8:30 pm EDT, April 25, 2019

Celebrating the six: Captain America’s best moments in the MCU

It’s here. It’s now. Avengers: Endgame will be in cinemas today, and to round out our tribute to the original six Avengers, we’re getting ready to farewell our fearless leader by reflecting on five crucial Captain America scenes in the MCU.

(This article is part of a larger series. View the other best original Avengers moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe here.) This article is SPOILER FREE for Avengers: Endgame.

To quote possibly the first piece I ever wrote about him, there’s no way I’m going to be able to adequately express to you how I feel about Steven Grant Rogers in the allotted word count of this article. It can’t be done.

But given that Avengers: Endgame is known to be Chris Evans’ final movie as Captain America in the MCU, I’m going to have to bloody well try. What Marvel has created by choosing to so closely serialize their cinematic universe is an unprecedented achievement, and one of the most important symptoms of that serialization is just how much time we have gotten to spend with these characters and how deeply we have gotten to know them. The MCU has something special for everyone, but I lost my heart to the story of Steve Rogers in sort of a massive way, and so I’ve selected to write about him for our series featuring the best scenes of the six original Avengers teammates.

But here’s a caveat — none of the moments that I am including are Avengeresque Fight Scenes. There is, of course, a whole bunch of badass ones to choose from (it’s almost an insult not to include the elevator scene in Winter Soldier, or the Civil War chase through Bucky’s apartment building in Bucharest), but at the end of the day, even though the creators do an incredible job of making action scenes count on a deep emotional level, the thing I love most about the MCU is the plain character drama, all the personal stakes and conversations that made me care about what happens to these superheroes. So with that in mind, here are five of the most important scenes that showcase the legacy of Steve Rogers as Captain America.

5. ‘Where are we going?’ ‘The future.’ — ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’

So I’m pushing my luck a bit here by trying to cast a net over the entire act that introduces Captain America in the MCU — from the enlistment waiting room to the moment he’s chosen by Erskine at the Stark Expo — and call it “one scene,” and like, I know it’s not. But it is truly some of the most clever and thorough character exposition, over the course of just a few minutes, that I have ever seen, and it’s why I love him, and it would be negligent to leave out the role James Buchanan Barnes plays in how Steven Grant Rogers is presented to us. So.

When Bucky finds Steve getting beat up in an alley behind a cinema — he could do this all day, you know — after his fourth enlistment attempt, his read of the situation tells us everything we need to know about Steve Rogers and what it’s like being best friends with him. We learn that this kind of reckless behaviour is very normal for him — whether it’s lying on his enlistment form for the fourth time, or picking a fight with someone twice his size — and through Bucky, we can read Steve like a book. It’s also wonderfully unclumsy about establishing the depth of the relationship — every word is loaded effortlessly with years of context and history.

It’s immediately clear that Bucky tries to treat Steve like an equal but is incredibly protective, it’s immediately clear that Steve may be noble as hell but he still has a chip on his shoulder and it’s personal, and it’s immediately clear that Steve is very jealous, though not resentful, of Bucky’s marching orders — much as it’s clear that Bucky would rather not go to war and thinks Steve is an idiot for wanting it. Their argument at the Expo — talking over one another — is so natural and so knowing and so obviously the 15th time they’ve had it that before the film hits the 15-minute mark, you understand everything about their relationship and are heartbroken over their parting, but the thing that gets me every single time is the painful dramatic irony of that exchange — what it means for both of them, what they’re about to lose — as they leave the alley together to head out to the Stark Expo for Bucky’s last night in town. The future indeed.

4. The Star Spangled Man With A Plan — ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’

When looking at the legacy of Captain America, it’s important to keep in mind that the serum was a wider plan for a whole army, and that Steve was a test run. He was never meant to be the one and only supersoldier, but when Erskine is killed and the formula dies with him, he becomes something of an endangered species — a medical miracle, destined to be used as a science experiment to unlock the secret of his transformation. He’s offered a slightly more inspiring role as a public propaganda figure selling war bonds, and the USO tour montage watching him go from “awkward” to “actor” is a wonderful piece of storytelling. I wish we could see a serialized TV show about those months.

