I have a new obsession, and it is Captain America: Winter Soldier. This is surprising, because his first movie is my least favorite in the Marvel universe, and he was by far the least interesting Avenger in The Avengers. I went to see his newest movie out of brand loyalty, but I went to see it a second time because I fell in love. This film covers all of my interests, creating a perfect storm of a story that draws me back again and again (and again?).
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Superheroes are almost always unbearably attractive. As Amy Poehler said in her wonderful vlog about body positivity, “There are only five perfectly symmetrical people, and they’re all movie stars. And they should be, because their faces are very pleasing to look at.” Captain America is inhumanly muscled, Black Widow is effortlessly gorgeous, Falcon is hot and funny, and then there is the Winter Soldier. Since when did unwashed hair and metal appendages become so attractive to me? I just–I cannot talk about him anymore, or I will fall into paroxysms of adulation.
Even better? The narrative allows these hot people to work together without assuming romance must naturally ensue. Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanov, aka the pinnacle of human perfection re: male and female, flirt a bit and comment about how of course the other is attractive, but it always remains friendly. I mean, the running joke between them is Natasha trying to set Steve up, which A) establishes them as buddies, and B) establishes that she does not want to be set up with him herself. Give me more platonic best friend superheroes! (Except when it comes to Black Widow and Hawkeye. Please tell me her arrow necklace has a hidden meaning.)
This is the most difficult of my interests to express with other movie watchers.
Me: Did you notice that Captain America uses the same move to attack his first and last opponents in the movie!?
Hypothetical Movie Watcher: No, why does that matter?
Me: It just–nicely bookends the movie! And what about those two bullet holes, eh? “Cut off one head, and two spring up” amiright?
HMW: I don’t think that matters.
Me: BUT IT’S INTERESTING TO THINK ABOUT.
This is maybe my favorite thing about CA:WS. The five main heroes in the film are 1) a white man, 2) a white woman, 3) a black man, 4) another black man, and 5) another white woman. Five heroes and only ONE is a white man? BLOW ME DOWN. I cannot even express how much this means to me. Contrast this film with The Avengers, in which our six main heroes are…five white guys and one white girl.
It’s no secret that Black Widow is my favorite Avenger, and it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out why. In a world of hyper masculine superheroes, Natasha Romanov uses her intelligence, wit, flexibility, and lower body strength to overpower dozens of bad guys. She is badass and feminine. When I watch a superhero movie, I fall in love with the superheroes, but here was a superheroine represented who I am. I could be her.
The second time I watched CA:WS, I sat next to a black woman and her son, and every time Falcon came on screen, they cracked up (I mean, so did I, that man is a gift to humanity) and cheered. It made me so excited, because here was a face they could map themselves onto. (Although it needs to be said–where was the black woman superhero? And on and on.)
Maybe this seems inconsequential. Instead of defending myself, I will quote Anthony Mackie aka Falcon.
Q: How do you feel about being the first African-American superhero?
AM: It’s funny you should ask that. [LAUGHS] It’s cool. When I was a kid, I really didn’t have a person I could look at, other than my dad, and be like, “Hey, I want to be that guy and fly through the window.” You couldn’t be like 7 years old and say, “Who do you want to be for Halloween?” “Shaft!”
So [LAUGHS] you know, it’s really exciting. When I first got this role I just cried like a baby because I was like, “Wow, next Halloween, I’m gonna open the door and there’s gonna be a little kid dressed as the Falcon.” That’s the thing that always gets me. I feel like everybody deserves that. I feel like there should be a Latino superhero. Scarlett does great representation for all the other girls, but there should be a Wonder Woman movie. I don’t care if they make 20 bucks, if there’s a movie you’re gonna lose money on, make it Wonder Woman. You know what I mean, ’cause little girls deserve that. There’s so many of these little people out here doing awful things for money in the world of being famous. And little girls see that. They should have the opposite spectrum of that to look up to.
(Legitimate) Man Pain
Man pain is defined by Urban Dictionary as follows: “When a grown man has the emotional life of an angsty teenager he is said to be experiencing manpain, especially if he tries to compensate with macho behavior. There are many causes of manpain ranging from violently killed family member/mentor/lover(s) to a broken heart to absent parental figures or even a history of sexual and/or physical abuse. Manpain is generally expressed in the following ways: breaking shit, drinking too much, picking fights in bars, becoming a costumed superhero and taking long drives while listening to wailing guitars. For the less violent it can be expressed by remaining stone-faced while flexing jaw muscles, staring broodingly into the middle distance and crying a single tear.”
I don’t like man pain. It’s ridiculous. But Captain America? Is a man and is in legitimate pain. He is pretty okay at adjusting to waking up in a new era, but the fact that all his friends and love interests are dead or dying? Well, that’s harder to swallow. The difference between Steve Rogers and MANPAIN protagonists is that Steve Rogers doesn’t let this pain drive him to drama and selfishness. The story deals with his loneliness and depression very compellingly (I mean, the poor guy can’t even think of something that makes him happy), but he does not let his pain wall him off in a cocoon of “you don’t understand me!” Instead, he checks in with other people, asking Black Widow how she is coping with a big reveal and tactfully remembering Falcon’s fallen comrade. They’re all in pain, and no one person’s pain is allowed to take center stage and dominate everyone else’s.
The other day I was talking about violence with the boy I nanny and how I wouldn’t want to shoot someone if they were robbing me. He gave me a skeptical look and asked, “If you don’t like violence, how come you like superhero movies so much?” Touche, ten-year-old. This question was on my mind during my second viewing of CA:WS because the fight scenes in this movie are beautiful. It wasn’t until I realized that they could easily be described as balletic that I realized it was the choreography more than anything that amazed me. Black Widow and Captain America are two of the most graceful superheroes created. Pairing them against someone like the Winter Soldier, who is raw power and force, creates a fantastic opportunity to show off some really amazing human movement. This especially became true during the final fight scene when things get much more realistic–I couldn’t watch. I don’t like real violence. But when fight scenes play like dances, I am riveted.
I tend not to be very patriotic. When I think of the United States, I think of political infighting between Democrats and Republicans. I think of global bully, and materialism, and entitlement. So a superhero whose name is Captain America? He was fighting an uphill battle to my heart from the beginning. But the joke’s on me, because this stalwart protector of patriotism won me over. Listening to him make a speech about sacrifice for the sake of someone else’s freedom made me proud to be an American like no fireworks display ever did. America is powerful, and when we use that power against others or for ourselves, I get mighty squeamish. But this new (old?) brand of patriotism that says we ought to use our power sacrificially? I am ALL ABOUT THAT.
This leads me to my absolute favorite scene in the film, a scene featuring a nobody tech guy who hears Captain America’s message and subsequently struggles to do the right thing at risk of his life. It is beautiful and painful and awe-inspiring. If that’s what it means to be an American, well then, count me in.