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- NOTE: This article is about the incarnation of Red Skull from the Marvel Cinematic film series. The mainstream version can be found here: Red Skull (Marvel).
|“||You are deluded, Captain. You pretend to be a simple soldier, but in reality, you are just afraid to admit that we have left humanity behind. Unlike you, I embrace it proudly, without fear!||„|
|~ Red Skull to Captain America.|
|“||We all think that at first... We are all wrong.||„|
|~ Red Skull upon meeting Thanos and Gamora on Vormir - his most famous quote.|
|“||Tomorrow, Hydra will stand master of the world. Born to victory on the wings of the Valkyrie. Our enemy's weapons will be powerless against us. If they shoot down one plane, hundreds more will rain fire upon them. If they cut off one head, two more shall take it's place. Hail Hydra!||„|
|~ Red Skull to his soldiers.|
Johann Schmidt, also known as the Red Skull and later the Stonekeeper, is a major antagonist in the Infinity Saga of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He is the arch-enemy of Captain America.
He served as the main antagonist of the Captain America: The First Avenger, a mentioned antagonist in both its sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a minor character in both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. A variant of him also serves as the main antagonist of "What If... Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?", the first episode of the Marvel animated anthology series What If...?.
He was the leader of Nazi Organization HYDRA during World War II who planned to take over the world by using the powers of the Space Stone, in the form of the Tesseract. However, in his final battle with Captain America, he was seemingly vaporized by the Tesseract when he came in contact with it. Since then, HYDRA continued on to evolve in leadership and power without him.
Though believed to be nothing more than history, the Red Skull was in fact alive this whole time, in which he was teleported to the planet Vormir, the location of the Soul Stone. Due to his abusive ambitions for power, however, the Soul Stone rejected him and instead he was cursed to become the guardian of the Soul Stone. The Red Skull remained on the planet for decades until he was approached by Thanos, who was able to the obtain the Soul Stone by sacrificing his daughter, Gamora. With the Soul Stone now off of Vormir and eventually destroyed, the Red Skull was freed from his curse, allowing him to pursue his own goals once more.
In The First Avenger, he was portrayed by Hugo Weaving, who also portrayed Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy, V in V for Vendetta, Megatron in the Transformers film series, David Melrose in Patrick Melrose and Thaddeus Valentine in Mortal Engine. In Infinity War, Endgame and What If...?, he was portrayed by Ross Marquand.
Much is unknown about Schmidt's early life, other than he was born in Germany, during his adulthood he became a physics professor of the University of Berlin whereupon he studied the mythos of the Norse gods correctly deducing that there is a great deal of truth in the so-called "myths". With this theory, he gained favor with Adolf Hitler, as well as Himmler and joined SS during the 1930s. He then founded the science division of Nazi Germany, known as HYDRA, after killing the original head of the division, Kauffman, and building HYDRA into a cult with himself as a god-like figure worshipped by his followers.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Starting off as a Nazi SS officer serving for Adolf Hitler, Schmidt intends to further Hitler's goals of taking over the world by forcing Dr. Abraham Erskine to use his Super Soldier Serum on him. The unfinished serum caused a side-effect that left him deformed, forcing the Skull to wear a rubber mask of his former self. At the beginning of the movie, Red Skull travels to Norway, to obtain the Tesseract. Using its powers, Schmidt gets his right-hand scientist Arnim Zola to develop advanced weapons, that will aid in winning the World War II. When three high-ranking SS officers (Roeder, Hutter & Schneider) come to check upon Schmidt's progress, they are horrified to learn that Schmidt intends to bomb every major capital on Earth (including Berlin), making them realize that Schmidt and the rest of HYDRA have defected from the Nazis. To cement HYDRA as an independent group, Schmidt uses his weapons to kill the three officers.
In the meantime, Dr. Erskine uses his finished serum on a U.S. Army soldier named Steve Rogers, who becomes Captain America. However, Schmidt sends over an assassin named Heinz Kruger to kill Erskine. Following Kruger's suicide, Rogers begins to take a HYDRA base after learning that his best friend Bucky Barnes is held there, prisoner. After freeing Barnes and the other prisoners, Rogers confronted Schmidt, who sets the base to explode while escaping with Zola. Forming up his own unit alongside Barnes, Rogers led a series of attacks against many HYDRA bases, much to Schmidt's frustration, he even vaporized his henchman Velt after learning that the latter survived one of Rogers' attacks.
