AKA: LIZZIE IS WRONG
To preface this argument I want to make it clear that I am talking about the MCU and not the comics. I readily admit that I do not care about the comics, especially now that Cap is a Nazi. I like the movie version, I am unapologetic about this, and I don’t need anyone explaining to me how it’s different in the comics. I’m talking about what I’ve seen in the movies only.
I’ve witnessed some things in the deep, dark web known as Twitter and Tumblr that suggest people feel that Captain America is boring. My own family has betrayed me – yes, fellow writer here at Fangirlish, Lizzie, has called Cap dull. Which is just irresponsible…heresy…and borderline frown-inducing. While the Marvel movie people need to work on a lot of things, like the fact that the Captain America movies has one woman of color, a black woman, who says four words and has ten seconds of screen time, or their basic, unreasonable fear of LGBQTIA characters throughout the franchises, I don’t think Captain America is one of those things they need to improve on. He is layered, complex, and he has one of the best arcs in the movies to date. (Although I have all my appendages crossed for Black Panther. Is it February yet?)
Here’s why Captain America is awesome – and why he’s just as complicated (maybe more so) as Tony Stark (thank you very much, Lizzie).
1. Unlike Tony, Cap grew up in the height of the depression. That’s easy to romanticize now that we are no longer in the depression and not headed towards economic ruin by a laisse-faire president. (Heh.) The truth of the matter is that the depression sucked. It was hard, it was tense, people died, and for someone who had constant health problems, it was twice as bad. Survival was the name of the game, and it wasn’t easy. For someone like him, who probably couldn’t hold down a consistent job because of his health, and who couldn’t enlist once the war hit, it would have been hard to make rent. It would have been doubly as hard to see his worth, and to feel like he was contributing. The complex of being a little guy with a big heart. Part of his appeal for me is that he didn’t grow up in ivory towers. He grew up on the streets, during a hard period in time, in a rough area, where Irish immigrants were not the most accepted of beings. Despite all this, he maintains his optimism and his determination; despite all this, he tries to do the right thing and find the good in people. Choosing to be good in the face of difficult times doesn’t make you less interesting. It makes you super.
2. He lived through WWII and Nazis with space guns and space tanks. Like, seriously. What the fuck? I’d still be screaming. He would have seen a lot, been changed so much by war, and that brief scene at the beginning of the Avengers suggests at some PTSD that he’s probably still working through. World War Two was not something you just forgot or recovered from quickly. It’s probably still with him, whether the MCU shows it or not. On top of those horrors of war, he witnessed his best friend die – a best friend he tried to save but was too late to do so. In that moment he became someone who no longer only cared about stopping the bullies and became someone who wanted to hunt down every single Hydra out there. He wanted revenge, and he took it. It was a moment that shifted everything for him, and he carries that scar and his loneliness throughout the other movies.
3. This is the part that gets me the most. When he woke up from the ice, he had lost more than Bucky. He had lost Peggy, The Howling Commandos, his culture, his identity, and his foundation. Brooklyn would have looked different – words would have changed. He had everything taken from him and told to, once again, survive. And he did, because he had to, because there was work to be done, and because he doesn’t know how else to move but with a forward gaze. It is here, in modern times, that you see a man who decided to find revenge in Schmidt, have his beliefs further corroded by the modern world and by those in power, and who has changed so much from when he was given the serum. He went from trying to stop bullies at the height of war to realizing that the bullies lived in shades of grey and were not always so easily punched in the face. There were nuisances, and that naïveté of his youth was stripped from him, but he kept fighting, kept going forward. And he did this all while being a man out of time – his entire world shifting just enough to the left to make it unrecognizable.
4. Where Tony has created the majority of fights he’s had to face, in that others rise up because of his actions, Cap reacts to the world around him. For some, this means that Cap is boring, because he’s less the broody superhero and more the beacon of hope, but I would argue that this is how a superhero should be. A wealthy man who decides to play hero and fight “mano-a-mano” with other equally privileged people is not really as interesting to me as a superhero who is fighting for the good of everyone, fighting against corrupt systems of government and armies willing to kill, exploit, maim, and terrify innocent people to get what they want. (Typically, power). Hydra could be analogous with any government in the world, and that’s the strength of it. Cap represents the people, and through him a free government free from oppression. He doesn’t represent the flag, not really, he represents that people that make that flag worthwhile. That erosion of his faith in the system is part of this, and you can see it in the way that his suit gets darker and grittier. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is probably the perfect example of what a superhero movie needs to be, in that it’s a small group of people going up against a government entity that wants to use their privilege to murder the innocent in the name of control. Tony’s guilt may be interesting, might make him lash out, but Cap’s willingness to follow his instincts and to fight literally the entire world to set one thing right is far more fascinating to me. It’s not easy to be the only person against the world, but he does it anyways, and that’s a lesson we could all learn. The guy from Brooklyn understands the power of the people and not being a yes man far more than Tony does, I think, and standing up to bullies is not as easy as you would always think.
