Iron Man, Captain America and Thor are the Holy Trinity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Debuting in 2008 with Iron Man, over a decade later the MCU is composed of twenty three, with the next entry Black Widow, planned to kick off Phase 4 in November 2020. But out of the dozens of characters we’ve seen, only Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor have received solo trilogies, with the trials and tribulations of Steve Rogers standing tall as the finest of them all.
This is because, while the Iron Man and Thor trilogies falter in their middle films, the Captain America movies only grow stronger. The Iron Man trilogy has received harsh criticism for repeating the same formula of “a character betrayed by Tony Stark seeks revenge”, with Obadiah Stane in Iron Man, Ivan Vanko and Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2, and Aldrich Killian in Iron Man 3. This left audiences with the same experience over and over again, making the trilogy feel stale and uninspired. With Thor, he does learn a lesson in his first movie, to stop acting like a petulant child and to be the king that he is destined to become, but in the second movie he’s reduced to nothing more than a vehicle to carry Jane Foster through the plot. while Thor’s character is effectively rebooted in Thor: Ragnarok, there’s so much comedy that it’s impossible to feel any dramatic tension.
Compared to the Iron Man and Thor trilogies, there’s no weak film in the Captain America trilogy. Yes, Captain America: The First Avenger is far from the MCU’s greatest instalment, but it’s a solid introduction to the character, and was necessary to open the door to a film that has been Marvel’s greatest experimentation of tone and style to date. Of course, I mean Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a dark spy thriller which diverged heavily from Marvel’s already tried and tested lighthearted action adventures, and while Captain America: Civil War has been criticized for just feeling like Avengers 2.5, the focus never loses sight of Steve Rogers and his quest to save his oldest friend Bucky Barnes, a decision which has lasting consequences all the way to Avengers: Endgame.
Speaking of which, Captain America’s character arc is the greatest in the MCU. The First Avenger introduced Steve Rogers as a man weak of body but strong in fortitude and purity who was transformed into a paragon of human perfection yet remained, at his core, a good man. Steve was torn out of his own time and his hopes for a life with Peggy into the present day where he was a fish out of water fighting aliens as the ideal of “Captain America”. The Winter Soldier forced Steve to confront the reality that he could no longer trust his own government, and that morality was no longer as black and white as it was in World War II. Civil War put him as the head of the Avengers family, and forced him to stand by his personal convictions even when they were breaking that very family apart, and Avengers: Endgame had him lifting Mjolnir, finally proving to Tony Stark that his comment “Everything special about you came out of a bottle” was wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, Tony’s character arc is a very, very close second, that of a selfish, egotistical, apathetic billionaire who learns to take responsibility for his actions and eventually allows himself to die for the fate of the Universe (incidentally, also proving Steve’s comment “You’re not the guy to make the sacrifice play” wrong), but Steve Rogers was truly tested, making the fans completely empathize with him when he finally decides to stop fighting and go back in time to live a full life with Peggy Carter.