Following Barnes' supposed death and Zola's arrest, Schmidt retreated to his last base in the Swiss Alps, where he has a giant plane that holds several bombs that can destroy America's cities. Fortunately, Rogers gets his unit to infiltrate the base and take down Schmidt's remaining forces. After boarding the plane, Rogers engages in a fight against Schmidt before defeating him by damaging the Tesseract Cradle containing the Tesseract. In a panic, Schmidt grabs the Tesseract but seemingly disintegrates as it is too powerful for him to control, leaving his ultimate fate unknown.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Schmidt was mentioned in the film as Rogers discussed his past experience with Schmidt to Natasha Romanoff, a statement confirmed by Zola (who transferred his consciousness into a system after dying from a terminal illness in 1972). Before his death, Zola revealed that he created an algorithm for a secret operation called Project Insight that can take out millions of people who are opposed to HYDRA's belief. Rogers and Romanoff soon learned that U.S. Secretary of Defense Alexander Pierce is in charge of the operation as he intends to finish off what Schmidt started. Fortunately, Rogers gets his friends within S.H.I.E.L.D. to foil the operation while Pierce ends up being shot to death by S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury.
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Schmidt is mentioned several times by Daniel Whitehall, who took control of HYDRA following Schmidt's death. Though Whitehall assured that while Schmidt is dead, his legacy will be carried on. It is also learned that while Schmidt did found HYDRA's Nazi incarnation during World War II, he wasn't the organization's true founder as it had existed for thousands of year by worshipers of parasitic Inhuman Alveus, better known as "Hive".
Avengers: Infinity War
In the film, it is revealed that Schmidt was never vaporized by the Tesseract, but instead, he was transported to the planet Vormir, where he became the guardian of the Soul Stone as punishment for his crimes. As part of his punishment, Schmidt was forbidden to take the Soul Stone for himself since his greed for the Tesseract is what led to his defeat, a fate that he accepted with resignation. After seven decades, the mad warlord Thanos traveled to Vormir with his adoptive daughter Gamora (a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy) to retrieve the Soul Stone, as Thanos intends to collect all six Infinity Stones (including the Tesseract) to wipe out half of the universe's populace.
After explaining his past life to Thanos and Gamora, Schmidt states that he will give Thanos the Soul Stone, but only if he is willing to sacrifice a loved one of his. While Gamora scoffs at this as she believes that Thanos does not care for others, Thanos reveals that he truly cares for Gamora; even Schmidt points out that the tears that Thanos is shedding are only for Gamora, not for himself. Realizing this, a horrified Gamora attempts to commit suicide, but Thanos foils this by using the Reality Stone, saying that he once ignored his goal for someone he cared for and that he will not make the same mistake for Gamora. Thanos reluctantly throws Gamora off the cliff to her death, and upon witnessing this, Schmidt willingly gave the Soul Stone to Thanos as agreed.
After Thanos wiped out half of the universe, Red Skull became free from the curse placed on him and is now able to leave Vormir whenever he wants, leaving him to start his own potential pursuit on the Infinity Stones. However, three weeks later, Thanos destroyed the Stones before he was killed by the surviving Avengers, leaving Red Skull's pursuit in vain.
After learning how to time travel via through the Quantum Realm, Clint Barton and Natasha Romanoff travel back in time to retrieve the Soul Stone before Thanos could. Learning that the location of the Soul Stone was on the planet Vormir, they travelled to said planet in the year 2014, where they met the Red Skull for the first time. Like with Thanos, Red Skull was willing to offer them the Soul Stone, only if one of them were willing to sacrifice the one thing they truly cared for. After a rough clash between Barton and Romanoff, Romanoff ultimately sacrifices herself, and Red Skull gives Barton the Soul Stone as agreed.
