*This is part one of a series analyzing conservative principles and modern America, as depicted in Marvel’s Captain America franchise. These articles are written in celebration of the 80th anniversary of the character’s first publication in March, 1941. This series will contain full spoilers for all three movies, as well as for any other relevant Marvel films.
In order to celebrate the greatness of our country, Captain America: The First Avenger1 presents an idealistic view of America and the American patriot. Although it was originally released in 2011, the film’s values of patriotism and liberty are just as important today as they were ten years ago. The film is not concerned with criticizing the United States, but rather is concerned with praising the incredible principles our country was built upon, as well as the people who exemplify these principles. The film promotes values of patriotism, liberty, and equality, which have defined the United States since its conception. And the movie’s main character, Steve Rogers, embraces these principles as he becomes Captain America.
Steve Rogers is a young man from Brooklyn who is unable to serve, despite his repeated attempts to enlist, because of physical hindrances (namely, asthma). This framing provides important insight regarding Steve’s character: more than anything else, he wants to serve his country. In Steve’s first line of the film—the first moment the audience sees the man who will become Captain America—another man enlisting says, “Boy, lotta guys getting killed over there. Kinda makes you think twice about enlisting, huh?” Steve responds succinctly. “Nope,” he says. This one line establishes Steve as a patriot who wants to serve his country, and is willing to put up a fight, in order to do so.
In a later scene in a movie theater, Steve confronts a man, after hearing him complain about advertisements to back the war effort. The man overreacts and beats Steve up, but Steve iconically responds with poise. “I can do this all day,” he says, in reference to the fact that he will never sit back and let evil be done. Steve has principles, and he stands his ground for them against all odds—just like generations of great Americans before him.
Steve has principles, and he stands his ground for them against all odds—just like generations of great Americans before him.
After Steve is rejected by the military multiple times, a scientist working for the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) chooses Steve to be the man to obtain the super-soldier serum. The scientist chooses Steve, precisely because he is imbued with such patriotism. Other SSR members oppose Steve’s nomination for the serum, because they want to pick a stereotypically big, strong soldier, in contrast to Steve’s lackluster physique. However, the scientist ultimately gets his way. And Steve is chosen because he is a fundamentally good man who loves his country.
Prior to giving Steve the serum, the scientist implores him not to lose his goodness. The serum makes Steve physically much stronger, but the scientist tries to ensure that the newfound strength doesn’t cloud Steve’s judgment or morality. Instead, the scientist encourages Steve to continue to embrace his patriotism and morality. This encouragement acts as a larger reflection of American ideals, during World War II. The United States was not going to run from the fight for justice against the Axis powers, and the American people stood up as patriots who were ready and able to fight. However, it was important that the brutality of war not change the United States any more than it had to; we needed to come out of the war with the same ideals that we entered it with.
Steve takes the super-soldier serum, becomes Captain America, and is forced to parade around the country in order to get people to support the war effort. After learning that his best friend Bucky Barnes was captured and may be dead, Steve decides to go on a rogue mission to save him. He ends up saving around 150 men in addition to Bucky, thus fully establishing himself as “Captain America.” During the rogue mission, Steve even briefly faces off against the Red Skull, a deranged Nazi scientist and the film’s primary antagonist. Steve’s act of defiance is a further reflection of his patriotism, as no American soldier is left behind.
Following these events, Captain America begins to fight in the war with a team composed of POW’s whom he rescued, known as the Howling Commandos. From there, they continue fighting Nazis, while searching for the Red Skull. Towards the end of the film, Captain America and Red Skull face off as Red Skull attempts to bomb American cities. Steve is able to defeat Red Skull, but makes the decision to crash his plane into ice, to presumably sacrifice himself in order to save American lives. He makes this sacrifice without hesitation, and “dies” an American hero. This brings Steve’s story to its natural conclusion: the young man who wanted to serve but could not became the hero who sacrificed himself for the greater good.
This brings Steve’s story to its natural conclusion: the young man who wanted to serve but could not became the hero who sacrificed himself for the greater good.
The film is perfectly summarized by something Steve says to Bucky before he becomes Captain America: “There are men laying down their lives. I got no right to do any less than them.” Captain America is a man who fights Nazis and stands up for the United States, while being willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to save American lives. He believes in the ideals of his country, and he endangers himself, in order to protect them. While he does survive the crash and is revived 70 years later, he did not know that this would be the case; and he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for his country without a moment’s hesitation.
In presenting the story of Steve Rogers, The First Avenger shows that it has unbridled optimism and patriotism, which is too often lost in modern times. The film is not about the United States’ legitimate flaws, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s internment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II, nor does it apologize for them. Instead, the film praises what makes the United States great: our patriotism, our love of freedom, and our government that was founded on the principles of the Declaration of Independence, in which everyone is created equal. Captain America is an idealistic extrapolation of the principles of America.
American ideals are further reflected by the movie’s other main characters. Peggy Carter is the embodiment of a strong, capable woman, but the film doesn’t feel the need to tell the viewer that she is a strong; instead of engaging in overused platitudes, the film actually shows Peggy’s moral strength. (Peggy later received her own series, which is fantastic in its own right.) The Howling Commandos include an African-American and an Asian-American, even though segregation was a pervasive problem in the United States during World War II. Despite this, these characters are not treated differently than the rest, and their race is never mentioned because their immutable characteristics do not matter. In presenting the integrated squad, the screenwriters do not necessarily show things as they were in the 1940s. Instead, they show how things should be based on American ideals—which we have moved closer and closer to with the passage of time.
In presenting the integrated squad, the screenwriters do not necessarily show things as they were in the 1940s. Instead, they show how things should be based on American ideals—which we have moved closer and closer to with the passage of time.
The film even fights back against modern anti-American ideals, as at one point in the film, Red Skull says to Captain America, “I have seen the future, Captain. There are no flags”—thus reflecting a prominent globalist sentiment. However, Cap plainly responds, “Not my future,” pushing back at those who want to see the United States fall.
At its core, Captain America: The First Avenger acts as an idealistic, pro-America film. Captain America acts as a tangible example of the hard work that has led generations to flourish in the United States. More than that, he is a patriot who we should all aspire to be like. In brief, the film is a powerful political statement because it is not a reflection of what is or what was, but rather what should be, and what we need to continue to strive for as a country.
1Johnston, Joe, director. Captain America: the First Avenger. Paramount, 2011.
*The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.
Chad Berkich is a Senior Editor for the Chicago Thinker. As a junior at the University of Chicago, he is majoring in mathematics. He is a Christian and conservative, and his other interests include superheroes and science fiction, video games, and rock music. He is also the president of the University of Chicago's chapter of College Republicans.