But when the tour hits Europe and he goes out to perform for the troops, the complacency he had built up about making a difference quickly diminishes as he witnesses the horror and hopelessness — not to mention disrespect — of his new audiences on the army bases. As he come to terms with this, sketching himself as a dancing monkey (Artist!Steve is the most important Steve) he reunites with the person who most believes in his value as Captain America — Peggy Carter — who inspires him to build something new for himself. Steve isn’t always the world’s greatest self-starter, but his motivated musings then become urgently personal as he discovers that his audience was the decimated 107th infantry — Bucky’s unit — and that his friend wasn’t among them.

Steve going rogue from the USO to find and save Bucky — and incidentally, 200 other men — from HYDRA’s facility in Azzano is the turning point that created Captain America, the actual military hero, as we know him today, and it is imperative to remember that Steve Rogers is often willing to comply with his lot in life until someone messes with something he really cares about — and at that point, rules and orders and outside opinions mean absolutely nothing. The heroic nobility of Captain America is inextricably wrapped up in the reckless, bull-headed personal drive of Steve Rogers and that dichotomy is a very significant part of his story.

3. ‘On Your Left’ — ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’

Pairing the Russo Brothers with First Avenger screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely achieved things for the character of Steve Rogers and the wider depth of the MCU that I did not believe possible — and Marvel clearly agrees, because after finishing Steve’s solo movie story, this awesome foursome was handed the mammoth task of completing the Infinity Saga with these two final Avengers movies. And what they achieved in Winter Soldier — how they care about these characters, how they see them — that’s why.

I’m gonna be real with you — the entirety of this film, just the whole thing start to end, is the most perfect piece of art that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever produced, so I’ve just selected the first extraordinary scene of an extraordinary movie, which happens to be the very first scene, because the whole movie is the best. The opening of Captain America: The Winter Soldier feels both grand and mundane — sunrise over the Washington, D.C. Reflecting Pool, the iconic score, and two joggers — ex-soldiers on a morning run — each moving at their own, rather different, pace. It quickly shifts to humor as we see Steve lapping Sam Wilson many, many times, and Sam quickly realize he is being trolled by Captain America.

So when they meet up to chat at the end of their run, Sam trolls him right back, and just like that, Steve has made a new friend, on his own terms. Despite the difference in eras, the pair recognize each other as sharing a mutual experience — the unsettling feeling of civilian life after being dedicated to the military — and the way Sam sees Steve, really sees him, and does not want anything from him, is the emotional support that allows Steve, throughout the course of this movie, to take his trauma seriously, to think about what he wants and needs, to open himself up to friendships and new beginnings, to think about being more than a soldier. Steve needs this — it’s crucial to the choices he makes later in the movie to open himself up to Natasha and to dedicate himself to finding Bucky. Steve Rogers deserves nice things, and the fact that this movie is set up from the jump to paint that picture is perfect.

2. Skinny Steve captures the Camp Lehigh flag — ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’

Once Steve is given his 1A stamp and a chance to prove himself, it becomes clear that he’s an outlier on the army base — the only candidate for Project Rebirth who is there for what’s inside, not out, hand selected by Dr Erskine, who knows a thing or two about what he’s doing. The training montage makes all of this perfectly clear, as we see Steve fail to keep up with the other recruits in the traditional sense, but prove his worth in other ways.

While out on a run, the officers set the trainees a seemingly impossible task of retrieving a flag from the top of a flagpole with the promise of a ride back to camp in Peggy’s Jeep. When they all try and fail to climb it, they’re told to fall back and keep running. But here, we see Steve — tiny, recovering from an asthma attack, probably suffering heart palpitations — disobey direct orders as he’s screamed at, cock his head at the flagpole, very calmly walk over and pull out the pin attaching the mast to the base, retrieve the flag when it falls to the ground, hand it to the officer with a slightly savage “thank you, sir,” and climb into the vehicle without looking back.

