Avengers: Endgame was successful among critics and fans for the most part, generating largely favorable reviews. Oh yeah, and it became the highest-grossing movie of all time. However, out of everything to come from the movie, Captain America's ending seems to be the most divisive part.
According to directors Anthony and Joe Russo, Captain America's ending was planned far in advance. Longtime MCU (and more importantly, Captain America) writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely also insist that this ending for Steve was planned for a long time. But was it?
MARKUS AND MCFEELY VS THE RUSSOS
According to the Russos, Steve's ending was planned just three years ago, preceding the release of Infinity War. Believable enough, especially considering Infinity War and Endgame work as two parts to the same whole. However, when looking at previous film entries and interviews from the Russos, Markus and McFeely, it becomes clear that despite their assertions otherwise, Cap's ending was almost drastically different before those Infinity War plans.
Right before Civil War dropped, Markus and McFeely gave an interview to ScreenRant. During this interview they were asked about Sharon Carter, a longtime Captain America character who was largely underutilized in the films. The duo seemed forthright on their assertion that Steve and Peggy's romance was hardly one to write home about.
"They kissed once on a moving car with Tommy Lee Jones in the car. Not the sexiest situation you can have. So you know in a way people go, 'Ooh that's weird.' But when you think about it, one, she's her grand-niece. This isn't incest. This is 'You're vaguely related to a woman I once kissed,' said Markus. This is a stark contrast to the quotes the duo have been releasing since Endgame's success.
In more recent interviews, the two have made claims ranging from "Steve was Peggy's unnamed husband in The Winter Soldier all along" to "Steve attended Peggy's funeral in Civil War." It's pretty obvious none of that was planned given their previous commentary (and their work on previous films). The tonal shift in their interviews between Civil War and post-Endgame is just too stark.
Not only do these assertions not line up with the previous movies, but they completely ignore the rules of time travel Endgame established. This is a line of contradiction that the Russos and Markus and McFeely differ on, deciding whether a branch reality was created or if Steve simply lived in the regular timeline of the MCU. So, which is it? Both options raise too many questions and paint Rogers in a bit of an unflattering light. Either way, it's clear the ending was revised at some point after Civil War, leading to a messy conclusion for the Star Spangled Avenger's arc.
THE RUSSOS VS THEIR PREVIOUS FILMS
In Endgame's digital release, there is a segment called "Steve and Peggy: One Last Dance" in which the Russos desperately try to assure fans that the ending for Steve was something actually supported by the last two Cap movies they directed. "I always found it very endearing about Cap," Anthony Russo says, "that for all that character has sacrificed -- and he's sacrificed a lot -- the one thing he could never let go of was Peggy Carter."
Cute sentiment, but it goes against everything the Russo's last two Captain America movies have laid out. If this ending was planned for so long, wouldn't the other Cap movies support that for an organic sense of completion to his arc?
The Winter Soldier is inarguably one of the MCU's finest movies, serving as the world's first real look into modern Steve Rogers without the accompaniment of the Avengers cast. It introduced Sam Wilson, Steve's first modern-day friend, reintroduced him to an old ally in Bucky and establishes a new kind of bond with Black Widow. It also includes one of the most important portrayals of Peggy to date.
Previously, Peggy was the tragic "what if," a reminder of a past that Steve had lost. She was a reminder that, in the life he leads, sacrifice is just part of the burden he bears. She's also a role model; a woman who has lived a life she loved, had a family and found love. She tells Steve "the world has changed, and none of us can go back. All we can do is our best and sometimes the best we can do is to try and start over."
Juxtaposed against his scenes with Sam, Steve is making lists about all he has yet to experience, talking about the things he prefers in the present over the past. Even though he feels the loss of his old life and wonders "what if," Steve is adapting to the life he has now, finding happiness of his own.
Peggy is a part of the past he can't change -- how could he? She's happy, fulfilled and has a lot to be proud of. Bucky, however, is the part of the past he can change. He didn't live a long, happy life -- he was captured by Hydra and used against his will. Their arcs work in tandem that way, offering different angles to the "man out of time" motif. Bucky needs Steve in the present and Peggy does not need him to change her past.
Civil War further establishes this theme. As Peggy dies, the past is literally buried. He takes her message to heart to move on by advocating for the kind of change in the world he wants to see. Whether you're team Iron Man or Cap in Civil War is irrelevant here. All that matters is that Steve thought he was doing the right thing. Perhaps most importantly, he's fighting for Bucky's future as well. Pursuing a new romance was yet another way to signify Steve's assimilation into the future and putting his past behind him, looking forward to the excitement of all he has yet to experience in life.
If this ending was planned for so long, shouldn't it serve as a thematic conclusion to Steve's story in the previous movies? Why have Steve's arc be about moving on and achieving happiness in the present rather than the past, only to have him go back to the past? Why have Peggy tell him she's happy only for him to rip it away? Why put all this emphasis on Steve and Bucky's friendship only to have him abandon him (and depending on how you think about the time travel subplot, he allows Bucky to fall to Hydra). Why have Sharon Carter act as a symbol for how Steve has moved on only to write her out?
THE RUSSOS VS AGENT CARTER
Sure, the Russos didn't write Agent Carter, but in Endgame they included enough elements in the 1970s sequence to make it clear they knew enough about the show and the continuity it established.
Agent Carter established Peggy as a career-driven woman, one who was able to establish her place in a male-dominated society, breaking norms left and right. She was a founding member of S.H.I.E.L.D., working alongside the likes of Howard Stark. She wasn't just a good agent, she was a great agent and the work she did was important for the world of the MCU.
Peggy also grew emotionally during the show's two-season run. At first, she was heartbroken over the loss of Steve, but eventually, she learns to open her heart again. A good symbolic moment is when she dumps a vial of Steve's blood into the water below the Brooklyn Bridge, preventing the government from creating more super soldiers and effectively saying goodbye to Rogers as well. That chapter of her life was closed and, from there, she was able to make new friends, establishing a new life for herself.
Daniel Sousa was important in making that happen, cracking Carter's shell she'd encased herself in after losing Steve. Together, the two were able to build a relationship that was worth something. Agent Carter shows a woman who had moved on, made a name for herself, changed the world, fell in love and had a family with children of her own. For Steve to go back to the past, not only has he taken that away from her, but it makes the events of Agent Carter pointless.
No, Endgame probably wasn't the first time the Russos (and other personnel in charge) decided on Cap's ending, but it's likely that Infinity War's planning stages were the first time it was seriously brought up. Otherwise, it raises too many questions about just what story they were trying to tell with the previous films. It also begs to question what properties like Agent Carter were meant to accomplish. The Russos, Markus and McFeely can backtrack on this all they want, claiming it was always intentional, but Steve's ending just doesn't fit with what we know.
It'd certainly be interesting to hear what the Russos and company had also spitballed for his ending before Infinity War.