Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Walt Disney Studios

Captain America has had a tough life. Steve Rogers, created over 73 years ago by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, has been put through the wringer time and time again. Sure, he made a hell of an introduction by punching Adolf Hitler in his first issue ever, but his luck soon ran out. He went to hell, fought communists for Joseph McCarthy, and, at his lowest and most desperate, worked as a History professor.

As we all know, teaching history is far worse a gig than having to fight Nazi Werewolves.

Now things are on the up for Captain America, at least for his public image. In 2011 he got his own movie — let’s just pretend the 1990 version never happened — and it was the top dog of Marvel’s Phase I. Now that the studio has successfully moved into Phase II, Director Joe Johnston‘s Captain America: The First Avenger has managed to remain the best of the bunch.

Its sequel, Captain America: Winter Soldier, is a close second. Captain America (Chris Evans) faces his greatest threat yet: his best friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), a.k.a. The Winter Soldier. The world may have been threatened in The Avengers, but global annihilation doesn’t match the personal stakes that come from having to fight your BFF, who’s been turned into an unstoppable killing machine with a shiny metal arm. This isn’t just Captain America taking on some power hungry villain, but Steve Rogers having to confront a friend.

The personal stakes aren’t all Captain America: The Winter Soldier has going for itself. For one, it’s a completely standalone film. There are no major threads left hanging or any clunky set ups for future Marvel movies. From beginning to end, this is Captain America’s journey.

And yet, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely managed to slyly hint to audiences what’s in store. There are limitless possibilities with this franchise. There probably won’t ever be an adventure following Steve Rogers teaching a history class, thank God, but we’ll inevitably see Captain America’s greatest stories and foes put onscreen.

Some of those stories are, in fact, hinted at in this sequel. Here are a few SPOILER-related directions the franchise may or may not go in:

Hello Agent 13, A.K.A. Sharon Carter 

Agent 13 in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Walt Disney Pictures

Sharon Carter is probably one of the worst girlfriends ever, fictional or not. How bad can she be? Well, in the comics Peggy Carter’s niece is the one who kills Captain America. She was brainwashed at the time, but still, that’s not a story their friends are going to tell at a dinner party anytime soon. Before the mind-controlled murder, she and Captain America developed a relationship over several S.H.I.E.L.D. missions and eventually fell in love.

Thankfully, Winter Soldier made no room for their relationship issues. Agent 13, played by Emily VanCamp, makes a small but memorable appearance. Her role is minor enough that Steve doesn’t even learn she’s Peggy’s niece, but large enough that she makes an impact. VanCamp described it as “planting the seeds,” which may be one of Marvel’s best skills.  “[They're] sort of leaving room to go wherever they want to go with it. It’s fun,” she said, describing the character back at Comic-Con.

It was wise not to include a love interest — the movie takes place in three days, so there’s no time — because Steve is clearly not over Peggy (who he goes to see). There’s an ongoing banter between Steve and Natasha over all the women he could ask out, including the nurse next door that ends up being S.H.I.E.L.D.’s undercover Agent 13. There’s a spark, but her true identity as Steve’s protector complicates things.

With a first love still fresh, yet separated by living generations apart, Steve isn’t truly interested in anyone else. Expect VanCamp’s role to grow larger in future installments, especially after Peggy Carter dies. That very well may happen in Captain America 3.

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Hey Red Skull, Don’t You Say Goodbye?

Red Skull in Captain America

Marvel Entertainment

This is also bound to happen, no matter how much Hugo Weaving doesn’t want it to. It’s a shame Weaving has expressed disinterest in returning to the character. You can’t blame him, though. Some actors dislike the idea of being contracted for nine movies, even when they’re getting paid boat loads of cash, but for Weaving it’s a matter of creative differences. Putting the tedious makeup on aside, Red Skull isn’t exactly a deep villain an actor can bite into. But when you bring a Werner Herzog impersonation into the mix, Red Skull is great fun, just not for Hugo Weaving. 

Since the baddie is one of Captain America’s most famous villains, they’ll share more battles together. The First Avenger didn’t show Red Skull die for a reason. Hydra’s extremely powerful presence in Winter Soldier gives the impression they would have the resources to bring back their old leader. Since they suffer a huge loss at the end of Winter Soldier, why wouldn’t Hydra consider finding a way for Red Skull to return?

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As The Old Saying Goes, Don’t Ever Cross The Cross Bones

If Red Skull does return, at least he’ll have a sidekick waiting for him. Frank Grillo has a decent henchman role as Brock Rumlow, but once the credits roll, the average viewer won’t think, “I bet this evil S.H.I.E.L.D. goon comes back to haunt Captain America and will become one of his greatest adversaries!”

Fans, of course, know that he will.

The last we see of Rumlow is him burnt to a crisp, foreshadowing events to come. This could lead to him not only going after Captain America and Falcon, but inevitably teaming up with Red Skull. After all, it was Red Skull who gave him the codename “Cross Bones.”

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This War Just Got Civil 

Iron Man and Captain America in The Avengers

Marvel Entertainment

Mark Millar’s “Civil War” features some of Captain America’s finest moments as a hero. Dramatically speaking, it’s Millar’s most mature work. It has Captain America going against his country and some of his most important allies, including Iron Man. He goes on the run, which he does in The Winter Soldier as well, but Cap fighting against the pro-registration act, which would require all heroes to reveal their identities, could make for a grand Captain America epic. Thematically speaking, it’d be a suitable continuation and extrapolation of the ideas explored in The Winter Soldier.

