Warning: full spoilers follow for Black Widow.
One of the highlights of the Black Widow movie is David Harbor’s Red Guardian aka Alexei Shostakov, the former Russian deep-cover spy who was also at one point that country’s response to Captain America. While the main arc of her character is based on her relationship with her adoptive family of fellow former and / or current Russian agents Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), a joke Common in the film, Alexei remembers his glory days, and in particular his self-proclaimed rivalry with Captain America.
But the point is, Alexei is probably making this up… Or is he? Let’s take a look at the evidence.
The first time we hear about these alleged adventures is when we meet the former Red Guardian, imprisoned in the Russian Gulag for years. He wrestles with his fellow inmates one at a time and seduces them with stories of fighting Cap. “There he is – Captain America,” he said. “Finally, the time of the Red Guardian has come! I grab his shield. Face to face is a showdown!
It sounds exciting! And yet, when one of the inmates asks Alexei in what year this confrontation took place, he replies, “I don’t know. 1984. ”Which, as he was later reminded, would mean Captain America was still on the ice at the time, frozen in suspended animation. So how could they have fought against each other?
As we all learned in history class, Steve Rogers was born in 1918 in good old Brooklyn, USA. After years of dreaming of joining the military so that he could fight in WWII, he underwent Dr. Erskine’s Super Soldier experience as part of Project Rebirth and adopted the Captain America mantle. Rogers became a hero and finally went into ice in 1945 while preventing a bombing of the United States initiated by the Red Skull. That’s when Cap entered suspended animation and stood frozen for about 66 years before being discovered and thawed out by agents of SHIELD in 2011 or 2012.
So that would mean that Red Guardian’s story about the fight against Cap in 1984 doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, right? But maybe Alexei got the dates wrong and was actually talking about something that happened in the 1940s…? Well, setting aside the fact that the Black Widow prologue pretty much establishes that Alexei was a younger man in the 1990s than he is in the more or less modern era where most of of the film is set in 2016 – which would seem to indicate that he’s aging normally like the rest of us – there’s also the fact that the United States and Russia were allies during WWII. So why would they fight? Additionally, the Guardian mentions “having the nuclear codes” during his fight with Cap, which, again, doesn’t fit a 1940s game.
It’s possible, of course, that the Red Guardian fought a different version of Cap, as we now know that the US government continued to experiment on its own soldiers, including many African-American men, at least into the 1950s. These experiences allowed Isaiah Bradley, who we met in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, to become a full-fledged Super Soldier. Marvel has yet to say whether or not Bradley donned an American captain’s uniform like he did in the comics, but it’s not out of the question that he or another American soldier did in 1984.
Connecting Red Guardian to Black Widow (and Captain America)
But again, at one point in Black Widow, Alexei asks Natasha if Cap ever told her about himself. He even says he feels like they’re more “contemporaries” than enemies – so, you know, guys from the same era. And since Steve Rogers’ identity is known to the public, Alexei would presumably be aware that his “contemporary” is around 100 years old. It doesn’t really stick …
Of course, what really happens with Red Guardian is that all of this is a fun little recap for the character of David Harbor, and that also contrasts with the whole concept of the bright, straight and perfect Captain America – symbol of the good. old US of A – with the fallen relic of the past that was the Soviet Union, which of course Red Guardian symbolized.
But once again (again) …
Steve Rogers time traveled in Avengers: Endgame while on a mission to bring all the Infinity Stones back to their proper place in time / space. We have no idea what he did during that time or even how long he was away, so he could have fought Red Guardian in what would have been Alexei’s past but Steve’s present!
You know what? I really hope that’s the answer here, if only for Alexei’s sake.
For more on the movie, check out our Black Widow post-credits scene and explain the ending, delve into the story of Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, or get an explanation of Taskmaster’s true identity. in the movie. You can also read our Black Widow review here!