Avengers Analyzed: Fury and Coulson

Now I could be criticized for including these two in my analysis of Avengers characters because at first glance it seems that neither Fury nor Coulson have distinct character arcs in this story. That’s not entirely true. Rather, these two erstwhile leaders of SHIELD share a conflict and a goal but it’s not one that works out like they expect.

You see, Fury and Coulson both fail in what they set out to do and that, in turn, cuts their character arc much shorter than we’re used to seeing. With that said, let’s just dig into it shall we?

Fury and Coulson’s Background

These characters share a single purpose, namely to create a superteam under the aegis of SHIELD. Coulson is the first of these two that we see, showing up pretty much as soon as Tony Stark stepped out of the shadows in his first shiny red Iron Man suit. Fury took a little longer to show up, poking his head in after the credits of Iron Man, and he was also more skeptical of Stark’s suitability for membership on the Avengers. Up until this point we haven’t really paid these two a whole lot of attention but after four movies we do know a few things.

Coulson is very enthusiastic at the idea of the Avengers and tries his best to reach out to potential members and interest them in the team, Fury is cautious and does his best to control risks that will undercut his agenda. There is a slight tension between the two in that Coulson hopes to see heroes doing their thing in a coordinated fashion that will protect and inspire others while Fury wants to be the head of his team and ensure that it is used in the best possible fashion. The balance between the two viewpoints is probably the fact that Coulson views Fury as a hero in and of his own right.

The Conflict 

Both Phil and Nick embody character vs. the world. Unlike Captain Rogers, their conflict doesn’t arise from changes in the world around them but from fundamental differences between the way Coulson and Fury think the way the world should progress and the way the world itself wants to be.

Basically, Fury and Coulson want the Avengers to be heroes. They want them to set an example for other people and be on the front line of what’s about to unfold. The world at large, on the other hand, sees all these exceptional people and the threats inbound and just wants them to go away as quickly and with as little fuss as possible. The world would prefer to just press a button or drop a bomb and have this sticky situation sorted out when, in truth, sticky situations are rarely sorted out that easily and will require brave men and women risking life and limb in very direct and personal ways to get things done.

In short, the world Fury and Coulson live in is exactly like ours.

Each of these two characters is going to face down the problem in their own way, if The Avengers is a war movie then Fury is the general who will command the troops and deal with government while Coulson is the trusted captain who will actually lead them into battle. One handles the strategic level, the other the tactical. Naturally, this leads to the basic conflict at work bearing out in different ways.

Fury is concerned with world leaders, the World Security Council, the people who’s backing he will need to make his idea work, he has to fight against the ideas permeating his world. Coulson, on the other hand, is going to face narcissism, a lack of self esteem, feelings of impotence and distraction by personal matters as he tries to keep the Avengers on task. His struggle is against the feelings permeating his world.

We Meet Fury and Coulson 

“This doesn’t have to get any messier.” – Colonel Nick Fury, to Loki 

This pair of erstwhile leaders are introduced pretty much at the same time, at the very beginning of the film as Fury comes to check on the Tesseract at a secure SHIELD facility at the back end of nowhere. This setting serves to quickly establish both characters as high ranking members of a government organization and that Fury outranks Coulson and establishes some other basic dynamics like introducing Agent Barton. Then, just to keep us on our toes, the movie drops Loki into the mix and lets us see what happens.

Fury vs. Loki 

“Yeah, you say ‘peace’, I kind of think you mean the other thing.” – Colonel Nick Fury, still talking to Loki 

Fury’s confrontation with Loki is our first demonstration of Loki’s power and it’s very impressive. He wipes out dozens of trained SHIELD agents and subverts two very valuable people, providing the impetus for Fury to go ahead and try the Avengers Initiative even though it had theoretically already been scrapped.

This confrontation is short but meaningful. In addition to providing the driving force behind the entire story and reinforcing the idea that SHIELD alone will not be enough to stop Loki’s invasion it also highlights a stubbornness that will ultimately be Fury’s undoing in his efforts to unite the world against the threats it faces.

