The conclusion of Avengers: Endgame was bittersweet. While the universe had been saved from Thanos and everyone lost in Avengers: Infinity War brought back, it also saw the loss of Tony Stark as well as a major change for another Avenger. Steve Rogers aka Captain America went back in time to return the Infinity Stones and remained in the past to live out his life with Peggy Carter, and later an elderly Steve passed on his shield to Sam Wilson aka the Falcon in the present. It's an act that sets the stage for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but if the Disney+ series is serious about advancing the stories of Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes and indeed all of Phase 4 itself, it needs to do so outside of Caps' shadow. It's time for Steve Rogers to die.
There are a few reasons why it's time for the original Cap to pass, but they ultimately come down to two central ideas. The first is that Steve Rogers has done his job, honored his commitment to mankind, and presumably lived a good life. His watch is done and he deserves to move on to whatever the afterlife is in the MCU, resting in peace. The second, however, is more significant to the overall trajectory of the Captain America legacy and the story of the MCU going forward. Very simply, there is no moving forward with any iteration of Captain America as long as Steve Rogers is alive, especially when the two characters most capable of furthering the mantle and heroic legacy are characters who have until now been simply supporting players in Steve's story.
Thus far in the MCU, Bucky and Sam come across less as heroes in their own right and more as support for and sidekicks to Cap. For Bucky, he's always fit into sort of a supportive or motivating role for Steve, first as his much more physically capable best friend during World War 2 and, later, when Bucky was the brainwashed and villainous Winter Soldier that Steve was so determined to save. For Bucky, that role as "Steve Rogers' best friend" is his defining attribute (other than the villain thing) and is a huge contributing factor to the fracturing of the Avengers in Civil War. For Sam, there is also an element of the best friend role, though Sam, as Falcon, also gives off more of a sidekick vibe as the majority of his heroic appearances in the MCU are seen in support of Steve and Captain America. For both characters, it's their proximity to Steve Rogers's story that defines them and, at least initially, defines their relationship to one another.
This is something that is simply not going to change while Steve Rogers is alive, but Steve Rogers being alive impacts more than just how both Sam and Bucky are defined. It also impacts the passing of the shield to Sam. While Steve was clear that he wanted Sam to have it at the conclusion of Endgame, it will always be his shield while he is alive because as long as Steve Rogers lives, he's Captain America even if he is long retired. That’s just how people see things and while there will always be comparisons between Steve and whoever comes after him, once Steve is gone it will be easier for his successor to establish himself as a new Captain America.
Ultimately, Marvel has established that the MCU is moving forward into a phase where its new heroes are shouldering the responsibility of truth, justice, and saving the day. Black Widow is gone, as is Iron Man. Hulk has found balance. Spider-Man: Far From Home showed Peter Parker trying to navigate his new reality as a major hero and WandaVision saw Wanda Maximoff come into her true power. There are even more heroes stepping up on the horizon with shows such as Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk, not to mention the next chapters in films such as Captain Marvel 2 and Black Panther 2.
As the heroic landscape further changes in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it needs to do so with Steve Rogers in the rearview. Both Sam and Bucky have paid their dues and are ready to become heroes in their own right while Steve has more than earned the right to an eternal reward. The series can honor all three men by simply moving on.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier debuts on Disney+ beginning Friday, March 19th.
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