SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains minor spoilers for Black Widow. If you have not yet seen the film, proceed at your own risk!
Being a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie that is set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, and looks back more than it looks forward, Black Widow arguably answers more questions than it prompts – but there is definitely one mystery generated that has fans curiosity piqued: the history between Red Guardian and Captain America. The David Harbour character proudly boasts that he went toe-to-toe with the United States’ legendary super soldier, but complications in the timeline call certain details into question.
Ultimately it’s left unclear in the movie if Alexei Shostakov and Steve Rogers ever really fought… which is why I felt compelled to ask screenwriter Eric Pearson about the story during a recent interview.
Speaking with the filmmaker virtually last week in advance of Black Widow’s release, I took the opportunity to get his personal thoughts on Red Guardian’s history as a Soviet Union hero and clarity regarding the veracity of his claims. He was hesitant about declaring anything as officially part of the canon and the character’s backstory, but he did provide some interesting insight into his perspective. Said Pearson,
I think that Alexei Shostakov believes everything he says; I don't know whether or not that's true, but I believe that he believes it. I love the dynamic. I love him as just like a weird personality and cultural opposite too, because Steve Rogers is a scrawny guy who just wants the chance to be good enough to fight the bad guys. And he is very humble and just wants to do the right thing. He's given the chance so he's the perfect super soldier. In the kind of arms race of super soldier serum, you've got to imagine the Soviet Union does it. They give it to a blustery, narcissistic soldier.
As fans will remember, Steve Rogers was transformed into Captain America during World War II, introduced as a hero to fight the Axis powers – but as the years went on, the Soviet Union evidently got caught up in developing super soldiers as part of the Cold War. That’s what led the Russians to transform Alexei Shostakov into Red Guardian… but as is noted by fellow prisoner Ursa in Black Widow, the timeline doesn’t really work out to allow Captain America and Red Guardian to face off in glorious battle. The latter was clearly created in the latter half of the 20th century, but during that time the former was quite literally chilling in the North Pole inside a block of ice.
With these facts presented, Alexei comes across as a boastful liar – but as noted by Eric Pearson, one can’t dismiss his insistence that he is telling the truth, and there definitely is plenty of sci-fi weirdness in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to explain how a Red Guardian vs. Captain America fight may have really happened. Let’s not forget that Steve Rogers relived the majority of the 20th century by traveling back in time at the end of Avengers: Endgame, and it’s not technically impossible that it was during that time that the he faced off against his Russian counterpart.
Getting to know Red Guardian over the course of Black Widow, it’s also totally possible that he is a guy who told a lie so many times that he himself started to actually believe it. As Eric Pearson outlined during the interview, he hasn’t precisely had the easiest life, starting with the fact that he feels like he was robbed of opportunities to fully function as a super soldier. Pearson explained,
The comedy, I always loved to find the comedy in it is that he, instead of getting to do what Steve Rogers got to do and be on the front line with the shield and the dance and the Star-Spangled Man, he's given an undercover job. So he has to pretend; he's given the strength and has to pretend he doesn't have it, and is super pissed off about it. So that's what I really loved about it. Whether or not there can be any sort of confrontation between him and any form of Captain America I don't know. I'm the wrong person to ask because I'd love to see everything.
Given the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s history of retracing its steps and eventually answering fans’ most passionate questions, it’s not impossible that one day we could get a legitimate resolution to this mystery… but for now all we can do is speculate.
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