For our Marvel Monday column for the next two months, we will be reviewing all of the Marvel canon movies to prepare for our big review of The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1. Today, we compile the recipe for how to make a superhero from scratch with Leah’s review of Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).
Since I am our site’s resident Agent Carter
fangirl reviewer, it will likely come as a surprise to no one that her heroic counterpart, Captain America, is my favorite of the Avengers. Consequently, rewatching his debut was a great deal of fun. Which is not to say the film was perfect. I don’t believe Marvel had quite hit their stride yet with this film, though it was certainly a fun installment. For one thing, CA didn’t have the cohesion of many of Marvel’s later films. For a good majority of the film, Steve’s plot and the plot of Red Skull seemed largely disjointed, only coming together near the very end. And I think the strength of many of Marvel’s films lies in that character-driven plot — we feel for the characters, so we become invested in their narrative. Here, that investment was broken by the ambitions of Red Skull, which remain separate from Steve’s core conflicts for a large portion of the narrative.
But what we do see of Steve’s character is utterly fascinating, and this rewatch gave me a new perspective on the film, as well as a question that becomes central to the movie: is a hero born or made?
In the Marvel fan culture, I’ve seen a tendency to venerate Steve Rogers. It’s a tendency I myself have fallen into. After all, this is the guy who jumped on what he thought was a live grenade. Who was so desperate to fight for his country that he was willing to break the law. Who ultimately sacrifices himself to prevent the death of many people. And I’m not saying we’re wrong in admiring Steve for those things, because, let’s face it, he has a lot of good qualities even before he becomes the hero we know and love. There’s a reason he was what America needed. But perhaps the most striking thing about my rewatch of CA was how Steve, despite the innate qualities he already possessed, still required molding to become the hero he was.
Steve is self-sacrificing. But as I went back and watched, I realized that Steve is often self-sacrificing to the point of recklessness. He has no regard for his own safety: in a conversation with Peggy, he blatantly states that he would never run away, because it might show weakness. Steve is a hero, yes, but he’s a hero who has trouble with self-regulation. He needs the moderating influence of people like Peggy and Bucky to keep him from holding too fast to his own stubborn ideals. When he gets sidelined by the military after his transformation, he doggedly pursues the commitment to help in the way they’ve assigned him to, even at the expense of his own happiness. It takes a kick in the seat of the pants from our practical Agent Carter to make him realize that he can — and should — be more.
I think this film makes an excellent lead-in to the examination of his character in The Avengers (which Laney will be reviewing this Friday!), because Steve is so resistant to that group dynamic. I would argue that he thinks he can push through on his own almost as much as Tony Stark does, just in a different way. But what this film shows, above all, is that Steve needs those tempering influences to thrive. Steve may be America’s symbol, but it takes far more than one individual to uphold a moral standard. The ingredients of a hero do not always come pre-made. Steve does not emerge from that chamber a fully formed hero — he needs guidance and support just as much, if not more, than his other Avenger counterparts.
So which is it — heroes born or made? Or some complex concoction that’s really a combination of the two?