Sharon Carter: More Than A Kiss by Prithiva Sharma

The Marvel Universe is a broadly expansive reality, with threads intersecting each other across the MCU through Earth-3490. While the comics are capable of providing a fine resolution to all these alternate theories, the cinematic universe does not have a time-frame wide enough to contain all of them which means that a lot of characters lose their inherent places in the Marvel family. One such character is Sharon Carter.

Sharon Carter (alias – Agent-13), is a fictional character who first appeared in the Earth-616 universe of the Marvel Comics in 1966. She later appeared in 2014 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) second series of the Captain America trilogy — Captain America: The Winter Soldier (CA:TWS).

Carter is the grand-niece of Agent Margaret “Peggy” Carter, founder of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Steve Rogers’ (alias – Captain America) love interest from World War II; and has been created by Captain America’s creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, themselves. 

In the comics, Sharon Carter is a fully developed character, who acts as a partner and teammate to Captain America on many missions, and even rescues him when he gets stuck in a time loop in Dimension Z[1]. Her comic persona is much beyond her movie appearances – she held the position of the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the wake of Director Nick Fury’s apparent demise, and was in-charge of innumerable agents, including future Director Maria Hill. She formed — and led — a force of female commandos under S.H.I.E.L.D., which was called Femme Force. Her comic trajectory spreads over a wide portion of the Earth-616 universe: she’s introduced as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent on a covert op mission, and moved onto becoming Steve Rogers’ love interest. However, in her comic stint, one can see well beyond her personal equation with Rogers; the comics allow her to hold her own, in terms of presence and strength in a universe well dominated by men.

The MCU can, in no way, be seen as a reflection of the Marvel comics. The cinematic stage is merely a translucent screen through which one might be able to see hazy images of the comic universe. Sharon’s first appearance is a mention of her as the “nurse who lives across the hall” from Rogers, by Natasha Romanoff (alias – Black Widow; played by Scarlett Johansson). The context of this conversation, and her description, very efficiently build up for the audience an image of a female character who has the potential to turn into a romantic partner; and so, when she introduces herself as Agent 13 of S.H.I.E.LD., the audience is flummoxed. The most pivotal moment for Sharon Carter in CA:TWS is when she chooses to stand besides Captain America, and goes against Brock Rumlow (alias – Crossbones) when S.H.I.E.L.D. is on the verge of collapsing under Hydra.

Carter: Captain’s orders.

Rumlow: You chose the wrong side, Agent.

Carter: Depends on where you are standing.[2]

CA:TWS ends with a shot of Carter training for CIA after S.H.I.E.L.D. has officially collapsed. 

While CA:TWS has very less screen time for Carter and her story, one can easily spot the strength she holds in the comics, along with her faith and loyalty towards the institution she works with. The comics are also a brilliant exhibition of her values, her readiness to question those around her to save those values, and the genius decisions she makes at her own discretion to further maintain those values. 

Captain America: Civil War (CA:CW) shifted tactics and hyped Carter’s character a lot during the various press tours. The posters displayed her as a part of ‘Team Cap’ in the Captain America versus Iron Man battle. During Peggy Carter’s funeral scene in CA:CW is also when we first get to know Carter as Sharon Carter, and not merely Agent 13 (as her representation in CA:TWS exhibited).

The movie hinted at the development of a character arc for her, with her fighting prowess displayed in the shot of her going against James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier, while he is in a state of brainwash. She helps Cap rescue Barnes, steal his shield (and Sam Wilson’s (alias – Falcon) wings) back. She shows tremendous courage and faith, and unflinchingly risks her position at CIA and Joint Counter Terrorist Centre for what she believes in. She was monumental in the success of Captain America’s mission in the movie, and if not for her skills, it would have been exceedingly difficult for Team Cap to accomplish what they sought to achieve. 

