This week Vulture published an article arguing that Captain America is “only interesting if he’s a prick”. It echoes quite a few conversations I’ve heard where people complain that Cap is “boring” or “vanilla” or whatever, like the only heroes they want to see are the ones who reflect the worst in themselves. And frankly, I’m beginning to wonder what the hell is wrong with everyone.
Batman broods. We get it. Like Angel in Buffy and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, it’s part of his essence. Many superheroes, action heroes and sci-fi stars have troubled pasts that they sometimes like to reflect upon while staring handsomely into the distance. But does it feel to anyone else like maybe we have a few too many troubled heroes these days? And that maybe this whole dark, brooding, troubled, tortured thing has gone far enough?
The thing is that Captain America, in any of his screen appearances to date (The First Avenger, Avengers and The Winter Soldier - we're not counting that Thor 2 cameo), is actually a pretty interesting guy. In terms of origin, young Steve Rogers is an idealist even by the standards of a more innocent time, someone who stands up to bullies despite being 70lbs soaking wet. There's a bloody mindedness and a determination in that which is admirable, and if you're looking for it there's an element of masochism too, of low self-worth. Something of that self-disregard remains underneath the buffed-up bod even post-super-soldier-serum, contributing to his willingness to sacrifice himself and making him more interesting than your average square-jawed hero. Even in his own time, that bravery set him apart from his peers and made him worthy of being granted his super-powers; it would be strange if he gave all that up once he earned them.
The films to date have seen Steve Rogers grow in confidence and experience considerable development. Witness the first film's journey from a guy who reluctantly but dutifully goes along with the Army's plans to use him a USO attraction to a guy who leads his own commando squad against the toughest targets of the War - and, in the end, sacrifices himself to save a city's worth of people.
In Avengers, he progressed from depressed man-out-of-time to military leader of a super-team, via some minor headbutting with putative leader, Tony Stark. But - and this is crucial - it's worth noting that neither Stark, nor the demi-god Thor nor even the rage monster Hulk ever questions his moral or tactical authority once the fight is under way. **SPOILERS FOR WINTER SOLDIER** In The Winter Soldier, Rogers is still getting to grips with the present, via a sensible system of making a list of references to google and watching War Games. But it's not plain sailing; he's struggling to connect with people, visiting old flame Peggy and finding a tenuous link only with others like him, warriors such as Black Widow or Anthony Mackie's Falcon. And interestingly, Steve Rogers is explicitly shown as a soldier as much as he is a superhero here: he has no compunction about killing the bad guy if that's the quickest way to get the job done. There's none of Batman's iffy "one rule" here (which, seriously. You can't drop a guy off a fire escape and be sure he'll just break his legs. He could die of complications! Batman kills people all the time).
The film poses the interesting question of what happens when this black-and-white guy (watch how he bends over backwards to avoid outright lies) gets thrust into a situation that seems to be painted entirely in shades of grey. There's a certain amount of relief for Rogers, one suspects, when Zola's confession reveals that a lot of that grey really is black after all. If Rogers were all morally ambiguous and tortured as well as SHIELD, we'd be here all day, struggling to care about anything onscreen. It's the contrast that makes it work. **END SPOILERS FOR WINTER SOLDIER**
None of these stories would be nearly as interesting if Steve Rogers regularly played the self-pity card. For one, he has so much to be miserable about that it would get pretty monotonous pretty fast. Secondly, that sort of self-regarding nonsense is a late 20th century affectation. Someone who grew up in the Great Depression and fought in World War II is hardly going to sit around being moody because, after miraculously surviving a certain-death situation, he finds that a bit of time has passed. If ever there were a character you can depend on to count his blessings, it's surely Cap. You do see that there's pain there, and he is occasionally a little terse as a result, but he's not going to be sitting down with Doctor Phil for an in-depth pity-off any time soon.
