Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Reel Opinion: The Relevance of Captain America

“Aren’t the stars and stripes a little old fashioned?”

This past weekend, Marvel Studio’s third film dedicated to their most iconic character, Captain America, sub-titled CIVIL WAR, dominated the box office and earned rave reviews from critics and fans (read Reel Speak’s review HERE). But the success of CIVIL WAR isn’t limited to the money or the fun to be had in the theatre, but the fact that a character which was born out of WWII propaganda has managed to stay relevant.

Cap, also known as Steve Rogers, made his debut in 1941 on the cover of a comic book, in which he is shown punching Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in the jaw. The comic, which became a best-seller, would go a long way in changing America’s popular opinion on joining the war (it was printed a year before Pearl Harbor), and Captain America would become a patriotic icon.

Here in 2016, Cap’s flag-waving may seem dated, but CIVIL WAR was able to bring the character into relevance in our culture once again. It seems that Marvel has been building towards this with Cap over his many appearances in their series of films (Cap has appearances in two AVENGERS films, and three solo shots), and CIVIL WAR felt like an exclamation point on the character. How did Captain America, a character born before America entered WWII, cement his relevance in 2016?

Political – In CIVIL WAR, the government decides to regulate superheroes, and this causes a rift between Cap and his super-friends; Cap doesn’t want the regulation, while the people he has fought alongside of and for, favor it. This causes a rift which rips apart Cap’s team and his friendships, and it is very similar to the violate political climate the United States seems to be in now. Every election is a war of words not just with politicians but with their supporters with social media acting as the battlefield. Political issues have driven people, political parties, and countries apart, and CIVIL WAR is a statement on that.

Civil War/Civil Rights – In Marvel’s films, Captain America is the one who fights for the little guy, and is the first one to stand up for those who can’t fight for themselves. Just as he was a symbol for resistance in 1941, he represents those who can’t fight in CIVIL WAR. People, super-powered or not, being registered and controlled by the government is an issue that Cap sees as a civil rights matter, and true to his nature, cannot take sitting down. It’s privacy vs. security, which is a battle that has gripped America for the past 15 years.

Broken Friendships – In CIVIL WAR, the strong beliefs dividing Cap and his friends leads to a fractured team, with neither side relenting an inch. The rift starts as political, but quickly turns personal (aren’t all political battles personal anyway?), and it is clear that even Captain America hurts when losing friends; especially when he didn’t have to. Today’s society, driven mad by social media, can take any single issue and make a mountain out of ant-hill, with verbal barbs being thrown around for everyone to see. CIVIL WAR knows that battles like this are relevant today, because everyone…you, Cap, and this Blogger, have lost friends we didn’t have to. The loss hurts, and can lead to even more bad decisions. It is said that human relations are at their absolute worse today, and CIVIL WAR carries that theme throughout its narrative.


CIVIL WAR is not the first superhero film to put social issues into its storylines, but it is unique because it uses a character from nearly two generations ago to carry the message, and most importantly, maybe show us the way out. Superheroes, and most especially Captain America, are designed to inspire and to show us what we could be. When placed in the middle of the type of turmoil that everyday America seems to enjoy, Cap once again becomes the character punching evil in the jaw, only this time the evil is represented by fear, apathy, intolerance, and hate. Captain America has always been a symbol of patriotism, and his current cinematic version is a renewed symbol of hope. Maybe “what would Cap do?” should be the new question to be asked when the enemy is closing in.

“People could use a little old-fashioned.”

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