I'm coming late to the party, in terms of seeing "Captain America: The First Avenger." But when I really think about it, that's a little apt. I knew the movie had potential, I just needed to wait for the right break in my schedule to take action and watch it, much as Steve Rogers the ninety-pound weakling just needed the opportunity to prove himself in order to change the world as Captain America (see: left).
Hmm, that's a pretty shameless shirtless Chris Evans shot, isn't it? Oh, well. Onward and upward!
I've always wondered myself what it is that draws people to Captain America. Is it the costume? In the movie, he wears a very tailored soldier's armor that just happens to be painted red, white and blue, thanks to a USO debacle (easily the funniest sequence in the movie):
But I digress. Captain America's gaudiness and longevity has always struck me as particularly crazy, given his heyday had him serving as a piece of propaganda meant to bolster American optimism during World War II. I was never sure what it was about him that captivated imaginations so long after Hitler was defeated.
The movie put things into perspective for me, though. Several times, the characters point out that they're not following Captain America, but the kid from Brooklyn who wanted to serve, powers notwithstanding. Steve even says as much, while getting the crud kicked out of him by the Red Skull.
Much is still made of Steve exceeding expectations before or after becoming a Super Soldier, precisely because he is a good person. That's the basic point of the movie, actually; Steve was always a hero, he just needed the opportunity to take action. He simply requires others to believe in his capabilities as a human being. (SPOILER?) At the end of the movie, he loses the chance at a happy life with the totally awesome Peggy Carter because he makes the ultimate sacrifice, and saves millions of people. But it's a happy moment in that he relies on his humanity to do right by others; he fulfills the need to serve and protect. (END SPOILER!)
So, all in all, this movie showed me exactly WHY this character is still popular today. A youngster getting the chance to make good is a typical story in early American fiction, but I'd also argue it's the lens through which Americans view ourselves throughout history. We are the underdogs who know we have so much more to offer than imports from our colonial fathers. And despite growing cynicism over the past thirty years or so, there's still a current of "can-do" American spirit surging in non-profit work, and even in canny political moves. As Americans, we started as the 90 pound weakling, and then because we believed in ourselves and our scrappy strength, we came out on top as a world power (not always morally, but with the foundation of our country relying on a moral imperative).
What's going to happen to that world power in today's reality is not what was going on in WW II, but what happens to our fantastic belief in our abilities -- well, that's up to each individual, just as it was up to Steve in this movie.
Cap Movie Stills: From the Internet Movie Database.
Green Lantern: Darryl Banks, Pencils; Steve Mattsson, Colorist; Romeo Tanghal, Inker.
Wonder Woman: George Perez, Artist.
Superman: Dan Jurgens, Artist.