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Avengers: Endgame's Joe Russo Explains Why Captain America Didn't Die In The Marvel Movie

Captain America wielding Mjolnir
(Image credit: Disney)

We’re coming up on three years since Avengers: Endgame came out in theaters, and the penultimate Infinity Saga remains a popular conversation topic among Marvel Cinematic Universe fans. One of the biggest moments in Endgame, if not the biggest, was when Tony Stark/Iron Man sacrificed his life to save the universe. However, there were plenty of people ahead of the movie who thought Steve Rogers/Captain America would meet his demise, and Endgame co-director Joe Russo.

During the Q&A portion of his interview with Deadline at the Sands International Film Festival of St. Andrews, Joe Russo was asked by an audience member when he and the other creative minds behind Avengers: Endgame figured out the “endpoint” in terms of wrapping up Iron Man, Captain America and Black Widow’s stories. Russo started talking about how he likes to “diagnose” from a storytelling standpoint “what arcs are the most compelling” on the projects he puts together with his brother Anthony Russo, and then said the following:

If you think of Captain America as a character, you go 'Okay, Captain America dying is fairly obvious,' right? That is something he would do based on the character. You know, this is a guy who offered to be a guinea pig in a science experiment in order to be able to go fight Nazis in the war. He's intrinsically a hero. Like, there's not a lot of complexity there. It might be emotionally impactful because you like him. You know, he's a very likable character, but it’s not necessarily the most compelling arc.

Joe Russo makes a good point. Although we think of Captain America as a superhero first, he started out as a soldier willing to die for the greater good during World War II. Chris Evans’ character retained that mindset when he was awakened in the early 21st century, became an Avenger and battled threats like Loki, HYDRA and Ultron. Sure, there’s precedence for Captain America dying from the comics, and you can be sure seeing the Star Spangled Man with a Plan fall in battle would have been emotional. But from Russo’s perspective, it was too predictable a narrative path to embark down.

Then there’s Iron Man, who kicked off the MCU in 2008 and perished in Avengers: Endgame when he swiped the six Infinity Stones from the alternate timeline Thanos and used their power to wipe out the Mad Titan and his army. Back in November 2019, Endgame co-writer Christopher Markus explained that Robert Downey’s Jr. character had to die in order to “be his best self,” and Joe Russo echoed that statement with these words:

Tony Stark is a character who was supposed to die. If you go watch Iron Man in the first five minutes of that film, he should have died. But he didn’t, he got captured. And he has an ego, which is also antithetical to being a hero, right? And that first movie is about the subjugation of his ego in order for him to become a hero. But that ego then fuels him, and at times it competes with this idea of him being a hero. That seemed like a more interesting arc to us, to take a character who had an ego. Because to die for others, you have to defeat the ego. So that seemed like the more compelling arc to us, that it would be Stark who died. So that it would be a richer, more complex arc, and that’s why we chose him.

So by the time Avengers: Endgame was over, Iron Man was no longer with us, and neither was Black Widow, who threw herself over a cliff on Vormir so that Hawkeye could obtain the Soul Stone. Scarlett Johansson did reprise Natasha Romanoff one more time in Black Widow, which was set between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, but unless the MCU wants to bring in doppelgängers of her or Tony Stark, akin to the alternate versions we saw in the animated series What If… ?, don’t expect to see Johansson and Robert Downey Jr. in this franchise again.

As for Captain America, after Avengers: Endgame’s climactic battle was over, he went back in time to return the Infinity Stones and Mjolnir to their proper places in time, and then he went to the late 1940s to live decades with his one true love, Peggy Carter. When we last saw him, the now-elderly Steve Rogers returned to the MCU’s present day to give a fresh version of his vibranium shield to Sam Wilson. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier ended with Sam officially becoming the new Captain America, and Anthony Mackie’s character is now being lined up to lead Captain America 4. However, not only is Steve not expected to appear there, but both Chris Evans and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige debunked rumors that the original Captain America would return. So even though the MCU’s Steve isn’t dead (that we know of), for now, it’s not looking likely we’ll ever reunite with him.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the theatrical MCU tale on the docket, and it’s just one of many upcoming Marvel movies on the horizon. However, if you’re itching for new MCU content now, Moon Knight’s first episode is available to watch with a Disney+ subscription.

Adam Holmes
Adam Holmes

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.