There’s something to be said in general for films with less agonising and more doing. Not every hero (or anti-hero) needs to be Hamlet; some can just get on with it. It’s telling that last year’s big successes were Iron Man 3, where Tony Stark is, admittedly, traumatised but keeps busy and cracking wise throughout; Fast & Furious 6, wherein everyone’s far too busy being muscly to brood much longer than the time it takes to fire up an engine; Frozen, where Anna is sunnily optimistic despite all that life throws at her (bonus points for Olaf’s blithe spirit too); The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, where Katniss actually does have PTSD to some degree but still focuses on the task at hand and Gravity, a movie entirely about getting back on the horse.
Man Of Steel, in contrast, saw the usually steadfast Son Of Krypton being pulled six ways from Sunday, unsure of his own priorities and uninvolved in saving civilian lives when he could be pursuing bad guys, while The Amazing Spider-Man series features a Spidey who doesn’t just stand up to bullies; he actively bullies them right back with his newfound powers. And no one cared as much for the self-pitying Batman of The Dark Knight Rises as they did for the more determined one of The Dark Knight (Will Arnett's cheekily disrespectful incarnation wouldn't have been half as funny if we had).
Should Cap, as Vulture suggests, be more old-fashioned in his attitudes on gender, race or sexuality? I'm inclined to think not. For one, World War II saw massive social upheaval in both the first two categories, and we've already seen Cap work alongside a strong, authoritarian woman (and an African-American commando in Gabe Jones), so it seems weird that he'd suddenly have a problem with that. He's also well established as both an underdog himself and a champion of same, so it would be strange for him to suddenly take a stance against tolerance. Rogers is not a man desperate to prove himself; he remains the same kid that he was underneath, trying to do what he feels is right rather than subscribing to some outside notion of machismo that demands he also be sexist or homophobic or something. And aside from any questions of decency and responsible filmmaking, from a storytelling point of view it would be endlessly distracting if Cap suddenly started making homophobic statements or patting passing women on the butt (he wasn't exactly a ladykiller in the '40s; why would he suddenly turn boorish now?).
What's important and interesting about Cap is exactly what some people dismiss as boring. It's that decency and honesty and sense of moral authority. In a film world full of compromised characters, flawed protagonists and out-and-out anti-heroes, Steve Rogers is a breath of fresh air. Someone with no secrets, who literally wears his high ideals as a uniform and gets on with the job at hand, is far more interesting than any number of self-torturing, whiny man-children.
I'm not really advocating a return to the era of the infalible white-hat hero with no nuance or shade. But to claim that the only interesting heroes are the dickish ones seems a little, well, dickish. Let's leaven all our brooding with the occasional role model, eh?
sdilku Posted on Wednesday April 9, 2014, 17:27
I heartily agree Helen. Captain America is a terrific character in all three of the films in which he has recently featured. I can't understand why some find him "boring" either.
C.C.C.P. Posted on Wednesday April 9, 2014, 17:42
Maybe it's more of a holdover from the comics.
Despite some interesting episodes across his many decades of published history he's very often a bit dull as a character, relegated to playing the straight guy, much like Reed Richards.
Also, Cap was never there for the mutants. Cyclops was right!
Bluehawk Posted on Wednesday April 9, 2014, 17:45
I totally agree, this section sums it up best:
''Something of that self-disregard remains underneath the buffed-up bod even post-super-soldier-serum, contributing to his willingness to sacrifice himself and making him more interesting than your average square-jawed hero. Even in his own time, that bravery set him apart from his peers and made him worthy of being granted his super-powers; ''
He was brave before he got big and never forgets it after. That's great character development, feels real to me. The people who think he's boring, are exactly the kind of wank--, sorry, people he doesn't need to care about. He's there to stand up for the ones that do.
britesparc Posted on Wednesday April 9, 2014, 17:48
The tendency to add "darkness" to films is getting very old. For all people consider Nolan's Bat-films to be dark, at least he's sensible enough as a film-maker to put light touches in there (Bruce is allowed to crack wise occasionally, Alfred is the king of the withering comment, Selina is all kinds of sarcastic, and the Joker is a one-stop black humour factory).
If everyone was brooding all the time, it'd make for a series of very boring films, especially when they all get together in an Avengers team-up. You've got to have a clash of personalities there, or it won't work. Cap is SUPPOSED to be a ray of light, someone indelible and totally morally upstanding. It makes for interesting friction with the likes of wiseass Stark or the more morally complicated Black Widow.
