A Character Study of the Captain and his Hammer

Just a Kid from Brooklyn

Avengers: Endgame was undoubtedly the pop culture event of the entire decade. After Game of Thrones ended with a lot of controversy (is George even finishing the books?) and JK Rowling has taken to twitter to continually embarrass Harry Potter fans, the conclusion of the Infinity Saga of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will be hailed as the bar for nerd franchises for a very long time. 

Perhaps one of the most captivating scenes that audiences everywhere went crazy for was when Steve Rogers/Captain America wielded Mjolnir, the hammer that was only meant to be lifted by those deemed worthy by Asgardian King Odin himself. When paired with the scene from Avengers: Age of Ultron, where multiple Avengers try to lift the hammer and Steve moves it ever-so-slightly, the internet immediately started asking the question I will be addressing in this piece:

“Could Steve always lift Mjolnir? Or did he become more worthy overtime?”

Kevin Feige, my personal idol in the industry, responded to this question in a reddit AMA with this answer:

2019-09-06 16_14_05-Window

Anthony and Joe Russo, whom I have been big fans of for a long time now (#sixseasonsandamovie), responded in basically the same manner:

2019-09-06 16_14_33-WindowApparently those working on the movie seem to interpret all of this as Steve always being able to lift the hammer, but he didn’t want to (quite literally) steal Thor’s thunder.

As a day-one MCU fan, and as a person who has come to value Captain America as their absolute favorite Superhero (sorry Batsy, Cap won in the end after all)…I gotta say, I fundamentally disagree with this take on every level. 

Now at least let me justify myself before the nerd rage begins:

  1. I can have great admiration & love for these creators and still disagree with them. 
  2. Notice that their language in answering this question emphasizes “our interpretation” and “we like to think”, meaning that there is room for fans to have their own headcanon, which can be done with many other moments/themes in the MCU.
  3. It’s so boring to simply accept Steve as consistently perfect. He has the greatest heart in the universe and its always in the right place…but having those qualities doesn’t mean that a person can’t be misguided, lost, or even wrong sometimes. 

It is much more interesting for Steve’s character arc if Mjolnir was something he couldn’t quite do until he went through some catharsis. This piece will provide my interpretation of this iconic moment in movie history, and even provide some insight into what I take away from Captain America’s journey.

Before we go into movies specifically, I want to point out how Steve deals with conflict. Despite all their differences, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark both want the same thing: to defend the earth and all of its people from those who would harm it. When things happen to Tony, we see it very visibly (mostly through his anxiety attacks). When things happen to Steve, he…doesn’t exactly address them properly. The conflict in Captain America: Civil War was never about politics because, (let’s be real here) if this was an actual real-life scenario we would all want some answers from heroes for the collateral damage. The conflict is moreso about Tony projecting his guilt from Ultron and his previous arms dealings, and Steve trying desperately to hold onto the only things that give him a purpose. Hold this thought. Now, we can go into the movies.

THE FIRST AVENGER

We are introduced to a sick, physically weak, and timid Steve Rogers trying to enlist in the army. Its admirable enough to keep trying after being rejected, but you truly see Steve’s passion and heart in an interaction he has with his best friend

Steve: “Bucky, come on! There are men laying down their lives. I got no right to do any less than them. That’s what you don’t understand. This isn’t about me.”

Bucky: “Right, because you’ve got nothing to prove?”

This isn’t exactly selfish behavior, but we see that Steve himself is tired of being passed off as weak, especially when stronger men than him seem to be failing (he got beat up by some jock disrespecting the army in a theater, if you recall). After continuing to show his heart in conversations with Dr. Abraham Erskine and Peggy Carter, he is eventually chosen to receive the super-soldier serum. Before he does, there is an incredible moment that defines Steve’s entire character arc that often gets overlooked.

Similar to when Ho Yensin told Tony Stark (in a cave, with a box of scraps) not to “waste his life”, Dr. Erskine gave Steve similar advice as a mentor. Re-read and remember this, as it’s the basis for my entire point:

“Whatever happens tomorrow, you must promise me one thing. You will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.”

