Joss Whedon Rewrote Captain America For Avengers 1 & 2
Contrast to Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger, Joss Whedon's version of the character in The Avengers - which he wrote and directed - is a boy scout who butts heads with Tony Stark aka. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). Some of this comes from Steve's faith in S.H.I.E.L.D. and, by extension the U.S. government, which is true to the character as established in The First Avenger. Steve hasn't yet been forced to face the truth of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s corruption and so he trusts Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Then Steve and Tony butt heads again in Avengers: Age of Ultron over Tony's desire to protect Earth with Ultron, seeing it as a preventative measure similarly problematic to Fury's Project Insight. But while the basic points of Steve's character are the same, Whedon changes certain aspects of Captain America's characterization for both Avengers movies.
Though Whedon did some script work on The First Avenger, there's a notable change in Steve's tone from his first solo film to The Avengers, then again from The Winter Soldier to Age of Ultron. Whedon's characterization of Steve emphasizes the man out of time nature to his character in the Avengers movies. Steve was born in the 1910s, grew up in the 1920s/1930s and went into the ice in the 1940s, then wakes up in 2011. In The Avengers, he wears clothes more reminiscent of the 40s, and calls Natasha Romanoff aka. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) "ma'am" on more than one occasion. To be clear, no other character in the The Avengers refers to a female character as "ma'am," and Cap only uses the term of respect once in The First Avenger, directed at Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) - in a scene that may have been rewritten by Whedon. In all other instances in The First Avenger, he refers to Peggy by her title, Agent Carter. While it's a small change in Cap's character, it gives him more of an old-fashioned tone in The Avengers.
That tone carries into Age of Ultron, particularly in Whedon's "Language" bit. Despite having lived in the modern era for a few years at that point, Steve warns Tony away from using the word "shit" in the opening sequence of Age of Ultron, and the other characters refuse to let it go, teasing Steve about it throughout the rest of the film. It's another instance of Whedon using Steve being a man out of time to comedic effect, carrying that theme over from The Avengers, but it doesn't account for the character growth Steve saw in The Winter Soldier. Essentially, Whedon's Captain America can be boiled down to two character beats: a man out of time and a hero who believes in "truth, justice and the American way." But, that's not who the MCU's Captain America actually is.
Why Whedon’s Interpretation Of Captain America Is Wrong
Captain America, as introduced in the MCU and developed through his solo movies, is a much more complex character than Whedon's interpretation. Whedon's characterization simplifies or outright changes Steve's core beliefs to deliver punchlines or create tension among the Avengers team, particularly in Steve's conflict with Tony. Steve is a man that grew up likely as an Irish Catholic (though that's not confirmed in the MCU) in 30s/40s Brooklyn and went to war, where he spent time fighting Nazis alongside fellow soldiers, but Whedon ignores that background in order to portray Steve as an uptight, god-fearing idealized man from the 40s. Whedon conflates Steve being a "good man from the 40s" with Steve using overly formal language, being religious to the point of refusing to accept the reality of gods like Thor and Loki, and reprimanding Tony about swearing. But that's an overly simplistic view of Captain America that erases everything about him that makes him so interesting.
This is never more obvious than at the end of Age of Ultron when Steve is giving one of his trademark speeches, and it's a stark contrast to the one he delivers in The Winter Soldier. In his second solo movie, Cap says, "The price of freedom is high," and refers gravely to S.H.I.E.L.D. agents potentially giving their lives to win the organization's freedom from Hydra's grasp. In Age of Ultron, Cap tries to rally his teammates by saying, in part, "If you get killed, walk it off." The line is delivered as a punchline, one Whedon no doubt included to bring some levity to the moment, but it flouts Steve's belief in the preciousness of life. Dying in battle is the highest price someone can pay. Steve Rogers wouldn't joke about it.
But therein lies the problem with Whedon's Captain America: it uses Steve's beliefs and ideals, and the era from which they come, to deliver punchlines, but to the detriment of the already established character. Whedon tends to write characters with snarky, quippy banter - it's one of the aspects of his writing that won him a massive fan-following. While that works for certain Avengers characters like Iron Man, Hawkeye and, to an extent, Black Widow, it doesn't necessarily fit Captain America. Steve isn't an overly serious character who never cracks a joke, but he's also not the type to blithely quip about his friends dying - particularly after losing his best friend in battle. Whedon ignores the aspects of Captain America that don't fit his particular style and tone of writing, rewriting Steve to fit his own sense of humor.
Ultimately, Whedon's tweaks to the characterization of Steve Rogers have a snowball effect to the point where the character comes off less like a three-dimensional person and more like an idea. Whedon's Captain America is "truth, justice and the American way" personified when the actual truth of Steve Rogers is more complex. He's a normal man with a good heart who was chosen to become a superhero because of his ideals - but that doesn't mean all he is is his ideals. He's faced loss and hardship, shouldered responsibility others would crumble under, and still stands strong in his beliefs. He's a good man in a way that isn't relegated to his original time, but transcends the era in which he was born. In Whedon's Avengers movies, these aspects of Captain America's character are fodder for jokes, not the foundation upon which the character is built. It emphasizes a lack of awareness on Whedon's part about what makes Steve Rogers a superhero and proves he never truly understood Captain America.
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019