Jacob Heilbrunn

The Return of Captain America

Captain America may have been assassinated in his comic book a few years back, but now the movie has hit the big screen. By all accounts, it's a corker. It offers a reminder that America can bounce back from its troubles and has in the past.

The film is set at the outset of World War II. Steve Rogers wants to enlist but is turned away as 4-F. He's a wimp, scrawny, anything but a strapping guy. He volunteers for a special army experiment conducted by Dr. Abraham Erskine and is injected with a super serum. His body is transformed. His mission is to go fight the Nazis. The Los Angeles Times says that the movie does a crackerjack job of capturing the era:

These early-days sections are so old-fashioned that, if you take away the copious special effects, watching "Captain America" feels akin to watching the venerable 1950s television version of "Superman" starring George Reeves. Buttons are pushed, dials are turned, secret passwords are uttered and lights blink, just like they did way back when.

The movie is supposed to lead up to the new Avengers movie that is due next year. Captain America actually first resurfaced in Avengers #4—he was found floating in a large cube of ice that, in essence, kept him cryogenically frozen. Once defrosted, he was ready to fight the battles of the cold war. The commies had replaced the Nazis as the bad guys.

Is all of this evocative of a bygone era, when America had the goods? Now it's simply a faltering power? There's a palpable hankering for the age when America got it right. Even the space program appears to be going under now that NASA is retiring the Atlantis. Ominous warnings are being sounded that China and Russia are on the march and could end up surpassing the U.S.—shades of Sputnik.

Writing in the National Interest today, Paul Pillar seconds former Congressman Mickey Edwards' proposal that fundamental political reforms be made to alter the system. Essentially, Edwards wants to hand over more power to elites to run the country. It will never happen. What America is witnessing today is an upsurge from below—a kind of Jacksonian revolution. Like it or not, the Tea Party represents a vocal part of the population, and it doesn't seem to be going away. Quite the contrary. Political reforms are less necessary than the willpower to tackle them. Only in crisis situations does the country actually take the measures that are needed. That's democracy in action.

There will be no Captain America to rush in and save the day. But the movie does offer a potent lesson of what America has accomplished in the past—and what it can accomplish again.