Captain America has faced some of the biggest villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and took away specific lessons from each of them – but he also learned from his friends in the Avengers who he ended up on opposite sides of. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) debuted in Captain America: The First Avenger and he went on to headline two more Captain America films and star in all four Avengers movies. Cap also had fun cameos in Thor: The Dark World and Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Even before Steve Rogers was transformed by the Super Soldier Serum in 1943, he was the moral center of the MCU. Rogers was a sickly young man who nonetheless insisted on fighting in World War II because the Allied cause was just. Steve’s innate goodness won over Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who picked Rogers to receive the Super Soldier Serum, and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Steve’s eternal love. Captain America distinguished himself fighting Hydra during WWII but he was lost in the Arctic Ice while stopping the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). Believed dead for almost 70 years, Rogers was found in suspended animation and revived by SHIELD just in time to join the Avengers Initiative and save the world from an alien invasion.
As Rogers tried to acclimate in the 21st century, he served as an Agent of SHIELD before the global spy agency was revealed to be a front for Hydra, which employed his brainwashed, lifelong friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) as the Winter Soldier. After Captain America helped bring SHIELD down, he led the Avengers against Ultron and saved the Eastern European nation of Sokovia. Rogers remained as leader of a new lineup of the Avengers until an accident caused by Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) in Lagos led to the United Nations implementing the Sokovia Accords. Steve refused to sign the Accords and became a fugitive in order to track down Bucky Barnes, who was framed for the murder of Wakanda’s King T’Chaka (John Kani). Half of the Avengers followed Captain America to become outcasts from the law, but they returned to fight the invasion of Thanos (Josh Brolin) and the Black Order, who were collecting the Infinity Stones. The Avengers failed to stop Thanos from wiping out half of all life in the universe, and Captain America had to live with this defeat for the next five years.
In Avengers: Endgame, Steve backed a plan initiated by Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to use the Quantum Realm to perform time heists of the Infinity Stones in the past. The Avengers were successful and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) returned everyone Thanos killed with the Infinity Gauntlet before the heroes faced Thanos one final time, with Captain America leading a massive assemblage of heroes to defeat the aliens. After the Avengers’ victory, Steve time back through time to return the Infinity Stones to their original points of origin and he decided to return to 1945 to live the life with Peggy Carter he was denied. The last time fans saw Steve Rogers, he was an old man passing Captain America’s shield to Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). Rumors persist that Chris Evans will return to the MCU as Captain America in the future, and if he does, the star-spangled hero will be wiser from all of the lessons he learned from facing the MCU’s greatest villains.
Steve Rogers doesn’t like bullies and, in World War II, there was no greater bully than Johann Schmidt AKARed Skull, who wanted the Tesseract in order to create Hydra’s new world order. The Red Skull was well-aware of who Captain America was even before they came face-to-face at his Austrian Hydra base in 1943 because the Skull “enjoyed” the propaganda films Captain America starred in for the USO.
In the Red Skull, who was the twisted product of a flawed version of the Super Soldier Serum, Captain America met the evilest version of what he could become, and Steve also learned that he would do whatever it takes to keep an evil man like Johann Schmidt from achieving his dreams of conquest – and that included Rogers willingly sacrificing his own life to save the world.
Soon after Steve Rogers was brought out of suspended animation in the 21st century, he faced Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who tried to conquer the world with an army of alien Chitauri. For Captain America, facing Loki must have been deja vu to battling the Red Skull because he was another madman who wanted to subjugate the planet to fulfill his own egotistical needs. Cap even said as much when he confronted Loki for the first time: “You know, the last time I was in Germany and saw a man standing above everyone else, we ended up disagreeing.”
Captain America and Loki didn’t really face each other again until the God of Mischief was captured by the Avengers but the lesson Steve learned was clear: the world needed heroes like him and the Avengers more than ever. Despite being a man out of time, Rogers saw his purpose was to continue to fight against men like Loki and the Red Skull in the 21st century.
