Back in the summer of 2011 (so long ago-- we were so young!) I penned a love sonnet to The First Avenger on the eve of the 4th of July and the release of the Captain America movie.
It's been long enough, we've had two Captain America films and The Avengers, plus several more years of comics. And during that time, I've found even more reasons to love Cap.
Let's start at the end. This weekend's Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier is one of the best films Marvel has made I wholeheartedly agree with Swankmotron's review.
But what I love most is what Cap 2 says about us in America today. [mild spoilers from the first 20 minutes of the film ahead] Steve Rogers isn't happy with the direction of our country. The launch of the Insight helicarriers and their ability to kill any "threat" or "terrorist" at will means a fundamental breakdown in due process, all overseen by the unblinking eye of technology. In a sense, we've outsourced our morality to computer algorithms and data mining, because specific patterns of behavior will tell us who "the bad guys" are, and we'll just kill them from tens of thousands of feet.
And what we, the public, don't know, won't hurt us. Because we will accept "security" and "order" as long as it doesn't disrupt our normal everyday lives. Until we find ourselves on the business end of the power of the security/surveillance state, like Steve Rogers did when he was labelled an enemy because he didn't answer SHIELD's questions to their satisfaction.
Because what Cap is always about is, fundamentally, power. In the first Cap movie, Steve Rogers asks Dr. Erskine why him on the eve of the procedure that will transform him into a super soldier. His answer is telling: "The serum amplifies everything that is inside. So good becomes great; bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen. Because the strong man who has known power all his life, may lose respect for that power, but a weak man knows the value of strength, and knows... compassion."
At one point in "The Avengers," Tony Stark says the most backwards thing possible. "Everything special about you came out of a bottle." In fact, nothing could be more true. It is Steve Rogers' inherent character and goodness that made him turn into the Captain America we know.
When Johann Schmidt, The Red Skull, confronts Cap in the first film and reveals his true face, the result of using Dr. Erskine's formula on himself, he asks what makes Steve Rogers so special. "Nothing. I'm just a kid from Brooklyn."
It's that sort of aw shucks humility that makes Cap such an interesting character. And he reveals his motivations perfectly for why he fights. "I don't want to kill anyone. I don't like bullies." It's this that makes Stark change his tune and refer to Cap as "a living legend who lives up to the legend."
And so when faced with the possibility that SHIELD may, in fact, be the biggest bully of them all? His response is not to have misplaced loyalty just because they're "America." He recognizes it for the cancer it is. It echoes his sentiment in Avengers, when he tells Nick Fury, "When I went under, the world was at war. I wake up, they say we won. They didn't say what we lost." And when confronted in Cap 2 with some of the terrible things done during WWII in the name of "security," he calls those out as wrong, too.
But nowhere is Cap's heroism on better display than during the Battle of New York in Avengers. He sets up the plan of attack, but then also takes care of protecting people on the streets, including marshaling the police to help. ("Why should I take orders from you?" is one of those dozens of great moments in Avengers.)
And then there's what's happened in the comics since 2011. In the finale of "Fear Itself," as our heroes arm themselves with weapons forged in Asgard to defeat their ancient enemy, Thor takes up a new weapon and entrusts Mjolnir to the only mortal worthy to wield it: Any surprise this is Captain America?
And then there's Age of Ultron, which will provide some of the inspiration for next summer's Avengers 2. In my opinion, there has been no comic panel more evocative than this from Issue 1, after Ultron has taken over and our heroes are scattered:
Despondent and defeated, but never permanently, Cap would rebound and come back. And that is also what makes him great.
Captain America is a hero that seems like a relic of a bygone era. But, truly, his moral center and lack of guile, cynicism, and irony is so refreshing and necessary in our world whose current cultural trademark is snark and insincerity. I wish Captain America were real so he could help us defeat our cynicism by confronting the ridiculous levels of the military-industrial-intelligence-complex that now dominate our country. But, barring that, I hope we can all go see Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and take a deep look in the mirror and in our hearts about what kind of a place we are turning into.
Nuff said. See you next summer at "Avengers 2: Age of Ultron," Captain America.