this is heavy

The Case for Captain America

Cap is back, and apparently America – indeed the globe – is happy to see him. Captain America: The Winter Soldier took in more than $300 million worldwide in its debut weekend, a number that nearly matches the entire run of Steve Rogers’ first standalone foray into theaters, 2011’s First Avenger which grossed $371 million worldwide.

The numbers are well deserved. Winter Soldier is superb, a film that transforms the series – and indeed the Marvel cinematic universe – by thrusting Captain American into modern day espionage. It’s an action-intense throwback to 70s political thrillers that, despite its grand ambition, remains surprisingly grounded – that is, as long as you approach the over-the-top action sequences (which are supremely constructed, mind you) with some sense of playfulness.

As such, Winter Soldier has provided Marvel with the ideal platform for its upcoming Avengers sequel. Hell, Winter Soldier might even be the high-water mark for Marvel Studios to this point.

And to think, if many are to be believed, this was accomplished in spite of its title character.

cap concept art

Yes, a lot of people think Cap is dull. As Vulture’s Abraham Riesman put it:

One would be hard-pressed to name a single false move the title character makes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Not only does he save the world and the American dream, he does so while remaining flawlessly kind, endlessly moral, and effortlessly charming at all times. Even Superman might find all that perfection to be a bit much.

But with perfection comes blandness. … It doesn’t have to be that way. Captain America has the potential to be much more interesting — but only if he’s a jerk.

Really? Come on.

It’s no secret – Captain America is my favorite superhero. I’ve been lampooned time and again for my allegiance to Rogers, a man defined by many a friend as listless, vapid and, well, downright boring. Like Riesman, they crave more in a protagonist.

Where’s the complexity, they ask. Where are the layers of emotion? The conflict?

Conflict is, of course, rampant in Captain America’s world; he’s a comic book character, after all. However, conflict does not drive this man, and that is, for me, the brilliance of the character. I love Cap because of what he represents – pure, unfiltered good.

Simple and direct, with a humble, incorruptible spirit. Fiercely loyal, courageous and noble. These traits, which defined Steven Rogers well before his ultimate transformation, continue to shape his being. No matter the time period, the task or the ever-changing environment around him, Rogers never wanes from his principles. He did not set out to be a hero, and he doesn’t consider himself one.

Rogers is not, and never will be, a natural leader, instead motivating others through his unwavering pursuit of what is right. Rogers, in a sense, is a catalyst for change – not in himself but in all of those he’s influenced: friends, enemies and the like. In short, Captain America believes in us more than we ever will, and that, my friends, is why he will always be the finest representation of heroism the medium will ever produce.

Charlie Jane Anders gets it:

… Captain America shows us that we always have decency and greatness inside of us, no matter what. Fuck yeah.

Exactly.