While it’s not my favorite Marvel movie, I believe it’s the best-made of the Marvel movies thus far (we’ll see what Avengers does this Friday). From pacing to editing, story to cinematography, Captain America capitalizes on all the lessons learned from Iron Man to Thor and provides us a smooth, consistent narrative from start to finish. On top of that, it gives us some intriguing lessons about the heart.
I love the first Iron Man – it may still be my favorite in many ways – but the forced story progression of the third act (Jeff Bridges SMASH!) is a narrative weakness. I loved the scenes on Asgard in Thor, and think Tom Hiddleston’s Loki has been the strongest antagonist in the Marvel films, but felt the earth-side characters were skinny on authenticity and depth. Director Joe Johnston seems to know where potential weaknesses might be in his story and characters, but like Steve Rogers takes all those potential weaknesses and channels them into newfound strength. Taking the cheesy costume and war bond propoganda aspects of the Captain and turning them into the character’s struggle in the second act is genius, and the World War II setting provides ample ground to make us appreciate the scope and impact of this iconic character.
“Why someone weak? Because a weak man knows the value of strength, the value of power…”
Unlike Tony Stark’s story of a transformed life–changing from a self-absorbed sinner to a seeking, struggling saint–the story of Steve Rogers is that of a man enduring in his weakness and finding himself equipped with the strength to reflect the character of his heart. The fact that this movie takes a chaste, determined, stalwart man and doesn’t treat him like a joke or boy scout (by the end of the film, he’s like the 70-year old virgin) but instead lifts up his honorable (and even shy) aspects as respectable is refreshing in this day and age. The viewer sees scrawny Steve as someone to admire long before he manifests Chris Evans’ true muscles, someone whom love interest Peggy Carter admires and likes for who he is before how he looks outside matches the strength of spirit.
“(God) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
It’s a biblical parallel that God often takes the weak (even the foolish) and equips them to shame the strong, willful lovers of self who seek to oppress and conquer. The reason we like the underdog may often be due to selfish reasons–we want to conquer like they do–but at the core this narrative note roots itself in a scriptural reality: God reveals Himself by working miracles through the seemingly incapable. A long-haired blind man can literally bring the house down, a scrawny boy can take out a giant with a slingshot, a dozen traveling men, mostly uneducated fishermen, can virally spread Christianity throughout Rome and eventually the globe, and–ultimately–a meek and unassuming man nailed helplessly to a wooden cross can overcome sin and death, saving the entire world.
“God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” – 1 Corinthians 1:27
Steve Rogers’ heart holds true when strength is gifted to him. He gathers a diverse team of men, helps free the enslaved, and is ultimately willing to lay down his life for those friends and the world. Cap’s mentor Professor Erskine explains that the film’s nemesis Johann Schmidt, the Red Skull, truly represents the opposing nature of mankind, exposing what happens when power comes to those whose heart is tainted and amplifies the negatives in our soul.
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” – Matthew 15:19
Can any of us say we’re as “pure of heart” as Steve Rogers? Not me. The reason I likely resonate with Iron Man’s Tony Stark is because I know I’ve never been inherently upstanding like Steve. Power might not tempt me to be as overwhelmingly wicked as the Skull, but I’d have a powerful struggle against abusing it in lesser ways that deserve similar admonishment, even punishment. Captain America represents an archetype that we desire to emulate, a kind of suffering servant we aspire to be, who properly applies the power he’s been given and recognizes it as a gift not for himself, but for those around him. How rarely do we get that right!
His heart is something I wish I had, not something I actually possess.
That’s why I hope we see him crowned the Captain of The Avengers in the upcoming film. Where Iron Man and Thor represent the struggles we have with pride, and the Hulk shows the dichotomous struggle we have with our destructive nature, Captain America presents an ideal we’d love to be, or be inspired to follow. Today, most of us have lost faith in that spirit related to “America”, but what the Captain emulates is something that transcends national identity: a Christ-like sacrificial servant that (at the end of the day) is perfectly portrayed only by the gospel story.
The kind of heart we see in Steve Rogers only finds a perfect correlation in this life by looking to Jesus Christ.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
– 1 John 3:16