Bucky also reminds Steve of this later in the movie, by telling Steve that he isn’t following “Captain America”, rather he is following the stupid kid from Brooklyn who would always lose fights because he wouldn’t run from them. For the rest of the movie, Steve is who he is and lives up to what he promised Erskine…and then he wakes up 70 years later.

THE AVENGERS

Viewers often forget that Steve absolutely doesn’t belong in the 2010s, and that loss of time is what he’s mostly dealing with internally. We saw that in the previous movie he was looking for purpose, and after being gone for 70 years it makes sense that he would be trying to look for some semblance of that again. “Luckily” for Steve, he is immediately thrown back onto the front lines against Loki’s invasion of New York. With the urgent need of a soldier, and the fact that everyone in 2012 only knows him as a war hero, he falls into this role with ease. After this is where things start to get more complicated.

THE WINTER SOLDIER

We’re introduced to a Steve that’s trying to adjust to the time, but is moreso looking for things that remind him of the past for him to hold on to. Not only do we see him advance significantly as a martial artist and SHIELD operative, we see him reminiscing in his own museum exhibit and even see that he’s found Peggy again. 

What stings for Steve is that this whole thing is getting harder. He’s trying to find new things to be excited about (his friendship with Sam Wilson and his crush on then-undercover Sharon Carter) but it’s not working. SHIELD has ideas for dangerous plans to essentially control society, Peggy has Alzheimer’s in her old age, Bucky is back and is being mind-controlled, and then he finds out that he’s been living a huge lie: HYDRA has been growing inside SHIELD for decades. 

A great scene that gets us inside Steve’s head is when he is seemingly less stressed out talking to Natasha when HYDRA is revealed. He has an enemy, he has a purpose again. This gets further amplified when he decides that he’s going to look for Bucky and get his best friend back. 

However, all of this is leading to Steve getting used to a life of constant conflict, rarely taking any time for himself to address his own issues. At this point, being a soldier is a necessary coping mechanism for Steve.

AGE OF ULTRON

This movie is an interesting one, because if you get into the details then you notice that a lot of Steve’s flaws are starting to show (obviously we need some hindsight after knowing the events that take place after…but that’s a lot of this movie in a nutshell as, upon rewatch, it’s basically “Phase 3: The Set-Up Chapter”).

For one thing, many fans speculate/assume that this is where he begins to lie to Tony about the deaths of Howard and Maria Stark at the hands of Bucky. Even with that detail aside, we really get more when we get to the first real encounter with Ultron (where Wanda Maximoff is present as well after Ultron stole Vibranium from Ulysses Klaue. Wanda is super important here). 

Ultron hits Steve with an incredibly personal attack here: “Ah, Captain America. God’s righteous man, pretending you could live without a war. I can’t physically throw up in my mouth, but…”

Ultron wasn’t a very well developed villain, but he hits the nail on the head here. At this point, Steve has based his entire identity off of a few things that give him something to fight for. It’s almost as if he’s becoming somewhat desensitized after living in the 2010s (and who can blame him?). We see this emphasized more in the nightmare-sequence induced by Wanda’s powers, where Peggy is trying to tell him “the war is over…we can go home” and then immediately disappears, leaving Steve alone in a dance hall. The realization that, as much as he might want to, Steve can’t go home? That’s haunting, and that would do a number on someone mentally. 

The movie ends with him insisting to Tony that being an Avenger and training the newcomers is “home” for him, so we know he’s trying. For the most part, he does seem to find some semblance of peace with the Avengers…and then…well…

CIVIL WAR

This is where it can get fairly obvious that Steve is lowkey losing it. The Avengers’ very existence is threatened by the Sokovia Accords, Peggy passes away, Bucky is in the public eye, and he’s disagreeing with his own friends (Tony and Natasha). 