The tactical genius, the independent thought, the lack of respect for authority, the quiet confidence, the sass — these are all things that make Steve exactly who he should be as Captain America, regardless of his body. And when he returns to camp and Erskine debates this point with Colonel Phillips, we learn the extent of his sense of duty, sacrifice and extremely reckless bravery as well, when he leaps onto a “live” grenade that Phillips casually tosses his way to protect his ungrateful peers from the explosion. That’s my boy.

1. Throwing away the shield (and the mantle) for Bucky — ‘Captain America: Civil War’

Fam, it has been a trial to get through this article without making every scene one that was significant to this very moment and what it means about Steve Rogers and Captain America — two very different people. The thing is, Steve became Cap because the country was at war. He was always meant to get to go home. He never planned to be a lifelong soldier, and time took absolutely everything from him, leaving him with only duty. But his trajectory since waking up in the future has been about finding a home and a purpose, to separate Steve Rogers from Captain America, to find something to live for, not just to serve for.

The legend of Captain America is a burden and a fallacy. Steve does not particularly enjoy being Captain America. These movies prove that over and over again. Though Cap may be a symbol of hope to many, the man is not the myth, and the story around him is not something Steve is comfortable with. So when Bucky reenters the picture, duty goes out the window and we are sharply reminded that Steve is a stubborn, self-righteous normal human being who only plays ball when he wants to. In short, his entire solo movie arc is about what Steve Rogers is willing to do not just to save the world, but to salvage his own sense of self. The Winter Soldier saw him faced with this dual crisis — the wider reveal that the organization founded in his honor was in fact terrifyingly corrupt, and the personal shock of Bucky’s awful survival.

After losing complete faith in the system, Steve became hyper-focused on the personal, and Civil War is about the lengths that Steve will go to protect himself and the people he loves — the only person he has left who loved him for being Steve Rogers long before he was Captain America. Civil War is an inherently selfish story for Steve, and while Tony sees that as a heinous crime, I say more power to him, because all I want for Steve is to stop going through the motions and choose life.

The fact that this chain of events wrecks Tony so badly is evidence that he was someone who bought into the Cap fallacy, and while I am sorry his heart was broken (literally — Steve smashed the arc reactor into his chest to disable him after Tony ripped Bucky’s arm off), seeing Steve toss aside the shield and leave it behind without giving a damn when Tony screams about whether he deserves it? This is the most validating moment in the character’s onscreen history, an air-punch-worthy triumph of character work that the MCU built up in an extraordinary fashion.

Bonus! Steve’s Sadness Errands —
Deleted Scene from ‘The Avengers’

According to MCU fandom experts, the Chitauri Invasion (and the formation of the Avengers) in May 2012 took place somewhere between 10 days and a few months after Steve was unfrozen from the ice, and it’s an awareness of that fresh displacement that colors his character the first time the Avengers assemble. But this deleted scene, which should have introduced Steve to the film immediately before Fury approaches him at the boxing gym, really does the heavy lifting in terms of granting Steve the compassion he deserves.

Cap didn’t initially come across too well to a lot of casual fans who saw The Avengers — his stiffness wasn’t sympathetic when placed against our neurotic friend Tony Stark — but I wonder how differently he would have been received if this scene had been kept in. The sense of isolation that this clip evokes, the silence, the grief, PTSD, sheer hollowness as he begins to adjust to the 21st century because he has no other option. Steve’s face as he crosses the Manhattan Bridge on the subway means more to me, and speaks louder about the character, than the entirety of The Avengers combined. Taking it out was criminal.

What are your favorite Captain America moments from the MCU so far?

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