Walking out of the American Multi-Cinema Theater after watching Avengers: Endgame, the person I was talking with was telling me her impressions of the movie and characters. I responded with the fact that I enjoyed Captain America the most out of the eleven years of film produced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
She looked at me confused, stating that I was the one always going on about the necessity of character development within media in order to establish an interesting and enjoyable character. I responded to her by saying that Captain America does have an arc, just the most atypical one in media.
There exists three main types of character journeys, the positive one (Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars trilogy), the negative one (Michael Corleone in The Godfather trilogy), and the flat arc (Captain America in the MCU). To understand the flat arc, I have to explain what the positive arc is. When the protagonist builds their world and assumptions based on a lie which causes the protagonist to be self-destructive. Then the story acts as a crucible to change a character’s belief in the lie and their arc becomes about accepting a new truth. The difference in a flat arc is that the protagonist starts the journey with a truth, and ends the story with the same truth. Captain America believes in truth, justice, and the American way and fights to make sure others can embrace that truth. In this instance, the theme is more overt than positive arc characters.
The setting of the world around them serves to trick, tempt, and deceive characters into believing the lie accepted by everyone else but in the end these characters never give up on trying to better the world around them, which now emphasizes the importance of supporting characters. Even though the main protagonist of the series does not change the world around them, the truth within these characters becomes reflected in the supporting cast around them.
While Captain America does not change his core beliefs about freedom and justice, he causes his friends around him experience positive character arcs. Captain America causes Falcon to better deal with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and even transform his trauma into a more positive influence, defending the innocent along with the other Avengers. He has the same effect on Bucky “the Winter Soldier,” where he takes him from the brainwashed assassin to the compassionate army veteran he once was.
The fact that these characters experience this satisfies our need to see change during the story. What matters is that these flat arc characters act as catalysts to change the other character’s minds.
The popularity of positive arc characters stem from their ability to change which lets us know that we can also change, however the flat arc characters let us know that we can change the world around us without sacrificing our beliefs. The catalytic protagonist is a story about inspirational heroes who spend their lives spreading a good message in the hopes of radically changing the world around them for the better.