But here's the things I noticed: Cap doesn't really want to beat the bad guys.
Spoilers follows after the jump.
The Marvel movies have a lot of moving parts, especially the ones with the Avengers. It's a lot of balls to juggle and often little things, even obvious things, go right over your head while you're watching them. The pace is fast, you learn one thing then it's on to the next spectacular fight scene or another scene with another character on another continent. Not only is all that going on but after you make the movie there's all this editing and things have to get cut for various reasons. Some for time, some for pacing, and in Cap's case, some for protecting the brand.
Throughout the film Cap has a few exchanges with Ultron and Tony Stark when it comes to philosophy. Stark's argument for creating Ultron in the first place is to actually make the entire purpose of The Avengers obsolete. Here is their exchange at Hawkeye's farm:
Stark: "Isn't that the mission? Is that the 'why' we fight so we can end the fight so we get to go home?!"
Cap: "Every time someone tries to win a war before it starts innocent people die. Every time."
Then Stark looks around dejectedly and the debate is over. Now if I were Stark my immediate comeback would be, "And every time a war starts even more people die. Every time." Essentially Cap's argument comes down to, take no precautions and if a war starts his plan is we will fight it "together."
That's not even eight percent of a plan, Rogers. Sentiment doesn't win a war.
I'm not saying that it's a conscious aspect of his character Cap is even aware of. I think it's the opposite and what Wanda's mind mumbo-jumbo did to him was to force him to face that side of himself. Everybody scratches their head at this vision. It was him at party that took place in a fantasy where Cap was never frozen and made it out of WWII to be with Peggy. "How is that a fear?" Everybody wonders. "Isn't it a good fantasy?" This is Cap's true fear dug out of his own subconscious and thrown in his face.
Cap doesn't want peace on Earth. He doesn't want his wars to end. He wants to fight evil for the rest of his life which means he never truly wants to win. Captain America is a soldier who needs a war to fight. Now that's all fine and good until you realize that in order for Cap's war to continue on forever also means that innocents will be in the firing line forever. That's not very heroic. But it is incredibly interesting and honest. This is the revelation that was meant to break Cap. He has to look himself in the mirror and acknowledge he isn't as noble or heroic as he likes to think he is. He doesn't want to save the world, he wants to be a hero. Those are two completely different things. One results in a world where he is obsolete and not needed. Another is a world where he will always be needed; one where the threats never end and where he can be an admired hero. It makes his motivations a bit more selfish than selfless. Here's a couple questions: if a man does the right thing for the wrong reasons is he a bad man? Or are his actions enough to warrant admiration?
None of this is explored fully in the film because it's already a packed house with nine superheroes in it. Frankly there is no time for Whedon to explore this aspect of Cap's character. There's just too many moving pieces on the board to address it. We might get an exploration of this in Captain America: Civil War but I am not optimistic. Asking these types of questions and throwing some dirt on Cap's shield is just the sort of thing Marvel doesn't want to do. Marvel has a brand to protect. They are the makers of fun, light superhero movies for the whole family. Throwing major shade on their biggest boy scout might be an interesting creative direction but not a smart business one.
My entire reading is based on nothing more than breadcrumbs but I stand by it. Perhaps it all works better as subtext than making it a major story thread. It will certainly be interesting to see if anything comes of it in the next film where Cap and Stark go head to head. After all Stark never did get any clue to what Cap's "dark side" is. Maybe their civil war will bring it to light.