SPOILER NOTE: This is a review of a character from the 2012 film “The Avengers”. It will contain spoilers. I recommend avoiding this review until you’ve seen the film.
“Aren’t the stars and stripes a little…old fashioned?”
“Everything that’s happening, the things that are about to come to light— people might just need a little old fashioned.”
-Captain America and Agent Phil Coulson, The Avengers
A Hopeful Genre
Superhero films have undergone an interesting transition in the last several years. Last decade, they seemed obsessed with the bleak, unsure, and angsty; Spider-Man, Elektra, The Dark Knight and even Superman Returns showed superheroes who were unsure about their missions, didn’t want the great power or great responsibility that had been bestowed upon them, and sometimes seemed to shirk their responsibilities.
But in the last few years (Man of Steel aside), a more hopeful hero seems to have come into vogue, and Captain America rides at the forefront of that wave. From the outset, Rogers was much more interested in helping the downtrodden than in lording his heroism over anyone else. “I don’t like bullies,” he says in The First Avenger, “I don’t care where they’re from.” He’s dedicated to righting wrongs, to making life better for the downtrodden. Even as he’s nearing almost certain death, he doesn’t question his decision to do what is right.
An Old-Fashioned Superhero
In The Avengers, the Captain has been taken out of his time, but he hasn’t lost his sense of truth, justice, and the American way. He’s an utterly unabashed superhero; pleased to be doing his part. In contrast to the other three jaded, flawed heroes we’ll be talking about later, he has no major, fatal flaw; he’s a good guy doing a good job. He’s ready to jump into action when he’s needed, he doesn’t back out at the first sign of trouble, he’s willing to make the sacrifice if he’s needed, and he doesn’t try to grab all the credit for himself. It’s a very old-fashioned idea.
And like Coulson says, maybe that’s exactly what we need. This century is an uncertain one thus far. Terrorism, financial crisis on multiple continents, civil unrest and protest, fear, recession— the enemies we face may not be as colorful as Loki or the Red Skull, but they are just as difficult for mortals to defeat. We face problems and fears daily that not only threaten our freedom and livelihood but demand that we kneel before them and allow them to consume us.
“We ended up disagreeing.”
When Captain America first leaps into action in The Avengers, he validates the old man’s insistence that there will always be something that demands our allegiance; a false god that demands we kneel. It’s true that we are made to bow our knees, but not to Loki, and certainly not to the weak and puny concerns we find ourselves surrounded by and threatened by every day. Captain America may be willing to give up his life, but he’s not willing to sacrifice himself to Loki’s unworthy cause.
Captain America’s optimism and hope are a reassurance that we can withstand our enemies; our battles can be won, if we have the right ally.
Clothes make the God?
The Bible talks about a similar, silver-tongued villain who insists we kneel to him, and an amazing Savior who tells him “not today,” insisting that the real God “does not dress like that” – clothed in lies, brandishing the power to make us forget who we are and fight amongst ourselves. He looks attractive to us, but 1 Peter 5:8 says that Satan, like Loki, is “looking for someone to devour.” We’ll talk about him more in upcoming posts, but what’s important is this: our battle against him will be hard-fought and long. It does not end until our life does, but if our Savior fights for us – and dies for us – victory will be ours. Christ made that commitment on the cross, laying Himself down to receive the blow meant for us.
He seems old-fashioned, but as The Avengers proves, we really need something old-fashioned right now.
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This review was originally written prior to the release of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier“, and published prior to a Film and Theology event about the newer film. Follow us on social media for our upcoming review of Captain America 2, as well as more Marvel movies to come.