Sadly, there are three reasons why we may never see Civil War happen, at least not in a Captain America movie:

1. These films are Captain America’s story. So far the main complaint in this post-Avengers world is: why the hell doesn’t Iron Man swoop in to help Captain America save the day? That’s not a question you think about when you read the comics, but Markus and McFeely understand where people are coming from. “It doesn’t bother us as writers or audience members, but we understand the question because it’s self-inflicted,” McFeely tells us. “The practicality is: we’re not making nine Avenger movies. We’re hoping audiences roll with it like comic book audiences.”

That’s a better explanation than “they’re busy.” Can you really be too busy to save the world? This isn’t even a matter of suspending disbelief, but having to accept these movies as solo adventures. On a practical level, would it make sense for Hawkeye or Iron Man to lend a hand? Of course, but from a dramatic and storytelling perspective, not so much. Cap already has Falcon, Nick Fury, and Black Widow by his side. These movies don’t need more main characters, they just need Captain America.

2. Marvel probably doesn’t want to use up one of the nine or ten films all their actors are contracted for to play a small part in a Captain America movie. That doesn’t mean they can’t throw in the occasional cameo. Chris Evans’s six picture contact did not include his Thor: The Dark World appearance, so there’s hope that Iron Man or the Hulk may appear in a Captain America sequel, if only for a few moments.

3. Since Civil War is loaded with Marvel’s iconic roster, including Spider-Man, there would need to be some costly deals made between Marvel, Sony, and Fox. Marvel would probably be smart to hold off on Civil War, by establishing new faces, and then using those newly introduced heroes and villains for the war.

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Time To Get Down To Brass Tacks

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Walt Disney Pictures

“You have to make the decisions now,” Nick Fury says to Captain America when he’s at his lowest. What if Captain America has to one day truly put his rules to the test? Maybe his idealism won’t work when he’s put in a position of power. Markus and McFeely say we shouldn’t expect Captain America leading an organization anytime soon, but they will continue to explore a pivotal question for the character: “You’ve made the choice of doing the right thing, but what does that mean?”

When Captain America is one day put in a position of leadership, like Nick Fury, he’ll have to make “morally questionable” choices.

When will we see Captain America reach that crossroad? Probably in the next film. Markus jokes that you’ll have to make morally questionable choices when your best friend turns out to be a murderer. Does Captain America let The Winter Soldier run free? Does he go after him? Give he give him a second chance?

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So Long, Cap

The Death of Captain America was big news a few years ago. It’s a popular story, and Chris Evans wants to take a break from acting, so there’s a chance we may see it one day. Especially when you consider how Winter Soldier sets up the characters that have a major hand in Cap’s death and what comes after. In the wake of Captain America’s death, Bucky Barnes dons the red, white, and blue suit, taking over as Captain America.

Of course, eventually Steve Rogers returns. He wasn’t dead, but frozen in time by an experimental weapon. He goes back to being Captain America, while Bucky continues to carry out missions for S.H.I.E.L.D. as The Winter Soldier.

It’s common in comic books, but so far Marvel hasn’t been able to kill off the characters holding up their franchise. However, Evans signed on for only six movies, so after Age of Ultron, he’ll have two movies left to complete. That’s likely Captain America 3 and The Avengers 3.

At that point, Marvel has another character waiting to become Captain America. Why recast or reboot the character when you have The Winter Soldier around to take over?

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Doctor Zola Has Checked In 

Arnim Zola in Captain America

Marvel Entertainment

Doctor Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) has a very pivotal scene in Winter Soldier. Like Captain America and The Winter Soldier, he’s managed to stay alive, except he’s inside a computer. Completely safe from Zoolander and Hansel.

He’s an expository device, but more than that, he’s a sign of what’s to come. “Any alternative [for the explanations] would’ve been boring. They would’ve shown up and looked at files or a computer screen, if he wasn’t there,” says McFeely. “Although weird, granted, it was the best alternative.”

Yeah, it’s weird, but it doesn’t even begin to reach the level of strange the character goes to in the comics.

For example, when Captain America recently got relaunched he was trapped in another dimension, Dimension Z, ruled by Zola himself. Dimension Z is where Zola is building an army of genetically altered soldiers to one day conquer Earth. When Cap escapes from Zola’s imprisonment, he takes Zola’s son, Ian, with him. He raises him as his own. When the hero realizes how to get back to New York, he brings Ian with him. Soon Zola’s daughter, Jet Black, comes to Earth, believing Cap killed her brother and wanting revenge.

Sounds pretty crazy, right? It’s unlikely that Marvel will ever go that far in the movies.

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Bottom Line

Whatever is waiting for Captain America in the future, let’s hope it resembles Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s level of quality and focus on telling the story at hand. Not only are blatant sequel flags annoying, they wouldn’t sit well with this franchise. Sequel flags are inherently smug — they know they’ve got your money before the movie even comes out — and Captain America is anything but self-satisfied. He’s just unlucky, as proven by his unfortunate history and a future filled with more enemies, more difficult questions and a greater potential for death.


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