By George Grotheer
Marvel Studios is expanding their cinematic universe in the franchise’s fourth phase — introducing new heroes like the Eternals and providing some new adventures for MCU veterans. One key aspect of 2019’s Avengers: Endgame that has left fans wanting more is the manner in which Steve Rogers returned the Infinity Stones, showing up as an old man — seemingly retired from hero work.
If the higher-ups over at Disney were to consider giving Captain America a fourth film, in which he returns the Stones, here are a few things that they might consider:
10. Worst: Another run-in with his past self.
Seeing the Steve Rogers of 2023 fight hand-to-hand with his 2012 counterpart was one of the highlights of Endgame, but there are only so many directions you can go with a face-to-face meeting. The sequence worked because 2012 Cap thought his opponent was Loki in disguise — that belief amplified by the accidental escape of the God of Mischief. Putting Steve in another confrontation with his past self would further skew the many alternate timelines of the MCU and could take away from the journey to return all six stones.
9. Best: Facing off with Peter Quill.
When last we saw 2014 Star Lord, he had just taken War Machine armor to the head in his Redbone-fueled dance to the Power Stone. When he enters the Quantum Realm at the end of Endgame, Steve is instructed by Professor Hulk to “clip all the branches,” by returning stones to the exact moment they are taken. As Rhodey departs for the future with the Power Stone and Nebula is abducted by 2014 Thanos, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Quill to have regained consciousness — and how fun would it be to see the fun-loving Star Lord at the start of his adventure run into a Captain America who had just finished his own?
8. Worst: Explaining to Jane Foster why he must inject her with the Aether.
Thor: The Dark World is, admittedly, one of the more forgettable Marvel films of the last 15 years, but its plot plays a key role in the events of Endgame, when Thor reaches closure with his mother — and, more importantly, Rocket extracts the Reality Stone from Jane Foster. Putting Chris Evans and Natalie Portman in a scene together would be great cinema… but figuring out a way to get Jane to accept the “angry sludge” back into her system would not.
7. Best: A trip to the Soul World.
The concept of the Soul World is tricky in the MCU, with Thanos seeing a young Gamora after his Infinity War snap, Tony Stark meeting an older version of his daughter Morgan in an Endgame deleted scene, and Bruce Banner interacting face-to-face with the Hulk in a reported Endgame concept. The twist here? Instead of finding Natasha Romanoff, 1940s Peggy Carter, or the scrawny, pre-serum version of himself, he meets the 2018 version of Gamora, killed by Thanos in his quest for the Soul Stone. It would make for one of the more fascinating interactions between two characters the MCU has put on screen and could create an interesting dynamic should there be a way to return Gamora from the Soul World.
6. Worst: Using Pym Particles to visit or free Hydra-enhanced Bucky.
While it is hard to believe Steve Rogers, the righteous, do-what’s-right hero, would deviate from the course of a mission, audiences have seen in the first three Captain America films what Bucky Barnes means to our Cap. It would create a tense conflict to add this to a film, to have Steve find Bucky in Siberia, but ultimately it takes away from the idea of eliminating alternate timelines. “Why doesn’t he warn people about 9/11? Or the Chitauri attack on New York?” Steve knows history must play out exactly as it did to succeed in his mission — attempting to free Bucky would be a selfish move on the part of a selfless man.
5. Best: Meeting the Ancient One.
One of the best cameos in Endgame was Tilda Swinton’s brief appearance as the Ancient One, discussing the idea of alternate timelines and the Infinity Stones with Bruce Banner. As Cap needs to return all six stones, a conversation with the Ancient One about whether the Avengers had succeeded in their mission to defeat Thanos would be the perfect, low-stakes way of returning the Time Stone.
4. Worst: Bringing back Natasha Romanoff.
In the same way that the theory that Tony Stark was actually a Skrull in Endgame is a “cop-out” (for lack of a better phrase) theory (or that the Avengers can use their original time travel device to de-age the elderly Steve Rogers), bringing back Natasha Romanoff from the dead would be a “cop-out” move on the part of the filmmakers. The simple explanation here is that it entirely removes the weight of her death in Endgame. She died a hero’s death and bringing her back in exchange for the Soul Stone takes away the gravity of the situation that led to her demise.
3. Best: Finding Peggy Carter.
After we see Steve Rogers pass the Captain America mantle to Sam Wilson, the film shows an epilogue where Steve and Peggy Carter, his “best girl” from The First Avenger finally share a dance. Right before Steve dives into the ice to prevent mass casualties, he and Peggy agree on a “rain check” for their planned dance. The best way a fourth Cap film could end is with Steve showing up at their agreed meeting time to see Peggy waiting for him.
2. Worst: Arriving at the wrong time.
Sure, it is an intriguing concept, to see what the Ancient One meant when she said “our world would be overrun” if the stones were removed from different timelines. However, the entire second act of Endgame did not once feature an Avenger arriving at the “wrong time,” they all arrived in 2012, ’13, or ’14 exactly when they aimed to do so. Putting Steve Rogers in 2012 New York an hour after Hulk left with the time stone would not add much to this film. Also, the Infinity Stones were destroyed by Thanos at the beginning of Endgame, and existence seemed to go on normally (all things considered) for the next five years for the surviving 50% of the universe.
1. Best: A final confrontation with Red Skull.
The “big bad” of 2011’s The First Avenger, presumed by Steve Rogers to be dead before he dives into the ice, did not die. We have seen him on Vormir in Infinity War and Endgame as the guardian of the Soul Stone. Still, he originated in this universe as an adversary to Captain America, and if Cap is the one returning all six stones, wouldn’t he have to meet Red Skull on Vormir as he returned the Soul Stone to its original timeline in 2014? Giving Steve a final meeting with the villain who started his journey would be the perfect way to conclude the arc of a fan favorite.
George Grotheer is a contributor to 641. and a frequent guest analyst on OBP: On Base Podcast.