WARNING: This post freely discusses that thing Captain America did during "Avengers: Endgame." Do not read any farther if you haven't seen the record-breaking movie: Major spoilers ahead.
It was no secret that "Avengers: Endgame" would likely be the swan song for a number of major characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Chris Evans bid an emotional farewell to Captain America after his filming wrapped for "Endgame" in October. So despite the movie's co-director Joe Russo's subsequent claim that Evans was "not done yet," it seemed like "Endgame" would mark some sort of conclusion to Steve Rogers' journey.
And it did.
"Endgame" saw Steve choose to live happily ever after in the past after closing up a few time loopholes the Avengers created when they "borrowed" the Infinity Stones from various parts of their timeline. Returning to see his superhero pals as an old man in "present day" 2023, he passed on the Captain America shield and mantle to his friend Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie).
Considering he left on a mission to restore the integrity of the timeline, Steve's choice to reunite with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and create a life in the past is a bit puzzling. But the MCU's rules of time travel themselves are a bit confusing, so let's assume Steve was extra careful and instead focus on the emotional payoff of seeing the pair finally have a chance at being happy together.
But on top of the romance factor, Steve's retirement also appears to set the stage for the MCU's future.
Comic book fans know that Sam and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) have always been the top contenders to carry on Steve's legacy whenever the time came. Both characters' stories have long been tied to Steve's and each has taken over as Captain America at various points in Marvel's comics continuity.
In comics, Bucky took on the mantle of Captain America in the aftermath of the 2006-07 "Civil War" storyline following Steve's assassination (at least until Steve's death was undone a couple of years later).
Sometime after Steve reclaimed his identity as Captain America, a villain neutralized the effects of the super-soldier serum and caused him to advance to his actual age. Eventually, this older Steve officially appointed Sam to take over as Captain America, signature shield and all.
Sam's transition into Captain America came when Marvel was launching a number of books with more inclusive iterations of classic characters such as Kamala Khan as the new Ms. Marvel and Jane Foster taking over the mantle of Thor.
In addition to headlining his own comic series ("Captain America: Sam Wilson") and leading a new lineup of the Avengers, Sam strove to be a Captain America who was more than just a symbol. He was a Captain America who understood oppression and racism firsthand.
While Sam eventually relinquished the shield and title back to Steve, there was an undeniable significance to Sam actually being called "Captain America" - and not just "Falcon with Cap's shield" - as he pushed for his own ideals.
Because the "Captain America" films spent significant time developing Bucky and Steve's relationship, there was reason to believe that Steve could've handed over his shield to his "oldest" friend. But if the MCU is indeed moving to be more diverse in its next phase, Sam _ a black character who until now has been relegated to being a sidekick _ was the most logical choice to become the next Captain America.
That said, not much is known about the next phase of the MCU and it's not certain whether Sam or Bucky will appear in any of the future films.
Mackie and Stan are confirmed to star as Sam and Bucky in their own Disney+ series, "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," which is due for release sometime in the first year of the forthcoming streaming service. If that series takes place after the events of "Endgame," maybe we'll even see a title change to reflect Sam's new superhero identity.
This article is written by Tracy Brown from The Los Angeles Times and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.