Was Captain America: Super Soldier Almost Part of the MCU Canon?

Was a video game really almost part of the MCU canon? We examine the strange case of Captain America: Super Soldier.

Captain America
Photo: Sega/Marvel

If you’re anything like me, you probably haven’t thought about 2011’s Captain America: Super Soldier in years (if you remember the game at all). While a decent enough action game in its own right, Super Soldier is perhaps best remembered as a remnant of a very brief time when MCU films were adapted into video games that were often released the same week as the movies.

However, I recently heard an interesting rumor that I haven’t been able to shake. That rumor suggests that Super Soldier isn’t just based on an MCU film but at one point was meant to actually be part of the MCU canon. The only reason it apparently wasn’t added to the canon is simply that plans changed somewhere along the way.

It’s the kind of rumor that is easy to dismiss as wishful thinking crafted by internet trolls. Yet, much like we saw when we broke down the rumors that Link and Zelda are brother and sister, there are certain truths to this rumor which don’t necessarily confirm or deny it but instead reveal fascinating possibilities regarding what the MCU could have been if a few things had gone just a little differently.

Captain America: Super Soldier is Set in the MCU Universe but It’s Not Entirely Clear How it Fits

The first question that needs to be answered about Captain America: Super Soldier has to be “Is it actually based on Captain America: The First Avenger?”

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It’s a surprisingly complicated question. At first glance, Super Soldier seems to be a fairly standard video game tie-in. Many of First Avenger’s main actors reprise their roles in the game, and Super Soldier was even released the same week as Captain America’s MCU debut. That all suggests that the world of the game is roughly meant to be the same as the one seen in the film.

However, the wording of this section of Super Soldier’s official announcement creates some confusion regarding the exact relationship between the game and the movie:

“[Christos] Gage wrote his original story for Captain America: Super Soldier so that the setting exists within the same world as the upcoming movie of the same name, but he infused the game with immersive twists designed to enhance gameplay with all-new cinematic action sequences.”

That statement certainly seems to be trying to carefully avoid the implication that Super Soldier is a direct adaptation of the film, which is an oddly prudent move given that the events of the game’s story happen during a time period that the movie doesn’t specifically cover. It’s certainly not hard to walk away from it with the impression that the intention was for Super Soldier to tell a First Avenger story that happened but just wasn’t shown in the movie.

One other interpretation of that statement to keep in mind is that Sega was trying to suggest that they were essentially creating a “What If?” scenario or some other kind of situation wherein they could justify having so many connections to the movie without strictly being based on it. The biggest problem with that idea, though, is the implication that the game is somehow arguing that there’s an MCU multiverse where the characters from that universe exist as we know them in the films but are going on entirely different adventures. That’s obviously hard to believe given the nature of the MCU’s structure as we know it today.

Mostly, though, that statement is just the first piece in what proves to be a larger puzzle.

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Super Soldier Oddly Helps Set-Up Major Winter Soldier Plot Points

The most interesting quality of Super Soldier is how it almost accidentally sets up plot points that would appear in Winter Soldier and future MCU movies. There are few examples of that concept more intriguing than the game’s portrayal of Arnim Zola.

There’s a fascinating moment in Super Soldier when we see that Captain America has been captured by HYDRA. While he’s being restrained, Zola informs him that he has taken samples of Captain America’s blood in the hopes of recreating the super serum that gave Steve Rogers the abilities he needed to become the legendary hero. 

While Zola is stopped before he can deliver the completed version of that serum to Red Skull, we later learn that he had intended to use it on one of Captain America’s friends, James Montgomery Falsworth, in an effort to turn one of Captain America’s closest accomplices against him and give HYDRA a living weapon as strong as Rogers.

Strangely, that’s basically what happens with Bucky. In fact, the idea that Zola previously captured Captain America and used his blood to create a super-soldier serum goes a long way to explaining how and why Bucky turned out the way he did in the films. Zola was able to take what he learned from those experiments and simply fashion a new serum that was used to help create the Winter Soldier.

Another interesting “coincidence” involving Zola occurs later in the game when we learn that Zola has transferred his mind to a machine in order to battle Captain America. While that’s clearly a way for Captain America to have a more traditional video game boss fight against Zola, the entire process is oddly similar to how Zola eventually transfers his consciousness to a series of computer servers (as seen in Winter Soldier).

It should be noted that both of those stories were previously seen in Marvel comics and certainly aren’t the sole property of Super Soldier‘s writers and creative team. Still, it’s fascinating to consider how well those concepts gel with future MCU events.