Interestingly, the angst-ridden Superman in Man of Steel could present problems in the Batman/Superman sequel. How are they going to treat Bats to differentiate him from Supes? Make him "darker"? It's gonna be hard for that universe to go any darker than killing (presumably) tens of thousands of people in Metropolis. Don't get me wrong, I generally prefer DC to Marvel, and I adore both Batman and Superman, and I even liked Man of Steel quite a bit, but I do wonder what direction that film can go in.
Marvel has got it exactly right so far, and Evans is terrific in the role as Cap. Avengers succeeded primarily on how well the characters were defined and how their contrasting characteristics meshed.
Deydalarozi Posted on Wednesday April 9, 2014, 18:26
*Stands and applauds*
I completely agree with everything said in this article. I love the film Captain America, i wouldn't want him to suddenly turn into a brooding moody hero!
And as someone already mentioned, yes I think the 'Captain America is boring' opinion is mostly based on the comic books, which didn't really do anything interesting with him until they shot him (not including the Ultimates, which was awesome).
rphughes Posted on Wednesday April 9, 2014, 21:17
I always thought that out of the avenger, Cap is one of the more relatable characters, he's not a genius or a god, and he's not shrouded in mystery, he's just a normal guy, be it with a slight physical advantage. I feel if he was a more intimidating war-torn commander he'd be too much like The Comedian in The Watchmen, and he was killed off right at the start! Proving that that kind of guy isn't needed.
sifter132 Posted on Thursday April 10, 2014, 00:39
Captain America's boring because you can't easily pigeon hole him according to Hollywood stereotypes. *He's not brooding - therefore he can't be a 'gritty', 'multidimensional' character that producers love babbling about, *he's not smart - because smart characters ONLY talk at breakneck speed in Hollywood, *he's not a nerd - because he doesn't wear glasses, *he's not a bad guy - because he's not British and/or doesn't have a goatee beard. *And there's plenty more...but he doesn't fit those either!
The other problem for Captain America is that he's always compared to his Avenger colleagues. Of course he's going to seem like the boring one when compared to guys who can fly, turn into monsters etc. He's got...a shield! If Captain America wasn't an Avenger, just a stand alone, non-Marvel character, that chorus of boring wouldn't be as loud.
Darren47 Posted on Thursday April 10, 2014, 01:26
I think the reason why Captain America is boring is because every other Marvel superhero is cooler than Captain America.
damo_oc Posted on Thursday April 10, 2014, 01:44
Captain America isn't boring. He's a normal working guy. He doesn't abuse his powers or allow them to define him. Nor is he cynical, arrogant.
patrick_potter07 Posted on Thursday April 10, 2014, 05:05
this is the best marvel movie yet, for people who love movies. excellent discernment in every scene, minimal bad effects, badass antagonist, good comic book plot with the hydra takeover. although if you're the type of person who pays to see resident evil and paranormal activity sequels, you probably didn't enjoy this movie very much.
Pandora Posted on Thursday April 10, 2014, 08:06
Thank you Helen, for this article! I absolutely agree with you.
"In a film world full of compromised characters, flawed protagonists and out-and-out anti-heroes, Steve Rogers is a breath of fresh air."
I enjoy the brooding heroes too but we have had a lot of them lately...
