Captain America’s old foe finally made his return, though he’s a changed man to be sure.
Spoilers follow for Avengers: Infinity War. For more of IGN’s Infinity War coverage, be sure to read about how this returning character isn’t played by who you think.
And there you have it. After years of speculation, anticipation, and nerd-splaining among fans, the Red Skull — that classic Captain America villain of the ghastly red visage and even more frightening evil-speech-ifying — has returned to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Avengers: Infinity War. Though he’s half the man he used to be, it seems.
The Red Skull, a.k.a. Johann Schmidt, was the head of HYDRA back during World War II, of course, and the chief nemesis of Captain America in his debut movie, The First Avenger. In the MCU telling of his story, in fact, he even took a work in progress version of the Super Soldier Serum — the drug that gave Steve Rogers his enhanced abilities. But in Schmidt’s case he was warped and Skull-ified by the stuff.
His pursuit of the seemingly magical Tesseract — which we now know actually contained the Space Stone — culminated in a battle with Cap that led to both of their apparent dooms. Rogers went down with the ship, as they say, in a quote-unquote final act of sacrifice. But this came right after the Red Skull — or Redskull as Cap calls him — grabbed hold of the powerful cosmic cube. Alas, the ecstasy of that moment for the power-mad villain soon turned to horror, and he was either disintegrated by the Tesseract… or teleported away to parts unknown, depending on who you asked.
That’s where the guessing and theorizing about what really happened to the Skull kicked in, and in the seven years since The First Avenger came out, MCU fans have continued to hope for the character’s return. The biggest hint that this theory was more than just a theory came in this year’s Avengers: Infinity War Prelude comic, where a flashback depicting the Red Skull’s “death” made it much clearer that he was sucked away via some kind of teleportation beam. But again, the question of where he wound up remained.
And besides, a comic is a comic and a movie is a movie, and not often the twain shall meet. On top of that is the fact that Red Skull actor Hugo Weaving didn’t seem terribly interested in reprising the role. In 2012 the actor said, “[Returning as the Skull is] not something I would want to do again. I’m glad I did it. I did sign up for a number of pictures and I suppose, contractually, I would be obliged to, if they forced me to, but they wouldn’t want to force someone to do it, if they didn’t want to.”
Still, here we are with a very different Red Skull appearing in Infinity War. The moment comes as Thanos and Gamora go in search of the Soul Stone on the planet Vormir. There they find a mysterious cloaked figure, who at first glance might be mistaken by comics fans for Death. (In the Infinity Gauntlet comics story, Thanos spends his time trying to impress the object of his affections, who happens to be the personification of Death — a hooded figure that is sometimes seen as a skeleton and sometimes as a woman.)
But no, as Thanos and Gamora draw nearer, we see that the lonely soul on Vormir is in fact the Red Skull. Yep, he looks a little worse for wear, and he’s taken on a new role in the universe: He is now the keeper of the Soul Stone. His days of craving the enormous power of the Tesseract have given way to a much more humble position in modern era, the kind of player who the Red Skull of yesteryear would’ve surely looked down at.
It’s probably one of the biggest surprises of Infinity War. After all this time, we’d mostly given up on the idea that we’d ever see him again. And while it’s a very cool twist, at the same time it has a slight sniff of disappointment to it. This new, changed Skull is only briefly seen, and he doesn’t even face off with his old enemy Cap! Of course, much has changed for the two in the decades since they last met.
Speaking of which, the fact that the Red Skull is even still alive does raise the question of how long-lived one can be after they’ve taken the Super Soldier Serum. Steve Rogers, of course, remains young because he was frozen for all those years. But the Skull presumably has been on Vormir living this lonely existence for quite some time.
And by the way, that’s not Hugo Weaving playing the character in Infinity War. No, he apparently kept to his word and so the part was recast. Ross Marquand, who plays Aaron on The Walking Dead, does his own riff on the Red Skull. And it’s an effective one at that.
What did you think of the return of the Red Skull? And do you hope to see him again in Avengers 4? Let’s discuss in the comments!
Talk to Executive Editor Scott Collura on Twitter at @ScottCollura, where he’s tweeting every shot from The Empire Strikes Back for some reason. Or listen to his Star Trek podcast, Transporter Room 3. Or do both!