As mentioned, a lot of Steve’s determination and drive seems to be stemming from him wanting to hold on to what makes him comfortable. What makes this worse this time around is that he has to pick and choose between Bucky, Tony, the Avengers, etc. The situation with Zemo happens to work out so that he has to apprehend Zemo regardless, but after Steve and Tony both played right into his hands…Steve has to finally tell Tony the truth. 

From here, take where we had Steve in the 40’s vs now. The world he’s been trying to adjust to has finally beat him down into the loss of Peggy, Bucky (under containment in Wakanda), Tony, the Avengers, SHIELD, his public identity as a hero, and his own shield. There is nothing else left for Steve but the only thing that has given him peace in the entire time he un-froze: becoming a perfect soldier.

INFINITY WAR

Steve didn’t get much screen time in this movie, but I like to think of that a good director’s choice that is indicative of what he’s going through at the moment. I personally don’t mind the cliche of “character goes through physical change to signify emotional change” because I’m just dramatic like that too, so obviously we can start with Steve clearly looking edgy in appearance (Spider-Man 3, anyone?). However there are some other tell-tale signs of Steve being less-than-himself here

If we start with his persona, he’s less talkative and outwardly expressive. Most of his lines are, in some way, giving out orders or only related to the conflict at hand. Piggybacking off of how he was in Civil War, he makes this grand gambit with the mind-stone to save Vision because of how much he cares about the Avengers, and because he doesn’t want Wanda to go through the same thing Peggy did all those years ago. After all, the Avengers always win…right? 

Because I’m an MMA nerd, I can also make the case of Steve being much more of an aggressive fighter than we’ve ever seen him before. I guess that’s what happens when T’Challa gives you two shields that work better as punching mechanisms than defensive weapons, but I do think Steve’s fighting prowess went up even more here. Even Thanos was impressed!…right up until the point where he knocked Steve out cold. 

At this point you’re probably wondering “well majority of his arc is this ‘perfect soldier’ thing, then when does he ever become ‘worthy’ of Mjolnir?”. I’m getting there, but the most important detail of Infinity War/the start of Endgame is that after losing previous parts of his life, he’s now simply just lost. All he had left was defending the Earth, and he couldn’t even do that. Worse, half of the entire universe suffered because he couldn’t live up to what he always told himself his purpose was, and that stings. Especially when Tony calls him out and airs out all of their dirty laundry from Ultron/Civil War. So what now?

ENDGAME

Five years in the future, and the first thing we see is Steve isn’t defending, but uplifting others instead. Being close friends with Sam must have taught him something, because he took a page out of Sam’s book and is providing grief-counseling for victims. After that, we see him specifically visit a friend to console her as well. I personally don’t think Steve is holding it together very well and is internalizing again, but he’s doing certain things differently and we see him less eager to “punch his way out of a situation”. Also, he shaved.

There’s more! Steve is rarely ever a part of the “science-scenes” in these movies but he is there the first time the team attempts time-travel. He’s smarter about avoiding fights when he doesn’t need to have them (“Hail Hydra”). He’s capable of laughing at himself with his own doppelganger saying “I could do this all day”. Finally, he trusts Tony to retrieve the Tesseract. 

The absence of a war taught Steve there was more to being himself. Slowly the idea started to plant in his mind that maybe he could just “go home” when the fighting is done and be something more than a soldier. In every scene in the five-year-time-skip, you can see the subtle differences in Steve’s behavior. He’s starting to be himself again, he’s starting to once again become a simple and good man. I don’t think this should be the story of a guy that was always right, nor do I think it’s the story of an okay-ish guy that got better. I think it’s the story of someone lost, who had to go through a lot regarding his identity so that he could find his way again. I think that a lot of this clicked for Steve himself when he got to see Peggy again while Tony was trying to grab the Tesseract, and I also think this is where he made the decision that he would return the Infinity Stones and return to Peggy. Upon their return, the only thing standing in his way was Thanos, and suddenly the possibility of losing all that he found again was present. Not this time, however. This time Steve remembered his greatest strength, and who he really was. When the time came, and he called on Mjolnir, it was all his personal growth that unlocked his true potential. He was always worthy, he just had to be reminded of what made him worthy in Erskine’s eyes in the first place. 

