Religion in Captain America: The First Avenger

Religion in Captain America: The First Avenger January 21, 2012

I just watched Captain America: The First Avenger and found it interesting to see how they connected it with the themes of aliens visiting ancient Norway in Thor and the idea that super-advanced science/technology is indistinguishable not only from magic and superstition but religion. Red Skull is played effectively by Hugo Weaving (made famous by The Matrix movies as well as V for Vendetta), who seeks godhood and world domination through the use of energy from an artifact supposed to originate with the Norse gods.

The story kept quite close to its comic book roots, focusing on the story of Steve Rogers, a relatively small and less than perfectly healthy individual who nevertheless is brave and courageous, and a serum that has been developed is used to transform him into a taller, stronger, faster version of himself.

(The digital editing used to turn the actor, Chris Evans, who plays Rogers into a weakling for the first part of the movie is impressive).

The message of the movie is that it is possible to turn just about anyone into a stronger version of themselves, albeit not as easily and effortlessly as the movie depicts. But it is much more difficult to take someone who is strong and fast and turn them into someone courageous and heroic. The inner values are the place to start in fashioning a hero, not the outward strength or physique.

But of course, the movie also plays heavily on the comic book nerd’s dream of using science to instantly place an attractive exterior with rock-hard pecs around their nice guy personality.

The movie had nice tie-ins to other recent superhero films, as well as to Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, which also envisaged Nazis seeking a religious/alien artifact in their quest for power.

The film also offers a good opportunity to reflect on the relationship between religion and patriotism. Paul Tillich warned about the potential of the nation in particular to become an idolatrous substitute for the truly ultimate. In the film, Captain America’s concern clearly transcends anything that involves devotion to one nation over against others. Rogers rather is someone who does not want to kill anyone, but wants to stand up to bullies. And early in the film, any hint of USA vs. Germany is undermined by having the scientist who gives Rogers the opportunity to become Captain America be from Germany, and having him point out that many people forget that the first country the Nazis invaded was their own. And so despite the national identity of the hero of the film, the emphasis is placed on saving the world, and not just one nation or its values.

Let me also link to a blog post from last year, about a survey in which people attributed a quote from 2 Corinthians to Captain America. There too we see Captain America and religion intersecting.

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  • Michael Wilson

    In the prophets of science fiction catagory, Captain America’s Super Soldier Serum nicely predicted steroids. I was hopeing the movie would send the more positive message that hard work can make you an athelete or what ever your dream is, instead they went with the teen nerd fantasy that science can instantly make you macho. Of course I’m an adult nerd now, and for all I care the Cap’ could get his power by snorting blow. I heard it was the best super hero movie of the year, and I’m planing to go see it, I think the whole fantasy WWII thing should bee pretty cool to see.

  • Michael Wilson

    Well, I watched it last night, and I really enjoyed it. It’s no “The Dark Knight”, I would like to have seen less of Steve Rogers corny sub-plots, and more of why we hate Nazi’s. I loved the exploration of the modern myth of the Nazi super weapons. I’ve seen shows and articles about all the bizzare ideas that the Nazi’s were dreaming up and it was cool to see them depicted in the movie. I supose it was the art direction of the movie that I liked best, the genre of the sci fi action movie seems fresh in a 40’s setting and it captured the look of the comics perfectly while still seeming plausible.