Now, there’s no more obvious a point to start than with the hammer itself. First appearing in Thor (2011), we come to learn over the course of the MCU films that the mythical weapon was forged by dwarves using a special metal mined from the heart of a dying star, and that it can only be used by a person that is deemed ‘worthy’. As the series develops, we discover plenty of people who can’t handle it, including Loki (whose head is almost smashed in by it while pretending to be the Allfather), Hulk (who tried to lift in while fighting Thor on the helicarrier) and Quicksilver (who was dragged for a while after grabbing onto it mid-flight). Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), however gave us our biggest glimpse into its power, as even the rag-tag gang of Iron Man, War Machine, Hawkeye, Bruce Banner, Captain America and Black Widow, were unable to wield it. Although Steve was able to nudge it upwards, ever so slightly. But more on that later.
Well, we know that both Kings of Asgard – Thor and his father Odin – can wield Mjolnir. And thanks to Thor: Ragnarok (2017), the goddess of death, Hela, can destroy it. But then there’s Vision, who after being created from the minds of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, along with the logistics of Jarvis and Ultron, is able to use the hammer in one of the Avenger’s biggest fights. His ability to utilise the weapon gives him credibility to Thor, who states it is his biggest reason for letting the mind stone reside with the android.
As the only member of the original Avengers to wind up holding the hammer (and the only non-magically or mythically enhanced one overall), Steve’s wielding of Mjolnir in Avengers: Endgame (2019) is a big deal. So much so, one could argue that there has to be more to it than a few simply ‘call-backs’ to previous films. So, how exactly did he do it then? Rogers has always been the hero who stood up for the little guy. He has impeccable virtues and a strong desire to bring bad guys to justice. I mean he wears the American flag all over him for Christ sake. It seems like he should be ‘innately’ worthy right? But for all his bravado and sacrifice, he isn’t perfect. So the real question is what could take that much of a toll on his soul and spirit that he could be considered dishonourable or untrustworthy? Well, we think the key to this lies in what changed between the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and Avengers: Endgame (2019).
Back in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Steve was able to shift the hammer, almost imperceptibly, during his attempt to lift it. We know this is an important moment, judging by the way Thor seemed to have a heart-attack over it. But what exactly was holding him back then? Well, what about his biggest secret. The fact that Steve knew in that very moment that Tony’s parents were killed by Hydra and that the likely culprit was none other than his best-friend Bucky Barnes? As we come to learn in Captain America: Civil War (2016), Steve was not only privy to this information, but failed to tell Tony after finding it in an old newspaper clipping during Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – long before the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). So, at the time of trying to pick up Mjolnir he was, technically, deceitful and therefore unworthy. It was only once the information had come to light and Steve apologised that he was able to wield the weapon. And even then, only during a battle that saw the two finally able to fight alongside each other, as friends, again. As he explains in his letter at the end of Captain America: Civil War (2016); “I know I hurt you Tony. I guess I thought by not telling you about your parents I was sparing you, but I can see now that I was really sparing myself, and I’m sorry. Hopefully one day you can understand… So no matter what, I promise you, if you need us – if you need me – I’ll be there.”
In the end it’s just a theory though, right? That Steve is only able to wield Mjolnir after unleashing his darkest secret and righting his perceived wrongs? Yes, of course it is. But there may be something that gives a little more credence to such claims. And it comes back to the original enchantment that was put on the hammer by Odin. In Thor (2011) the Allfather placed the spell on the weapon before banishing Thor to earth, due to the Asgardian’s giant ego and the damage it had inflicted on others. He wanted his son to go through a transformation before coming back to be a better king. He wanted him to fix his injustices by looking inside himself. This journey, arguably, mirrors what happens to Steve. He must confess his wrongs to Tony – that he kept secret the real cause of Howard and Maria Stark’s deaths – and atone for his actions – by apologising to Tony, giving him a final moment with his father, and helping fight alongside him once more.
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