***Warning, contains spoilers***
I’m going to admit it right upfront, I’m not a big superhero fanatic. Oh don’t mistake me, I’m a huge nerd, I’m just more of the Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings fantasy hero type. My idea of real heroism is when someone who is very moral and vulnerable puts themselves in danger for the things that they love, and not just one girl, but usually for their country or in defense of those were are persecuted unfairly. Also, I see violence as a last resort and a failure on the part of intelligence which I value far over the ability to kill. So when I see someone who is endowed with unlimited body power who just has his one girlfriend to save, I don’t usually care so much. It’s not that I think the superheroes are bad guys, I just don’t really see body power as being particularly impressive. I’m an athlete who knows what it means to suffer to have an able body. I know there’s always going to be someone who’s stronger than I am, so I am appreciative of those who can push themselves harder than I can to achieve this, but for me, it’s their willpower that’s impressive, not as much their bodies. Yes, a built body is impressive on a primitive, lustful kind of way, but there are so many more impressive qualities to me. I prefer an intelligent or gentle mind for sure. I am also rarely impressed because of heroes like Batman, who while intelligent also has grown up his whole life filthy rich and had everything but a family handed to him. It’s no wonder then, that someone like Superman, who was handed everything from strength to laser vision, really has very little appeal to me. Do I hate him? Nah, but I don’t really give two shits that he can lift a plane with his bare hands. I know people who could probably knock you out with one punch but are assholes. Anyway, point being, I am rarely won-over by superheros and when I am, they tend to be the ones that do a lot of thinking and have real weaknesses…the ones that are more human.
My buddy was interested in the seeing the new “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” movie last Friday. Captain America is someone I have less experience with, mainly because in the past, I was very wary of exposing myself to a hero that seemed to be so obviously used as American propaganda. However, I had seen the previous Captain America movie and liked his attitude. Apart from his white privilege, here was a guy who was truly vulnerable. He wasn’t rich, was a 98 pound weakling, that no one, not even the american army who at that time was drafting people for World War II wanted around. He worked his ass off, asking only to serve and save his country that (at least in his mind, was the land of freedom) while others would have done anything to get out of it. Unfortunately no matter how hard he worked, he simply wasn’t big enough or strong enough to get into the army. It wasn’t until someone tested his training group per chance, throwing a dud grenade without a pin to the ground, that Steve Rogers had the chance to get ahead. Throwing himself on top of the grenade without even thinking about it, he screamed at the other soldiers to get away, to save themselves. People laughed at him, but his superiors finally saw the potential in him that made him stand out, bravery and selflessness to the end. He earned the right to try an experimental process that would give him great strength and mass. Anyone else might have used the power selfishly, but he had proven himself worthy. He EARNED his power by demonstrating kindness. How many superheroes do you know who became what they were in such a way?
Once given his powers, Steven Rogers (now Captain America) worked tirelessly to save troops in danger and end the war that threatened the freedom of the people of the world. He never underestimated his rivals, his friends, or grew an ego. He hate being used as or seen as anything other than just another soldier doing his duty. He was not a bully who could throw his weight around and get whatever he wanted.
In “Winter Soldier” Rogers realizes his ideas are now old-fashioned, the ideals of an older world that were even at that time considered out of date and impractical. He was seen as too self-serving and reserved in giving himself pleasures. Clearly the most innocent of the Avengers, the rest of the group and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents see him as a bit of an outsider. Useful, but not “onboard” with the team mentality. Nick Fury (head of S.H.I.E.L.D.) tells Rogers, “We need to stay one step ahead,” that they need to use their opportunity and power to intimidate and scare other countries into staying in line. Fury shows Rogers massive weapons and airships they are massing to demonstrate this power. Rogers relies stubbornly, “That is not freedom, that’s fear,” rejecting the imperialist attitude of his ancestors. Fury insists that Rogers is just too stuck in the old ways to see that it’s the right thing to do to save their future. Captain America was right however, as S.H.I.E.L.D. is quickly taken over and used for its powerful weapons, with the intent I might add, of taking away everyone’s freedom.
Other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents like the Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) agree that Rogers is stuck in the past, even romantically. “You should ask out that nurse” “You should ask out that accountant, if you asked her, she’d go out with you.” However the director chose to do something I really liked, no romance. There are hints of attraction between Rogers and the Black Widow, but nothing happens. Rogers sees her as an equal on the field and treats her as such, trusting her with his life and also not holding back in criticising her if he thinks she’s behaved in a way that is less than satisfactory because he believes she’s capable of greatness and not some fragile thing to be protected (this actually suggests that he’s far ahead of the time period from which he came where women were not allowed in combat at all). He calls her a “friend,” an equal and never hits on her or brings up her gender. The most romantic it gets is at the end of the movie, with a quick peck on the cheek, practically nothing by most movie standards. I wouldn’t be surprised if the directors tried to follow it up with a romance in a later movie, but let me just say that this movie was a breath of fresh air. There “relationship” was always about being a team and never a major focus in the movie. Instead of using his male privilege and nice physique to get ahead and take advantage of his status, Rogers focuses his assets on saving his friends and the freedom of people he’s never met.
In fact, this movie focused more on the fast relationship that Rogers had with his old friend, Bucky. Previously believed to have died in the war, Bucky shows up very unexpectedly as a brain-washed enemy (the “Winter Soldier”) and physical monster, so obviously, Captain America is quite shocked. He has only ever fought to others to save the people he loves, but never to fight against them. Everyone tells him to just kill the guy, because even though it’s sad, there is no way around it. Rogers stubbornly refuses yet again to give his old ideals up. He and Bucky had promised to always be there for each other, no matter what the cost to themselves. Rogers does fight back when attacked and continues to fight until he’s certain the people of Earth are saved but the whole time, he pleads with Bucky to stop. Rogers pleads him to remember their friendship, remember who he is and what they had. Rogers has insured victory but Bucky continues to fight him. Rogers puts down his hands and goes limp, “I’m not going to fight you” he says as Bucky wails on Roger’s face mercilessly. Bucky continues to hit him saying, “I have to finish the mission” (to kill Captain America) and Rogers says, peering through a black eye squeezed shut with swelling, “Go ahead then, I’m with you to the end of the line.” Here was a man who could clearly kill Bucky, but instead doing nothing because he loved his friend, who had nothing to offer in return but terrible beatings and angry words. It was actually the most touching part of the movie. A highly intimate and completely unapologetic relationship between two huge men. Not only is Rogers not apologetic for refusing to act manly because he loves his friend, but he’s not embarrassed by it. He admits he has feeling of attraction for women, but it does not mean that he couldn’t also have affection for his childhood friend, whom he would have gladly given his life for. I’m not saying it was a romantic relationship, but who cares?
This is not the typical superhero movie. No romantic sex only to feature a highly imitate love between friends. A man who refused to use his white privilege, male privilege, or physical advantage to use people because he recognized “that’s not freedom, it’s fear.” Captain America realized that was not a world he wanted to be apart of making and certainly not the part of the world that he had set out to save, even if what he thought was real couldn’t be saved or didn’t exist anymore. No one could convince him or intimidate him into acting otherwise. I know we have enough movies featuring the white male superhero as the ideal person, but I think as far as popular superhero movies go, this one definitely showed progress and pointed cinema in the right direction. It was not a movie I’m ashamed to have paid for and I think that had the character been a real man, a real soldier, I would not have been ashamed to call him my friend.