That, I think, is a pretty cool interpretation of the Captain and his hammer. One I think everyone can learn from and be inspired by. After all, Steve is a hero, and shouldn’t inspiring others to believe in the good in themselves be a big part of heroism?

19 Responses to 19 Questions About Infinity War

The nerdy version of rap battles is cross-promoting blogs.

Hello everyone! I’m back from a small break from writing and podcasting and its only fitting that we pick up where we left off with Avengers: Infinity War. I’m sure everyone has seen it at this point so SPOILERS will be present in this post…but what exactly is this post?

My good friend, previously featured guest-writer (responsible for the Ready Player One Review), and fellow co-host of the “Overrated” Podcast, Uday Mehta, wrote this piece. It featured 19 pretty reasonable questions about the movie that most audiences who might’ve missed some context would have. As his friend and MCU fanboy, I decided to respond to all 19. I highly recommend you read his piece before reading this, but just in case you’re lazy I’ll be shortening his questions on this. 19 responses, here we go:

1. How did Thanos defeat the combined forces of Thor, Loki, and Hulk with only one Infinity Stone?

So “just one stone” is 100% not a pushover, as we’ve seen in the previous MCU movies. The Power stone is literally all you need to cause the kind of damage you saw in the opening scene. Remember Guardians of the Galaxy and the Collector’s whole deal where “even dropping it on the ground would decimate the planet”? Star-Lord could only hold it because he was half-celestial back then, so beings of that level of power (i.e. Asgardian warriors, Celestials, Hulks, etc) could survive, albeit very damaged.

The “Black order is useless” thing is because you’re viewing through the lens of their short screen-time (For Example: Odin is probably the most powerful being in the MCU but we dont see that in a movie, we just see old/dying/dead). Even then, we do see that Maw and Obsidian are heavy hitters, and Thanos’ ship definitely caught Thor’s ship by surprise,  so it does make sense why that’d hurt the Asgardians hard as well.

As for Hulk, his specific power is that he gets stronger the angrier he gets (in The Incredible Hulk, Abomination was definitely stronger at their base levels. Hulk only won because Abomination pissed him off hard enough). If you watch the scene again (now that you’ve done some boxing, which I only know cuz I follow you on instagram) Thanos didn’t give him a chance to. Thanos clearly knows how to fight and focuses his hits on pressure points to disable Hulk, and Hulk doesn’t really fight anyone insanely knowledgeable in technique like that. 

This next point is going to be huge in answering a lot of your questions: Thematically speaking, this movie is about the inevitability of failure and the fact that it doesn’t discriminate. Sometimes you absolutely must fail before you succeed. Every hero messes up in this film some way or another, in this specific case: Hulk was overconfident because he’s never really lost a fight (The Hulkbuster knocked him out in Ultron and Thunder God Thor would’ve won in Ragnarok if not for the Grandmaster’s intervention). It was important to show someone as reliable in a fight as Hulk get easily defeated by Thanos “having fun” (line from Maw).

2. How did Cap know where Vision and Wanda were?

This is also entirely possible and there’s a few ways to look at this.

This may be extra MCU canon released in one of the deleted scenes or tie-in comics, but during the 2 years between Civil War and Infinity War, most of the former “Team Cap” form a covert hit-squad (inspired by the concept of the “Secret Avengers” in the Marvel continuity). This squad was able to resolve conflicts in Syria and Lebanon due to Natasha’s former KGB connections. Additionally, it was established that Steve was friendly with Wakanda, and they’re more than capable of finding people who don’t want to be found (line from Natasha in Civil War).

Even if you say “well that’s all extra and not in the movie”, you can just draw the conclusion that they were keeping tabs on Wanda, seeing as how she escaped with them and probably helped them too. You can get this from Wanda’s line where she mentions “We both made promises”. Of course she would give her team her location in case things go sour. They still ARE all technically wanted fugitives by the UN, its natural for them to have some sort of distress signal. 