Gathering the Avengers – And Hiding them Away

“With everything that’s happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old fashioned.” – Phil Coulson, to Captain America 

Nothing evokes the attitudes of the SHIELD leadership more than their interactions with Steve Rogers, which is fitting because when the attention of SHIELD wavers it’s ultimately Captain America who will step into the gap and takes up the mantle of leadership. But that doesn’t happen in this film so I’m going to ignore it for the moment.

Let’s focus instead on what Fury and Coulson are telling Steve. If you look at the dialog they’re constantly talking about using SHIELD resources for the good of humanity. Fury tells about the potential the Tesseract has as a power source, showing a wide-reaching civic good that SHIELD wants to advance. Phil talks about how the Avengers can inspire and unite people in dangerous times. These are worthy goals, goals fitting for a group of people who want to call themselves heroes.

In contrast, the very first thing that Fury does with his group of individuals once they agree to work with him is gather them on a flying fortress and turn them invisible, far from the people the Avengers are intended to serve and protect. Now no problem is going to have a perfect solution but SHIELD’s actions and its claims don’t exactly add up. We’re never shown how much of these actions were Fury’s idea and how much they belong to the World Security Council but at the very least concealing the existence of a highly recognizable fugitive from the public isn’t the best way to find a person and Fury has to have known that.

Not working with the public to find Loki is an odd choice, but one that makes sense in the light of the Security Council’s statement that the Avengers are dangerous. The problem with assessing things in terms of security is that everything is dangerous. The Council is, to paraphrase Gandalf, beset by dangers for they themselves are dangerous. The problem is, they fail to recognize that and therefore regard anything dangerous as bad. Fury isn’t doing a good job wining them over to his side.

Coulson’s problem is much more personal. Heroes come with a lot of baggage and the Avengers are no exception. Making things worse, baggage frequently multiplies when you cram a bunch of it into one place, witness the constant bickering between Steve and Tony. Coulson’s conflict plays out as he tries to smooth over everyone’s conflicting feelings and forge the Avengers into a single team that can work together like his own agents do. The problem is, the Avengers are not SHIELD agents by any stretch of the imagination and, while Coulson has the kind of personality and insight to put each of these heroes at ease individually, he is not the person to lead them collectively.

Coulson vs. Loki

“You lack conviction.” – Phil Coulson, to Loki 

Coulson’s confrontation with Loki is also brief but even more effective than Fury’s. While Loki technically defeats Coulson the concept of a moral victory definitely applies here. At no point does Coulson’s resolve waver or his spirit flag. No, the reason Coulson can’t stop Loki is that he’s come alone. While Coulson’s goal was to help bring together and support the Avengers as a team he unfortunately didn’t actually consider himself a part of that team and because of this, at a critical moment when the presence of just one or two other members of the Avengers could have made a significant difference, Coulson doesn’t ask them for help.

Yes, some of them were busy with other things. Some of them were mind controlled. But honestly, Phil didn’t have to come alone, did he? Well, yes he did. You see, from a story standpoint, conviction was what the Avengers as a whole were lacking, just as much as Loki.

The Avengers lacked conviction in the cause Phil believed in, the idea that a simple, old fashioned crew could take a stand on something incredibly simple, like having the freedom to make your own decisions, and fight for it, inspiring other people to do the same. Banner and Romanoff think they’re monsters. Steve’s uncertain of his place in the world. Stark can’t see beyond his own narcissism. Barton’s perspective is so farsighted sometimes it leaves him alienated. Thor can’t parse his conflicting love for his brother and his adopted planet. And Nick Fury… well, he couldn’t do without a backup plan.

Only Phil Coulson had the unshakeable belief that the Avengers could become the heroes to inspire a generation. It was that conviction, in turn, that would inspire the Avengers themselves.

