By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
During the build up to 2013’s “Man of Steel,” Zack Snyder has often referred to the “mythology” of superheroes. As he describes it, American comic book characters are a part of our folklore; tales and parables to inspire and teach us. I loved this as a concept, especially when applied to Superman. Clark Kent is a broad, epic character that would fit in with the many Greek heroes of the past. But his moral is an especially American one. Written as economic disaster and the rise of fascism made the future look bleak, Superman was there to show us the light. He showed us what mankind could be, if we only lived up to our potential.
Unfortunately, Snyder didn’t live up to his own concepts. Between “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman,” it is very clear that we won’t be seeing this hopeful, inspiring vision of Superman for a very long time. Instead of being big and mythic, we have a hero who’s violent, who fails to save people, and whose heroism is overshadowed by a dour, hopeless tone. While there will be plenty of films with a character called Superman, they will lack anyone who stands for the ideals the hero stands for.
But fortunately, someone else has fulfilled that role in the pop culture landscape. Someone who to teach future generations of mankind’s potential. Someone to stand for “truth, justice, and the American way.” And fittingly, he is a hero who wears the American flag as a costume.
In the final moments of “Captain America: Civil War,” the final battle between the Captain, The Winter Soldier and Ironman is reaches its bloody conclusion. After nearly being killed at the hands of his former ally, Tony Stark bitterly declares that Steve Rogers doesn’t deserve his American shield. In response, Rogers drops it, letting the battered, aged disk rattle on the ground. Helping his horribly maimed friend Bucky limp away, the two escape as a depowered Ironman watches them escape, spitting blood in rage.
There are entire essays of analysis that could be written about why this scene is brilliant; the thirteen-film culmination of three character’s arcs. But for me, Captain America dropping his shield is the most symbolically significant moment since the character was brought into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2011.
In the first “Avengers,” it was clear that even before he put on the costume, Steve Rogers was a super hero. When asked about why he wants to join the front lines during World War II, he explains that he doesn’t want to kill anyone, he just “hates bullies.” Other highlights of pre-powers Steve include attempting to stand up to a man twice his size for talking during a war bond advertisement and diving on a grenade to protect his fellow soldiers. Getting his powers merely emboldens his heroism, as he sneaks behind enemy lines to rescue an entire squad left for dead and ultimately sacrificing himself by crashing a plane armed with super weapons into the Arctic Ocean.
That final moment of his first film is the key to the final moments of his third. When Captain America was brought back to life, Steve Rogers was dead. Anyone or anything from his past was effectively gone, lost over the decades he spent frozen in ice. The choice to have Agent Carter’s funeral in the film hammers this home, as the final link Steve has to his life is tragically severed. His arc from “The Avengers” to “Winter Soldier” to “Age of Ultron” is that there is no “peace time” for him. His chance to hang up the shield past when the Nazis fell. Now, he is a symbol, an American icon. He is Captain America.
But by dropping that shield, Steve Rogers finally returns. Saving his one link to the past in Bucky, Rogers firmly establishes that he doesn’t need the mantel of Captain America to make a difference. In that moment, much like Superman did, he reminded us that you don’t need a costume or a country or powers to be a hero. Anyone has the potential to be Captain America, you just have to have the will and the heart to stand for what’s right.
The cinematic Steve Rogers today embodies the morals and messages that Clark Kent once did for previous generations. Much like the Man of Tomorrow, he appeared at times of great uncertainty to be an inspirational force for good. In 2011, the first Avengers film was released. America was still reeling from a series of long, frustrating wars that left countless citizens disillusioned and many questioning their place in the world. Winter Soldier was released during the height of the Snowden debate, as Americans were forced to question the lines between privacy and safety through preemptive strikes. And fittingly, “Civil War” comes out in a time when both political parties are being torn apart by ideological strife. It would have been easy to make Steve Rogers either a jingoistic jerk or cynical of America’s failings. But instead, Rogers meets uncertainty and cynicism with optimism and earnestness. For him, winning a war and killing the enemy weren’t as important as protecting your fellow man. For him, mankind might disappoint occasionally, but always assume the best in people. And above all, helping people in need trumps any ideology.
I could literally write thousands of words about what makes Steve Rogers the emotional heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His hope, courage and loyalty and the driving emotions that inspire the heroes around him and make him the only man capable of leading the Avengers. But as one American icon continues to disappoint, Rogers rises to the occasion. He is not only a role model for America, but the whole world. He, much like Superman before him, reminds us of the good we are capable of. He shows us our potential to change the world for good, if only we push ourselves a little harder. And above all, he shows that every single one of us, no matter who we are, where we are from, or what we believe in, can become super.
After all, when asked what makes him special, Captain America says, “Nothing, I’m just a kid from Brooklyn.”