10 Years of Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Kaity - Co-Director
12 Min Read
Marvel Studios

This year marks not only the 80th anniversary since Captain America first graced the pages of comic books, it also celebrates 10 years since he picked up the shield for the first time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

On July 19, 2011, Captain America: The First Avenger premiered at the El Capitan Theatre as the fourth installment of the Infinity Saga, introducing the final member of the original core six Avengers — Steve Rogers, played by Chris Evans.

Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers went on to become a pillar in the MCU, standing alongside Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark as the Infinity Saga’s powerhouses and leading the Avengers as they took on the Mad Titan Thanos.

Casting the Role

Zade Rosenthal/Marvel Studios

Casting the role of Steve Rogers was no easy feat. Despite what social media may tell you at times, there was only one actor that was on Marvel’s radar at the end of the search — Chris Evans. However, Evans turned down the role twice before finally accepting after a conversation with Robert Downey Jr.

He had a sense of humor, he had depth, he had a beating heart and a nobility. Ironically, his very reluctance to take the part showed how perfect he was to play Captain America.

Sarah Finn, Marvel Casting Director

Downey Jr. said in a cover story from The Hollywood Reporter in 2019 “[Evans’] suspension of his own disbelief, regardless of whatever doubts he had, is the reason all these other worlds are able to be built. Starting with Avengers, and then Guardians, and Black Panther. People love to say — and I’ll eat it up — that I’m kind of the progenitor of this whole universe. But if you want to talk about it in terms of team building, and you want to talk about it as the most successful creative relay race in the history of cinema, he was the critical leg.”

Evans cited the major anxiety that’s involved with taking a role like this, both due to the importance of the role and the major life changes that come with a project of this magnitude. Thankfully, Evans ended up accepting the role with a 7-picture deal, and he played Cap all the way up until the closing of his story in Avengers: Endgame.

Captain America: The First Avenger and Fan Reception

steve rogers captain america bucky barnes
Marvel Studios

Now that casting was complete, it was time to take the risk and see if audiences connected with a man out of time. Could the self-righteous, morally rigid Steve Rogers translate well on-screen? Turns out with the right man picking up the shield, he could.

Captain America: The First Avenger was well received by critics and audiences alike. People identified with the Super Soldier from the 40s choosing to do whatever it took to take down the bullies of the world. Viewers were enamored by the humanity and warmth brought to the role by Evans, who immediately ripped away any semblance of the super-machoism to one of Marvel’s most stoic characters and gave him the heart the pages of the comics had been lacking.

The serum amplifies everything that is inside. So, good becomes great. Bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen.

Dr. Abraham Erskine

Although still tough as nails and lacking no ability to run down the Nazis he was born to take down, Steve Rogers didn’t lack compassion. And that, along with more nuance provided by Evans’ performance, made him relatable, interesting, and multi-faceted.

Steve Rogers’ Character Arc

captain america steve rogers
Marvel Studios

Steve Rogers’ character arc was more subtle than some of his Avengers counterparts. He began his journey as a young man willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good, and he ended it that way, too. However, the subtlety of Cap’s growth was a beautiful journey to watch as an avid Captain America fan.

Steve Rogers’ arc got its first hint in The Avengers, when Cap finds evidence of Tesseract-fueled weapons of mass destruction referred to as Phase 2 aboard the Helicarrier. This begins Rogers’ distrust of the government that continues to guide his decisions through his entire tenure with the Avengers.

Then, Captain America: The Winter Soldier happened. Steve’s best friend Bucky was alive after all these years, and he was brainwashed and being utilized as a Russian assassin. It was a shame that this film didn’t detail that Steve’s long lost MCU love, Peggy Carter, and S.H.I.E.L.D. had been involved with the Winter Soldier program and forgiven Zola, because that would have made Steve’s story even more interesting.

captain america steve rogers
Marvel Studios

With Bucky back on his radar, Steve’s priorities changed. And the uncovering of HYDRA being behind S.H.I.E.L.D. for all those years really set Steve on a new path. A path that sent him further and further away from the government whose colors he wore. He and Sam Wilson set out to find the now missing Bucky Barnes, and Steve stayed with the Avengers … for now.

