Is Captain America’s Selfless Heroism His Shining Triumph or a Narrative Failure?

I watched a bit of Captain America: The Winter Soldier last night and after watching Infinity War it’s been the first Marvel movie I’ve watched since then that focuses on this patriotic Avenger. As I watched the film and Steve Rogers I began to think to myself, Captain America is basically, in fictional terms, the perfect human being. He’s incredibly strong and fast, he’s handsome, he’s cordial, he does everything he possibly can to protect citizens from harm, he is what you would imagine Captain America being. But is that a good thing or his biggest flaw?

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One of the reasons why I didn’t like him that much in The Avengers (besides the terrible suit) is because he felt too uppity compared to the other Avengers. You see, every other member of the Avengers had flaws and they learned to deal with those flaws and could handle being in the presence of other imperfect beings like they were. Steve, on the other hand, is perfect, remember? He’s the poster boy for patriotism. He’s willing to sacrifice himself for the lives of others. And then you have characters like Tony Stark whose every other sentence is a joke and doesn’t take life very seriously. Steve was practically bursting at the seams with annoyance for Tony and Tony was feeling the same way about the stuck-up Captain America. And I was feeling the same way. Who was this guy who thought he was so much better than everyone else even though he clearly was the lamest of them all?

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When we see Captain America again in The Winter Soldier he’s changed quite a bit over the two-year gap. He’s hardened, physically and mentally, and he just feels like a different character. He understands the world a little more after fighting with The Avengers and he doesn’t judge those around him as harshly. He still retains that perfect image that isn’t tarnished throughout the entire film and only becomes more heartening as he fights to save his old friend, Bucky, from the clutches of HYDRA’s death machine. By the end of The Winter Soldier I was a Captain America fan for his bravery, his willingness to change things for the better of humanity, and his unyielding mission to save the man he loved as a brother.

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When we see Captain America again in Avengers: Age of Ultron he isn’t given any character development because, well, he has no obstacles to face. He doesn’t possess any flaws whatsoever and that becomes all the more apparent when Wanda Maximoff fiddles with his brain. He isn’t shown any devastating futures of the world ending or the potential loss of a friend. He’s shown the one thing that he regrets the most; losing Peggy. If he hadn’t sacrificed himself he could’ve lived a happy, military life with the woman he loved the most but instead he lost that version of reality and had to endure being a superhero basically transported to the next century. Through the rest of the movie that dream of his isn’t brought up and doesn’t affect the story in the slightest. In fact, it could be said that the dream was a waste of content for Captain America’s journey other than to remind us that his love for Peggy is still there. It isn’t until his next movie that this post’s topic really comes into play.

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For the first time in Steve Roger’s life he is faced with becoming an imperfect person. When he is faced with the fact that he, and The Avengers, have done more harm to the world than helped it over the years does he feel bad for that realization? Of course he feels bad, but (because he’s perfect) his line of thinking is, to him, the only right way of looking at the situation. He despises governments and their shady dealings and he decides he just can’t work for something he doesn’t trust. This isn’t the first time he’s decided to break the rules and tarnish his perfect image (he became a fugitive from S.H.I.E.L.D in The Winter Soldier) but what’s different this time around is he’s breaking off from The Avengers and starting a coup of sorts. For us viewers our perspective of him, the beloved Captain America, becomes different. Do we love him for his choice to fight back against the government or do we despise him for his lack of understanding, or care, for those who perish because he’s out fighting terrorists and aliens from outer space?

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Throughout the movie he continues to be written as this perfect guy who’s just trying to save his friend who needs help rather than detainment not realizing he’s being set up (by Zemo) for all of his true ugly colors to be revealed. When he’s cornered and Tony learns that Captain America, who’s supposedly the most honest guy in the room at all times, had kept this terribly dark secret from him about Bucky that perfect facade Steve Rogers has been able to uphold crumbles before our very eyes. Now Steve Rogers is just as flawed as everybody else and you can’t help but side with Tony for absolutely losing it. Captain America, by the skin of his teeth, escapes with his beat down friend Bucky but thanks to him trying to keep that terrible secret hidden away he ends up fracturing The Avengers to a point that might not be redeemable. He sends Tony a flip phone just in case, if the reason ever arises, he’ll be there to back him up, and he apologizes for keeping the truth about Tony’s parents secret but it’s kind of too late.

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When we see Captain America again in Avengers: Infinity War gone is the clean-shaven Cap we’ve all gotten used to seeing and here is a rougher, even more mature version of the character. His perfect image is gone but his heroic attitude is still the same. Steve Rogers pretends to be this selfless dude but really, at the center of all things, his mindset lies with the love for his friends. He will do absolutely anything to save the people he cares about the most and that is his one flaw. It’s what got him in trouble Civil War and it may be what gets him in trouble in Avengers 4.

So Is His “Perfection” His Shining Triumph or a Narrative Failure?

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Captain America is one of my favorite heroes, there’s no doubt about that, but at times he can be a bit annoying because he’s so…well, heroic and serious at all times. He’s also not willing to admit his faults. You see, T’Challa (Black Panther) is such an amazing character and inspiring hero because he is ready to admit his wrongs. He’s a great guy but when he makes a mistake he acknowledges it and tries to right his faults. It’s why he opened Wakanda to the world. He felt that hiding the nation from the outside world was hurting Wakanda rather than helping it (see what happened with Killmonger?) and he was right. He fixed that problem rather than trying to hide it away and that’s why I can’t wait to see his character again…once he’s revived.

Steve tried to admit to himself that he was always in the right and then when his wrong was exposed it caused a terrible tragedy for The Avengers that could’ve totally been prevented if he had just told Tony the truth in the first place. I like a hero who can admit his faults and isn’t just a one-dimensional good guy. It’s why I love Batman so much. He’s a hero but he has a dark side as well that he finds ways to overcome. That’s more realistic because us, as humans, have our faults and the most relatable fictional characters are the ones who can break down those obstacles that bar them from being the wise human beings we all acclaim to be.

Captain America is a fantastic hero in the MCU but his heroism is a slight narrative failure for his development. His most compelling film is Civil War because it’s the movie that breaks away his perfect facade. If his journey throughout the MCU dealt with his flaws more often his character would probably be in my top three favorite superheroes.

Now I still love Captain America. When I saw him in Avengers: Infinity War I was SO excited. I was, however, a little disappointed in his participation in the movie but I’m hoping Avengers 4 will provide a worthy ending (because I’m sure this next Avengers film is going to be his ending) to his cinematic journey.

I thank you for reading and I hope you have a fabulous day.

 

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