Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.
The new Disney series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier explores the effects of Cap’s passing of the torch on Sam and Bucky, and is also a retroactive deep dive into Steve Rogers.
Throughout the years of the MCU’s phases one and two, Captain America in the form of Steve Rogers has been presented as not exactly superhuman in terms of his fellow Avengers like Thor or Hulk, but peak human enough that he is able to hold his own with most opponents. However, FAWS with its plot of the stolen super-soldier serum really emphasizes just how strong Steve really was.
Without the use of his wings, Sam is really outclassed by the super-soldier revolutionaries, the Flag Smashers. Bucky is able to handle himself mostly for obvious reasons, but the new Captain America, John Walker, finds himself nearly obsolete. Even with the legendary shield, he is always finding himself on the backfoot.
This leads up to the moment where he takes out Zemo and steals the one surviving serum. Though the episode doesn't show him ingesting it, his handling of the later ambush by the Flag Smashers clearly shows that he did finally take it off-screen. His assailants are immediately caught off guard by his newfound strength as he tosses his shield at one of them and smashes itself into a stone column.
This shows two things: that John is still adapting to the new power of the super-soldier and how strong Steve was when he tossed the shield at people. By all rights, it should have been embedding itself into their bodies or cutting through them completely each time he tossed it, as is shown brutally later by his replacement. Yet it never does, with the one time being his battle with Iron man, nearly killing him before stopping himself.
It's an indirect look back at the character’s personality. The entire time of his MCU entries, Steve has been holding back just how strong he really was, and he wasn’t as much of a wuss as many MCU fans made him out to be. This also brings out his humility in that he never felt the need to display it among such powerful people.
I don’t think we fans truly appreciated Steve Rogers until we saw someone else with the same abilities and tools being the complete opposite. And though I honestly sympathize with Walker killing the Flag-Smasher because they had tried to kill him and Battle Star, with his friend dying protecting Walker, the relentless brutality of the man really brings to light a question for fans.
Did we really want the original Captain America to be like this?
Read More From Reelrundown
The character of Steve Rogers is further backtracked upon when exploring the US government's role in the title and the shield themselves. First Avenger establishes immediately that the US Army wanted the power of the super-soldier serum but not the morality or responsibility. It is discovered in the show that they never gave up on it, with the revelation of the 1950s Captain America, Isaiah Bradley, and what they did to cover that up. It’s already well known that the program that resulted in the creation of the Hulk and the Abomination was a result of the government still trying to replicate it decades later. And in Winter Soldier and Civil War, the original Cap breaks ties with Shield and later the government as a whole because he has finally learned that they can't be trusted.
FAWS shows this to full effect when the government introduces the new Captain America after Sam in good faith returns the shield. Something that he both felt was the right thing to do, and also because he didn’t feel comfortable with the moniker.
And something that everyone is repeatedly criticizing him for as well, because of how it resulted in not only a government-controlled Captain America, but a now unstable Captain America as well.
Though clearly biased during the time of Civil War and Winter Soldier, the wisdom in Steve’s choices becomes clear for now the whole world to see.
The final interesting aspect of the show is how it has successfully turned Captain America and his shield from one man into a mythical symbol: an American Hercules or Samson. He, not Steve, John, or Sam, has become the MCU’s King Arthur and his vibranium shield, Excalibur.
The power of that legacy is longstanding and has been a low-key sub-plot throughout the franchise. Most notably in Civil War when Zemo reveals that the Soviets had tried to create their own super soldiers during the Cold War. Much like real-world militaries today, everyone is looking for that edge over the other guy. That extra bit of strength to forcefully shape the world into the image that soldier or their government deems it to be. This goes for everyone from the Red Skull, to Bucky himself, to John Walker, and even the Flag Smashers’ young leader, Carli.
You could even make a case for a Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones reference in how the super-soldier serum seems to act like this supernatural force, seductively luring victims into its snare while slowly corrupting them. Much like the One Ring and the Iron Throne.
Zemo prophetically points this out to Sam, though Sam counters successfully that Steve himself, the original super-soldier poster boy, never succumbed to such influences. Though the man himself was fallible, the fact remained that Steve Roger’s actions created the incarnate image of the ubermensch: literal super-man, and that has inspired people for decades since.
Both Steve and the serum’s original creator, Dr. Eriskine see it as a means to an end of uplifting the higher ideals of humanity and generosity. Yet the image that everyone remembers is superman and the symbolism. This is why Zemo hates super-powered people so much. In his eyes and as he proved in Civil War, even the best of them can fall.
This reflects itself in Western society today where many social aspects like social media, politics, and celebrities’ allegiances have been weaponized for agendas over the last 80 years. The morals are there, but the practice is not and there are always exceptions, biases, and circumstances that can sway them. The morals are never above the agenda, despite being preached that they're supposed to be.
The problem with the symbolism of Captain America and the shield is that it is seen as a means to an end by whoever idealizes it. Captain America was never about power, but everyone but a small few still see it that way. And it remains to be seen if Sam, or maybe even Bucky, can either recreate or build upon the idea that the symbol is about the morality of helping others, no matter who the bearer is, or if the symbol itself should be destroyed and lost to history once again.
© 2021 Jamal Smith