Nathan is a film critic and aspiring author with a true passion for the film industry who hopes his writings will help launch his career.
Prologue: The Two Captains
Steve Rogers is widely known in the Marvel fan community as the first, the original, Captain America. Steve was a scrawny kid from Brooklyn who was desperate to join the Army in order to make a difference. "Men are laying down their lives. I got no right to do any less than them." Steve tells Bucky, his best friend. From the start, it's obvious that Steve has heart and a sense of duty. Dr. Erskine chose Steve for the Super Soldier Project for this very reason. The serum magnified the good in Steve, making him the most incorruptible character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
John Walker is a patriot through and through. While we haven't been told much about his backstory thus far in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it is said in the comics that he was a soldier who tried to live up to the legend that his brother was. John is everything that the government wants: a good soldier who follows orders and does whatever he's told without asking questions. John eventually did get ahold of the Super Soldier serum, but what was magnified was his power and his rage.
The question many fans are asking is - who is actually the better Captain America? Are you Team Steve, the soldier who does what he feels his right rather than what he's told to do? Are you Team John, the soldier who does what he's told regardless of how he feels about the situation?
These characters both deserve a deep dive, so let's get started. First, let's look at their individual personalities pre-serum. Steve was a scrawny kid with every health problem in the book. That didn't stop him from applying to join the Army several times. He felt he had a duty to serve. He didn't want to be on the sidelines while other people were laying down their lives. Steve also didn't care how big bullies were, he faced them head-on. Once, while in a theater, someone was disrespecting the military. Steve told him to shut up and defended his principles even though it meant being beat up and left in an alley. Had his buddy Bucky not shown up, Steve could have been seriously injured. He didn't care. He followed his heart and stood up for his beliefs. Steve was also selfless. During basic training, he jumped on a grenade to protect others from harm. It was a dummy grenade, of course, but he thought it was a threat and didn't think twice before laying his life on the line for his troop.
John Walker had always had pressure put on him, whether it be from his family or himself. His brother was a helicopter pilot who was killed in action. John enlisted in the military, wanting to live up to his brother's legacy. John never became the hero his brother was, so when the government gave him the chance to take on the mantle of Captain America, he jumped at the chance. Why him over everyone else, we still don't know yet, as this is the point where the comics and the MCU start to differ. However, we were shown that John trained to the point where he had surpassed others, becoming the image of Captain America that the government wanted to sell to the people. However, John wasn't given the serum like Steve was. John stole it off a Flag-Smasher terrorist and took it himself without approval or proper evaluation. John was also extremely self-centered. He used his status as Captain America to get Bucky released from custody. John didn't take into consideration that Bucky violated his court agreement, nor did he consider working with Sam. John saw Steve's best friend who was a Super Soldier and used him to his own means.
Big takeaways - Pre-Serum, Steve couldn't run much less win a fight. John was already the ultimate soldier, taking on the Flag-Smashers and holding his own pretty well, considering they had used the serum and John hadn't. Steve had a lot of heart, a sense of duty, and a sense of morality. John was selfish, borderline narcissistic, desperate to prove himself.
Big questions moving forward: Did John even care about casualties and people in harm's way or did he just care about the name and image he was making for himself? Did Steve have something to prove, was he selfish, or was he the big-hearted hero we all believe he was?
Dr. Erskine told Steve, "The serum amplifies everything that's inside, so good becomes great. Bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen. Because a strong man who has known power all his life will lose respect for that power, but a weak man knows the value of strength and knows compassion."