Things Fall Apart

“Director Fury, the Council has made a decision.” – The World Security Council 

While Coulson wins the battle for the Avengers, the war for the world falls through. Coulson’s part of the struggle was to win the Avengers over to Fury’s vision to defend the world and bring them to place that goal above personal goals. While Phil succeeded Fury can’t get the Security Council to buy in. They remain skeptical of Fury’s goals – a unified force offering Earth long term security – and instead pursue their own goal of immediate safety regardless of the cost in the future.

It’s important to understand what a setback for Fury this is. Not only has he lost his best agent, by deciding to destroy the Chitauri invasion along with the island of Manhattan via nuclear warhead the World Security Council has completely rejected Fury’s single greatest hope for saving Earth. Yes, Fury ignores their orders and tries to stop the nuclear strike but the fact is that he wanted the Avengers to be a symbol of mankind united, a testament to the way noble ideas can unite people in spite of pettymindedness. While it’s hard to blame the Security Council for their decision – the entire world was at stake after all and that kind of responsibility has got to be heavy – without Council backing the Avengers can’t really represent humanity united. It’s hard to represent a united front when you’re a rogue element, after all.

Ultimately, at the end of The Avengers Fury is not in the greatest position. The Avengers have gone their separate ways, the World Security Council is on his back and he’s lost his best agent. Fury is on the ropes and will probably need to take drastic measures to reestablish his credibility. Something like allying with a questionable politician to build an armada and dispatch threats before they materialize. But again, not the scope of this analysis.

Fury and Coulson serve the larger story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to be certain, but they also have their own conflict to resolve and that conflict comes from the differences between their idea of the world and the world’s own ideas. The small part of the world that they need to join them directly, the six members of the Avengers other than Fury himself, does come over to their side but the world as a whole does not. Fury is vindicated when the Avengers win but the Security Council still will not back his decisions or trust that the Avengers will function for the good of the world, both questioning whether they will be on task when needed again and whether they are up to the task.

This outcome to Fury and Coulson’s story may seem depressing, and to be fair it is. But at the same time, it does two very important things. First, it adds verisimilitude. As I said before, the World Security Council has a very real, significant burden on their shoulders and it’s not crafting a strong, heroic society it’s making sure that there’s any society left at all. It’s natural for them to want failsafes and be very skeptical of making seven people Earth’s first line of defense against things like the Chitauri invasion.

Secondly, Fury’s leadership style is secretive, controlling and frankly a little Machiavellian. These tendencies make him a poor leader for the kind of group he wants to build. The Avengers don’t naturally trust him and follow his lead. Fury explains his goals several times but the Avengers, and Tony and Steve in particular, are skeptical because his actions don’t really match with his stated ends. The other Avengers defer to Coulson because their previous experiences with him have convinced them of his good intentions but Fury never lets the Avengers get that close. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Fury’s efforts fail.

So what kind of further character growth can we expect from Age of Ultron? Honestly, I can’t say. With three villains to focus on this time around – Ultron himself plus Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch – plus all seven Avengers apparently returning in the second film I’m not sure how much character growth we can expect from them this time around. The individual films Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World made a wholehearted attempt to further the work done of Marvel’s The Avengers. They succeeded to some extent but what made The Avengers so great was it’s success in characterizing it’s cast without needing the background from the first phase of Marvel movies.

But we can still hope, since it is Joss Whedon at the helm. And there’s still a good chance of a great story and fun action.

Avengers Analyzed: Barton and Romanoff

It’s time to talk about Marvel’s The Avengers once again. We finished with all the superheroes so what’s left to look at? Why, the regular human characters of course!

With four incredibly larger than life characters eating up screen time how are we supposed to relate to anything in this film? Are they even relevant in this story? On the other hand, why do normal people even need superheroes anyways? To help us examine these questions The Avengers gives us Agents Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton, AKA The Black Widow and Hawkeye.

