The antihero thing from earlier (apparently “antihero” has roughly as many definitions as “mary sue,” no real surprise there) still has me thinking about the whole phenomenon.
I mean, you remember when Captain America: Winter Soldier came out, and a whole bunch of people immediately declared that Captain America is boring, and actual heroes are the product of naive optimism, and cold, clear-eyed realists prefer characters of questionable virtue who have to make Hard Choices™. Adults, apparently, want complication and muddy morality and antiheroes.
Of course, the problem with that pronouncement is that if you think about it for more than two seconds, you tend to realize that most of our Cranky Unshaven White Guy-brand antiheroes have character arcs that involve finding the strength to go back to being regular heroes. How often does the Mercenary with the Heart of Gold character turn out to be someone who just never bothered being a good person? Practically never.*
Their backstory inevitably involves having been a hero, having been done wrong or having fucked up badly, and reacting to that pain by retreating into selfishness and opportunism. Their journey is about reclaiming the person they once were, along with their sense of self and the conviction necessary to stick to their own values. It’s about explicitly rejecting the idea that they have to take shortcuts or that the ends justify the means or that being good means being weak. They spend the whole damn movie trying to fight their way back to being Steve Rogers.
*You do see asshole characters who finally run into a line they can’t cross and will sacrifice a great deal in defense of that, but I’m talking about the crunchy shell-gooey center characters.