Captain America’s Failure in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

Marvel stories have always been about failing, and that's what makes them so dang enjoyable.
Captain America Avengers Infinity War

Marvel Explained is our ongoing series where we delve into the latest Marvel shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry looks at Nia DaCosta’s recent comments regarding Captain America’s role in eradicating half the universe in Avengers: Infinity War. Yes, prepare for SPOILERS.

The Snap. We’re still trying to make sense of it. When Thanos clicked his gauntlet, and half the Marvel universe turned to dust, those of us in the audience could hardly believe our eyes. We understood there was a sequel coming. Spider-Man and Black Panther just started their franchises. Marvel Studios wouldn’t kill their cash cows. And yet, we sat there with our jaws open and our eyes teary. How could the Avengers fail so hard?

With the Candyman reboot in her rearview, director Nia DaCosta is out there hyping her next project. She’s already well into pre-production on The Marvels (a.k.a. Captain Marvel 2), and she’s swimming in the geek space, proclaiming her passion for comic book characters. While partaking in Inverse’s superhero issue, DaCosta spoke with Roxane Gay about her strong feelings regarding who’s to blame for that Thanos victory in Avengers: Infinity War: Captain America.

“Something I like to say a bit flippantly about Captain America is that the Snap is all his fault because he was trying to do his best, trying to do the right thing. There is a world in which he’s a villain because, at the end of the day, he should have just sacrificed Vision. He chose one robot’s life, albeit a sentient one, over literally the entire universe. There’s a sort of anti-hero in that if you want to look at it through that lens.”

DaCosta is like the rest of us. That snap was a slap. The Avengers: Infinity War ending was an unexpected shock that we intellectually knew would be resolved in Avengers: Endgame, but emotionally, there was no coming back. And someone has to get blamed.

Nia DaCosta on the Ending of Avengers: Infinity War

Back in 2018, when Avengers: Infinity War first did its damage on us, many spit their frustrations toward Peter Quill, the so-called Star-Lord. On Titan, as Iron Man, Spidey, Doctor Strange, and Mantis pin Thanos to the planet’s surface, they’re so close to removing his magical gauntlet from his fist.

Then Quill learns that Thanos sacrificed his daughter, and Quill’s beloved, to claim the Soul Stone. And the Guardian of the Galaxy lets his rage get the better of him. He lashes out, smashing Thanos in the face and giving the baddie enough wiggle room to escape their hold. Team Iron Man fails.

Nia DaCosta says the failure comes much earlier.

“We Don’t Trade Lives.”

While their friends are racing to confront the Mad Titan on his home turf, Captain America and his ragtag avenging leftovers are given time to prepare. Thanos is on their doorstep. They fortify their forces in Wakanda and make their last stand as an imposing force against his immovable object.

Vision sees what is coming. With the Soul Stone planted in his forehead, he knows he is the key to victory. His sacrifice would spare insurmountable pain and loss. And while Steve Rogers certainly approved of self-sacrifice at one point in his life, he now declares to his robo-buddy, “We don’t trade lives.” And his crew rolls with it.

Why Nia DaCosta is Right About Captain America

DaCosta is right. If those Avengers had done then what Wanda Maximoff attempts to do during Infinity War‘s climax anyway, before Thanos cops that Time Stone from Doctor Strange, then maybe billions — scratch that — trillions of lives would have been spared their galactic trauma.

Can you imagine that scene, though? Captain America and the rest are standing around Wanda as she explodes Vision’s dome. We in the audience observe an execution, and children scream snotty tears while their buckets of popcorn spill on the floor. Welcome to Avengers: Zero Dark Thirty.

The Blame Must Rest with the Avengers

Knowing what we know about Steve Rogers, thanks to the previous Avengers films and the three Captain America movies, no way would he have done that. But maybe that is indeed a failing. Spock would have killed Vision, no problem. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Give 24‘s Jack Bauer the shield, and he would have followed Nia DaCosta’s command easily.

Most Marvel movie thrills extend from failure. Whether that’s Peter Parker playing Spider-Man to make amends for his role in Uncle Ben’s death or Tony Stark donning the armor to assuage his guilt after years of war-mongering, regret is baked into their heroism. Marvel stories are never about the movie you’re watching; they’re about what’s coming next.

Thor’s Failure in Avengers: Infinity War

Thor spending nearly all of Infinity War constructing a new hammer only to miss Thanos’ head propels him into his Endgame depression. Vision’s death at Wanda’s hands forms WandaVision‘s tragic premise. Amidst all the punching and digital royal rumbles, a million choices are made. From them, an endless stream of What If…? universes spring forth. Story breeds story.

Choices are not good or bad. They’re choices. We make them. We must live with them.

In Avengers: Endgame, it’s obvious that Captain America wishes he did things differently in Infinity War. Given a second chance, he probably would do what DaCosta suggests. That’s why he runs wildly and blindly into that film’s time-travel plot, and he reclaims his dance with Peggy at the first opportunity. He learned something.

The Anti-Heroes of Avengers: Infinity War

The biggest takeaway from Nia DaCosta’s chat with Roxane Gay is that she thinks deeply about these characters. She calls herself “Marvel Trash,” a sucker for whatever comic book, cartoon, or movie they produce. Whether they’re good or bad, she can always find something interesting within them. DaCosta reacts to the Avengers as if they were any other celebrity or political figure. It’s the headspace you want your Marvel directors to be operating in before they unleash their franchise entry.

“The hero’s pain is something that spurs them to martyr themselves, and an anti-hero’s pain is a thing that kind of starts their journey as opposed to ending it.”

That bit right there, that’s the most important pull from DaCosta’s interview. Pain is not an ending; it’s a beginning. Everyone fails, and we won’t stop failing. But we can fail better.

Failing Better is the Marvel Way

Marvel comics have been about failing better since 1961 when Reed Richards took his family to space, poisoned them with cosmic rays, and made his mathematical misfortune a mission statement: the Fantastic Four. From one scientific accident, hundreds more followed, and each heroic creation struggled absurdly with their gifts. Marvel heroes are wretchedly human, and they suck at life, reflecting our own suckage.

Captain America killing Vision in Avengers: Infinity War, or Vision killing himself, is not an answer. It’s a question. Maybe the Avengers would have reached a victory over Thanos sooner, but probably not. Nor would we want them to. The fight must be hard. Because our fight is hard. We can press rewind and contemplate what we would have done differently, but there is no redo button. We’re stuck with what we did. What’s important is what we do next and how those failures inform our next failures.

Brad Gullickson: Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)