It's the question every movie fan asked upon seeing The Avengers; after working so well together, why would they ever part ways? That's a question that each Avenger's next film will need to answer, but as the leader of the team, Captain America: The Winter Soldier will likely handle the bulk of the explanation.
The screenwriters behind Captain America 2, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely claim that the task of focusing solely on super-soldier Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) isn't a restriction, but a task made easier thanks to the previous films the audience has - and hasn't - seen.
How Marvel hopes to match the spectacle and blockbuster potential of The Avengers with individual films has been one of our biggest questions, since they can't be expected to attract the same box office numbers each time. But as Cap, Thor, Tony Stark and the rest of the band go their separate ways, now is the time for each to face a challenge only they can overcome alone. And in an interview with Collider, Markus and McFeely explain why The Winter Soldier is more of an opportunity than a risky proposition.
Markus clarifies the positioning of the film in the rest of 'Phase Two' by stating that its events take place "at some point after The Avengers; I’m not even sure we’re particular about it in the script." But while The Winter Soldier is technically the third Captain America film to date, the fact that The Avengers was far more successful and popular than any of Marvel's previous films changes the usual formula.
McFeely explains why movie fans looking to bring more friends into the ongoing Marvel universe may be able to start with the team-up first, and not the WWII-era origin story:
"We have to assume that more people saw The Avengers than saw Captain America. That doesn’t mean that we do a whole 'previously on Steve Rogers,' but we have to be cognisant of it. Not everyone knows the first movie in the same way."
Building a third chapter for a character whose introduction many people skipped may seem like a writer's nightmare, but Markus and McFeely aren't seeing it that way. With the need for back story gone, and The Avengers providing a look at the unrest within Steve Rogers - a soldier without his war - now is the time to get their hands dirty.
And if fans are enjoying the story of Steve Rogers enough, Markus doesn't think they'll stop to ask why the rest of Marvel's heroes aren't bursting in at any moment:
"Coming after the first movie and coming after The Avengers, there’s now stuff we don’t have to do in terms of, “Let’s give you the idea of who this guy is and he wears this outfit.” Everybody knows now, so you can hit the ground running much more quickly than we did in the first one when we had to spend 40 minutes introducing the skinny guy. I think it allows for a much faster pace and a tenser movie.
"In terms of “Why doesn’t he call The Avengers?” it never bothers me in the comic books, you know, it’s just they’re not here. But I think it’s also a question of is the story you’re telling personal enough? If it’s Cap’s story, if it really has to do with his life, then your desire for him to call for help is out. It’s his life. It’s a question of making it personal to him and it’s also a question of pacing… I can’t tell you what the plot is, but it has a lot to do with Cap, on a thematic level, as a person. If it was giant space robots, anyone can fight giant space robots. Only Cap can do what’s happening in this movie."
What is perfectly clear is that the Captain America audiences see in The Winter Soldier will not be the same one from either The First Avenger or last year's team-up (and we don't just mean he'll have a new costume). Why? Let's just say that anyone familiar with the comic book story behind the next movie's title knows what Steve is about to be faced with; and Markus is right that it will hit Cap harder than anyone (literally).
It's a subtle difference - writing Captain America 2 to develop themes and relationships that will impact The Avengers 2, not writing it to simply set up The Avengers 2 - but one that any critic of Iron Man 2 will recognize. That film devoted large portions of its plot to paving the way for The Avengers, so now that it worked, there's no need to risk repeating it.
Markus and McFeely have teased that The Winter Soldier will show where loyalties lie come The Avengers 2, and if the main priority is digging deeper into Rogers' character to make him a different hero the next time the Avengers assemble, everybody wins. It's also the strategy Joss Whedon has planned for taking The Avengers 2 to new heights, so the writers are in good company.
We'll see how the Captain stands on his own when Captain America: The Winter Soldier is released on April 4, 2014.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.