An Ideological and Political Commentary by Captain America: Civil War

In Beastly & Beautiful, Film & TV, Film/TV-Superhero by Louisa Leontiades

How beautifully timed it is that this film should come out during such political division in the US! It’s civil war… but between whom?

Faction one is led by Tony Stark who, because his of guilt over creating Ultron which resulted in massive casualties, agrees to signing the ‘Accords’, a set of laws giving management responsibility of the Avengers team to the US government. Thus, Tony Stark is in some way positioned as a patriot who accepts that there must be some notion of accountability, even whilst passing off responsibility for their power to others. It won’t end well… since trying to hand off personal responsibility for your power isn’t likely to lead to anything good.

Captain America leads faction two, who claims that handing such responsibility for their power to a single government for the whole of humanity and whose agenda is likely to be dominated by self-interest is not a wise move. So Captain America, whilst demonstrating an initially surprising lack of patriotism towards the US government, is positioned as being dedicated to the ‘real’ American values; truth, justice and the American way. He is against the regulation of their freedom and by inference supports the unification of responsibility with analogous power.

But his dedication to this ideology is made personal by his fierce protection of Bucky, aka The Winter Soldier. Bucky has been ‘brainwashed’ to carry out assassinations for which Captain America knows he is responsible, but not accountable (due to the aforementioned brainwashing). Unfortunately for Cap, two of the people assassinated by Bucky in a Winter Soldier frenzy are Stark’s parents… uh oh, it just got even more personal.

It’s made clear to the audience that Bucky is programmed to kill and he cannot, despite Stark’s insistence, be held accountable for the killings even though he must be held responsible for them because he –

  1. actually does the evil acts (albeit at someone else’s command)
  2. is very much adult and over the age of 18
  3. remembers all of them (and thus has awareness, at least outside the frenzy)

Civil War upends the commonly held notion that accountability cannot be divided, because in this film it must be; many ‘use’ The Winter Soldier’s powers for their own ends. Accountability for the acts is divided, but responsibility is not.

We as an audience are given the bigger picture and it is intended that we align ourselves with Captain America’s perspective. Captain America is fighting the system and Tony Stark’s ideas about what our world defines as responsibility, accountability and justice. These things, Civil War suggests, are not as black and white as our justice system would have you believe.

In what world are we constantly brainwashed to obey a justice system which perpetuates the binary notions of good and evil? This one.

Who does the filmmakers suggest we support? The rebels against the system!

For me there’s a very relevant insinuation (intended or not) to today’s world in terms of Bernie Sanders’ political philosophies who in his own words ‘will not wait for Congress to act [and who] will take executive action to accomplish what Congress has failed to do.‘ From my perspective then, it offers the question: if you’re a believer in ‘real’ truth and justice shouldn’t you align yourself with Bernie?

There is also the amusing–yet once more presumably unintended–parallel of the playboy billionaire Tony Stark who emblazons his towers with his name, to Donald Trump. Such a parallel is compounded by Stark’s dismissal of the notion of democracy within the Avengers team and his stubborn refusal to acknowledge that someone who is a teensy bit more experienced, like 70 years more experienced, than him, may have perspective he lacks (and don’t get me started on Stark’s misogynist and egotistical treatment of women).

But beyond the political applications, and unlike so many other hero/villain Hollywood films, the central theme of Civil War is fundamentally about the fight between true and restorative justice vs. legal and binary justice. The really interesting angle is the examination of the most constructive way to combine responsibility with power and what that really means in terms of guilt and consequent justice. It’s an examination of how inadequate our justice system is in supporting our complex human psychology, not least because we are all constantly brainwashed. By our parents. By religion. By governments.

Captain America’s treatment of Bucky promotes restorative treatment of someone who has unwittingly abused his power, because he himself was abused. Bucky deserves to be healed rather than punished. And yet, categorically it is made clear that Bucky’s behaviour is unacceptable even whilst he is shown compassion. It is Cap’s compassion towards Bucky which allows him to take responsibility and volunteer to be cryogenically frozen whilst a cure is found for the triggers which transform him into an abusive and ruthless killer. Restorative justice prevails and promises a better and fairer solution than Stark’s and the US government’s ‘eye-for-an-eye’ revenge.

Finally no review would be complete without two other mentions of the other noticeable upgrades in the Marvel Universe.

Firstly the introduction of a black character who, with a movie coming up, is prominent in his own right. Black Panther is powerful, human but rational and compassionate. And that means although he initially signs on for team Ironman, he eventually swaps sides and aligns himself with team Captain America.

And secondly Spiderman – played by Tom Holland – is immature, funny and awesome. Spiderman, whose permanent struggle is to take responsibility for his power, is a irresponsible but powerful teenager. And yes, he’s on team Ironman. Obvs.