When Steve Rogers realized that his best friend Bucky Barnes was the Winter Soldier, he was single-minded in trying to save Bucky, and he ultimately succeeded in breaking the decades of brainwashing Hydra subjected Barnes to. His friendship with Bucky mattered more than anything to Steve, and he and Sam Wilson continued the hunt to find and help Bucky after he disappeared at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
But the real villains of the film were Hydra and their leader Secretary Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford). Throughout The Winter Soldier, Captain America questioned the high price for global security SHIELD was willing to pay and his instincts proved correct when Hydra’s hostile takeover of SHIELD happened and the true purpose of the Project Insight Helicarriers was revealed. From facing Pierce and Hydra, Rogers learned to distrust government agendas and put his faith in people, and that included Bucky Barnes, who he wanted to redeem.
Ultron (James Spader) was a major threat and the android planned to crash Sokovia into the Earth to create an extinction-level event that would wipe out organic life so he could replace people with machines like himself. Captain America battled Ultron in South Korea and he faced a legion of Ultrons alongside the Avengers in Sokovia. But Rogers didn’t learn much from Ultron, who was focused on his hatred of his “father” Tony Stark, and instead, the war against Ultron only enhanced Cap’s skills as the leader of the Avengers. Rogers’ difference of opinion with Stark did flare up at Clint Barton’s (Jeremy Renner) family farm and that was a harbinger of things to come.
Instead, Steve learned from the vision Wanda Maximoff showed him. Wanda and her brother Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) were in league with Ultron before they betrayed him and switched sides to the Avengers. But before their change of heart, Wanda used her powers to probe the Avengers’ minds, and Steve flashed back to World War II and the dance with Peggy Carter he promised her but never delivered. It was a glimpse of Steve’s secret desires; something Rogers would never forget and would act upon to fulfill years later in Avengers: Endgame.
In Lagos, Captain America faced Brock Rumlow AKA Crossbones (Frank Grillo), who taunted him about Bucky before his death. The main villain of Captain America: Civil War was Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), a Sokovian national who enacted an elaborate plot to destroy the Avengers by framing the Winter Soldier for assassinating the king of Wakanda. However, Steve Rogers only fleetingly confronted Zemo during Captain America: Civil War, and he learned Zemo’s intention to see “an empire fall”.
Despite Zemo’s villainy, Captain America’s true opposition in Civil War was Iron Man, although Zemo’s machinations are what put them at odds. At the HYDRA Siberian Facility, Zemo revealed to Stark that the Winter Soldier murdered his parents – a fact that Steve Rogers was already aware of, and Cap still chose to protect Bucky and fight Iron Man, which broke the Avengers apart for the next two years. But in his conflict with Tony, Steve learned he was wrong to keep the truth about his parents’ murder from Stark. Despite now being a fugitive from the Sokovia Accords, Steve sent Tony a pager and a letter apologizing and promising he would be there for him if Iron Man called.
Against Thanos, Captain America was forced to swallow the most bitter pill: learning to deal with losing. Despite the Avengers assembling with Black Panther’s (Chadwick Boseman) army in Wakanda and defeating the Black Order, the heroes still lost against Thanos himself, who killed Vision (Paul Bettany), took the Mind Stone to complete the Infinity Gauntlet, and killed half of all life in the universe at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. When Avengers: Endgame began, the Avengers were too late when they found Thanos at his hideout, the Garden, and the Mad Titan destroyed the Infinity Stones. Steve lost again and he would have to learn to live with it – but he couldn’t.
For the next five years, Steve Rogers counseled people to move on from the tragedy of Thanos’ snap, but he knew he couldn’t. This is why Cap threw himself into the time heist plan and was intent on it working. But it was during a side trip to Camp Lehigh in 1970 – the place the younger Steve Rogers learned to become a soldier – that Steve glimpsed Peggy Carter and he remembered what his heart’s desire truly is. Captain America led the all-out assault to defeat Thanos and he mourned Tony Stark’s death after they saved the world. However, Steve reassessed his life and decided that he had given enough to fight evil beings like Thanos. After a lifetime of self-sacrifice, Steve Rogers gave up being Captain America and learned that what he needed most was to live a happy life with Peggy for himself.