So let's look at some of the times when Steve was questionable at best. In Captain America: Civil War, Steve and Spider-Man were duking it out. Steve overpowers Spidey and throws his shield into the gangway leg, causing the gangway to fall. Spider-Man catches it with his super-strength. Okay, stop right here. As far as we know, Steve has no idea who Spider-Man is or what kind of powers he has, if any. For all he knows, he's just a kid in spandex. But Steve drops a gangway on him? Would he have cared if Peter had died? In this whole film, Steve lets his loyalty to Bucky cloud his judgment. He wants to prove his friend is innocent, sure, we all would want the same if it were our friend in the crosshairs. But as the film progresses, Steve makes one bad decision after another, convinced that he's doing the right thing and everyone else is wrong. There is such a thing as making bad choices for the right reasons. Steve's view was askew. Honestly, everyone's was. But for Steve to throw everyone else under the bus for his old friend is crossing the line. In his defense, he did try to explain himself at the airport and he did try multiple times to make the others understand. But he adapted the "if you're not with me, you're against me" mentality quickly and was ready to do what was necessary to protect Bucky. He did serve his time for his mistakes, however, going on the run for two years until the Thanos crisis.
Also in Civil War, after Tony finds out Steve knew for two years that Tony's parents had been murdered, the two face off. Tony initially goes after Bucky but Steve tries again and again to stop Tony because Bucky had been brainwashed under HYDRA control and he couldn't control what he was doing. Once Bucky's down, Steve and Tony go head to head. Steve eventually overpowers Tony and raises his shield for the final blow, but he smashed the arc reactor, disabling the Iron Man suit rather than going for the head. Despite their disagreements, Steve had enough loyalty and respect and compassion for Tony that he didn't go for the kill.
I could go on for days talking about the MCU but let's use those two examples and compare to John Walker.
John is openly okay with using weapons. He fired shots at the Flag-Smashers during their first showdown, Yes, he did use the shield as his primary weapon, but he obviously showed he had no problem killing if he had to. John also wasn't concerned with collateral damage. He nearly hit Bucky and Sam with the shield multiple times during battle. He didn't wait for them to move, he just threw the shield and hoped he hit something. John was so preoccupied with status and title that damage control was lost on him.
In episode 4 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, John's need to be in control led to his partner's death. In retaliation, John used the shield to kill one of the Flag-Smashers. He didn't even kill the one responsible for his partner's death. He just grabbed the one he caught first.
With all that in mind, let's look at the top three differences between Steve and John. Firstly, Steve used a gun during war-time only. He did technically use a gun during the helicarrier hijack scene in Avengers, but, if you look closely, he was firing around the invaders, trying to keep them away long enough for Tony to fix the engine. He wasn't actively shooting to kill. John was wearing a gun-in-holster when he was introduced as the new Captain America and he used a gun against the Flag-Smashers with intent to wound, not necessarily kill.
Secondly, Steve has always been precise when attacking with the shield. He threw it at his target and hit his target. John is not precise. He throws it without really aiming and has nearly hit Bucky and Sam both multiple times.
Thirdly, a good 98% of the time, Steve puts others before himself. He's ready and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and lay down his life for everyone else. John is a trained soldier, so, maybe he'd make that choice too but his actions don't really portray that. He's always wanted to be number one, the baddest and the best, and a living legend. He wants to be a hero. Steve doesn't care if people see him as a hero. He just wants to help. John, it seems, only wants to help himself in the long run.
Fourthly, Steve gave Wanda and Pietro chance after chance to switch alliances, to see that Ultron was ultimately out for destruction and was only using them as a means to an end. Even after the accident in Lagos, Steve blamed himself instead of blaming Wanda. Time and time again, Steve defends the people he cares about and feels compassion for them. John, on the other hand, didn't care one bit about hearing Karli's side of the story. He didn't care what she had lost, how much she had suffered. John was told to capture or kill and that's what he was dead-set on doing. Only Sam and Bucky were willing to hear Karli out.
Finally, when Steve thought Bucky was dead, he finished the mission, went back to base, and formulated a plan of attack after the General finished questioning Zola. He was distraught, yes, but he still kept his wits long enough to figure out what the best course of action would be. John, on the other hand, completely lost it and raged out, killing the first Flag-Smasher he could catch, not even the one responsible.
To me, it's clear who the better Captain America is. John is a good soldier, follows orders, does whatever he has to do to get the job done regardless of the price. Steve, on the other hand, is a good man. He puts others before himself and is ready to lay his life down so that others can live. Both are highly trained, highly dangerous men. But only Steve knows true compassion.
© 2021 Nathan Jasper