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Equally noteworthy (if certainly not as impactful) are the similarities between the HYDRA helicopter Captain America must battle at the end of Super Soldier and the design of the devices we see in the climactic aerial battle of Winter Soldier. In fact, the two designs are so similar that this is one area where you’ve really got to wonder if Sega was working with rough design sketches provided by Marvel or if Marvel Studios was perhaps intrigued by the way that Sega animated and designed those vehicles and decided to borrow them for future films.

It should also certainly be pointed out that one of Super Soldier’s core plot points involved an attempt to awaken an ancient force known as the Sleeper. Well, in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., we see an army of robot soldiers known as “Sleeper Mechs.” It’s hardly a 1:1 reference, but it’s another of the fascinating ways that later MCU works at least utilized basic terms and concepts that we previously saw in Super Soldier. It’s not even that hard to imagine a world in which the names of those soldiers have canonically intended a direct callback to HYDRA’s failed plot in the game.

While those similarities are undeniably fascinating, the most interesting thing about Super Soldier may just be the way it differs from what comes next.

The Mysteries of Baron Zemo, Wolfgang Von Strucker, and Madame Hydra’s Super Soldier Roles

Much of Super Soldier takes place in Castle Zemo: the home of Baron Heinrich Zemo. Comic book fans will no doubt recognize that character, but the name “Zemo” may only ring a bell with MCU fans who recall Zemo’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War and his involvement in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.

Well, Super Soldier follows the Zemo characters of the comics a little more closely by portraying Henrich Zemo as a Nazi/Red Skull/H.Y.D.R.A. sympathizer who is eventually betrayed by forces who largely wish to use him for his resources as well as access to the Sleeper. In many Marvel Comics stories, Helmut Zemo is portrayed as the son of Henrich whose hatred towards Captain America is based on a desire to get revenge for his father. Obviously, the MCU version of Helmut Zemo could not possibly be the son of a man who died around the time of World War 2. 

Interestingly, though, the Civil War writers mentioned that they were, at one point, at least intrigued by the possibility of portraying the MCU’s Helmut as Henrich’s son. Ultimately, though, they felt it was too much of a stretch to suggest that Helmut would be so motivated for revenge over something that would have happened over 70 years ago in the MCU timeline. 

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Still, you could interpret that statement to mean that there may have been a point when the MCU producers and creative team members were at least considering the possibility of portraying Helmut Zemo closer to the version of the character commonly seen in the comics and that Super Soldier could have been an early attempt to get the Zemo name out there.

There’s also the strange case of Wolfgang von Strucker. Strucker isn’t introduced in the MCU until Winter Soldier’s mid-credits sequence, but he ends up becoming a fairly important piece of the MCU in Age of Ultron (despite his relative lack of screentime). His eventual role in the MCU makes it that much more interesting that the first piece of any MCU adjacent media to introduce the character was Super Soldier.

While the version of Von Strucker we see in Super Soldier is certainly different than his eventual MCU counterpart (he sports the iconic Satan Claw from the comics, for instance, and he’s…you know..alive during WWII), it’s fascinating to see Von Strucker oppose Captain America years before the two would share the screen in Age of Ultron.

Then you have Madame Hydra. While not a part of the MCU films, she was a character in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series who was, again, first utilized in this Captain America game that at least suggests it was supposed to be related to the universe of the pivotal MCU film Captain America: First Avenger.

While all of these characters were of course previously featured in the comics, Marvel obviously could have turned to any number of characters from the Captain America comics over the years when expanding the roster of their future films. Instead, they turned to a few characters who were all previously prominently featured in this Captain America game that isn’t technically canonical but certainly starts to feel as if it easily could have been part of the MCU if just a couple of things went differently or a couple of lines of dialog were added to the films and shows that described those characters as “ancestors.”

How did all of these coicidences happen? The answer may lie in the other Sega MCU games. 

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The massive Marvel Cinematic Universe began with 2008’s comparatively humble Iron Man movie. It was, at the time, little more than another blockbuster superhero movie. Given the standards of that time, it’s only natural the film was adapted into a video game pretty much right away. 

“Standard” is a fairly good way to describe Sega’s first Iron Man adaptation. Nearly everything about it is forgettable, including its story which largely follows the plot of the film. The game was touted as the start of Marvel and Sega’s relationship, and it certainly feels like something closer to a trial run.