kittybinks Posted on Thursday April 10, 2014, 09:24
It is actually a relief to find the hero not obsessing about his lot in life he gets on with it and deals with whatever is put before him. I think it is great that a character can be imbued with a conscience and feel for his and others losses, in essence he is The First Avenger, a character who others can take their lead from and provide a moral compass. Long may he occupy our screens
Aaronmantium Posted on Thursday April 10, 2014, 10:06
I think people dont give him a chance, a lot of people see a cheesy flag wearing boy scout with no character flaws but he is a man out of time and seeing how his ideals transfer to this day and age is interesting, and i think its a nice change to have someone different as Helen said that isnt a tortured soul because his family died etc...its also gives The Avengers someone stable to rally around seeing as they arent exactly all very stable *looks at Stark and Banner*
djdjk Posted on Thursday April 10, 2014, 14:43
The reason people think he is boring is because in Avengers, he pretty much is. Especially compared to Stark, Romanoff, Banner & Thor. However put him on his own and it's not so much the case. 'The First Avenger' was a very good film, about a little guy just trying to do the right thing and serve his country. It was interesting due to being set in the war, played the reality of Captain America as propaganda very well, and was genuinely enjoyable - plus was the first MCU movie up to that point to not fall into the 'let's have something huge to fight at the end' trap. 'The Winter Soldier' is just something else. What a cracking movie. It could be argued that is due to involving the world of S.H.I.E.L.D., the ensemble cast, particularly Black Widow & Falcon, or the fact that the events within will have such a huge impact on the MCU as a whole, but if Cap himself was that boring, it would've had a detrimental effect on the movie, and it didn't.
LustForLeith Posted on Thursday April 10, 2014, 17:03
Just back from seeing The Winter Solider and for me it's the best of the Marvel films so far. The set pieces and the effects don't have the rushed feel of other Superhero films (first Wolverine - I mean you!) Also it's bang up to date with national security versus whistle blowing.
One of the main selling points is Captain America. There's something reassuring about a hero spurred on by simply wanting to do good. No demons, no issues, just an honest to goodness hero.
And Chris Evans gives one of the best performances from an actor in a super hero film.
coyoteone Posted on Friday April 11, 2014, 14:57
I don't have a problem with Cap being old fashioned and boring, and frankly, I'm sick of this trend of darkening heroes just to make them seem hip and edgy. It's been done to death.
I'm concerned that might be done to the latest movie incarnation of Wonder Woman coming up. I hope not. I can see them revamping her into an Amazon berserker who kills at the drop of a hat instead of the Amazon ambassador to Man's World who also happens to be a kickass warrior who can be compassionate and show mercy when she needs to.
Stay good, Steve Rogers. You're not boring at all.
coyoteone Posted on Friday April 11, 2014, 14:59
I meant to say "I don't have a problem with Cap being old fashioned, which some folks think is boring." Hit the button to soon and didn't edit. My bad.
dansator Posted on Saturday April 12, 2014, 02:22
It's not that the film version of Captain America is uncool, it's the comic book character as resurrected in the 1960's. In a comic a boy asked Cap how to be a super-hero, and Cap's answer was "Sleep eight hours a day, and do what your mother tells you". Not a cool reply, especially not in the eyes of the 21st Century.
doug64 Posted on Monday April 14, 2014, 18:43
Captain America is not boring. Steve Rogers is boring.
It's nearly impossible to be boring while jumping from planes, getting shot at and punching people in the face.
Rogers though is dull as ditch water. You know how he is going to act, who he will save or what course of action he will take.
Young Steve's psyche holds no mysterious.
Ergo Vis-A-Vis Concordently:
spideed2 Posted on Wednesday April 16, 2014, 12:52
Because people are idiots? ;)
Earnestness, honesty and a hopeful attitude are just considered to be boring in today world by Joe Public that's all. Unlike much of MoS , Cap2 had the strength of its convictions not to darken Steve but to make the world change around him.
Great article Helen, fully agree. Cap 2 did a good job of showing the most interesting sides of Steve's personality.
Jonny24 Posted on Thursday April 17, 2014, 20:33
Chris Evans and the entire fucking film is boring, and THAT's the problem, not the character.
Avengers12 Posted on Friday April 18, 2014, 15:29
what..??!! THIS is news to me..all i've been hearing bout this movie's NOTHING but terrific...
for lil KIDZ i can see how they'd think this to be boring, if not THE most boring of all the marvel movies so far, with all the long talking scenes between all the spectacular actions, but, i don't think this movie's geared towards lil kiddies either.
i think, next to The Avengers, CA: TWS is the best marvel outing to date. the writer probably just refers to some kindergarten kids talking...
davidleach2000 Posted on Thursday May 15, 2014, 10:04
Avengers12, I think you're confusing the theme of this original post with the film, it's not saying that Captain America The Winter Solider is boring it's saying that Captain America as a character is boring, that he's straight laced, too serious.