Now before I get into an analysis of these two characters, a quick aside to address the elephants in the room. First, I’m tackling these two characters together because their stories kind of go together and Barton… doesn’t get that much development. The second is the tendency of the fanbase to pair Hawkeye and Widow romantically. I don’t really understand this pairing, I suppose it may have a basis in the comic books but for the most part, in terms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), I don’t see it. These two characters seem to share more the brother and sister relationship of Romanoff and Captain America in The Winter Soldier than serious romantic leanings and I don’t think they would be a good fit. Sure, they share skills and a history but these two things do not a romance make.

Honestly I think the two characters in the MCU that would make a good romantic fit for Romanoff would be Cap or Banner, as their strong moral centers and stable personalities would make a good balance for her shrewd disposition and apparent lack of a strong direction for herself. Barton looks to need someone very assertive and fun, things Nat plays at but don’t appear to be a part of her core personality. I can’t think of an MCU person who fits that mold so I’m not really sure who would make for a good match for him at the moment.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that this is not an analysis of these two characters together in that sense.

Background 

Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton are Agents of SHIELD, one of Marvel’s many, many organizations with somewhat forced acronyms for names. Neither one has been the central character of a movie, in fact both have been peripheral characters in previous appearances. Romanoff was assigned to help SHIELD keep an eye on Tony Stark after his first outing as Iron Man, Barton helped Phil Coulson sort out what was going on with Thor during his first trip to earth. Unfortunately, both characters got little development beyond highly trained spy characters.

Conflict 

Here’s why I think Romanoff and Barton belong together for analysis. I think they share the same conflict – characters vs. god. The personal conflict these two have is against a force utterly beyond their ability to oppose. Even with all their incredible training, equipment and personal willpower neither Barton or Romanoff score a clear win over Loki before joining up with the rest of the Avengers. In this way, these two characters show Earth’s need for the superhero team and at the same time affirm that regular people have a place on that team.

Barton’s Introduction 

Clint Barton is an expert marksman. He specializes in dealing with problems from far away and he frequently does so in a very lethal fashion. He has a distant personality that matches his skills and we see this by the way he distances himself from those around him at the beginning of the movie. We first see him standing on top of a catwalk far away from the rest of the people at the facility he’s tasked with guarding.

Barton doesn’t really fit in with other people but that may be appropriate given rather ghastly nature of what snipers are capable of with modern weaponry. The fact that he says he’s more comfortable watching things from far off only adds to the image of a man who would rather stay at a distance than get too involved in what’s going on. A simple introduction for a pretty simple character. But simple doesn’t mean ineffective.

Barton vs. Loki 

Barton is one of the first characters to confront Loki in The Avengers and he looses. Badly. This creates what is known as the Worf Effect, Hawkeye’s defeat and subsequent loss of free will establishes Loki’s menace in two ways – first, he defeats a highly trained SHIELD agent handily and second he robs that agent of free will as a consequence. In the first five minutes of the movie Clint Barton goes from one of SHIELD’s trump cards to a pawn in the service of the enemy. Not fun times.

Romanoff’s Introduction 

Where Barton is introduced as a loner, distant from all those around him, Natasha is introduced as the center of attention. It’s just not good attention.

Black Widow’s projecting weakness to manipulate those she meets and subsequent defeat of several large men via hand to hand combat skill establish that she is also a formidable individual. She’s also the opposite of Barton, working best up close and indirectly, rather than at a distance and in violent opposition.

I’ve already talked about her first encounter with Bruce Banner at length in Banner’s post, there are a few things we learn about her through this exchange. First, she has great personal courage. She goes to meet the Hulk even though he clearly scares her. Second, she can’t seem to set aside her lies and tricks. Even when Banner proves he sees through her by saying why she’s there – SHIELD does want the Hulk and Romanoff did bring a full team with her – she sticks to her story until Banner forces her hand. Third, while Romanoff is good at lying she’s not always so good at seeing through them.

After all, Banner’s a rank amateur in comparison and she fell for one of his bluffs.

First Bridge 

Most of what Barton and Romanoff do in the first half of the movie, besides playing of the four superheroes at the center of things, is show their skills by taking care of things the superhumans can’t. Romanoff flies Captain America to the confrontation in Stuttgart, Barton finds stuff for Loki and plans how to steal it.

