was for his actions as the Winter Soldier and whether he should have faced some kind of punishment for his crimes.
However, I think that overall, Steve and Bucky’s friendship is still a good model for MCU fans to follow. It’s important to have deep, lasting friendships in our lives, and we should support and forgive our friends even if they make mistakes. Real, authentic friendships are able to overcome challenges and remain strong.
It seems that Steve is constantly playing against his image as “Captain America.” And, by the time we get to “Infinity War,” the title doesn’t seem to fit anymore. What is it about Steve that transcends his codename?
I’ve always felt that Steve is meant to represent the ideal of America — the concept of freedom for all and the belief that everyone deserves a chance to build a successful life for themselves, regardless of who they are or where they’re from. He stands for truth and justice, and he believes every person matters.
America doesn’t always fully live up to these ideals, so sometimes Steve finds himself at odds with the organizations he’s supposed to be taking orders from, such as during the events of “The Winter Soldier” and “Civil War.”
I think it’s good that Captain America sometimes stands apart and that he’s more than a title. Although in “The First Avenger,” Captain America was created mainly as a propaganda device, Steve has definitely transcended this, becoming a hero who doesn’t even need a title to do good in the world. He serves a vital role within the MCU; you need people who are willing to keep those in authority accountable and to stand up for what’s right, even if it’s hard.
Steve has experienced a tremendous amount of loss (Peggy, Bucky, everyone/everything he knew in the 40’s). How do you think all of it has shaped him?
When I look at Steve in “Infinity War,” one of the first things that strikes me is how sad his eyes are. As time goes on, all the losses he has experienced weigh more and more heavily on him. He’s done a great job adjusting to life in a new era, but the ghosts from his past still haunt him, and throughout these movies we see him grow more and more weary of the modern world.
I can’t imagine being transported to another time and realizing that all my friends and family members were gone. It would take an incredible amount of strength to keep going — and we see that Steve is, indeed, a very strong person. Because of his own losses, he’s filled with compassion for those who are also lonely and hurting.
Still, I think Steve knows his story is coming to an end, and one way or another, we’ll probably see the conclusion of Steve’s journey in “Infinity War” part 2. He’s done a lot of great things, but I think he’s ready to lay down his shield.
Take a walk in Steve’s shoes. If you were frozen and woke up 70 years later, what would you hope to see in the future? What would you be afraid of seeing?
I would hope to find some cool new technology that has improved people’s lives, particularly in countries that haven’t had as much access to technology before. I would hope to find a world at peace, with countries working together for the common good, although due to human nature there will always be conflict.
My biggest fear would be finding some kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland, destroyed by war, famine, or disease. I think it’s important that we take a lesson from Cap, who spent his time in the 1940s fighting corruption and trying to make the world a better place for future generations. We should always be thinking about how we will leave the world for the generations that come after us. Although we don’t have the threat of Thanos showing up to wipe out half of all life (thank goodness!), there are problems in our world today that could have devastating consequences in the future.
As we look forward to Avengers 4, what do you think is in store for Steve Rogers?
As heartbreaking as it will be to say goodbye to such a beloved MCU character as Steve Rogers/Captain America, I think Avengers 4 will be his final film (although we may see Bucky or Falcon take up the title of “Captain America”). It would be poignant and powerful for Steve to leave the MCU by sacrificing his life to save the world and his friends from Thanos. I think that would be an appropriate legacy for a character who’s spent his life fighting for what’s right and taking on bullies. Cap has had one of the best overall story arcs in the MCU, and he deserves an emotional yet satisfying ending.