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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.
A lifetime ago, I too sought the stones. I even held one in my hand. But it cast me out, banished me here, guiding others to a treasure I can not possess.
~ Red Skull as the Stonekeeper.
Johann Schmidt, also known as the Red Skull and Stonekeeper, is a major antagonist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He served as the main antagonist of Captain America: The First Avenger, as a mentioned antagonist in both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and as a minor character in both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
He was the leader of HYDRA during World War II and planned to take over the world, 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 on 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 purse his own goals once more.
Nothing much is really known about his early life, other than he was born in Germany, and joined SS during the 1930's. He then created the science division of Nazi Germany, known as HYDRA.
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 the world capitals. 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.
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.
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 right, 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.
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 more humble and seemed to accept the curse of knowing all those who come for the stone of the soul. 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.
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.
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 all of the Infinity Stones were destroyed from the original timeline, including the Soul Stone, Red Skull is free from his curse.
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.