These demonstrations serve to reinforce both how skilled these characters are and how little they seem able to accomplish against Loki. For all his skills Barton didn’t even make him break stride and Romanoff relies on the superior firepower of the Quinnjet during the Stuttgart battle. Things don’t really get much better once Loki is captured.

Romanoff vs Loki 

Much like Tony, Romanoff confronts Loki in a way that’s not directly adversarial. When he’s locked up in the Helicarrier she goes to try and get information out of him and she does so in her usual way. She plays him, pretending to want to know where Hawkeye is, pretending to be guilt ridden, pretending to be weak and vulnerable, all to find out what, exactly, it is he wants on the Helicarrier.

Most people assume that Romanoff wins this confrontation because Loki mentions the Hulk, Romanoff seizes on this fact and then the Hulk proceeds to go wild in the Helicarrier. This assessment is a little weird. Loki is so good at deception that he’s considered an embodiment of it and we never get any indications that he was on the Helicarrier for the Hulk. In point of fact, Loki’s play wasn’t the Hulk at all. His entire purpose on the Helicarrier was to keep the Avenger’s attention focused on him while his mind controlled minions seized control of Stark Tower and prepared to summon the Chituari.

In other words, while Romanoff is a good liar she’s not very good at picking them out and this, combined with the fact that Loki hits three nerves all in one conversation (Barton, Widow’s past and the Hulk), keeps Natasha from noticing she’s being played even as she tries to play Loki herself. Of course, Loki’s intent was not to focus Romanoff’s attention on the Hulk or anything else, but rather to keep her attention squarely on him and not on what others were doing. That’s fitting, since he is a master trickster, and his success in doing so only serves to reinforce how regular humans, even those who are very good at what they do, are ill suited to fight Loki and his minions.

Second Bridge

We enter the third act of the film with the Helicarrier brawl and it’s at this point that Barton is finally broken free of Loki’s mind control. Romanoff helps him get his bearings again and the two agree that they’ll make up for the slip-ups they’ve caused by going out and pounding Loki like the red-headed stepchild he is (metaphorically speaking, of course). Don’t miss the significance of it being Captain America who shows up at the end of the scene and calls them to action, however. These two are going to action again but this time not just as a pair of SHIELD agents but as members of the Avengers.

Conflict Resolution – The Battle of New York 

Some might argue that the reason Barton and Romanoff failed against Loki because they acted against him alone. Not so. Barton was a part of a group during his confrontation. Some might point out that the agents of SHIELD could have figured out what Loki was up to if they had more time to unpack it. Maybe so, but the problem was they had to work faster than Loki’s timetable. Most people can overcome a given problem if they have unlimited time and resources to work with the key to a good story, particularly an action or adventure story, is to limit both.

The point of these two characters is not that they need help overcoming Loki. If that was all it took then SHIELD was in place already. The world didn’t need just any team, it needed the Avengers.

Thus it’s fitting that the two of them are at the heart of wrapping up the battle of New York. While Tony saved New York from over zealous human intervention it was Widow who actually shut down the portal the Chituari were using to invade. Barton was the one who tracked each threat as it came through and made sure it was contained before it could cause too much damage. The Avengers could not have won without them. Yes, the “super” heroes (except for Hulk, who was special) were each able to draw with Loki in their own encounters with him, none of them were able to win alone and Loki backed by an army is even worse.

The point of Barton and Romanoff in this movie is to show that the existing methods for fighting threats to Earth were not up to the task of stopping Loki. Their inability to fight him personally reflects the depth of his power and the limits of their abilities, serving as a microcosm of the problem at large. Once the Avengers existed as a coherent team the conflict is resolved – superspies alone are not equal to the task but all of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are.

So that’s the end of the analysis, right? All the main characters and conflicts are covered, aren’t they? Well, no. See, even with the Avengers all assembled there has to be someone to lead. Next month, in our final installment, we’ll take a look at the leaders of the Avengers. See you then!