3. Is it time to write the non-powered characters out of the franchise?

Definitely not, as its important to have a variety of characters to work with so that they all have different perspectives and make a better ensemble cast. Yeah they don’t have “Superpowers” but they’re not just regular people either…they’re highly talented, specially trained, and gifted in what they do (think people like Nightwing and Green Arrow on the DC side).

The more important thing I need to make clear here: Spider-man and Ant-man VERY LITERALLY earned their suits. They were both specifically given to them by their mentor figures in separate movies. A whole different person owned the suit and had to LITERALLY make the decision of “Hm, should I give this kid my suit or not?” and they decided “yes”.

4. Did Tony seriously think that taking the time stone to Thanos was a good idea?

Honestly? He probably didn’t think it 100% through. However that’s entirely reasonable for someone with an anxiety disorder/PTSD like Tony Stark. There’s two ways to look at this:

On one hand, you could say that he couldn’t control the nerves and made a decision based on panic. On the other, you could say that he absolutely did not want ANY bodies dropping on earth anymore, and made the decision to not make New York a battleground again (when Maw first landed, Tony very noticeably starts freaking out a little which you can tell from his dialogue/RDJ’s acting when interacting with the civilians and talking to his AI). Or maybe he just didn’t want to get Secretary of State Ross involved, which he legally must do according to the Sokovia Accords. Lastly, refer to earlier point about the movie’s theme, everyone in this movie makes bad calls despite good intention and that’s the point.

5. Was it necessary to kill off Ebony Maw so early?

It definitely would’ve been cool to have him around more. It also would’ve been cool to have at least half the Black Order stick around for the next movie. However, this is a director decision that also serves a purpose. Thanos losing his children juxtaposes the heroes not being able to part ways with what they care about (Strange and Wong saying they have to protect the time stone because of an oath, Spider-Man not willing to just go home, Wanda not willing to kill Vision right away, etc.). Thanos knew that this mission would cost him everything, children included.

6. Can we all agree that Thor is the coolest Avenger?

Shoutout to my man Taika Waititi for directing the fantastic Thor: Ragnarok. Objectively, yes Thor is the coolest Avenger now. I DO want to also mention that Strange was fantastic in this movie and deserves equal props.

7. Why did the heroes give away the infinity stones so easily?

Heroes are empathetic people who care about everyone around them, but they’re also regular humans that have attachments. Even then, in a situation where your sister was being tortured by your psychotic father in front of your eyes, I’m pretty sure most people would give in. Also, same concept and themes of acceptance, loss, failure, etc.

8. Why did Captain America not already have his shield?

Because it makes for an amazing hype line, duh. In all seriousness, Cap dropping his shield to Tony in Civil War is symbolism more than anything. He’s stopped believing in political leaders (think Winter Soldier, Civil War, and him telling off Ross in Infinity War), He’s not the leader of the Avengers anymore, and he’s giving Tony a piece of his father back (Howard Stark designed the shield) due to his guilt of not telling Tony what happened regarding his parents’ death. Which brings him to Wakanda: Cap isn’t the type of guy that’s going to ask T’Challa to make him a special shield. He already feels bad enough that T’Challa was willing to help out Bucky and reveal their location to Cap, he probably wasn’t going to be like “Oh BTW, lost my shield…got another one?” Especially considering that he maybe shouldn’t have had the vibranium in the first place, as its a Wakandan resource.

9. Why go through an entire post-credit scene with the Collector if Thanos was going to get the reality stone off screen?

The Collector was never really that important to be honest. This strikes me as a decision made back when Kevin Feige didn’t have 100% control over everything and they just had to roll with it. Also yeah I’m also not a fan of Benicio so I’ll agree with you there.

10. Since when did Scarlet Witch get that powerful? What exactly are her powers?

Her powers all fall under the big umbrella of Psionics. This includes neuro-electrical interfacing, telekinesis, energy manipulation, telepathy, etc.

