Captain America. A hero whose very name is tied to a nation. One of the most prominent heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Comics. But, a question should be asked when a hero such as this literally wears their nation’s flag: Is he a moralistic hero, serving as a symbol for a nation’s desired morals, or is he just a tool for propaganda and their government’s agenda? Let’s look at Captain America’s arc throughout the MCU and see if a determination can be made between moralistic hero or propaganda tool.

The Star-Spangled Man…

Captain America’s origin, the obvious place to start, begins with the 2011 film, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER. The majority of the film takes place during WWII, where the frail Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is attempting to enlist in the US Army. Once joining the SSR, he agrees to undergo an experiment, becoming the world’s first Super Soldier.

He also becomes the only Super Soldier, as the creator of the formula, Dr. Abraham Erskine, gets shot by Hydra operatives. Meant to be the first of many Super Soldiers, Steve is seen as not enough. Instead of being on the sidelines, he takes the offer from Senator Brandt, who asks him if he wants to serve on the frontlines of the most important battle of the war.

Moralistic Hero

We then find out that the most important battle in Senator Brandt’s mind is the selling of war bonds. Steve dresses up in tights, sports a dinky shield, and performs on stages around the country to sell war bonds for the war effort. He becomes the literal poster child for the US propaganda campaign. As a result, we can initially see that the government intended to have Captain America be their premiere propaganda spokesman.  However, Steve himself has other ideas when he learns that his friend is in danger.

With a Plan…

Steve determines to leave the stage and go into the field against orders to save his childhood friend, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) from Hydra’s clutches. Once he rescues the entire 107th division, Captain America is given a true captaincy and is officially allowed into the field with the SSR alongside his love, Agent Peggy Carter.

Hunting down Hydra, Steve foils the plans of the Red Skull. However, Steve disappears from the world for 70 years after he crashes the Red Skull’s bomber into the icy depths below. However, he survives due to the Super Soldier serum. Waking up in our present day, Steve discovers a different world that he once knew. Not soon after, Nick Fury requests his help to save the world. While aboard a quintet with Agent Coulson, Steve says he hopes he’s the man for the job. Coulson confirms that he is, adding that he had some design input to Steve’s new uniform. When Steve asks if the stars and stripes are old-fashioned, Coulson replies:

“Everything’s that happening, the thing’s that are about to come to light? People might just need a little old-fashioned.”

Coulson is definitely a believer that Rogers is more than propaganda, and sees Captain America as a moralistic hero.

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Freedom Over Fear

After his recruitment by Nick Fury to save the world with the Avengers, Steve joins the ranks of SHIELD in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. During a mission with Black Widow, Steve discovers that he did not know all parts of the plan, such as Natasha’s ulterior mission. When Steve confronts Fury about this, Fury decides to let Steve in on Project: Insight. Nick shows Steve three large helicarriers that are severely armed and satellite-linked for threat analysis. Fury shares that the helicarriers will have the ability to take down threats before they happen. Steve disagrees with this methodology, saying that it isn’t freedom, it’s fear. Nick tells him to get with the program, to which Steve tells him to not hold his breath.

Moralistic Hero

At the end of this film, Project: Insight is secretly part of a Hydra plot. Because Hydra is in every facet and layer of SHIELD, Steve determines to take down the entire organization. Steve takes over the comms and gives a speech he hopes will convince loyal SHIELD Agents to fight with him:

“The price of freedom is high. But it’s a price I’m willing to pay. If I’m the only one, then so be it. But I’m wiling to bet I’m not.”

In this film, Captain America fights for true freedom, instead of the perceived and corrupted freedom advertised by SHIELD.  While the moral conundrum becomes easier when Steve discovers Hydra as the catalyst, later films in the MCU test Captain America’s resolve even further as a potential moralistic hero.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

After the Battle of New York, the fall of the Triskelion, and the destruction of Sokovia in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, the governments of the world determine that the Avengers need supervision. The UN agrees to pass the Sokovia Accords. A UN selected panel will decide where and when the Avengers should act. This creates a divide in thinking for the Avengers. Tony Stark believes that oversight is a good thing and could make sure that the Avengers serve to the best of their ability.

Steve disagrees. He fears that the Accords will take away their right to choose. What if the Avengers feel that they should intervene, but the Accords prevent them? This ultimately leads to Steve going underground with the heroes who side with him, severing all official ties to the Avengers. At the end of the film, he sends Tony a phone letting him know that he’ll still be around when needed. He lets Tony know that while he disagrees, he understands:

“I know you’re doing what you believe in, and that’s all any of us can do. It’s all any of us should. So no matter what, I promise you…If you need us, if you need me, I’ll be there”

This shows that Rogers is sticking to his guns as a moralistic hero.

It’s Great to Have Captain America Back

Other Points for Consideration

Many characters see Captain America for what he is merely on the surface: A man who represents his country in the most obnoxiously way possible, much like propaganda. Characters like Ultron and Loki have noted this, such as when Ultron smirks at the idea of Captain America, implying that if he could physically throw up in his mouth, he would.

In THOR: THE DARK WORLD, Thor is breaking Loki out of his cell, and Loki asks Thor if he should disguise himself as one of Thor’s new friends. He then changes forms to look like Rogers, proclaiming:

“Oh, this is much better! Costume’s a bit much. It’s so tight, but the confidence! I can feel the righteousness surging! Hey, wanna have a rousing discussion about truth? Honor? Patriotism? God bless America!”

Another point in the propaganda argument is in SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING. During several scenes in the film when Peter is in school, several motivational school videos star Rogers himself. In these PSA type videos, Captain America gives cheesy advice to students. He encourages them to exercise and stay out of detention. They’re very reminiscent of his war bond days.

Moralistic Hero

So…Moralistic Hero or Just Propaganda Tool?

To conclude, while audience members and MCU characters alike may see Rogers as just a tool for US promotion, going deeper proves otherwise. While it’s true that the intentions were for Steve to be a tool and then propaganda piece, his actual character led Captain America to be a force for genuine good, truth, and honor. A true moralistic hero.

A cynical person, like Loki, might see this as stale or unbelievable. Maybe even old-fashioned for the times we live in. I’m sure many of us look at our present reality and might be hard-pressed to find an actual person who is as genuine as Steve Rogers. So Captain America can’t possibly be that pure and good right? Wrong.

Even in the face of adversity and the majority telling him he’s wrong, Rogers perseveres with what he believes is right. And isn’t that what freedom truly is? As Sharon Carter says at Peggy Carter’s funeral:

“Compromise when you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move. It is your duty, to plant yourself like a tree, look them in they eye and say, ‘No… … you move.'”

Captain America is a true and genuine hero of morals, the morals that our country is founded on. It will be exciting to see Rogers return in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, where he will be sporting a costume with faded star and stripes. This looks to be a visual representation the Captain America is bigger and stands for more than the agendas of one nation. He stands for the morals and truths that lie behind it.

Moralistic Hero

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR releases on May 4th, 2018.

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