NOTE: This article was originally published on July 10, 2021
(This article contains minor spoilers for “Black Widow,” and will also reference the events of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.”)
While Natasha Romanoff herself is certainly the main character in “Black Widow” — out now in theaters and on Disney+ — nobody makes a more effective effort to steal the show than David Harbour’s Alexei Shostakov, better known as the super soldier Red Guardian. Alexei played the role of Natasha’s father in the 1990s when the two of them, along with Yelena (Florence Pugh) and Melina (Rachel Weisz), lived in the U.S. as a “The Americans”-style spy family.
While they aren’t actually related, Natasha spends a big chunk of “Black Widow” reassembling that family in order to take down the Red Room, where the three women of the family were all mutilated and conditioned as children. In the middle of all this, Alexei tells an interesting story about the time he claims to have fought Captain America.
There’s a problem with this story, though, as another character points out: the Red Guardian allegedly fought Cap in the mid-1980s, when Steve Rogers was still frozen in ice.
This is a point that would have played much, much differently had the MCU release schedule not been totally upended by the pandemic. Had “Black Widow” been released last year, ahead of the launch of the Marvel shows on Disney+, we would have to resort to comic book knowledge to make any sense of this idea. But since we’ve already seen “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” which was originally scheduled for months after this movie, we know that Steve Rogers was not the only Captain America in the MCU. There were others who took on that role while Steve was frozen for 70s years.
We’ve met one of them, Isaiah Bradley, on “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” Isaiah told the story of how he was essentially a secret government experiment, tortured by the people who had turned him into a super soldier as they tried to figure out how to make the serum work for more people.
But Bradley fought in the Korean War, decades before Alexei’s story. After the war, he was imprisoned and suffered through three decades of brutal testing before his death was faked and Isaiah was freed under a new identity. There’s not much of a chance that Bradley was the Captain America he fought.
The U.S. also used the serum on some others while Steve was frozen, but we don’t know all those details. But it’s not crazy to think that if they had one secret Captain America fighting in the Korean War, then they probably had some others at later points as well. And it could easily have been one of those who fought Red Guardian.
David Harbour, however, told us that he thinks Alexei may have made this story up. He doesn’t know for sure, though.
“I don’t know the realities of that. And in fact, to me it was sort of, as I played it, it was relatively unimportant. Because Alexei himself doesn’t even know he’s lying when he’s lying, because he so believes his own confabulation,” Harbour told TheWrap.
“Like he’s so invested in his own version of events and his own reality, that it didn’t much matter to me. But I think it would be an interesting exploration to go back and see if any of this were true and what the circumstances of that was. Because it’s interesting to see him in his glory days, too. We don’t really get to see any of them.
“And I would like to know, yeah, what he was about when he was younger. Because he was sort of the great hope of Russia at one point, and he’s a very interesting dude. A lot of complexity, a lot of contradictions, a lot of layers.”
As for whether we’ll ever see any of those glory days or more Alexei at all in the MCU, Harbour says he doesn’t know about that either.
“I don’t know. Like, I don’t know. And they won’t let me tell you even if I did know, but I don’t.”
“Black Widow” is now available to all subscribers on Disney+.