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Things I Learned from Captain America

I didn’t really expect to like Captain America: The First Avenger. As you can see, it wasn’t even in my July faves. I love superhero movies, sure, but I wanted to think of myself as someone who would be more into X Men: First Class, absorbing the subtleties of questions about assimilation and the plight of the societal Other, viewing Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr as the mutant Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. But when confronted with the blatant pro-America propaganda that was Captain America: The First Avenger, I was completely sold. The film contained explosions and violence and revenge and badassery (which I generally enjoy, but with a critical, ironic eye), but Captain America was just such a nice guy that I was completely fine with him killing whomever he wanted. So when I emerged from the theatre, no longer the intellectual pacifist I thought I was, I decided to do a little reflecting about the movie and why I was so easily won over. So here are 5 things I learned from Captain America: The First Avenger:

1. In the equation “Captain America versus Tank”, Captain America always wins. You think that giant tank with the cannon that disintegrates people instantaneously is going to prove a match for one man with no armor but a dorky-looking shield? Well, you’re wrong. Captain America is going to win. Always. Like, it’s not even hard for him. He just casually tosses his shield and the thing blows up. Or he just punches it. This is the power of American might. Although I wonder how he’d do against a Transformer.

2. There is such a thing as muscular perfection, and Chris Evans has achieved it. There’s a very fine line between being nicely built and being deformed-looking. Jake Gyllenhaal is one side of that line; Arnold Schwarzeneggar is on the other. Chris Evans sits directly on that line. Homeboy was looking good in Fantastic Four, but when he emerged from that futuristic pod all shiny and plastic-y, he looked like the very essence of a G.I. Joe action figure (the modern ones, not the flat-chested, pudgy ones from the ‘40s). If Captain America is supposed to embody the might and spirit of America, there aren’t many specimens of more virile maleness than Chris Evans.

3. Stanley Tucci can’t not be funny. Even when he’s supposed to play this tragic German, ousted from his homeland by the Third Reich, whose serum was stolen and abused by a man he trusted, Tucci still makes hilarious little comments in his condescending but endearing Stanley-Tucci way. Same thing goes for Tommy Lee Jones, actually, who plays the Colonel Captain America serves under. Their ability to play themselves playing roles gives certain types of movies, like superhero action movies, a much-needed level of irreverence. I feel like these two actors were instrumental in drawing me into the movie, lulling me into a false sense of security before hitting me with that American ideal that the little skinny guy with compassion in his soul can rise to greatness and save the world.

4. Heteronormativity is incredibly satisfying. I cheered when Peggy Carter finally kissed Captain America as he sped off to his final act of heroism. I seriously did. And when Colonel Phillips made that sort of homophobic joke about also kissing Captain America, I laughed out loud. This is uncharacteristic for me, the gay feminist who enjoys making snide comments at the end of movies like, “Oh, of course, it wouldn’t be a satisfying end if there weren’t a heteronormative romance to reinforce straight male hegemony!” But at that point, an hour and a half into the movie, I was already so wrapped up in the jingoism and the explosions and Chris Evans’ sparkling blue eyes that when I finally got my monogamous male-female relationship, I ate it right up. I may have even jumped out of my seat and clapped a little. And it felt good.

5. America is awesome. Which doesn’t mean that the rest of the world isn’t awesome. Awesomeness isn’t a zero-sum situation. There are some smart, fatherly Germans out there, and the French can be kind of fun. Oh, and British girls are hot. And sure, bureaucrats and politicians are kind of sucky, and military men can be misguided, but our desire to do good and destroy evil makes us the most kickass nation ever conceived. If we weren’t the awesomest, then Steven Roger would have turned all red and gaunt like the evil German Johann Schmidt when he was injected with that serum. But he didn’t. He was just a skinny little guy from Brooklyn with a lot of courage, a love of country, and a desire to rid the world of maniacal madmen out for destruction and he became a hugely-muscled, finely-chiseled dreamboat with an equally big heart. And I can infer from this movie that we, like Captain America, deserve our super power, because we, like Captain America, got our greatness through compassion, humility, and an interest in helping others…Right?

So having learned these things, I can offer you readers only one piece of sage advice: SEE THIS MOVIE. It’s everything a superhero movie should be—enough so, in fact, to win over the most pretentious, hardened movie goer I know: me.

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