This a movie that’s been out for more than a week now, so any kind of review I would have is way late. I don’t care.
Because this isn’t so much a review of Black Widow as it’s a collection of thoughts I’ve been having about the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general following the events of Black Widow. Therefore this post will be full of unapologetic spoilers for Black Widow and the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe as I work through a few theories that I’ve had cooking in my head since seeing this movie last weekend. Okay? That’s your spoiler warning. Do you need another one?
Don’t you dare say I didn’t warn you.
All right… Most of what I have to say doesn’t even really have anything to do with Black Widow or the title character. No, I want to focus on her adoptive father, Alexei, AKA the Red Guardian, played by David Harbour. When we are reintroduced to him in modern times, he is being held in prison. He spins tales of his days as the costumed warrior Red Guardian while showing off his super-soldier strength by taking down all arm wrestling challengers.
At one point, a rather large fellow steps in and challenges not only his strength, but the validity of his stories as well. Because Alexei is bragging about the time he went toe to toe with one Captain America. Red Guardian considered Captain America not necessarily an arch-nemesis or a rival, but an equal on the global stage. And why wouldn’t the two of them throw down? Captain America is a great symbol of democracy while Red Guardian is a product of communist science and ingenuity.
But this large prisoner who challenges Alexei dares to ask when this great fight against Captain America happened. Alexei is unsure of the specifics but is certain it must have happened in 1983 or ’84… somewhere around there. Then Alexei’s opponent drops some knowledge that we, the audience, are well aware of: Cap was still frozen in the mid-1980s. In fact, the popsicle formerly known as Steve Rogers wasn’t discovered until the events of Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011.
Of course, Alexei doesn’t take too kindly to the implication that he is making his story up and his arm wrestling opponent receives a broken wrist in return for his truth bomb.
It doesn’t bother me that Alexei would make up stories about his glory days. Nothing wrong with an old soldier exaggerating a bit when talking about his exploits, right? That’s just what an old war dog might do.
Later, however, when Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena (Florence Pugh) team up to break Alexei out of prison, Alexei is desperate to know if Captain America ever mentioned him. He asks Natasha because, as Black Widow she is an Avenger and has fought side-by-side with Captain America and would certainly know if Cap ever talked about that time he went up against the great Red Guardian. Of course Steve never would have said anything to Nat about fighting her adoptive father back in the day because she knows, as do we all, that he was still on ice until 2011.
It’s Alexei’s insistence that he fought Captain America that gets me. It’s one thing for him to make up stories while bragging to the prison population. But to keep up the charade when discussing it with someone who considers Captain America to be a close part of a surrogate family? That would be pushing it.
Unless he actually believed that he fought Captain America in the mid-80s.
So my question is… What if he did?
At the end of Avengers: Endgame, we discover that Steve Rogers went back in time and lived a long life with Peggy Carter. He was tasked with returning the Infinity Stones to the times and locations that the Avengers initially found them during their time heist and then just didn’t come back. Until Sam Wilson finds Old Man Cap sitting by the lake, ready to pass on the mantle of Captain America.
Look, I know that the directors of Endgame, the Russo Brothers, have stated that Steve’s life with Peggy must have occurred in an alternate timeline and that when he returns to the lake as an old man, he must have jumped over from that alternate timeline. And based on the loosely defined rules set up by this very movie, that almost makes sense.
However, we have since had a little TV series called Loki which specifically deals with the idea of time travel and alternate timelines. Early on in the first season of that show, it is made clear that the Time Variance Authority takes care of alternate timelines by basically destroying them, leaving us with what they call the Sacred Timeline. This is the reality of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of course, Loki, who is captured and considered a “variant” to the Sacred Timeline argues that it was the Avengers who messed around with time travel in the first place and should also be “pruned” from the Sacred Timeline. But it’s revealed that what the Avengers did in Endgame was meant to happen.
Armed with that knowledge, I would argue that Steve Rogers’ return to the love of his life in the 1940s was also meant to be. And it would not have been an alternate timeline because the TVA would have pruned it from existence and we would not have encountered Old Man Steve by the lake.
Therefore, and maybe this will just be my personal head canon, I believe that Steve Rogers lived out his days with Peggy Carter in secret in the background of the MCU. But a man like Steve Rogers, with his moral compass and abilities would not necessarily allow himself to be sidelined forever. A guy like that would want to continue doing what he could to make a difference in the world.
Now, this is also a man armed with knowledge of American and world history. He had plenty of studying to do in order to catch up once he woke up in the 21st century. So why wouldn’t Captain America stop the Kennedy assassination? Why wouldn’t he shut down the Winter Soldier project and save his best friend years before the deaths of Tony Stark’s parents? Why wouldn’t he try to stop 9/11 from happening?
I could take the Doctor Who explanation and go with the idea that certain events are fixed points on the timeline. They cannot be changed. And I am of the belief that, in our real world, if time travel were possible, one would not be able to alter history because it has already happened. If anything, the history you are trying to change would only be more likely to happen the way it did in spite of your interference.
Maybe Steve did attempt to covertly interfere in tragic events throughout American history. After all, his wife was a founding member of SHIELD. Maybe he did try to prevent JFK’s assassination in 1963 but found that he was unable to alter history on that kind of scale. Maybe he also tried to prevent 9/11 from happening, but by 2001 Steve was an old man. Would the government pay attention to an old man? Even if his wife had been a founding member of SHIELD?
Here’s the big one that brings us back to Black Widow. What if Steve did what he could to track down the Winter Soldier project in Soviet Russia? What if all that searching eventually led him to Russia in 1983 or ’84? What if his search brought him toe to toe with one Red Guardian who managed to prevent Captain America from bringing down the Winter Soldiers and saving Bucky Barnes?
Any and all missions that Captain America found himself participating in would have had to have been completely off the books at SHIELD. Nothing he did could be known or discovered by his younger self in 2011.
No offense to the Russo Brothers and their alternate timeline theory, but I think Steve Rogers was there the whole time. He was living in secret, growing old with the love of his life, and quietly making the world safe for democracy.
What do you think? If you’re familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe from Iron Man to Black Widow and everything in between, what’s your take? Let me know down in the comments!