One of the biggest creative decisions at the center of Marvel’s Phase 4 is Sam Wilson’s (Anthony Mackie) transition to the role of Captain America, and one of the character’s earliest stories proves why it’s a perfect choice. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) legacy is one that carries a lot of weight in the MCU, considering his mythic accomplishments as well as the mistakes that he made during his time as an Avenger, and Sam certainly has big shoes to fill in turn. Throughout his time as a hero, Sam has proved time and time again that he’s every bit as tenacious and selfless as the original Captain America, something that Steve recognized when he handed him the shield in the first place.
However, not everyone in the MCU shares Captain Rogers’ opinion. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will reportedly deal with the fallout of Captain America’s disappearance and particularly the US military’s handling of his legacy, along with their efforts to replace him. The series will introduce John Walker (Wyatt Russell), aka U.S. Agent, and rumors suggest that the show is also planning on diving into the story of Isaiah Bradley, the sole survivor of an experiment in World War 2 that saw the United States military test the super-soldier serum on Black soldiers.
With so many characters having ties to the title of Captain America, it certainly seems like Marvel wants to reinforce just what makes Sam the one who’s worthy. Luckily enough, the character’s introduction – and specifically the job he does – in Captain America: The Winter Soldier already provides the perfect answer.
When both audiences and Steve Rogers first met Sam Wilson back in 2014, he was running a support group for veterans returning home with PTSD. It’s a defining trait of his character in The Winter Soldier because it’s also informed by his own experiences in Afghanistan. Sam reveals that he served two tours there and helped to test the EXO-7 Falcon with his best friend Riley, but decided to leave the Air Force after Riley was killed during active duty.
After Sam becomes Falcon in the MCU, the subplot revolving his former support group is dropped, and we haven’t had a reference to it since its original introduction. Now that Sam is on his way to becoming Captain America, now would be the perfect time to return to that subplot, considering that it could be used to huge thematic effect to explain why Sam is perfect for the role. As a veteran who’s suffered from PTSD, Sam understands all too well the insurmountable cost of war and the mental toll that it has on its victims. Post-traumatic stress disorder is something that Bucky struggles with as well, but as a result of The Winter Soldier’s mind being scrambled by HYDRA, his PTSD seems directly related to his time as an assassin and less his time as a soldier.
Sam’s experiences means that he’s directly able to weigh the cost of his actions and the value of every life, something that Steve Rogers also held in high regard. While there are plenty of other MCU characters with super-soldier-like enhancements or heightened abilities, Sam is one of the only characters that went through similar experiences to the original Cap and has the same insight on wartime and the importance of peace. It’s not necessarily his physicality that matters (although Sam’s experiences with the Falcon flight suit means he has this in spades), but it’s the value placed on human life that makes Captain America such an important title to hold, which is precisely why Sam Wilson is the perfect man for the job.