The Assertive Naivete of Captain America

I got to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier last week, and I thought it was great. And that stamp of approval is coming from the kind of comic book nerd who went on a hunger strike after seeing Daredevil (it was also partly because I spilled the rest of my Skittles in the parking lot on the way out of the theater, but I totally did not eat one thing until I got home).

One of the things that I really appreciate about the recent depictions of Captain America on screen is what I’m going to dub his assertive naiveté. Cap is a good guy without irony. He’s under no illusions — he knows that he is in a morally compromised world, and that he has to work with, and for, morally compromised people. And he doesn’t care. In spite of everything he sees, he chooses to believe that it’s possible to be good in that world.

In that way, this current incarnation of Captain America is kind of the photo negative of the current incarnation of Batman. There’s a point in Winter Soldier where Cap is told not to trust anyone. And you think, “Uh-oh, that’s going to be a problem.” But you never would’ve thought that about Batman. No one would even have had to tell him not to trust anyone, because Batman has the whole not-trusting-people thing down.

A little bit of cynicism is a good thing (just check out the twitter handle!), but much too often people confuse cynicism with wisdom. They’re not the same thing. And naiveté isn’t necessarily stupidity.

It’s nice to see a movie where the idealistic boy scout isn’t the punch line, but the hero. Cap starts the movie as a boy scout, and he’s just as much of a boy scout at the end. The world hasn’t changed him. He’s still holding on to his naiveté, and he still believes that his innocent, old school values can make the world a better place. It’s a refreshing thing to see in a movie nowadays.

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