Avengers: Age of Ultron was the beginning of the end for Steve Rogers. His distrust of Tony Stark grew as Tony suggested creating a global protection program, which Steve had always opposed. Then, it was time for a Civil War.

Tony and Steve came head to head, and Steve’s righteousness and love for his first friend, Bucky, took over any lingering support for the U.S. Government that he had. In Captain America: Civil War, Steve Rogers defected from the Avengers and became a global fugitive as he chose to aid Bucky in his escape from the government’s hands. This separation ultimately set up Thanos’ victory over the Avengers in Avengers: Infinity War.

With Captain America now on the run and the Avengers divided, the world was left unprotected when Thanos arrived, and for the first time, the Avengers lost.

Marvel Studios

Avengers: Endgame closed out Steve Rogers’ story, and there was a lot of controversy surrounding it. However, no matter how you feel about it one thing can be certain: Steve Rogers’ character arc was designed to make him realize he can put himself first.

In a press junket for Avengers: Age of Ultron, Evans interpreted Cap’s line about Tony not having seen his dark side yet as Tony having not yet experienced Steve putting himself first. And it was true, when had we ever seen Steve put himself first? Never. Even in Endgame, during the five years following the Blip, he spent his time doing therapy groups for those affected by a tragedy he undoubtedly shouldered the blame for.

The final curtain for Captain America came in the final battle. Steve Rogers was worthy of wielding Mjolnir. In terms of a character reaching their final form, this was it for Steve Rogers. After shedding the guilt of hiding the truth about Tony Stark’s parents from him, Steve Rogers was worthy to possess the power of Thor. The only other being capable of wielding Mjolnir thus far in the MCU.

Moments after, he stood alone before Thanos’ army, which was a perfect visual to one of Rogers’ quotes in the comics.

As long as one man stands against you, you’ll never be able to claim victory.”

Captain America,

While Steve going back in time to be with Peggy was actually a little out of character from what we’d been used to seeing, it absolutely served its purpose of giving Steve some autonomy from the duty and mission he’d dedicated 100% of his very long life to. A life he’d put on the line more times than one to save others.

Steve’s journey from self-righteous little guy to a man who finally knew when it was time to hang up his cowl and shield was subtlety at its finest. Part of the allure of Steve Rogers is in fact his predictability. He’s a pillar, a stronghold, an honest, trustworthy, and dependable man to his very core, and despite all that he went through, we never saw that change. The only thing that changed was him accepting his worth, seeing it, and for once living for his life for himself.

The Future of Captain America

captain america sam wilson
Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

At the end of Avengers: Endgame, the shield was passed to the Falcon, Sam Wilson. Marvel did well keeping up the future of Cap a mystery until the final scenes of Steve Rogers’ final film. The shield being passed to Sam versus Bucky, as both have happened in the comics, followed a more recent line of comics and is much more prevalent to the times we currently live in.

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was met with some pushback by a few loud groups who felt the social undertones of the show were out of place. Clearly, they’d never read a comic before, as the themes that played out in the series follow Sam’s comic struggles after accepting the iconic shield — even him putting it down for a time.

Sam Wilson will carry the legacy of Steve Rogers and create his own in the future of the MCU, and while Bucky would have made a great Captain America, right now Sam Wilson is the man we need.

You can watch all of Steve Rogers’ and Sam Wilson’s Marvel content on Disney+! Take a look back at all of our coverage of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, including a piece on the legacy of Steve Rogers, as we wait for Marvel to announce Cap’s next move.

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By Kaity Co-Director
Kaity started with Harry Potter in second grade and it’s been a losing battle ever since, or maybe a winning one ... She lives in New England with a small herd of cats, two dogs, three chinchillas, and one daughter. You can definitely find her either watching anime, reading manga, or playing the same five video games over and over again. Contact: kaity@nerdsandbeyond.com
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