Marvel has a new Captain America. Wyatt Russell’s John Walker made his debut as the newly appointed star-spangled hero in the premiere episode of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, much to the shock and anger of Marvel fans everywhere. Episode 2 episode didn’t waste any time before starting to explore the character either, all while establishing the rivalry that’s developing between him and Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson.
While The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s second episode does its best to establish Walker as a fairly straightforward and even likable character, the Marvel series also does a few things that make it explicitly clear why he’s not the right person to take over the Captain America mantle.
In fact, a simple comparison between Russell’s Walker and Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers not only highlights some key differences between the two men but also reveals the likely cause of Walker’s inevitable fall from grace.
The case for John Walker’s Captain America
John Walker is, for all intents and purposes, the perfect soldier. At least, that’s how he’s presented to us in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Through a convenient bit of exposition early on in Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 2, we learn that Walker was the first American to ever receive three Medals of Honor and that he has experience running military counterterrorism and hostage rescue missions. In case that wasn’t already impressive enough, we even learn that the government did an MIT study of his body in which he tested “off the charts” in every category, including speed, endurance, and intelligence.
The list makes it pretty clear that, on the surface, Walker is a strong choice to become the new Captain America. What other soldier could match his accomplishments? And that’s what Captain America should be, right? A soldier?
The problem with John Walker
When we meet Steve Rogers in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, he’s a skinny kid from Brooklyn with no military experience. And yet, despite all that, Steve gets chosen by Stanley Tucci’s Dr. Erskine to be the first (and only) person to be given his super-soldier serum.
Steve’s accomplishments don’t matter, and neither does his physical form. What matters is who he is as a person.
“The serum amplifies everything inside, so good becomes great and bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen,” Erskine tells Steve early on in The First Avenger. “Because a strong man who has known power all his life will lose respect for that power, but a weak man knows the value of that strength… and knows compassion.”
In other words, the right candidate for the super-soldier serum isn’t someone who wants it so that they can be “the best” or “the strongest.” The right candidate is the person who wants to use it to protect others. And that’s what makes Steve’s beginnings — his experience being “the little guy” — so important. Without that origin, we would not be able to understand why he eventually becomes the hero he does.
And it’s also why Walker is destined to fail as Captain America.
The Super-Soldier Serum
Unlike Steve, who never knew what it was like to be the strongest or most intimidating guy in the room prior to his transformation, that’s all Walker knows. Not only did he make a name for himself with his military accomplishments, but it’s hinted that Walker was a star in high school as well, where he was the captain of his high school football team.
But Walker’s previous experience has not prepared him for his fight with the Flag-Smashers, a group of super-soldiers capable of physically outmatching him with little-to-no effort. Knowing what we know about Walker now, it seems unlikely he’ll take being beaten like that lightly, and the show’s introduction of new super-soldier serums in the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to be the perfect set-up for Walker to take a dose in a future episode.
If this serum works in any way similar to how Erskine’s did, then it won’t just amplify Walker’s strength and reflexes, but also his ego and desire to be the best soldier he can be. If that happens, it seems very likely that Walker’s transformation will result in him further abusing and twisting the legacy of Captain America in a way that forces Sam Wilson to eventually step in.
What’s next for John Walker?
John Walker has had power for so long that it’s clear he’s forgotten what it’s like to live without it — which is part of what makes the Flag-Smashers such an interesting counterpoint to his version of Captain America.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 2 also makes it obvious just how much Walker is enjoying using his clout as Captain America to his advantage, as was evidenced by his willingness to track Redwing without Sam’s permission and his flagrant overruling of Bucky’s therapist. As of now, Walker’s handling of his newfound responsibility doesn’t seem all that harmful, but the seeds are already there for that change.
Seeing how the conflict between Walker, Sam, and Bucky plays out will no doubt be one of the highlights of future episodes of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but if you want to understand exactly why Walker won’t succeed as Captain America, all you need to do is look back at the man who came before him.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is streaming now on Disney+.