Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Both fanboys and critics can relax. We’re done with the superhero movies for a while. With Thor, Green Lantern, and the various X-Men, it’s been a summer full of capes, tights, and super powers. And that’s not likely to change. Our culture is enthralled with superheroes.

Comic-book heroes are perennially popular, in part because they often work as masked metaphors for our own dreams, hopes, and desires. Good and evil face off, but they can also mix. These films help us define what we stand for, and declare what we believe. With that in mind, which of this summer’s superheroes could be described as the most biblical of the bunch?

My vote goes to Captain America: The First Avenger. The movie is a breezy, brisk adaptation of the patriotic comic that debuted in 1940. Its aesthetic is equally inspired by Art Deco and steampunk, giving the movie a quaint, sepia-tinged feel. But it also carries some surprising biblical resonance.

Before he becomes Captain America, our hero is Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a diminutive weakling determined to don a uniform during World War II. The military continually rejects him, and thugs routinely wail on him. Yet Rogers is resolute in his belief that he can serve the war effort. As he tells a recruiter when asked if he wants to kill Nazis: “I don’t want to kill anybody. I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from.”

Such courage of conviction catches the attention of Army scientist Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who is looking for a test subject to inject with a super-soldier serum. Why does he choose Rogers? Erskine explains that only the downtrodden can be trusted with great power because they’ve experienced the bitter taste of its misuse. He is highlighting that compassion is a key component to heroism: the meek shall inherit the shield.

Of course, this isn’t the sort of meekness that comes to mind when we think of Jesus blessing the meek in the Sermon on the Mount. We’re more apt to define “meek” the way it is at Dictionary.com: “overly submissive or compliant; spiritless; tame.”

Spiritless is the last word you would use to describe Captain America: The First Avenger. Cheesy? Perhaps. Childish? In a good way. But certainly the movie isn’t spiritless. Director Joe Johnston, who brought a similar sense of derring-do to The Rocketeer, gives the movie a sheen of idealistic excitement. Why couldn’t a weakling from Brooklyn be transformed into a towering muscle man? Why couldn’t he lead a mission to topple Hitler (or, in this case, a demented rogue Nazi with his own god-like powers, played by Hugo Weaving)? With help from his friends, and an eye out for the weak and oppressed, Steve Rogers is the little guy who could.

What if we thought about spiritual meekness in this way? Not as a weakness, but as a method of distinguishing ourselves from the abusively powerful in this world. Whatever powers we have—simple or super-human—meekness means putting them to humble use. It means putting compassion ahead of our own gain.

Consider, after all, the company that meekness keeps in the Sermon on the Mount. Also among the blessed are “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . . the merciful . . . the pure in heart.”

A former film critic for Chicago’s Sun-Times Media Group, Josh Larsen is currently editor and critic for ThinkChristian.net. You can also read his reviews at LarsenOnFilm.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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