Avengers Week - Captain America: A Tree Beside a River of Truth
Welcome to Avengers Week here at Mirror Box! Each day, we’ll feature a piece from our incredible writers that highlights each original member of the iconic team and discuss the cultural impact and relevance these characters have on the big screen! As a fitting end to our series, Jacob York gives us his take on the first avenger himself, Captain America!
It’s cool to be cynical. The stakes are lower. If you appear to not care about the outcome of most decisions, or feel like they’re out of your hands, you don’t run the risk of disappointment. It’s a very human reaction to the modern world, when we’re all under someone’s thumb.
That’s not how most of us work, though. Despite our best efforts, we care. We keep showing up for the beating we know we’re going to get because it’s the right thing to do. We’re put together to give a shit.
Captain America has rarely been cool, but he has always given a shit.
I tend toward folks some people think are “vanilla”. What’s so funny about truth, justice, and the American way, right? And we could talk all day about the image America projects into the world as opposed to the stark reality we live with, but superheroes are supposed to be aspirational. As with any comic book character, Captain America has served at the whims of his creators since his debut in 1941, but Cap’s North Star has always been his standing up for the downtrodden, fighting for justice, and finding good when surrounded by darkness.
Comparing movie Captain America vs. comic book Captain America is a fool’s errand for me, even though that’s the assignment. My heart keeps pulling back to the core of the character, found throughout all media. Perhaps that’s why I find Chris Evans’ portrayal so successful. His career started as a face on Mystery Date 2000 (Thank you, Twitter…). After a series of comic book projects of varying success (it’s truly gobsmacking that he was in two Fantastic Four movies.), he found the part that has defined his career to this point.
I have trouble talking about Captain America without bringing up the other “vanilla” superhero du jour. I’ve always been convinced that if you could make one comic book character real, you would want to pick Superman. A benevolent god whose internal compass drove him to do everything he could to make the world a better place. Cap is the version of this that you can touch. He’s obviously a super soldier, but he can be defeated by conventional means as opposed to rare minerals from his home planet. Superman is, at its heart, the idealized story of the immigrant, coming to a new land to make a new life, the world prospering in response. Captain American, though, is the story of what any of us could be. Steve Rogers’ superpower was never his ability to throw a shield or bicep curl helicopters (though, those things certainly help …). It was the same grit and determination to stand up to bullies that was ground into him in as a kid in Brooklyn.
I don’t have any interest in recapping movies you’ve already seen, but it’s worth remembering what happens to Cap from film to film. In Captain America: The First Avenger, he goes from being a short, sickly street rat to an American icon, socking Hitler in the jaw at USO shows and saving the world from a Marvel-ized version of white supremacy and Nazism. He sacrifices himself to save the world and, in a heartbeat, is brought back seventy years in the future. Everyone he knows is gone. His conception of the world is shattered. And yet, he rises to the occasion to lead the team in The Avengers. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he gets his first reminder of normalcy; a friend he thought was dead returns. He solidifies his place as leader in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, shows that he’s willing to give it all up in Captain America: Civil War, loses everything he’s built since coming back in Avengers: Infinity War, and finds everything he thought he once lost at the end of Avengers: Endgame.
Captain America’s films are defined by heroism, but that doesn’t mean they’re superhero movies. Captain America: The First Avenger is a war movie. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a Cold War Era conspiracy film. His humanity allows for a variety of interpretations. I can’t say he’s the audience avatar, but he’s my avatar. The person who is surrounded by monsters and gods but takes it in stride. Not just that–he leads them.
What do we owe ourselves? What do we owe each other? Those questions live at the heart of Captain America. This character pre-dates Marvel (Timely Comics published his first appearance) and Cap punching Hitler in the face happened a full year before the attack on Pearl Harbor brought America into the conflict. Cap was in the war before America was. Why? Because of what we owe each other–the opportunity to do good.
Cap has changed over the arc of the MCU, but he is still who he always was. The kid from Brooklyn trying to do good. The same as Chris Evans. The same as any of us, God willing. Just trying to do good.
“Doesn't matter what the press says. Doesn't matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn't matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right.
This nation was founded on one principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world –
‘No, YOU move.’”