Avengers Analyzed: Steve Rogers

Time for the third entry in this ongoing series! We’re examining the character writing of Marvel’s The Avengers, one of the best elements of a movie with a lot going for it. We started with Bruce Banner and continued with Tony Stark. To continue with the logical progression, this month we talk about the man who was Stark’s foil for most of the movie – Captain Steve Rogers.

Steve’s Background

The greatest soldier in the world began life in New York during the Great Depression and volunteered to fight in the Second World War. He was turned down for being too small and weak – many times. So great was his desire to serve that he hit every recruiting station he could find and eventually drew the attention of the supersoldier program that would make him superhuman.

Rogers would eventually see service in Europe fighting the rogue Nazi superscience group HYDRA, defeating their leader Red Skull in a battle that left Steve trapped under a glacier until he was discovered by SHIELD and revived in the modern era.

Oh, he also possesses an indestructible shield that he throws at people. It’s pretty cool.

Steve’s Conflict 

Steve Rogers embodies character vs. the world, a dramatic shift from the last two characters who were both at odds with themselves.

Seventy years ago, American society at least paid lipservice to the ideals of courtesy, integrity, duty and honor. While the number of people who actually lived by those virtues were probably no higher than the number of people who live by their personal principles today, what matters for the purposes of this story was that the Captain was one of those people who not only believed in those things but put everything he had into practicing them. Unfortunately, those ideals are not particularly valued today.

But Steve’s conflict runs even deeper than just a difference between his ideals and those of the world around him.

Defeating HYDRA was not the literal the death of Steve Rogers but it came close enough. When his life stopped the world kept marching and it hasn’t looked back. It seems almost impossible for him to have any relevance in the world he finds himself in. The skills he honed as a young man are obsolete, the enemy he fought has been defeated and the friends he knew are gone. What’s a hero to do?

We Meet Captain America 

“I’ve been asleep for seventy years. I think I’ve had enough rest.” – Captain Steve Rogers 

Cap’s introduction is every bit as well thought out as Stark’s. We see him in a boxing gym. An oldschool boxing gym, it looks like it’s been dragged straight out of the Depression era and it immediately tells us a few things about Steve.

First, it immediately gives us the impression that we’re looking at an old fashioned place with an old fashioned guy. There’s no modern exercise equipment in there. Just a ring, a punching bag and some room for warmups. The man there fits in seamlessly, feels entirely at home. He’s just as old as this place, perhaps.

Second, the gym is empty. Gyms are communal places, social centers as much as places to refine and train yourself. Most people don’t go there alone, those that do usually meet with some sort of trainer. But this man is alone.

Third, this guy is good. He hits fast, hard and continuously. And he tears his target to pieces. But never for a moment does he look happy about it.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Steve Rogers.

Steve Starts Off

“There’s a lot we’ll have to bring you up to speed on if you’re in. The world has gotten even stranger than you know.” – Nick Fury 

It may sound weird for Nick Fury to try and  tempt Captain America out of seclusion by promising him weirdness, given that most of his woes have come about thanks in no small part to weirdness, but that’s exactly what Nick does. Their meeting, although brief, tells us a great deal about Steve and for the most part it does so without using words. I admire that.

First, we notice that Cap respects authority. He never takes Fury to task for the way SHIELD tried to hide the era he’d woken up in. He doesn’t baselessly question whether Fury and SHIELD deserve the position they hold as the world’s defenders. He assumes Fury has earned his position.

At the same time, he expects Fury to act like the things he claims to be. Steve’s questions about what Fury is telling him are exactly what we would expect from a fairly average guy who’s life experiences are seen almost entirely through the lens of global warfare. He has natural doubts about using the power source Red Skull did but seems to acknowledge it’s potential as well.

