Captain America has always had a bit of a problem. Without Iron Man’s humour, Hulk’s heft and Thor’s… humour and heft, Cap was a frontman constantly upstaged by the rest of his band. Far from being the worst Avenger (*cough Hawkeye cough*), he comes with an amazing backstory, a big emotional drive and a cool-looking shield/frisbee to use in battle. So, why did he always look like the least interesting person on screen? Part of the problem might have been the flag.
Wrapped in a Stars and Stripes onesie, Captain America was always a walking political statement. If the MCU were set in the UK instead of the States, comics character ‘Captain Britain‘ would be Nigel Farage’s wet dream – a Tommy Robinson-esque action figure who punches injustice with the righteous fist of God and Country. Coming as he does from an era of Marvel comics when patriotism was considered far less problematic, Captain America’s partially defrosted politics have always felt slightly at odds with the modern world – something Marvel have barely touched upon until The Falcon And The Winter Soldier.
With old Cap now retired, the shield was passed to Sam Wilson (aka Falcon) at the end of Avengers: Endgame. Smartly though, Disney decided to make him turn it down – instead building an entire six-episode series around the weight and responsibility of wearing the flag, especially for a Black man. In episode two, we see Sam arrested during a stop and search. By episode six, Sam is fully decked out in red, white and blue, saving a couple of cops from a crashing helicopter. The irony isn’t lost on anyone, and the finale of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier spends more time justifying Sam’s decision to serve than it does actually showing him in action.
“I’m a Black man carrying the Stars and Stripes,” he tells a crowd, really speaking to the most fragile parts of the fanbase. “Every time I pick this thing up, I know there are millions of people out there who are going to hate me for it.” In five minutes, new Cap does much more than old Cap ever did – stopping to acknowledge the fact that he’s politicising every fight he wins, as well as standing as an important symbol for America’s problem with racism. The MCU might take most of its inspiration from decades-old comics, but having a Black Captain America on screen means something much more important now than it ever did in print – and it marks a welcome new reshuffle for Phase Four.
And that’s not all. Kitted out with Iron Man’s tech (those Redwing drones can laser off locks, scan faces, attack baddies and more) as well as his old Falcon wings, the new Cap even makes for a better Top Trumps card. He might not have any super-serum in his veins (“The only power I have is that I believe we can do better…”), but Captain America now flies – inhabiting the best bits of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers in one.
Old Cap often tried to throw in a few one-liners (“That’s America’s ass!”) but he was basically a bit dull, especially stood next to Thor and Tony. Given his own series to perfect his banter with Bucky, new Cap already carries a lot more personality. While Sam is still a long way from being the funniest Marvel character (that’s anyone from Guardians Of The Galaxy), he should be able to lead the team with the spark the role needs. Assuming, of course, that he’s going to be leading it… By the time we get another full-on Avengers movie, the team will likely (hopefully) have filled out with the likes of Shuri’s Black Panther, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Shang-Chi and Miles Morales – not to mention rewritten roles for surviving originals like Thor, Doctor Strange, Hulk, Ant-Man and Spider-Man. Just because Captain America is wearing the right costume, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to get the top job.
With Captain America 4 already confirmed – and the Falcon/Winter Soldier head writer Malcom Spellman reportedly signed on – the next task will be to avoid Sam getting lost in a barrage of other films and shows. Already serving the suit far better than Steve Rogers ever did after just one season of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, Captain America 2.0 is already an improvement. Marvel, what took you so long?