Captain America (Chris Evans) is how we would all like our heroes to be: strong, intelligent, patriotic, invincible in combat – but somehow not too full of himself. Oh, and maybe normal enough to have a slight interest in the opposite gender (but nothing too demanding; we’re too busy saving the world from itself).
There are certain problems, though, with being indestructible: you don’t age, and everyone else around you does. Captain America, being too undersized to enlist in World War II, allows himself to be injected with a certain serum that made him taller, stronger, faster, quicker and smarter. (Could we have one of those pills, please?) He helps save us from the Nazis, and since then he’s been happily working for the U.S. government in covert operations – but lately it just hasn’t been the same.
It seems that the government, here represented by Defense Secretary Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and covert ops mentor Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), has become too powerful for its own good. There’s apparently a secret organization within the huge Homeland Security bureaucracy which is dedicated to gaining complete control, not only by wiretapping and secretly monitoring everyone (does any of this sound familiar?) but also by secretly building a kind of Star Wars-type Death Star that would have the ability to instantly destroy any recalcitrant, even millions at a time. Yes, it seems the issue is giving up personal freedom in the name of security, which updates Captain America right into the present day.
But even Captain America needs a little help from his friends. Enter “the Black Widow,” Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), a super-agent of indeterminate origin who’s not a love interest, but teases our intrepid warrior about not having a girlfriend. (“How about that nice girl down the hall?”) Captain America not only must decide who is friend and who is foe (sometimes in the midst of a battle), but he is also stunned to come across an old friend who appears to have switched sides, and he is really not emotionally prepared for that level of personal betrayal. Even Captain America’s indestructible shield can’t defend his delicate sensibilities.
Sure, it’s comic book stuff, but it’s good comic book stuff. Chris Evans manages to pull off this role with hardly any irony, and Scarlett Johansson just plain seems to be enjoying herself. It’s good to see Robert Redford in a speaking role again; he’s convincing as the oily-smooth diplomat with the heart of stone.
Yes, it’s also a “message movie,” about the evils of the unbridled “security” agenda, but it’s also comforting to know that Captain America, unsullied super-warrior, is still out there defending us from our evil enemies, even in the clever disguise of sanguine politicians. “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9).
Ronald P. Salfen is the minister at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.