CS Soapbox: Do we really want Chris Evans back as Captain America?
It was a dance Steve Rogers has been anticipating for over 80 years—ever since he rain-checked a date with Peggy Carter and she told him, “Don’t you dare be late.” For us, seeing him try some of that life Tony told him to get was a beautiful bookend, contrasting with the satisfying character arc of a fallen Avenger. Irrespective of time travel logic, plot holes, and kissed nieces, Avengers: Endgame wrapped things up quite nicely. Something that couldn’t necessarily be said about other properties back in 2019 (*cough* Game of Thrones *cough* The Rise of Skywalker). So, it is with a healthy amount of trepidation that we react to the news that Chris Evans is reportedly set to reprise his role as Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Details surrounding this “return” are ambiguous, and Evans has played characteristically coy. Any deal that was made is supposedly good for one or two guest appearances ala Robert Downey Jr. in Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming. However, given Steve’s elderly status in the current timeline, it’s unclear which version of the character Feige and company plan to use. The last we saw of “Old Man Steve” he passed Captain America’s shield and mantel to Sam Wilson AKA Falcon, setting up the events of Disney+’s The Falcon & the Winter Soldier—the geriatric fellow’s legacy looming large over Phase 4 (in the best way).
The Steve who sat on that bench in Endgame was 106 years young. The jury is out on a super soldier’s life expectancy—we don’t want to know. Marvel Studios could permanently end his story with his death. Old age isn’t an ailment inflicted upon many superheroes given their propensity for self-sacrifice. Of all comic-book heroes, Captain America arguably set a precedent for the sacrifice play, “to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you.” This is why the parallels of his, Tony Stark, and Natasha Romanoff’s fates in Endgame works so well. A death-bed scene with Steve would just reinforce what was already implied. It’d be derivative—which is why it won’t happen. Nor will a guest-starring sacrificial scene that contradictions (and diminishes) his pitch-perfect sendoff.
Steve will live. If the old man returns we won’t just be watching him and Peggy spend time with their kids/grandkids, we’ll witness him provide the same thing he did when he called for Mjolnir: inspiration. As seen by teasers and leaks, Sam won’t be openly accepted as the new “Cap” in The Falcon & The Winter Soldier. Despite Steve’s wishes, the government picks John Walker, in-line with a twisted (and perhaps bigoted) view of nationalism. On top of that, Sam and Bucky will reportedly face-off against Flag-Smasher and Baron Zemo.
The last we saw of Zemo he acted as the catalyst for Steve and Tony’s conflict in Civil War. Speculation suggests that Zemo will be running the anti-nationalist organization, ULTIMATUM, which strives towards world unity. That may sound nice but “world unity” is a utopian idea. Nothing is perfect and to demand perfection almost always results in a totalitarian-induced dystopia. Hence ULTIMATUM, a terrorist organization that deconstructs everything Steve stood for, paving the way for his symbolic return.
It’s important to remember that Steve is famous, his disappearance will need to be explained to the public. Like us, if Steve is still out there, no matter his condition, people/fans will wonder where he is and what he’s doing—a loose thread/mystery that will be talked about ad nauseam. With the country politicizing “Captain America” in the name of nationalism, the super solider whose creation stimulated patriotism might be to show up and say “hey, I’m not OK with this.”
Steve’s arc was largely concerned with confronting the hypocrisy of oversight/ideals, whether it be refusing to sign the Sokovia Accords or choosing a life with Peggy despite the consequences. Captain America (and Superman…sort of) was born out of nationalism both in our world and on the page. The Steve we met in Captain America: The First Avenger was very much on board with all that. However, he became more than just a soldier throughout the Infinity Saga. Like the character of Captain America, Steve rejected propaganda as his ideology defaulted to intuition and simply doing ones’ best.
America/the world has changed a lot since 2019. Nationalism is an incendiary issue in 2021. While it might seem vaguely nonsensical to risk Endgame’s bittersweet sendoff, it’s not without merit. Although they may permeate popular culture to an obnoxious degree, annoying the piss out of Martin Scorsese, but, like fairy tales, comic books/superheroes provide a deceptively simple (and often necessary) critique of morality. Sports dramas do a similar thing. How many times did Rocky come out of retirement? Every time training montages were put on repeat and cheers were heard throughout the cineplex. 2015’s Creed is a good example of a former protagonist (gone but not forgotten) returning in a secondary capacity that improved the character’s legacy. Balboa didn’t headline and Rogers won’t take back the shield.
The flip side of the old man coin is Evans returning as an active Captain America, revisiting the character courtesy of the Quantum Realm and time travel introduced in Endgame. The latter title’s Time Travel Heist royally screwed Steve circa 2012’s The Avengers, allowing Loki to escape with the Tesseract into his Disney+ series. Maybe that Steve, fresh off a loss and still un-acclimated with the world, fell into a deep depression. Evans could also play a younger Rogers earlier in the main timeline. Characters could visit a pre-frozen Cap, create another timeline, and change some of the most defining moments of Rogers’ career.
The great thing about comic book adaptations (and now the ever-evolving Multiverse) is that there’s never a lack of source material and always more story to tell. But unlike in panels on the page, the screen needs to fear that which feels definitive. As entertaining as it would be to see him mentor the Young Avengers, or help defeat Kang the Conqueror, retreading would take away from the impact of Endgame. There might be a way to bring Rogers back and improve his legacy. Marvel Studios is certainly up to and equipped for the challenge.
Flashbacks always seem like a safe bet especially when space and time continuum is in play. But that is too easy and relatively pointless—Phase 4 appears to be about chaos. WandaVision is already messing with reality, Spider-Man 3 is going to be Multiverse heavy, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ title speaks for itself. No, Feige and company have opted for an onside kick in the 4th quarter while they’re ahead. Or maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe, in the age of delivery apps and binge-watching, audiences want are okay with subpar.
Redacted. Audiences are never okay with subpar. Thankfully, if Evans were to return, it’d be far more than a money-making exercise for Marvel Studios. They’re past that. There’s actual narrative potential, especially concerning a character that represents a country at odds with itself. Humanity’s mantra: chaos. Amid the chaos, Steve Rogers always seems to find a way forward. Marvel Studios could really say something if they ignore the gimmicky or fan service route. So, do we really want Chris Evans to return as Captain America?