After everyone that had perished were brought back to life while Thanos from the past was defeated, Steve Rogers traveled back in time to return the Infinity Stones back to their original time periods. While heading to Vormir, he encountered the Red Skull again, but rather than engaging into a fight, Rogers instead ordered the Red Skull to take the Soul Stone and put it back where it belongs, to which the Red Skull obliged as he intends to wait for its next eventual seeker, that being Thanos.
In the series premiere "What If... Captain Carter Were The First Avenger?", a variant of Red Skull plays a similar role to the one his original counterpart had in an alternate universe where Peggy Carter became a Super Soldier during World War II instead of Steve Rogers, as Heinz Kruger shoots Steve before he could be transformed, prompting Peggy to become the Super Soldier instead to not waste Dr. Erskine's limited formula while Steve Rogers dons the HYDRA Stompler armor designed by Howard Stark, becoming the Iron Man of that universe.
As per the main universe's timeline, Red Skulls steals the Tesseract from Odin's Vault and gets the Tesseract after killing the Church Keeper. However, all his plans change when Captain Carter steals the Tesseract from Arnim Zola, who is captured by Carter after defeating some HYDRA soldiers. After a series of defeats, during which Captain Carter rescues the Howling Commandos and Bucky Barnes from his clutches, Red Skull tricks the Howling Commandos into a train full of explosives, capturing Rogers. With the Tesseract back on his hands, Red Skull decides to use it to open a dimensional portal to bring a tentacled monster, whom Red Skull considers HYDRA's Champion, so he can conquer the world. Captain Carter goes to stop him, but Red Skull succeeds into bringing the monster to the Earth, only for the monster to grab Red Skull and crush him to death. However, Captain Carter is ultimately able to push the monster back into the portal at the cost of her separation from her friends, returning back seventy years later thanks to the efforts of Nick Fury and Hawkeye.
Due to the Red Skull's death during World War II, it's unknown how Thanos will be able to claim the Soul Stone during the Infinity War (assuming Thanos does the same as in the original universe), as the Red Skull will not be banished into becoming the Stonekeeper at Vormir to advise him about how to get the stone, so it can be assumed that Thanos will have to learn that information from another source or will be unable to claim the Soul Stone unless he figures it out.
|“||He has become convinced that there is a great power hidden in the earth, left here by the gods, waiting to be seized by a superior man. So when he hears about my formula and what it can do....he cannot resist, Schmidt must become that superior man.||„|
|~ Abraham Erskine describing Johann Schmidt|
Johann Schmidt is a megalomaniac and egocentric genius who firmly believes in the Nazis' misinterpretation of Nietzsche's Übermensch (over-man) concept where a race of superhuman beings are destined to rule the normal ones. Believing himself to be such a man, he used any means necessary to obtain a central position in Adolf Hitler's army, until his conceit made him arrive to the point of believing himself to be greater than Hitler, and thus starting a plan to overthrow him. Unlike other Nazis, Schmidt doesn't believe that the Germans are the destined "master race", but rather that the superior man has yet to be made.
In large part, because he didn't believe the Germans were the destined 'master race', he also did not personally care to follow the Nazis' infamous holocaust plan against the Jewish race (although he nonetheless used it as a threat against Abraham Erskine to force him to make the serum). Schmidt is pitiless and cruel, but also a scientific genius, who is able to see beyond appearances and managed to see the truth behind myths believed to be superstition, which is, in reality, fragments of Asgardian origin.
Schmidt was said to be a fully-fledged supporter of the Nazi Party until the incident which left him deformed. The truth is that he worked with the Nazis only so he could use their resources to achieve his own goals, and no longer seemed to share the racial ideals of Nazism. He claims that he was isolated to his palace in the Alps because he "no longer shares Hitler's image of Aryan Perfection".
Though he is disillusioned by the Führer's ideals, he is still morally devoid and capable of mass murder. Once a mere professor at the university in Berlin, Schmidt became a cold-blooded killer who would do anything to accomplish his goals. Even his subordinate officers had reasons to fear him as Schmidt had an extremely low tolerance of failure; If they didn't do their job right, death was the only penalty he would give to those who failed him.
