Captain America is one of the most familiar super heroes in the world today. He’s completely dominating the charts of the movie and comic book universe. The Captain is headlining movies and playing a premier role in multiple features. What is clear is that moviegoers love to sit back, sip some soda, butter up their corn and watch Cap defend freedom. But this begs the question, is Cap actually defending freedom or is he behind the times, stuck in another era of history?
This isn’t freedom, this is fear. -Captain America
Captain America: The Winter Soldier begins with Cap being sent on a mission by S.H.I.E.L.D. to save multiple hostages from a terrorist threat. While executing this mission he unintentionally discovers a secondary operation of S.H.I.E.L.D. which endangers the mission he was given. The director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury, facilitated the second mission, to retrieve computer files from the hostage ship, while Cap was busy rescuing the passengers. When Cap confronts Nick about the situation he demonstrates his strong commitment to trust within an organization.
Soldiers trust each other, that’s what makes it an army. Not a bunch of guys running around and shooting guns. – Captain America
Cap refuses to be a part of team where the members may be on separate missions from the one he’s given leadership over. Nick deflects this criticism as invalid because of an old war experience in which he was betrayed, which cost him his eye. Nick believes that this personal experience justifies his permanent practice of engaging in covert operations, and further manipulation of soldiers to accomplish his hidden agendas. From this interaction we see that Cap expects a team to operate as a unit due to the common goal to which the members are committed. The distinction between Nick and Cap leads to the revelation of another project that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been pursing, without Cap’s knowledge (though apparently with T. Stark’s) which will push Captain America too far.
When Nick Fury reveals Project Insight, you begin to understand the powerful reach which S.H.I.E.L.D. possesses, which it intends to unleash on the world. The program is described as, “three next generation Helicarriers synced to a network of targeting satellites.” Nick continues on, boasting about the magnificence of the project he has overseen, “continuous suborbital flight; the satellites can read a terrorist’s DNA before he steps outside his spider hole. We gonna neutralize a lot of threats before they even happen.” Here is where you see the difference between the two men.
I thought the punishment usually came after the crime. – Captain American
We can’t afford to wait that long. – Nick Fury
It has immediately become clear that Nick and Cap are on two totally different thought processes. Nick wants to maintain control over a weapon which can neutralize threats before they have the ability to become severely dangerous, or even commit a crime. Captain is not going to be on the side of a pre-emptive threat takedown, which purports to save many peoples lives by providing a mid-air heavily armored security blanket which takes out bad guys before they become bad. At this point, it is still unclear if Cap opposes the project because of the massive loss of liberty in such an idea, which he alludes to, “by holding a gun at everyone on Earth and calling it protection,” or if he simply doesn’t like who is holding the trigger (S.H.I.E.L.D.), though the implication is the former.
SHIELD takes the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be. It’s getting damn near past time for you to get with that program, Cap. – Nick Fury
Captain American has to make a decision about what, if anything, he should do. Cap travels to his old friend Peggy Carter, who was also one of the founders of S.H.I.E.L.D., expressing his uncertainty. It’s a fantastic development for the character, who now must grow up from following orders to making judgments about the situation he now finds himself in.
For as long as I can remember I just wanted to do what was right. -Cap
Following orders isn’t the same as serving for Cap anymore. “All we can do is our best, and sometimes the best that we can do is to start over,” Peggy tells him.
As the story continues to progress around Cap, we find out that the puppeteer behind the strings isn’t Nick as much as we thought. New villains come to the front as we learn that the board over S.H.I.E.L.D. has an entirely different agenda than Fury intends, and even moves to have Nick eliminated utilizing a new weapon, the Winter Soldier. Nick, surviving the attempt on his life, tells Cap in a secret meeting that the organization has been compromised and he needs his help. Cap now knows that his worst fears are coming to actualization, that an agency with incredible amounts of power also has insidious leadership, all occurring under his and Nick Fury’s noses.
Cap is now tangled up in associations with S.H.I.E.L.D., but the new leaders don’t necessarily know his intentions or direction.
We knew that despite all the diplomacy and the handshaking and the rhetoric, that to build a really better world sometimes means having to tear the old one down. – Alexander Pierce
In a move to pre-empt the Captain’s involvement in finding out more about what happened to Nick, Alexander Pierce tries to capture Cap and remove him from the situation and move forward with Project Insight. Cap’s direction becomes clearer now that S.H.I.E.L.D. has not only moved to eliminate Nick, but to remove him as well.
Captain America spends the rest of the movie, unraveling the sub-plots of the story, finding out exactly how corrupt S.H.I.E.L.D. has become, all while being hunted. He’s made his choice and will not be on the side of an organization that will cause a massive loss of freedom and liberty. As the plot develops we find that the corruption of S.H.I.E.L.D. is even greater than thought, and that HYDRA, the organization Cap was working to destroy back in World War II, has infiltrated massive areas of the culture, including S.H.I.E.L.D..
HYDRA was founded on the belief that humanity could not be trusted with its own freedom. …HYDRA created a world so chaotic that humanity is finally ready to sacrifice its freedom to gain its security. – Dr. Zola
The fact that there was corruption in S.H.I.E.L.D. only serves to buttress the Captain’s decision that these threats represent a major threat to freedom for everyone and needs to be eliminated. The story unfolds that the helicarriers will be used to eliminate threats to HYDRA, and will immediately be a threat to untold millions of people , targeted by compiling information gathered from personal data, who would not be sympathetic to HYDRA’s missions.
So, why is Captain America’s problem, so much like our problems? Do we all think in terms of personal and societal freedoms? Captain American is deeply concerned with the loss of freedom, and finds that these values continue to be timeless and always in need of protection. True there is an imminent threat, which makes for great theater, but these features are used to move Captain to serious action quicker. He sees the threat and notices that he is in the position to move against those who are threatening the fundamentals of our republic and stand up and fight for freedom. His thoughts are focused.
SHIELD, HYDRA, it all goes. …I know I’m asking a lot, but the price of freedom is high, it always has been, and it’s a price I’m willing to pay. And if I’m the only one, then so be it. But I’m willing to bet I’m not. -Captain America
Captain American is fantastic template for Americans today. If we, like Cap, become aware of the erosion of our freedoms I hope we are prepared to take action and stand against those that would try to remove them.
May those who look to remove our liberties find many standing in opposition.