Scarlet Witch is one of the most powerful characters in Marvel Canon, so I guess making her this buffed up was just a nod to the source material (read “House of M”, I highly recommend). I dont know how else to explain it to you. It is known, Khaleesi.

11. How strong is Ironman really?

So a big side-effect of Tony’s anxiety disorder is that (since the battle of NY) he’s constantly making new and improved suits because he’s preparing for the inevitable doomsday that no one else seems to understand (see Iron Man 3 and Ultron). He stopped making sentry bots because they all got hacked by Ultron, so he presumably just started improving suits. Civil War takes place in 2016, with Infinity War taking place in 2018. Since that time, Tony has had a lot of time (all the threats we see in movies before were confined to one area) to work on this AND Wakanda opened up its scientific outreach center in Oakland in 2016 as well. Its fair to say he had the money, time, and resources to make the nano-tech suit (it looked SO GOOD on screen!!).

12. How strong is Vision really?

Vision is supposedly an S-Tier hero because of the mind stone…but unfortunately he kinda got the bad end of the deal where he’s written to be what the writers need him to be (I’m a fanboy for sure, but I can acknowledge error easily. Speaking of which…)

13. What happened to Wanda’s accent? 

Yeah it didn’t stick. I have zero ways of defending this. It happened. Wanda’s still great though!

14. Why did Eitri not have it together when making Thor’s ax?

Bro…the dude just lost his entire race and his hands. He’s probably reeling from insane survivor’s guilt and a huge lack of confidence.

15. Can we stop using time travel as a driving construct in these movies?

Again, I’m assuming this was out of respect for the source material, because the time stone is in the comics. While time travel is really hard to write about, I think the MCU handles it well, and while most speculations think that Avengers 4 is going to revolve around some timey-whimey loopholes, a lot of people are forgetting the Quantum Realm (from Ant-Man) and I think that’ll be the more likely construct since they have yet to expand on it fully. As for the “no stakes” comment, the beauty of the movie is that everyone with the plot-armor (aka confirmed sequels) disappeared and its really the people who are left that aren’t safe. Plus, I think the movie did its job because every time I watched it (4 times, no shame) people audibly gasped when Panther and Spidey disappeared. It was still an emotional gut-punch.

16. Why was Red Skull’s appearance necessary?

Well it’s the most plausible appearance out of the dead villains. Red Skull was transported to Vormir by the Tesseract (space stone) and probably tried to take the Soul Stone as well (the extra fan theory is that he became a spooky ghost because when the Soul Stone asked him to give up what he loved, the only thing he did care about was himself). It checks out, plus its nice to see Red Skull back as a comic fan.

17. Why was War Machine left alive with the other original Avengers?

To Rhoadey’s credit, he’s been around in the MCU since 2008 (albeit portrayed by Terrance Howard instead of Don Cheadle). Also, it wasn’t just the OG Avengers left alive, you still got Nebula, Rocket, Okoye, and Captain Marvel’s gonna show up. Hell, we dont really know what happened to Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and Wasp yet.

18.  Uday bashes Star-Lord for a bit

I have no response to this because Star-Lord is still on my top 5 MCU boys (Steve, Quill, Strange, Banner, T’Challa), but I will take this time to address people to STOP HARASSING ACTORS, YOU IDIOTS. CHRIS PRATT IS CHRIS PRATT, HE PLAYS STAR-LORD. Y’ALL WERE WRONG FOR DOING THIS TO KELLY MARIE TRAN, ALSO WRONG TO DO IT TO PRATT (although its much less hate than KMT got. Stay strong, homegirl. Toxic Star Wars fans are pathetic losers anyway).

19. Uday goes on about why Nick Fury has a pager to page Captain Marvel

Okay so we don’t know the connection yet because that movie is still filming, HOWEVER they have already revealed that Captain Marvel will take place in the 90’s, making pagers a legitimate tool. Plus, Fury wouldn’t have called her beforehand because there was no need to. Upon recognizing that this might be the end of humanity, Fury made the call instantly.