5. To throw another heartbreak into the mix is the continued pain of Bucky. Not only does Cap have his entire world rearranged by having his foundation taken away, his faith shaken, and a modern world thrust at him (that includes aliens and Tony’s facial hair), the one person he always had to connect to in the past, the only one outside of Peggy who saw pre-serum Steve for who he was, is turned into the enemy. The person who still wears the face of his youth, of 1944, and that Cap can look at and still feel like he has a handle on who he was and where he came from, belongs to the organization that he has vowed to stop. He was brainwashed, tortured, and had body modification done to him, and Cap, as someone who loves his friend has to live with that horror as well. The one person who Steve could trust to have his back now wants to stab him in it. The complexities of having that person, the person, be the enemy is dynamic, difficult, and way more interesting than the majority of Marvel plot lines out there currently.
6. The woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with had a life of her own while he was in ice. He had to watch her forget him over and over again, and the war that he thought would end with her at his side, perhaps forever, continued instead with her fading away right in front of him. Someone he saw as the epitome of strength, courage, and determination withered while he was sleeping, and he had very little time to mourn her passing before being called a criminal for trying to save the only other surviving person of the life that was before. Very rarely is Cap allowed to grieve, and if he does, it’s in quiet moments that allows you to again see how lonely he truly is.
7. He had to put up with being in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
8. He allowed himself to be nearly killed three times (if not more) – with the serum, with the plane in the ice, and with Bucky. I don’t want to trivialize any sense of being suicidal, but he seems like a man who doesn’t always care if he lives. The greater good can only go so far, and the fact that he’s willing to go to these lengths is telling of his mental well-being. At the end of the day, I don’t think he’s ever really gotten out of the mindset of being the skinny kid from Brooklyn who had a countdown to when his heart would give out on him. This is darkness that I don’t think everyone sees because they are too busy looking at him fight the good fight.
9. He’s still fighting a war he began in the ’40s, only now the enemies are more hidden, the stakes are higher, and he always seems to have someone like Tony telling him what not to do – to go against his morals because the world is different now. Can you blame the guy for not wanting to sign the accords when that kind of signature may end up in the hands of someone who values greed and corporatism over the good of all? He’s started to think like a spy, and that means a good deal of isolation, pain, and betraying people he sees as friends.
10. He had to watch Bucky be put back in to the ice, his only link to the world he came from going away yet again. He has the others, but having to watch losing Bucky again could not have been easy, but he did it anyways, for Bucky’s sake. And now, because he chose to stick to his guns, no place will be home, his foundation slipping away once more. He’s a criminal because of his morals, and the complexity of that is definitely interesting.
If you think that Cap isn’t interesting, it may very well be because you’ve been fixated on the hope that carries him through the fights he enters into and judged him for having it. Hope is not always bad. It can be complex. It can make you act without thinking, and place your life and your future into the hands of people who may not be worthy of such belief. When it drains out of you, it does so abruptly and without ever being able to get that same spark back entirely the way you left it. The light can be caustic when shone too brightly in the dark, and it’s a balancing act to find skepticism balanced against the love, determination, and hope that is the core of Cap’s personality. But that hope is still worthwhile.
Cap is complex, he’s simply not loud about it, always willing to get the job done and mourn in private, but that doesn’t mean he’s less interesting. It just means you have to look a little closer, and that quiet despair is worth more than a thousand loud moments meant to distract. Tony is interesting in his own right, and I love his movies, but dismissing Cap because he processes differently is a disservice to the character and the subtlety that has driven him throughout all the wars, both private and worldly, he has fought.
In conclusion, Lizzie is wrong and I am right, and there’s nothing you can do about it.