I feel like Steve Rogers’ storyline is the most tragic of all the Avengers films. Because the other MCU storylines always end on a good note – the villain defeated, the guy gets the girl, the situation is under control – but both Captain America films had unhappy endings. The villain is never defeated, the hero never gets to go home, never gets the girl, and the situation is never under control. His movies just move from one upsetting situation to the next.
I’d even argue that there’s no way Steve’s last film can end well for him, because it’s just not in his cards– even if he wins the war. Because Steve is always contrasted against his superhero persona. I mean, look at his life:
He’s the son of Irish (possibly Catholic) immigrants, and was raised by a single mother. He faced extreme poverty and discrimination throughout his childhood. His mother died when he was an older teenager, leaving Steve without any family. He was barely getting by.
He also had many ailments/illnesses, including but not limited to: asthma, scoliosis, anemia, partial deafness, ulcers, heart palpitations, and a strong history of flus and fevers. Society considered Steve a burden – he would have been socially isolated and stigmatized throughout his life (when he wasn’t close to dying). From the flashbacks, it sounds like he had trouble finding work, dates, friends. Even the army wouldn’t accept him. tl;dr: Steve had a horrible adolescence.
Steve finally had a chance to be “useful” in all the ways he had dreamed of, only for those hopes to be dashed when Erskine died… because he created Steve. Steve gave his life to the government for them to experiment on, and the government still rejected him. And instead turned him into comedic propaganda.
Then Steve found out his best friend – literally the only friend he had – had been captured by HYDRA, and the Allied forces weren’t going to do anything. So Steve saved Bucky, effectively throwing himself into the middle of WWII.
The best time of Steve’s life was when he was a soldier in WWII. When he was fighting in enemy territory, living in a tent, risking his life every single day to help his country. The MCU touts this as the only ‘happy’ time in Steve’s storyline. Which says it all, really. I could stop there.
To make it more depressing, Bucky died because Steve let go of his hand (well, not really, but that’s what Steve believes). Steve was utterly alone and felt incredible guilt. He kept fighting, but only weeks later sacrificed his life to save the world. Like many, he died to end the war.
But unlike others, the government pulled Steve out of his ‘coffin’ and only days later (to Steve), threw him back into the fight against HYDRA – ultimately showing Steve that his greatest sacrifice was for nothing. Now Steve is even more isolated; everything he knows is gone, and even the concept of Captain America has spiralled out of his control. Just for further torment, the woman Steve loves is still alive but has dementia and doesn’t always remember him. He has nothing, life literally passed him by, but he continues to fight because he’s asked to.
But wait! Steve discovered that Bucky survived the fall (meaning Steve would have survived, too, had he gone after him. Ouch.) …except Bucky was captured by HYDRA, tortured for decades, and doesn’t know who he is anymore. And Steve can’t help him, can’t even find him.
Oh, and the entire system that Steve was fighting for for the past ~5 years? All a lie. He was literally killing for HYDRA. And the people that he thought of as friends/friendly? Also a lie, and had actively deceived him (minus Sam). But Steve was still willing to sacrifice his life, was willing to fight his best friend, in order to save the world and help SHIELD. Even though the world, and SHIELD, have done jack all for Steve Rogers.
And now, in Civil War, the very government that guided Steve’s actions and gave him his orders for decades is telling him that he’s a vigilante and needs to be controlled. And they’re trying to imprison Bucky, to eventually use him as a weapon for their side, instead of treating him like a person and the longest serving POW. Steve and Bucky have been used as puppets by governments for decades, and Steve’s only trying to save others from that fate.
Steve is barely 30 years old, still isolated, and attacked by the government that was supposed to protect and support him. Who’s also attacking the other victim in this charade. The few friends he has left are slowly turning against him, or don’t fully believe him, or are involved in this fight because of him. But Steve stands by his principles, even if it means death, because they’re all he’s ever had. He’s not going to budge now.
In conclusion: Nothing in Steve’s life has ever gone his way. Ever. What he does, he does to give others a better life. Never himself.
Steve’s plotlines are always messy, and sad, and can’t be put into a little box with a nice bow at the end of the film. Things can’t be made 100% okay and loose ends can’t always be tied up neatly. The fact that Whedon tried to box Steve into a stereotypical happy ending in AoU felt wrong and strange, because it just doesn’t fit Steve’s storyline: he has no home, little sense of belonging, and his friendships have always been very fragile and fleeting (yes, even with Bucky!). Steve has always just survived, moment to moment – he’s not dreaming of Big Happy Endings to make it through his bad days.
So I doubt Civil War will have a ‘Superhero’ ending for Steve, even if he wins. He’s not going to be best friends with Tony, compromise with the government, save Bucky and live a happy life. That’s just not how a Captain America film works. But I firmly believe that a good ending for a character doesn’t have to be “defeat the opponent, get the girl, and go home”. It just has to feel right.