Monthly Archives: August 2019

Processing Endgame VI: Captain America: The First Avenger

Please note that this is one a series of posts, all of which may contain spoilers for the MCU, and particularly Endgame.

Selflessness. Nobility. Bravery. What are the words that come to mind when you think of Captain America?

I wasn’t sure what to expect when we started watching Captain America. I had seen enough clips over the years since I had first watched it, and the story wasn’t really that complex. Scrawny kid gets chosen to be a super soldier, the serum works, but because of a mishap, he is the only one it works on[1]. He then goes and defeats the menace, and crashes the plane to protect millions of civilians.

Watching it, I think I perhaps now understand a little more of when people talk about ‘formula’.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. I liked the movie. It just felt a little flat compared to the Iron Man movies (perhaps even compared with The Hulk).

A great part of these origin story[2] movies is seeing the hero[3] going through character growth, as they struggle with their inner selves because of a huge inner stimulus. But Steve Rogers always knew what he wanted to do, on the inside. It was just that his outer self was not capable, and when he was finally able, he slipped into that new body, no problem. His struggles were all against external forces, his internal forces were consistently always ‘in alignment’.

I can’t help but compare and contrast with another superhero period war piece that came out recently, Wonder Woman. It’s also an origin story, of a character with singular origins, who is created to created to defeat a similarly (previously) constructed[4] villain, one that didn’t quite work out the first time.

But Wonder Woman feels deeper, perhaps because it asks deeper questions about the human condition and truth, that Evil has more depth, and wants more than just power, and that Good has self-doubts[5], and has motivations other than punching caricatures of nazis[6]

Perhaps the one thing that Cap really learned was that although he has great power as a propaganda tool, he’s much more powerful/useful/effective as the leader (from the front) of a small squad.

Some other observations: The first time we watched it, back in the day, S found Chris Evans’ digitally altered physique super-incongrous (I didn’t really know who he was, so I hadn’t noticed it). Expecting it this time, it didn’t bother me so much (except for where, even <10 years back, some CGI looks almost uncanny valley). What I did notice (and bothered me) was the bass/baritone/large voice of Chris Evans coming out of the tiny-seeming character. It kinda threw me out of suspension of disbelief. I had forgotten that it started in present-day with Cap's plane, but this was ultimately unimportant to the story. Rogers and the scientist (Dr. Erskine) ultimately bonded over their mutual dislike of bullies. The 'Genetic Code' is mentioned during WWII, placing it about 20 years ahead of our reality, where the first part of it was discovered in 1961.

[moving a blue power source from a Hydra weapon from one WALDO arm to another]
Howard Stark: “Write that down!”

Here we see the interest in knowledge (at the cost of self-image) that so characterized Tony Stark in his (recorded) experiments. (Perhaps their playboy/famous lifestyle/attractiveness acted as insulation or a helpful counter, allowing them more leeway to make fools of themselves…)

S: “What if they had found Cap as a skeleton?” “How would that change the rest of the series?”

Would Tony and Thor have worked out their differences in Avengers? Would the team have been able to work together as well to defeat the Chitauri? (Who would have let Iron Man out of the helicarrier rotor?)

Would there still be a Civil War? Tony would probably have still overreached in some way, whether it was Ultron or some other thing, that caused a calamity, that caused him character growth.

Would Bucky have caused even worse problems? Would Tony have become even more powerful and megalomaniacal, with no moral foil (that he trusted)?

Would Vision have fallen at the beginning of Infinity War? Would Thor and Iron Man have been able to delay Thanos for long enough during the final battle in Endgame?

It feels like Cap is a subtle but vital part of the MCU, perhaps more as a foil to Tony than anything else, perhaps as someone to look after all of the other Avengers, to get them to actually work together as a team, rather then minions of Iron Man (you could think of them as a lead vs. a tech lead, and how it’s important to have each of them, but you want to have the correct person in each role).

The post-credits scene, with Cap realizing that he’s lost everyone, but now he has a job to do, a new war to fight, helps understand his motivation going into Avengers. Perhaps we see him as the ‘Noble Super-Soldier’ because that’s all he has left, and he doesn’t find anything else (except for a few moments with Bucky) until the end of Endgame.

Interestingly, all of the MCU movies are PG-13, but Captain America had significantly more onscreen deaths and seemed much more violent than Avengers.

Captain America throws his shield kinda like a baseball pitcher[7] (although slightly more underhanded), using the whole body (which makes sense), but not like a javelin, discus, or shot-putter. (Note that it’s hypothesized that he is able to aim and ricochet his shield so well because of his super-reflexes and super-ability to calculate trajectories.

More parallels: Both Cap and Iron Man are saved by a foreign scientist with an accent[8] who helps them get their super powers. It is perhaps telling that they are given different messages, Tony hearing ‘don’t waste this gift, do something better’, and Cap hearing ‘Don’t change who you are’.

Coming up next, Avengers (2012), where we finally get to see many of these threads come together, and we see what everyone has learned. Stay tuned!

[1] Although, we know at this point that The Hulk was a result of others (Bruce Banner) playing around with the same super soldier serum. Interestingly, I don’t think we’ve ever seen Cap go up against The Hulk in the MCU. Only Thor & Iron Man (amongst the heroes) have done so, ‘our biggest guns’ as per Cap (Avengers). If it is the same serum, does that mean that Cap is acting at his full potential? Or does Hulk’s anger (and whatever went wrong) push his power level up?

[2] If you’re lucky, your character has enough growth for more than one movie, like the tormented Tony Stark, or the ‘continually-buffeted-by-forces-even-he-can’t-control’ Thor.

[3] Or Anti-hero (but not in this case).

[4] The Red Skull was the first recipient of the (not yet perfected) super soldier serum, and Ares stated ‘only a god can kill another god’, showing them to be two sides of a coin[9].

[5] Can you think of any time in this movie that Captain America had self-doubt? Perhaps when he was performing to sell war bonds, instead of being in actual war zone, but even then, it seemed that he was able to justify it to himself as the optimal use of his talents. Even when he had the largest defeat of his life (Infinity War), it only redoubled his motivation, as emphasized in his tag line: “I can do this all day”. He did have other things happen to him, his whole life in the future shaped by the tragedy of losing everyone he held most dear while frozen, his losing and finding and losing and finding Bucky, but even that felt like a secondary reason for his conflict with Tony Stark (I’m sure more on this later).

[6] As satisfying as that may be…

[7] And yes, of course, there’s a “Captain America Shield Throwing Compilation” on Youtube.

[8] There must be some kind of social commentary here, if only that the best scientists often have accents, as talent knows no borders.

[9] Note that I didn’t specify how many sides this coin had.