After three solo movies and four Avengers movies, Captain America’s story came to its inevitable conclusion in Avengers: Endgame. There was never any doubt that his story arc would be dramatic, maybe painful, but I never thought that it would be nonsensical and rage-inducing.
Or so completely disappointing.
At the end of the movie, Cap decides to nope out of the present and use the time stone to travel back to be with Peggy Carter instead of living in the future with the family he created, and, perhaps most importantly, Bucky, the man he risked his everything to save.This choice either created a parallel universe that Cap can somehow travel through without explanation, or, knowingly and against everything we know of him, means he decided to let the events of the past few movies happen with a big ol’ shoulder shrug.
Which is ridiculous.
Existing in the same timeline as old Steve means a world with two Steve Rogers and that Cap chose to let Bucky Barnes be a brainwashed assassin, allowed HYDRA to rise up, his friend Howard to be murdered, and eventually permitted Thanos to rise. He chose to do nothing. Doing nothing has never been Cap’s arc.
It erases the Steve Rogers we’ve come to know, the movies we love, and destroys any progress he made as a superhero and as a man throughout his movies.
The strength of Captain America is in that he’s an everyman turned hero, the little guy, who saw bullies in the world and always decided to take a stand. For Steve Rogers, this meant allowing a dangerous medical procedure, becoming a dancing monkey just to feel involved in the war effort after he was banned from combat, and then eventually parachuting over Italy to save his best friend. This was the moment where a choice to act made all the difference in the world, where a hero was born out of love for a friend. It was the moment he took up the shield, in belief, and this was all possible because he knew that sitting idly by through times of evil is evil on its own. Steve Rogers doesn’t know how to sit on the sidelines. He’ll be involved even if it breaks the law, even if it means his freedom.
He goes from a man searching for a purpose, to hero, to man out of time, to someone who saw through the lies of the government, who learned not to trust the stars and stripes that made up his suit, and who ultimately risked his friendships and the lives of his loved ones to save Bucky and do what he saw as the right thing. And throughout it all, he learned to let the past go, to focus on what makes him good, and to always do the right thing while finding his place in the future.
At no point does this sound like a dude that would go back in time for a woman he spent very little time with during the war and ignore his, “To the end of the line,” friendship to Bucky, and his new family he forged out of years of companionship and love. And for what? To repurpose a love story with Peggy Carter that honestly felt over with narratively?
They were in the war together, had some nice scenes, but the thread of the movies has always been Steve moving forward and adapting; growth in the face of the impossible. Peggy matters. She was part of his origin but she was also a woman who believed in progress, and I think she would be beyond pissed if he came back to her only to sit on his ass while SHIELD was infiltrated with HYDRA agents, if in fact he didn’t create an alternate universe. More to the point, it goes against Steve’s foundation to ignore this, to ignore Bucky’s brainwashing and live a life in obscurity.
And okay, even if he created an alternate universe and can hop between the two, it still feels cheap, like we were left out of another adventure. We don’t get to see that alternate universe or what happened there. We don’t get to see that timeline where maybe he saved Bucky in the 1940s, married Peggy, and maybe even prevented the happenings of Infinity War and Endgame. We were cheated out of that happy story if that’s the reality they’re trying to sell us. We don’t know that Steve. We don’t know his journey. Besides, that doesn’t seem like what they were telling us, what with the ease of his arrival on the bench.
Instead we’re left with the sour note that the Steve we knew abandoned everyone he loved in a selfishness and indifference that has never been part of his story.
It felt cheap. A nod to the past we didn’t need, fan service that hit all the wrong notes and neglected Steve’s arc and the content of his character. A better fan service would have been to show Steve retiring and giving the shield to Sam without the writers vaguely telling us he was happy in a scene that ignores the family he created in the present.
Better still would be to show Cap able to embrace peace after all this hard-won effort without leaving us feeling like he was responsible for everything that happened in the past seven movies or got out of his growth by waving a magic wand.
It wasn’t edgy, nor particularly clever. It erased the hero that we’ve come to love. It erased the growth of looking toward the future rather than the past. It erased Peggy’s storyline, and it told us that fighting for the right thing doesn’t particularly matter. It erased his love for Bucky, for whom he was literally willing to die for and nearly did several times.
Steve is the man with a plan, the guy people can count on to get back up when he’s been knocked down, when life has been rough, but we’re to believe now that he’d come to the conclusion that he’s suffered enough so why not allow the suffering of untold people, of his Bucky, of his friends, of Tony, Natasha, Clint, Bruce, and Thor to go into obscurity and raise goats on a secret SHIELD farm? Or whatever he did to stay invisible for seventy years. Maybe he spent the time doing backflips with his sweet serum-enhanced body. He certainly wasn’t helping anyone.
Heroes can have happy endings that respect found families, that are centered around celebrating the growth they endured despite the loss, or maybe because of it. Superheroes can retire and find peace after the war without there having to be a romance or a magic wand that gives him everything he didn’t really need. The love they share with their friends, their found family, and their new sense of identity is enough. Steve’s love for the people in his life while deciding to lay down the shield and go raise his goats in this timeline would have been enough of a happy ending without going this route, without assassinating his growth, development, and the things that made Abraham Erskine decide that Steve Rogers was a good man.
Steve Rogers’ ending wasn’t happy or even satisfying. It was a cheap attempt to be edgy that left us confused, with more questions than answers, and a sense that the journey Marvel took us on over the past seven years wasn’t worth the love we poured in to him and the people in his life. It erased everything we loved about his journey, about the man, and about the things and people he values in the name of a twist that did not stand out.
It was ridiculous to say the least.
This is not my Steve. This is not the Steve that was sold to me. And this ending takes Steve from a hero worthy of our love and respect to a man I don’t know and don’t care to know.
And honestly? It hurts.
Avengers: Endgame is in theaters now.