For a time, Steve Rogers was labeled as a war criminal but in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, Captain America’s image has been completely rehabbed.
Warning: SPOILERS for The Falcon and The Winter Soldier Episode 2 – “The Star-Spangled Man”
Captain America is beloved again in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and this has to do with the legacy of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and how much the world has changed since Avengers: Endgame. Set six months after the Blip returned billions of lives back to life, including Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), The Falcon and The Winter Soldier also introduces a new Captain America in John Walker (Wyatt Russell). In fact, it seems Captain America is as popular as ever, in spite of Steve Rogers’ war crimes.
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The idea that Steve Rogers was a “war criminal” was a result of his not signing the Sokovia Accords in Captain America: Civil War and then becoming a fugitive. Rogers did this to prove the innocence of Bucky after the Winter Soldier was framed by Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) for bombing the United Nations in Vienna, which killed King T’Chaka (John Kani) of Wakanda. It was Peter Parker’s gym teacher in Spider-Man: Homecoming who hilariously called Captain America a “war criminal”, indicating that people did believe the UN’s position that Captain America had turned on the law. Rogers and several of the Avengers, including the Falcon, did live as international fugitives for two years. But regardless of how the UN labeled Cap and his Secret Avengers, they were still heroes, which they proved when they rose to Earth’s defense against the Children of Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Avengers: Infinity War.
In The Falcon and The Winter Soldier‘s 2023 timeframe, John Walker has been welcomed by the public as the new Captain America. Walker’s rising star is the product of a massive public relations campaign by the U.S. Government. This includes copious merchandising like T-shirts, posters, action figures, and a guest appearance on Good Morning America held at John’s alma mater, Custer’s Grove High School in Georgia, for maximum public appeal. Obviously, it’s working and John Walker’s inheriting Captain America’s shield and legacy has been accepted by the general public. This is despite the valid reservations and objections from those who were actually close to Steve Rogers, like Sam and Bucky. It especially rankles Falcon and Winter Soldier since Steve passed the shield to Sam, who instead surrendered it to the Smithsonian. Now, John Walker carries the star-spangled Vibranium shield.
John Walker is able to ride Steve Rogers’ coattails as Captain America because the world underwent a seismic change in the five years after Thanos’ Snap wiped out half of all life in the universe. Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), who survived the Snap, were apparently absolved of their violations of the Sokovia Accords and kept the Avengers together during that dark time. But while Natasha took over leadership of the Avengers, Steve reached out to the public and he held meetings to help regular people cope with the tragedy of the Snap. Of course, the world saw Steve Rogers as Captain America lead the greatest assemblage of Avengers ever defeat Thanos once and for all, which cemented Steve’s legacy as the hero Captain America.
Captain America remains a symbol of hope that’s too important to remain dormant, despite Steve Rogers’ aging as a result of time travel and his possible death. Now that the billions who vanished returned via the Blip, the world is even more broken and chaotic. “Captain America” has shifted beyond Steve Rogers and has become (or is being positioned by the U.S. Government to be) a homegrown American hero wrapped in the flag that people are meant to believe in again. Part of this entailed Steve Rogers’ image being rehabbed and scrubbed of his label as a “war criminal”. Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, needs to be squeaky-clean as a hero again, and John Walker was also presented as an All-American good guy worthy of inheriting Cap’s legacy and shield. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier shows that the public relations blitz is working and the public has accepted the new Captain America.
Next: How The New Captain America’s Costume Is Different From Steve Rogers’
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