It wasn’t until the release of Iron Man 2 that things started to get more interesting. That game featured an original story inspired by the events of the film but clearly separate from them. Once again, though, the most important thing about that story is how it (perhaps inadvertently) featured plot points and characters that would be seen in future MCU films.

Ghost is featured in Iron Man 2 years before the character appeared in Ant-Man and the Wasp. A.I.M. is mentioned before the organization’s appearance in Iron Man 3. Ultimo is even featured in the game in a way that recalls certain plot points later seen in Age of Ultron.

All those characters and plot points are different in the game than how they appeared in future MCU films, but it remains fascinating that the sequel’s original story utilized concepts that Marvel would later revisit. The same is true of Sega’s 2011 Thor game which takes place before the first Thor film but features characters such as Surtur and Hela who wouldn’t appear in the MCU until Thor: Ragnarok.

All of these appearances could be dismissed rightfully so) as coincidences. Yet, when you add all of them together, you start to wonder what the long-term plans for these games were and whether or not there were ever any intentions of eventually making either them, or any future titles that may have been planned at that time, part of the MCU.

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There’s very little official information to suggest that was ever the case, but the ways that Sega and Marvel changed how they talked about these games over time is certainly noteworthy. While the first Iron Man game was described as little more than an adaption of the movie it was based on, Sega started to create a little distance for themselves by using phrases like “same universe” in the PR statements that often announced these games.

The more you look at the history of these adaptations, the more you get the feeling that the relationship between Sega and Marvel also started to change and that the plans for these games changed along with it.

Was Captain America: Super Soldier Ever Supposed to Be Part of the MCU Canon?

While it’s easy to buy into the idea that there was once a time when Super Soldier was developed with the MCU canon in mind, the fact of the matter is that there is no evidence to support the idea that any video games based on the MCU films were ever supposed to be part of the MCU canon or were intended to directly set-up future films.

The genesis of that rumor seems to be both the early relationship between Sega and Marvel Studios as well as the fact that there are so many elements of Super Soldier that do lead into Captain America: Winter Soldier in their own strange way. In fact, it’s been said that an early draft of Winter Soldier featured more WW2 flashbacks. That has only given rise to the theory that there was a point where Winter Soldier would have tied into the events of WW2 a little more closely and that Super Soldier could have represented an early draft of those events. 

What you have to keep in mind, though, is that the MCU was in a relative state of chaos at that time. Netflix was a few years away from debuting Marvel-based shows with a loose MCU relationship, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would generate significant confusion regardings its MCU relationship, and as we’ve discussed, these games confusingly existed within the universe of the Marvel films yet feature significant differences that put them in conflict with the stories and characters of those films.

Those games were seemingly little more than a symptom of a time when Disney and Marvel Studios either didn’t have as much control over the narrative of the MCU or were otherwise less interested in exercising that control and dictate everything the MCU touched. Of course, Disney and Marvel Studios would eventually “trim the fat” in terms of both their direct involvement in video game development and their willingness to spread the MCU beyond the big screen in a way that opened any room for ambiguity regarding the status of the canon.

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If anything, the idea that Super Soldier was once meant to be canonical and help set-up both Winter Soldier and future MCU projects is a wish from those who always felt that the lack of notable MCU video games denied us the chance to live out some of the best theatrical experiences of the last 15 years. There’s always been a feeling that so much more could have been done with MCU games.

At the same time, Marvel executives had previously stated that they at least once considered certain comic issues to be canonical within the MCU. More importantly, Marvel Studios’ Creative Director of Research & Development, Will Corona Pilgrim, tweeted in 2012 that Marel Studios’ views towards those early games were best described as “Film Agnostic.”

That statement suggests that Marvel may have, at one point, been working much more closely with the designers of those early MCU-based games and were perhaps even sharing resources and preferred source material. It also makes it much more likely that Marvel Studios members could have been inspired by certain ideas they saw in those games. After all, the Marvel Studios team didn’t necessarily acknowledge the existence of these games in a canonical sense, but they stopped short of outright denying their existence either. Still, the idea that they ever intended for any versions of these games to represent definitive MCU plans remains a very loose rumor, at best.

If nothing else, Super Soldier stands as an interesting look at an alternate timeline. No, I don’t mean the one where Winter Soldier’s story is based on the timeline where Super Soldier is part of the MCU canon. I’m talking about the one where Marvel continued to allow game developers to explore the MCU universe a little more freely. It may have been chaotic, but it certainly could have been fun.