CS Soapbox: Where’s Steve Rogers in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier?
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a show obsessed with the legacy of “Captain America,” raises a tantalizing question: where is Steve Rogers, AKA the one true Captain America? Plot holes are a fact of life (or rather storytelling), especially in comic book movies where the laws of physics don’t apply. For those of us with too much time on our hands, plot holes keep us up at night as we refuse to accept the notion of budgetary restraints or that writers/actors are just regular people. For example, Avengers: Endgame -despite being fantastic entertainment- is riddled with inconsistencies. None more prevalent than its time travel logic and wherever old-man Steve came from.
Near the end of Endgame, Steve -equipped with Mjölnir and the Infinity Stones- steps on a platform and prepares to travel through the Quantum Realm and return the aforementioned items to their proper place in the Multiverse. Side note: based upon a segment earlier in the film (when Hulk shits all over Back to the Future, saying “if you travel to the past, that past becomes your future, and your former present becomes the past, which can’t now be changed by your new future”), it doesn’t really make sense that Steve would be able to access all of the timelines each Avenger navigated during the “Time Heist.” Regardless, after Steve says his ominous goodbyes, Sam Wilson asks Professor Hulk, “how long is this gonna take?”
“For him as long as he needs, for us 5 seconds.”
Hulk pushes buttons, Cap disappears, and 5 seconds later he does not reappear. Instead, a now-elderly Rogers reappears on a bench nearby. Now, if he was allowed “as long as he needs,” why couldn’t he just return the stones, dance with Peggy Carter, grow old and come back on the platform in front of his friends? Having him appear off in the distance serves no purpose beyond dramatic effect.
Fans assumed he just went to the past and lived in secret for ____ years, but directors Joe and Anthony Russo have since explained that Steve’s time with Peggy was in another timeline, meaning he used his remaining Pym Particles to hop back over to the main timeline and give Sam the shield (presumably after Peggy died… again) —a plot hole that is arguably solved by having him reappear on the time-travel platform Hulk operates. So, aside from undercutting his beautiful bookend, Steve isn’t in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier because he hopped back over to whatever timeline he domesticated with Peggy.
We don’t know what kind of life Steve had in the other timeline—whether or not he kept his existence a secret. Considering his total lack of regard for the space-time continuum, maybe he didn’t. Maybe, Steve is/was very much Captain America in the other timeline, de-icing his doppelgänger for twice the fun/patriotism (go Peggy). In this case, he probably would want to live out his days in the home he’d built, surrounded by his children and grandchildren. That said, is he friends with Sam and Bucky Barnes over there? Redacted. Who cares. All we care about is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s favorite timeline.
The less convoluted explanation is what we all expect: Steve is hiding out in the main timeline, doing Secret Avengers-esque things similar to his escapades with Sam and Natasha Romanoff following Captain America: Civil War. He might even be in Wakanda—we don’t know. However, his presumed presence on Earth (whatever numerical value it is) gives the writers free rein to bring Chris Evans back in some capacity if they ever feel so inclined. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has made it clear that while not throwing the mighty shield, his whereabouts are seemingly known to Sam and Bucky who, similarly to how they aren’t going to ask Sharon Carter if she’s the Power Broker any time soon, will remain silent until a moment presents itself. Unless…
Steve is dead. At the end of Endgame, he’s well over 100 years old (his biological age being 39 when he travels back 74 years to be with Peggy. Roughly). While fellow super soldier Isaiah Bradley is still kicking in episode 2 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, this may not be the case for Steve. The series takes place months after the Blip and, if Steve did pass away, the service being held in his honor at the Smithsonian when Sam donates the shield makes sense. Although, if the writers were sure of this, they would have mentioned it. What they do posit is a moon theory.
In episode 1, “New World Order,” Joaquin Torres mentions several conspiracy theories regarding Steve’s whereabouts, including the idea that he resides on a secret moon base. Sam laughs this off and insists this is not the case. However, space is very much a thing in the MCU; during the events of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Nick Fury is in space with the Skrulls prepping for Marvel’s Secret Invasion (among other things). Yes, the Inhumans have a secret base on the moon but that series failed and it’s unlikely they’ll reboot those characters so soon. It’s more likely that the “secret moon base” reference alludes to the Marvel Comics mini-series Original Sin—in which Uatu the Watcher (featured in Disney+ upcoming What If…?) is murdered, Nick Fury becomes the Multiverse’s new Watcher, and Bucky becomes Earth’s secret defender, “The Man on the Wall.” In short: Cap is not on the moon.
We may hate plot holes, but Marvel Studios loves this one. Having infinite possibilities regarding Steve and what happened to him after Endgame leaves the door open to either leave his story as is or improve upon it down the road. If they ever decide to bring Evans back as Captain America they’re dealing with what is essentially a blank slate, if they never address the specifics of his departure/death, then it’ll be one of cinema’s greatest loose ends—ambiguity that will forever keep us up at night. Sleep is for the weak anyway… hopefully Disney+’s Loki offers up some clarification on the time-travel-logic…