The FENX and the Captain: Thoughts on the Silverscreen treatment of Steve Rogers’s Origin

Posted: July 25, 2011 in Comic Boos/Superheroes, FENX 4.0

“I’m just a kid from Brooklyn” – Steve Rogers, Captain America

I can only imagine the roar and applause that must have erupted all across movie theaters in Brooklyn, NY Friday when die-hard fans and those just curious sat down to watch Captain America: The First Avenger this weekend. Captain America: The First Avenger is the latest offering in the Marvel Studios series of silver screen solo adventures for the heroes that will assemble into Joss Whedon’s The Avengers in May of 2012, a day many a fan of superheroes has waited decades for.

The origins of Captain America revolve around Steve Rogers, a twig of a man young who has been bullied all his life but wants nothing more than to join the Army and fight along side millions of others who have joined the military to fight the Nazi threat. As he says in the film “There are men laying down their lives, I can’t do any less”; his best friend Bucky Barnes had already received orders and was to ship out to the front. He’s tried to enlist multiple times in various cities, each time being declared “unfit for service”. Having witnessed this, a defected German scientist named Abraham Erskine offers Steve his one opportunity to actually serve in the American military by selecting him for the Super Solider program.

Throughout his training he shows little physical prowess, which causes Colonel Chester Phillips (an uninspiring Tommy Lee Jones) to question Erskine’s choice, until Rogers is the only one to jump on a dummy grenade to save those present while others run to safety. The evening before the procedure, Erskine visits Rogers to explain that he was chosen not for physical ability but for his inner strength of character and perseverance. The scientist goes on to explain how he was originally selected to develop the Super Solider treatment for Hitler’s Germany, but defected after he saw what the treatment did to one Johann Schmidt, a member of Hitler’s inner circle in charge of HYDRA (the Nazi deep science and occult division). Further, Erskine explains how the treatment amplifies the inner qualities of an individual, manifesting those qualities upon the exterior. For Erskine, the Super Solider Program is the “first step on the path to peace” by giving the world a chance at defeating the evil that threatens it. For Rogers, this assists him becoming a force for justice to stand against evil; for Schmidt, it fed his dark ambition for conquest.

Once the procedure is complete, Rogers becomes a recruiting tool of the War Department, promoting war bonds and embarking on a USO tour in Italy wherein he isn’t well received. While on this tour, he receives word that the military unit that Bucky is attached to has been captured by Schmidt. Rogers, now “Captain America”, goes on a one-man rescue mission to save Barnes and his men, coming face to face with Schmidt and his megalomania in the process.

I loved this film, every minute of it. Of all the Marvel Studios origins outings so far, this one came the closest to perfect. The forces behind this film KNEW that they had to get it right because Captain America is such a beloved character by fans and part of American culture; and they did (having the character of Howard Stark – Tony’s father – involved certainly helped tie the film into what we already know). Because of comments made last year by director Joe Johnston, about how this movie really wasn’t “About America”, some were concerned that this would be a film that would ultimately sucker-punch American audiences with the moral equivalence and “America sucks” mantras that are so prominent in Hollywood; totally lacking any hint of the idea of American Exceptionalism. Thankfully, this is not the case. The film is true to both America during World War II and the origins of the character. Much like the Transformers films (and even Iron Man) Captain America is strait forward Good vs. Evil, with little nuance, if any at all. While I appreciate this to no end because it is rarely seen, various papers around the country have lamented the fact that the film is bereft of nuance, thus leaving little space for relativism. This film wasn’t made for the cultural elite in America, it was made for the rest of us who aren’t that and would rather not be that. It comes at a time when so much of what is going on is heavy and consequential with no resolution in sight, and I hope it remind us of what America is, how much our nation has persevered through.

In the midst of all the action, the theme that hits home the most is the importance of the individual, the impact that one life can make. In the eyes of society, Steve Rogers was a nobody; the Army didn’t want him, women shunned him, he didn’t fit the mold society had set forth. No one cared one iota about the qualities that he did possess, that is until a man who had seen much more of the world than most and was aware of what the world needed stepped on to the scene (supported by Peggy Carter, an agent of MI-6 working with the Program). Erskine and Carter both saw past the societal mandate and strait to the heart of the potential that was Steve Rogers, identifying the qualities that mattered most: moral clarity, perseverance, and a willingness to sacrifice to defeat great evil. Implements such as the serum and the iconic vibranium shield did not completely a Captain make, they brought out and supplemented the gifts and spirit that Rogers had already been blessed with. It’s much akin what my friend Carl Sears once said to me about The FENX Project and I: “It’s a lot like Superman’s cape; the cape doesn’t enable Superman to fly, but it does make him easier to identify, it’s a symbol of who Superman is, just like the FENX is a symbol of who you are” The one whom society had written off becomes one of the great heroes, and had he not, many more would have died (then and later). So often those who are deemed as “less” (as “unworthy”) are written off and rejected in favor of better external qualities. Hopefully this film will be a catalyst for many to reconsider the “value” of what society deems valuable.

Additionally, I appreciated the subplot that was the simple relationship between Rogers and Carter, that they were waiting for the individual who was the proper fit for them; “the perfect dance parter”, as they discussed in the film. In an age where we are assaulted with messages about relationship that gives nothing to patience and wise choices, it is encouraging to see it play out (at least amongst heroes).

Now all that remains is the assembly that’s required of the solo venturers; that they may forever fight as one.

Awaiting May 2012,

Aaron

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