Captain America

DEFY COMPLACENCY   What I like about Captain America isn’t the hero of supernatural strength. It is the fearless man of principle who was a scrawny weakling.

Yes, there are corny-moments-a-plenty to be endured, as the average American movie-goer has come to expect from a summer blockbuster.
…And yes, only infrequently does this movie play these moments up with comedy.

What I didn’t expect was to actually empathize well with the title character.

I’m not a comic con nerd. My interest in comic book superheroes ends with Superman. The most I invest in the comic book hero, except when indulging in epic battles meshed with great comedy (The Avengers!) is the M. Night movie Unbreakable, and Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

Having said that, I am a hero geek.

Not the lasers-for-eyes, flight-capable, boundless-strength super hero; but the “average” hero, who can’t stop bullets and has more human fears, so to speak.

Webster’s online dictionary defines the anti-hero as, “a protagonist or notable figure who is conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities”.

Steve Rogers is as far from that definition as the third installment of Spiderman was from a satisfactory conclusion.

From the start that sounds bland; a straight-laced boy-scout, a “Mr. Nice Guy” who is also a hero? Not interested. Just don’t see much conflict there. The character just doesn’t sell tough to me, or conflicted… he doesn’t even have the mandatory stipple.

C’mon! Where’s the cigar smoking, guilt-laden, has-been drunk with anger control issues?

Honestly, the only reason I gave this movie a chance was I had a Saturday with nothing to do. Sorry, Captain, but it’s the sad truth.

An anti-hero protagonist is what really fascinates me. Picture Bogie smoking at a table, reminiscing about Paris and demanding Sam play As Time Goes By, the very thing that tortures him most while he’s stuck in a world of espionage and intrigue. Rick’s is the place to be.

The Captain Jack Sparrows and Tom Reagans of this world are much more challenging to keep up with, and their rebel-without-an-apparent-cause mentality invites speculation.

(Another example is Patty Hewes of Damages. Somebody wrote an excellent review of that once.)

It’s fun to watch a master manipulator at work, especially one that’s a wounded animal with their back against a wall. It brings a rich psychological tension rife with revealing moments of our most basic human nature. The anti-hero plays devil’s advocate with our fears of betrayal and of love.

So what’s interesting about straight-laced Steve Rogers?
He’s a hero that never picks fights because he can win them.
He’s not proving something to himself, and doesn’t care who’s watching.
He stands for something, earnestly, and won’t back down fighting for his principles, or his country. He knows that fighting isn’t only about what you can win. It’s also about what can be lost.

Starving for originality, the anti-hero has come to replace the hero as the standard for protagonist characters in our beloved action flicks… and this has certainly spilled over from the comic book hero movies.

Internal conflict is great, even necessary for the development of any character, but it seems we just don’t know how to relate to this unless it’s in the vein of moral compromise. That’s why Captain America is so refreshing. It taps into the definitive qualities of the hero, reminding us that the anti-hero defines himself by contrast.

“The Principle, at the same moment that it explains the Rules, supersedes them.”

-Seeley, Ecce Homo, chap. xvi (taken from Miracles, by C.S. Lewis)

What we learn vicariously through the anti-hero is that rebellion for its own cause is really acting in fear of the intentional life. It replaces purpose with the hate of measurable standards. It’s called doubt, and it incites self-betrayal.

That’s what sets this character apart, and it’s why I relate to him; the skinny kid who fights with his physical limitations in order to measure up to his noble, if ambitious standards.

In Captain America, Steve Rogers is the knight in shining armor, without the strength to wear it… yet.

It’s only after a government project turns him into a meatlocker that the action really takes off. Lots of thematic violence targeted at the young teenager demographic… or perhaps even a younger audience. While these battles are epic and valiant, this is really where the film and I part company.

And that’s okay.

It’s okay because I already got the message. And while I hope for a sequel to take the cheesy out of this story, I love the heart of Captain America, and I think this movie would have done better taking itself a little more seriously.

The heart of the movie? Well, it almost touted Uncle Sam’s famous WWII recruiting tagline; a kind of chest-beating American pride. While I love patriotism, it took something away from the spirit of the story which had everything to do with knowing what to fear. Summed up in these words:

“I do not choose to be a common man.
It is my right to be uncommon — if I can.
I seek opportunity, not security.
I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled
by having the state look after me.
I want to take the calculated risk;
to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed.
I refuse to barter incentive for a dole.
I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence;
the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia.
I will not trade freedom for beneficence nor my dignity for a handout.
I will never cower before any master
nor bend to any threat.
It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid;
to think and act for myself,
enjoy the benefit of my creations,
and to face the world boldly and say, this I have done.”
-Dean Alfange


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