After spending more than 70 years on Vormir, Red Skull became much more humble and reserved, resigned to the curse of knowing all those who come for the stone of the soul and being forced to guard the Soul Stone. Red Skull's lack of morals became attributed to outright indifference due to the knowledge he had gained, as he didn't care about Thanos and Gamora or Natasha and Clint and which of them would be sacrificed and in contrast to his sadism, he remained emotionless as the sacrifice was committed. Rather than take the Soul Stone from either Thanos or Hawkeye as he could have when they were unconscious, he instead allowed them to keep the Stone and he even accepted Captain America returning the Stone despite knowing it would put him back under his curse, showing no hostility towards his nemesis. As Russo noted, regardless of whatever memories of his old life he retained and some resentment of being unable to acquire the Stones, Red Skull had ultimately became a vastly different entity due to his curse, which is hinted to be him being a mere shadow of his former self. However, with his curse being lifted, it remains to be seen whether or not he remains humble or if he plans to pursue greater goals in the future. Furthermore, him not being bitter about his fate is merely a sign of acceptance. Thus, it does nothing to make him sympathetic nor excuse his previous actions.
- Although the character's more well-known name is Red Skull, Captain America: The First Avenger primarily refers to him by his real name of Johann Schmidt, with his main name of Red Skull only being referenced once in the film (when one of his Nazi's superiors, on Hitler's behalf, were scolding him for his recent actions).
- In the comics, Johann Schmidt was Adolf Hitler's right hand, second in command and personal assassin. Originally, he had no relationships with HYDRA, although he helped Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (the original HYDRA's director) to escape from Germany and to organize HYDRA in the Japanese-occupied territory in the final days of World War II.
- This version of the Red Skull has more in common with Wolfgang von Strucker and Wilhelm Lohmer from the comics than the Johann Schmidt: He had a falling out with Hitler and founded the modern incarnation of HYDRA, much like von Strucker in the comics; and he is the Axis foil to Captain America: enhanced by a variant of the Super-Soldier Serum, like Lohmer (also known as Master Man) in the comics.
- Before the role was ultimately given to Ross Marquand, Hugo Weaving was overall unsure whether he wanted to return to the role or not, despite signing a contract stating he would do multiple films and that he enjoyed the role. When Captain America: Civil War was released, his thoughts still remained the same, but at the same time stated that there's a possibility of the circumstances being changed.
- Hugo Weaving revealed that the Russo Brothers had reached out to him regarding if he wanted the role for Avengers: Infinity War, but Weaving declined it as the amount of money he was being offered was less than what he received when he first starred in Captain America: The First Avenger; an agreement that went against his initial contract.
- Ross Marquand spent about ten days to perfect his voice, based on Hugo Weaving's portrayal and the directions that the Russo brothers gave him. He did not portray the character on set, however, as the Red Skull was portrayed on set with stunt actors and CGI.
- After the events of Avengers: Infinity War and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5, Red Skull became the only known former head of HYDRA still alive.
- Due to Barton obtaining the Soul Stone in Avengers: Endgame, this likely created an alternate timeline where Red Skull was freed from the curse much earlier than before Thanos' inevitable arrival. However, because Rogers was able to return the Soul Stone right after it was taken, this timeline was likely erased. Regardless, since Thanos had already taken the Soul Stone and then destroyed all of the Infinity Stones from the original timeline, including the Soul Stone, Red Skull is free from his curse.
- It remains unknown if the Red Skull desired the Infinity Stones after he was freed from his curse, as he did not seek out Thanos nor did he take the Soul Stone from him when he was unconscious, even despite likely knowing that Thanos using all six Stones left him vulnerable as he was weakened. It is also unlikely that he desired revenge or dominance over the earth, as he did not return to the planet that was once his home to seek revenge at Rogers or try to rule over it. Whether he is currently pursuing other goals than the Stones or is currently living a life of isolation remains unknown.
- According to Joe Russo, Rogers did in fact meet Red Skull on Vormir, but the two did not engage in battle and instead, the Red Skull simply accepted the Soul Stone back to its place. The reasoning Joe Russo comes up with is that Red Skull has become a vastly different entity compared to how he was in Captain America: The First Avenger, as his only purpose now is to guard the Soul Stone. Therefore, despite him still being irredeemable, the Red Skull did mellow out slightly since his first appearance.