Most of all, the Captain is curious. He asks questions constantly, trying to drive into the heart of the matter. He clearly isn’t comfortable with anything around him, nor with the role he’s being asked to take or even with the guy who’s asking him to do it. But his sense of responsibility won’t let him turn away and it does sound kind of interesting…

But the real moment that starts Cap on his journey is his conversation with Phil Coulson, when he asks if his old uniform isn’t a little old fashioned. Phil replies that may be exactly what people need.

Confrontation With Loki

“You know, the last time I was in Germany and saw a man standing above everybody else, we ended up disagreeing.” – Captain Steve Rogers 

Steve’s story moves pretty quickly. After paying off a bet with Fury, Steve is dispatched to Stuttgart, Germany where Loki has turned up. This makes Steve the first of the superhuman lineup to confront Loki and the first character in the movie to deal him a setback.

The first, most interesting thing to notice about Cap’s confrontation with Loki is that it happens in Germany, the country where Steve made his reputation and found his greatest enemy.

The second actually happens before Steve shows up. When Loki calls for the people of Earth to kneel before him they all do. But one man, old and looking a little weary with life, thinks about it and pulls himself back to his feet. He challenges Loki by telling him that, no matter how powerful or special the so-called god thinks he is, there have always been people like him.

This man, nameless though he is, has every reason to know. Old as he is, there can be little doubt that he knew the German who made such boasts – not personally, but still. Whether this man was a child or a soldier (and some were certainly both), a member of the resistance or complicit in his silence (and some were one and then the other), this is one man who has seen the horrors of another man who thinks he is a god and come to accept that nothing short of total opposition can be the right answer. This man of Stuttgart defies Loki, even though there is nothing he can conceivably do to stop him.

This man, quite possibly the only man in Stuttgart who could understand Steve Rogers, who has seen the things Steve has and the only one who might be able to argue that men like Captain America are now irrelevant in the world that is, chose to show the exact same spirit and the exact same resolve that Steve himself carries. The man of Stuttgart is not strong enough to do more than defy Loki – but Steve is there to fight for them both.

When Captain America fights Loki it’s a powerful statement about the relevance of heroes in the modern world. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Steve is that he doesn’t realize he’s made it but in many ways, it’s one of the most important moments in the movie, if not in the development of Steve’s character.

For all his skill, strength and courage, Captain America is not able to defeat Loki himself. In fact, he doesn’t even really get him to sweat. While it looks like both fighters could go for several dozen more rounds, Iron Man arrives and tips the odds in Steve’s favor, prompting Loki to surrender. It may not look like Steve’s win and Tony certainly doesn’t seem to think so but it’s an important first step towards Captain America’s ultimate goal.

Battles Within and Without

“Everything special about you came out of a bottle!” – Tony Stark 

Ironically, Steve’s personal conflict is against the world he’s in and Loki is a thing of another world. We can’t really see Cap’s personal conflict in battles with Loki but rather in battles with the people who are helping him fight the larger fight. Add to this the fact that Steve is essentially the leader of the team and we wind up with him playing a part in many of the minor conflicts that build the individual characters into a single team.

But after his inconclusive encounter with Loki Steve’s rep isn’t quite what it could be. In fact, the very next thing that happens is a three way brawl between Cap, Thor and Iron Man. It opens with Stark’s impetuous nature clashing with Steve’s more reserved style and doesn’t come to a stop until Steve steps between the two and takes everything they can throw out. But while the fight is over that doesn’t mean the other two are behind Steve yet. In fact, in Tony’s case in particular it seems to be very much the opposite.

The struggle between the two is kind of a microcosm of Steve’s struggle as a whole. Tony values his own opinion, doesn’t want to give up anything and doesn’t take other people seriously at all. At the same time he provides Cap a push to look into what SHIELD has been doing with its borrowed technology.

It’s interesting the degree to which Steve rejects the paradigm of SHIELD. He doesn’t show much warmth to anyone but Coulson and, while the regimented behavior clearly puts him in mind of his army days, the deep secrets SHIELD hides behind doesn’t sit well with him.

