(Content warning: brief mentions of depression and suicide)
Happy Fourth of July if you celebrate it! And more importantly, happy birthday to Steve Rogers, the MCU’s resident asshole. That’s right, Captain America is an asshole. Much like the country for which his heroic moniker is named, Steve Rogers ain’t shit.
Want to know the reason why? Think about it with me.
Really think about it.
Couldn’t come with anything consequential? Or maybe you did. But I couldn’t. I really sat with this question. I did a little googling.I asked my dad. I asked some friends. The best we could come up with is his unwillingness to compromise, his stubbornness, and a lack of self-preservation. My dad pointed me towards a YouTube video which pointed to his tendency to fall back on his purpose as a soldier to solve his problems. Other complaints that I have seen of his character — he’s boring, he’s from the 40’s so he probably has some racist, transphobic and homophobic thoughts etc — are less a direct fault of his personality and more the result of the situations he’s been put into. Which isn’t to deflect blame completely from Cap. I would assume that he’s learning and overcoming the outdated language and problematic behaviors, but still affected to by them. His boringness, and all of this really, is more a matter of opinion as well as the fact that he’s too good. After all, he was the chosen candidate for the super-soldier serum because of his inherent goodness. Captain America is kind of like the Superman of the Marvel universe in that way.
But the aforementioned less desirable aspects of his personality are still there amidst all his morality. I would argue that it’s difficult to ascertain which of these are directly a result of his personality and which are symptomatic of much larger issues. One of the first times viewers are supposed to see Cap’s heroism is through his willingness to throw himself over a dummy grenade in order to save his fellow soldiers during training camp in Captain America: The First Avenger. In the following film The Winter Soldier, we see him willing to do something similar. He lets the Helicarrier be destroyed with him and Bucky still on it, thinking that he would rather sacrifice himself, potentially in repentance for what has transpired. But these two moments have very different connotations and contexts. In the former, he still feels like he has to prove himself, being that he is still pre-serum and he feels like the only way he can prove his worth is being able to make the most gutsy actions to save people because he feels its his duty to do so above all else. In the latter, he has nothing left to prove. The events of TWS reveals that despite Cap having made the ultimate sacrifice by driving a plane into the Antarctic, the threat of Hydra still persists. Worse yet, his best friend was put through decades of torture and Cap likely feels responsible for his suffering. That has to have taken its toll, the culture shock of having lost so much time being in ice notwithstanding. Thus, his choice to essentially die on the Helicarrier while trying to get through to Bucky has the added twist of signs of depression that may be clouding his ability to make the best decisions in that situation. But we can’t really know for sure whether this choice is in part due to potential depression and suicidal thoughts, or simply because it is Cap’s nature to treat his well-being so recklessly. The MCU doesn’t show us Steve Rogers’ darkest days, the spans of time that might have occurred between the ending of Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers where he doesn’t shower for days. The hours he probably spent in some S.H.I.E.L.D sanctioned gym pushing his body to its limits because he doesn’t know what else to do with himself in this new era. Or any other manifestations of the traumas he has faced. The closest we have gotten is a deleted scene in The Avengers of Cap wondering New York aimlessly. Ultimately, we only get veiled hints at Cap’s mental state. Maybe the bigger issue here is that Marvel has kept these characters just close enough to reach so that we can understand them, and relate to them, but far enough away that we don’t get to see the ugliness that lies beneath the PG-13 rating. And that’s the point right? These movies are carefully curated for a very specific, action-driven sort of entertainment. Characters fill the seats of this metaphorical joyride and leave little room for any baggage these characters carry. All of which is not to say that depression, and other mental health issues are inherent flaws or make someone less worthy or even a shitty person. But if the MCU isn’t, or perhaps can’t, show us the uglier sides of mental health issues and destructive behaviors, how are we supposed to delve deep enough into a character meant to be so deeply good to see the shittiest parts of him? Or indeed how are they supposed to be given room to heal?
So maybe I can’t really do much more to disparage Cap’s character, because the point of his existence in the MCU is to be a beacon of persistent goodness among more heroes with far more obvious flaws. I have personally been drawn to him because of his everlasting kindness, his selflessness and his ability to shoulder some of the toughest burdens of any MCU character with a quiet toughness that lies hidden beneath his physical strength and abilities. Sometimes I just wish that he could be more than that, that he could be given the chance to more explicitly experience and pull through some of the difficulties with mental health that come of the traumas he has faced, and be able to be a more relatable and tangible character. Maybe one day we’ll get to take a look at new, unexplored facets of these characters on screen. For now though, I still appreciate the Cap that we have. Besides, there’s always fanfiction, right?