Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sketched Discussion: Captain America is the protagonist

One of the things I love about the new Captain America movie is how the character of Captain America evolved from idea to legend. And it led me to a startling revelation: Captain America, not Steve Rogers is the main protagonist of the movie. I'm sure you're  going, "Ah wha?" but in most superhero action movies, the film revolves around the secret identity with only the superhero part acting as a tool to flesh out his character. Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, and Hal Jordan get the story arcs, while Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern are just parts of their character. Captain America flips that on its head. Spoilers and discussion after the jump.

My Red Skull/Hydra promotional poster that goes with yesterday's Captain America poster. Collect them all!
This is a new thing for movies; for a superhero movie to be all about the actual superhero.  You watch Spiderman, and it's about Peter Parker and his struggles.  He gets beat up, he pawns over girls, he can't hold a job, and, oh yeah, he's Spiderman. The protagonist is the one with the story arc, the one who learns something, the one who changes over time. In Captain America, Steve Rogers is just a machine to kick-start Captain America. Compare Steve at the end to Steve at the beginning, he's still the same kind hearted yet balls of steel guy. Cap is the one who gets the story arc.

In the very beginning, Cap is just an idea or an ideal floating around Steve Roger's head. Right after a movie in which a jerk won't shut up, Steve stands up to the bully with a shield for a garbage can. Sure he gets the crap kicked out of him, but the idea is there, just under the surface. Steve just doesn't know how to let it out yet.

Enter Dr. Abraham Erskine. He sees Steven's character and recognizes that hero ready to awaken.  Now he's not just an ideal, he's a twinkle in the old man's eye.  Dr. Erskine takes Steve under his wing because he recognizes something he sees in himself, courage to stand up for the little guy. It's this man that will bring Captain America to life; he's Cap's father.  He coaches Steve and tells him he can do great things.

Erskine puts Steve in the machine, and Captain America is born. He's stepped out of this metal womb and he has strength, speed, but more than that, he has potential. A spy kills Erskine, blows up the lab, and runs off, and Cap runs full speed after him. He even picks up a car door to use as a shield. He has power now, ability, but he doesn't know how to use it. In steps the government with a new plan.

They put Captain America in a show in a gaudy costume with dancing girls.  Sure he's inspiring people, but he's flashy, he's a spectacle. He's like a teenager who doesn't know what to do with himself and he's wasting his potential.  He's sold out. They have Cap cartoons, Cap comics, Cap action figures, Cap movies...this is similar to Spiderman when Pete starts wrestling for money. But at least Cap is doing something, right?

Then he has a show in front of soldiers and sees what a joke he is. All these guys are dying and he's on a stage! Well not anymore! Like a rebellious teen, he steals a helmet and parachutes alone across enemy lines to make his first victory against the evil Hydra, coming home a hero. Now he's a real soldier, with a real costume, and a real mission.

He continues to fight the good fight, as a soldier and a leader, systematically taking down Hydra's forces.  He's respected and loved by all, a true American hero.  In the final act, the Red Skull is flying a plane to New York City filled with explosives.  Cap stops him, but he can't stop the plane. He chooses to sacrifice himself and force the plane down into the icy waters to save the world. He's now a legend.  In everyone's eyes, Captain America is dead. And for his courage and self-sacrificing, he is resurrected(like many action heroes and Jesus characters) 70 years later.

Oh I know what you're thinking, "what about all that romance stuff? That's definitely Steve's story." Is it? When he was regular Steve, girls didn't even enter his mind. It's only after he he becomes Cap that he finds out about them and cares about who's dating who(sexual tension between him and Peggy involving fondue). And it's only in the final act, when he's a grown up hero, that he understands and gets the girl(sorta).

This is a real revelation for a superhero movie. Most of the original comics were all about the superhero and the honest good hearted secret identity was only one aspect. I'm hoping we see more of this trend in the future. What do you guys think? Do you agree or disagree?

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