Captain America is perhaps my favorite Avenger in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so I have a lot of things I’d like to say regarding the role he plays and his significance. With this bias in mind, I admit that while much of the MCU is focused on the journey of Tony Stark/Iron Man, I believe that it is the actions and consequences of Captain America and his franchise that have the greater impact and importance overall.
As a character Steve Rogers/Captain America is nothing if not earnest; he’s determined to do what he feels is right and what will have the greatest benefit. In Captain America: The First Avenger (2010), Steve Rogers is a small, sickly man, but determined to do his part for the war effort. He explains that there are men laying down their lives for their country and he doesn’t have any right to do anything different. It’s this determination to help that leads him to Dr. Abraham Erskine and Project Rebirth, which turns him into a super-soldier. As Captain America, he and his team is responsible for taking out the rouge Nazi science division, Hydra.
In Marvel’s The Avengers (2012), Steve is coping with having missed 70 years. This is a prime example of how he is something of a tragic character. Steve has lost time, friends and loved ones, and his home in a way that none of the other Avengers can really relate to. He still proves himself to be the capable military leader, however, when he brings the team together against the Chitauri.
In Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Steve exposes Hydra’s decades long infiltration into not only SHIELD, but other facets of government and politics worldwide. This is a huge blow for Steve, who thought he had sacrificed his life to bring an end to Hydra 70 years ago. He also learns the horrible truth about childhood friend and comrade, Bucky Barnes. Bucky, who was believed to have died while capturing Arnim Zola, was actually found and turned into a weapon. He’s spent the last 70 years being brainwashed, tortured, and experimented on.
That Bucky is alive is conflicting news for Steve. On the one hand, his best friend, the person who was closest to him (and a last remnant of home) is alive. On the other hand, it is heartbreaking that Bucky has spent the last seven decades under enemy control. There is guilt for not having searched for Bucky after he fell from the train in First Avenger. Steve is already someone who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, so he feels strongly that it’s his fault Bucky suffered (and continues to do so as he comes to terms with his actions as the Winter Solider).
(While I will forever maintain that there is something deeper than friendship between Steve and Bucky in the MCU, in the original comics, Bucky is Steve’s young sidekick. Comic Steve still feels guilt and grief over what happened to Bucky, but it’s more in the sense that he feels responsible for his young ward than the pain of losing the person closest to him. )
In Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Steve mentions his search for Bucky, but his main role and focus is as the leader of the Avengers. In Captain America: Civil War (2016), however, Steve’s actions are at the forefront and have massive consequences (not unlike Tony’s choices in Ultron). What is first a struggle between whether or not to sign the Sokovia Accords, essentially giving up his autonomy (something he had even during World War II), becomes a tug of war between his growing friendship and trust with Tony, and his longtime bond (and guilt) with Bucky. Steve not only chooses not to sign the Accords, but also takes Bucky’s side in the conflict, turning his back on Tony, the Avengers, and his responsibilities as their leader. Steve and Bucky find refuge in Wakanda, but as we learn in Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Steve doesn’t stay while Bucky recovers. Instead, he and his team (including Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Sam Wilson/Falcon, and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch) become global fugitives (while Scott Lang/Ant-Man and Clint Barton/Hawkeye take a deal).
We don’t see Steve Rogers or his team again until Infinity War, where we are given a vague sense that they’ve been operating on their own, though what they’ve been doing is unclear. He is still welcomed back to Wakanda with open arms, and becomes sought out by Tony in response to Thanos’s impending attack. While Tony has been living his life as part of the Avengers and Stark Industries, developing or improving his relationships with Virginia “Pepper” Potts and Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Steve doesn’t seem to have any ties to life beyond being fugitive Captain America/Nomad.
With Infinity War being so crowded, we don’t get much from Steve beyond his role as a leader and someone still determined to do what is right. He briefly reunites with Bucky (who is significantly the first to be affected by Thanos’s snap), and when he reunited with the other Avengers and T’Challa/Black Panther he is looked to again for his talents as a tactician and leader. It’s exciting when he first steps out of the shadows in London to help Wanda and Vision and his reaction following the snap is something I think everyone in the audience could relate to, but we don’t get much of his emotional journey or what is going on with him, unlike some of the other characters.
The limited trailers for Avengers: Endgame suggest that Steve Rogers will play a much larger role, possibly to balance the focus placed on Tony Stark in Infinity War. One thing that has long been speculated about is the death of Steve Rogers, which occurs in the comics. Chris Evans’s contract was extended for Endgame, but he’s made it clear that this is really it for him, so I’m fairly certain that Steve Rogers will not make it out of “The Infinity Saga” alive. As I’ve said before, there isn’t much tying Steve to this world. Other Avengers have connections to the world outside of the fight (and the inevitable forthcoming resurrection), which gives them the possibility of a peaceful happy ending. And, while I continue to argue that there is something deeper between Steve and Bucky, the reality is that that has not been actively explored (nor is it likely to). With nothing official to facilitate a happy ending, and Evans’s insistence that this is Cap’s last outing, it will be hugely surprising if Steve survives. (Though I did recently read a theory that has Captain America and Black Widow leaving Earth to fight evil in space.)
Heading into Endgame in a few short weeks, I am eager to seeing how little the trailers have given away. This film will mark the end of an era, “The Infinity Saga” and I’m looking forward to Steve Rogers/Captain America making a truly heroic sacrifice and saving the day.