Of all of the Marvel Easter eggs, callbacks, and references in Avengers: Endgame, the best might be Steve Rogers’ ingenuous way of avoiding the second elevator fight of his life. With his knowledge of the future and two simple words, “Hail Hydra,” he tricked his enemies and delivered the funniest line of the movie, in a moment that turned a comic book controversy into comedy gold.
Present day Captain America went back to 2012’s Battle of New York to get Loki’s scepter because it contained the Mind Stone, which ended up in possession of secret Hydra agent Jasper Sitwell (played by Maximiliano Hernández). When Cap got on the elevator with him and was surrounded by Sitwell’s team of Hydra fighters, including Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo) and Jack Rollins (Callan Mulvey), it looked certain we were in for an elevator fight like the iconic one Cap had with them in 2014’s The Winter Soldier, which is when he learned who they really served.
To make matters worse, Cap’s comment about how Secretary Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), a Hydra operate, told him to take the case made no sense, since Sitwell had just received different instructions from Pierce on the phone. But all of that misdirection made Cap’s actual plan even more brilliant and hysterical.
“Hail Hydra” turned a sequel (uh…prequel?) to that famous elevator fight into a battle of wits. Using what he learned about Hydra in 2014, Cap cleverly let his secret enemies think they were on the same team, letting him walk away without breaking a sweat (at least until he ran into “America’s ass”).
As great as that exchange was within the context of the MCU, it was an even better reference to an infamous and controversial moment from the comic books. In 2016, issue one of Nick Spencer’s new comic series Steve Rogers: Captain America ended with a twist that had fans freaking furious. Captain America appeared to murder his sidekick Jack Flag before saying, “Hail Hydra.” Spencer then insisted this Captain America with a giant Hydra tattoo on his chest was the real Steve Rogers all along, and always had been for his 75 years of existence.
Needless to say, no one was happy with this implausible twist or the obvious lie of an explanation Spencer offered up to convince people it was sincere. That lie was confirmed when we later learned that a sentient Cosmic Cube warped Steve memories and Captain America believe he had always been a Hydra agent. That outcome didn’t make anyone less frustrated with the whole sequence of events, though.
But hearing Steve Rogers say the iconic line in Endgame was anything but maddening. We know Cap can win an elevator fight with his fists, but he’s also smart enough to win one with his mind.
Saying “Hail Hydra” to fool his enemies instead of us is a lot more fun.