Steve values the members of his team, something that puts him at odds with Fury’s seemingly colder disposition, which seems content to sacrifice the few for the many. Romanov embodies SHIELD’s philosophy and seems to be trying to handle Steve, a man who gave up being handled and set his own course long before she was born. Getting a read on her and how to best work with her is a task that will occupy an entire different movie but for now he just needs her to follow and she’s sticking with Fury.

Thor wants his brother punished, hopefully leading to his reform. That’s not something Steve disagrees with, in fact it’s very much in line with the moral code Rogers espouses, but Thor’s loyalties are elsewhere and this may be why Cap keeps him at arm’s length for most of the film. Of all the people on the team, Banner is probably the most like the Captain but the scientist’s volatility puts a layer of caution between the two that neither one really wants to cross.

In all, Steve’s biggest problem is that everyone has an agenda and none of them are his. But as a man who spent most of his life (his conscious life, anyway) as a little guy who wanted to fight for the other little guys, Steve is the one with the closest connection both to what a hero needs to do and what it will cost them.

Steve’s Tipping Point

“Phase 2 is SHIELD uses the Cube to make weapons.” – Captain Steve Rogers 

Captain America is the only hero who’s entire character development basically comes in a single lump and if any one character was going to get that kind of concentrated character development it should be him. Steve is the heart of the team, it’s moral core and driving force. Yes, the Avengers were gathered by SHIELD and Fury obviously intended to be their leader. But only Steve has the integrity and the single-minded purpose to keep all the personalities around him focused on a single task. That was why he lead the team in the comics and it’s why he leads them in this film, he’s a hero that even other heroes must respect. After all, he’s lost almost his entire life to heroism once and doesn’t even hesitate to risk it again.

But even as the rest of the team slowly falls into orbit around him Steve is remaining passive, letting Fury call the shots and take the lead. Right up until Stark, Rogers’ gadfly, implies that SHIELD may be up to something underhanded. When Steve finds the weapons project they’ve been running he’s upset.

Not so much at the fact that SHIELD is building weapons. Steve was and is a soldier, he understands the necessities of war. But he also knows that the power weapons give their wielders demands accountability, just as he needs to be accountable to his superiors in his function as a living weapon. And building weapons in secret? That’s not accountability. It smacks of HYDRA.

Funny that.

Captain Rogers is not above setting his own goals and working towards them when his superiors are obviously neglecting what’s important – he did it during WWII and he’s up to the challenge now. SHIELD is not handling this crisis with integrity and if they won’t, then Steve Rogers will. The world may not always want his kind of heroism but it’s going to get it anyway.

Steve’s Resolution 

“You need men in these buildings. There are people inside and they’re going to be running right into the line of fire. You take them to the basements, or through the subway. You keep them off the streets. I need a perimeter as far back as 39th.” – Captain Steve Rogers 

After the attack on the Helicarrier Steve is the one to shake Tony out of his stupor and he immediately brings Barton back into the fold, no questions asked. This may seem naïve but it’s all he needs to do to get both Barton and Romanov on his side. The same pragmatic attitude was shown earlier with Bruce, when Steve showed no interest in his Hulk problem and only cared about Banner’s ability to find the Tesseract. As an accomplished soldier and leader of men, Rogers knows that sometimes it’s what a person can contribute right now that matters more than history, ideology or attitude.

The unification of the team around Steve is the end of the character’s conflict – he’s proved his own relevance in the world at large and is now free to act in it and join the battle. The growing ease with which he handles first his own team and then the emergency responders during the Battle of New York cements his place as a hero of the modern age and set the stage for him to entirely leave the shadow of Fury and SHIELD in Winter Soldier – all in all, a very satisfying character arc, if not as dramatic as Tony’s or as deft as Banners.

That only leaves one superhero left in the movie’s line up and I’d like to say I saved the best for last… but the fact is Thor is a bit of an enigma in this film. It’s not to say he doesn’t show character development, it’s just not as pronounced as any of the other characters – come back next month and we’ll take a look at what I mean.