This entire character arc, however, slips into oblivion because the reception to Carter’s character in the MCU is based largely on the kiss she shares with Rogers at the Berlin airport. This scene reminds the audience of the context in which her character was first talked about; rendering her entire development trajectory void. The problem with this scene, however, is twofold. Firstly, during the kiss shot the camera focus is largely on Rogers’ face (played by Chris Evans). His reactions seem to be more important to be recorded on reel than those of Carter’s (played by Emily Vancamp). Besides this, the kiss is over too quickly to actually signify something substantial for Rogers’ and Carter’s relationship– immediately after the kiss, Carter (Vancamp) leaves the frame. Here, the focus shifts to Wilson and Barnes sitting in a car, having witnessed the whole scene. This is the second problem: the after-effects of these focuses reduce the perception of his kiss with Carter to a conquest for Rogers. 

With even a limited understanding of Steve Rogers’ character and personality, it is highly doubtful to believe that he thought of Carter as a mere conquest. However, we have to remember that the point of view here is not that of the character’s; but of the directors. The directors here did a great job of dissolving a capable woman’s character, and reducing it to a romantic trope. What is worse, is that a huge majority of the audience seem to have overlooked Carter’s entire character so far and only focused on that kiss that lasted hardly for 2 seconds. Theories have also sprung speculating if Rogers was drawn to Sharon solely because of her relationship with Peggy.

Carter died a metaphorical death post CA:CW. Avengers: Infinity War writers Stephen McPheely and Christopher Markus have talked about how there were ideas about showcasing a relationship between Rogers and Carter in the movie, where there were mentions of Rogers living with Carter in the early scripts; but, as the writers mentioned, it didn’t work out.[3] Her character, therefore, was never even talked about again, let alone shown on screen. Even at the end of Avengers: Endgame, when the entire universe, so to speak, was present, she was nowhere to be seen. Admittedly, it would have been strange for her to appear in Endgame, considering that Rogers uses Hank Pym’s particles to travel back in time and go back to late 1940s to pursue a relationship with his epic love Peggy Carter, given Sharon’s relationship to the latter. Even actor Chris Evans, when asked to choose between Natasha Romanoff and Sharon Carter in the MCU chose the former; based on the camaraderie shared by their characters.[4]

What this shows is how often female characters are shrunk down to the male gaze and ‘love interests’ so crudely that they become known only for that one relationship (or one kiss) they shared. An example of this would be Linda Cardellini, who played Laura Barton in MCU. As she herself said during Endgame’s Purple Carpet, she has now become known as “Clint Barton’s wife”.

Critics have often stated that the Rogers-Carter kiss wasn’t, in any way, necessary for the development of CA:CW plot. If there was no scope for their relationship being explored in the limited space of Phase II, the kiss should have been done away with. The disgraceful result here is that Carter, who is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, a S.H.I.E.L.D. director, a female commando, and a very respected leader in the comics who has saved the day many times, is now a memory in MCU, remembered largely for her kiss shot with Rogers. Fun fact: After Avengers IW, when there were all kinds of speculations going on about the off-screen characters’ statuses after the “decimation” (Thanos’ snap), more questions were asked about the status of the “Galaga Guy” (the guy in the background shown to be playing galaga in a S.H.I.E.L.D. workplace)[5] than Carter.

MCU is in no way as unending as the comics have the capability to be but, that does not mean that female characters should be treated as disposable love interests. Usually, cinematic techniques are closely associated with the masculine perception at work behind the camera which is why a lot of female characters lose their potential; in the MCU, Carter represents another case of lost translations when stories are transferred from words to the big screen. What Carter truly deserves to be remembered as is the little girl who spent years trying to live up to the grand image of her aunt Peggy Carter; and succeeded. Sharon Carter lived her life as a capable agent, fighter, and a brilliant woman in her own right.


SOURCES:

[1]Captain America, Vol. 7 #10
[2]Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
[3]Kofi Outlaw, Comic Book/Marvel
[4]Captain America: Civil War press tour 
[5]Avengers, 2012. Tony Stark pointed out the Galaga Guy for the first time. His name is not known.

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