Maybe in an effort to draw on the ever-expanding electoral fervor currently sweeping over the nation, Marvel’s latest voyage into 21st century heroism throws its hat into debates over security, sovereignty and international accountability. Of course, the fights are elaborate and exciting, but the political undertones are too casually incoherent to be ignored.
Instead of a rational approach to the world’s most delicate diplomatic matters, “Captain America: Civil War” delivers a solid punch to the gut. “Civil War” wants to reap the benefits of being a political thriller and a summer action blockbuster at the same time, which it can’t because of the fundamental inconsistency and incompatibility between Earth’s political climate and that of the Marvel Universe.
Ol’ Captain America (Chris Evans) and his Avengers buddies find themselves in hot water after a botched attempt at telekinesis by Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) results in an explosion, killing innocent Wakandans visiting Nigeria. Outrage over this incident places this blame squarely at the feet of our superheroes. This paired with the disastrous siege of Sokovia as depicted in 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” prompts the United Nations to propose the so-called Sokovia Accords, which aim to create an international panel to oversee the Avengers’ activity. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) immediately jumps behind this idea, but Captain America, on the other hand, has lost faith in the governments of the world.
“Civil War’s” portrayal of Captain America is a staunch individualist, benefitting from a lack of supervision and liability. He’s got no qualms trouncing around in sovereign territories because in his mind he’s not only above the law, he is the law. What’s concerning about Cap’s new outlook is that it flies in the face of all he came to stand for during the Second World War. How could Captain America go as far as to lie on his enlistment form, yet 75 years later he retroactively scorns the Lend-Lease Act—a policy that supplied the Allies in their fight against Nazi Germany—as something that “brought our country closer to war”?
His scoffing attitude towards international politics harkens back to that of the U.S. during the 1930’s when the nation refused to take part in the League of Nations, the predecessor to the modern United Nations. American absence crippled the ill-fated League, allowing Italy to invade Ethiopia, Japan to invade Manchuria, and finally, World War II. What does any of this have to do with the Avengers? The state of affairs in the real world are complicated enough to make it impossible—or at least really boring—for a Marvel movie to do right by political themes. That’s what makes it so worrisome to see such iconic heroes stepping onto soapboxes.
“Captain America: Civil War” mocks its audience with such an offhanded representation of geopolitics. The Marvel Universe further confuses an already unintelligible landscape with fictional countries depicted alongside their real-life counterparts.
Fictional Wakanda, an absolute monarchy, is somehow supposed to be the beacon of democracy for Africa. Sokovia, a fictional Eastern European country and home to our main villain, is left completely vague and misunderstood, apparently as a surrogate for Kosovo. The affiliation between the fascist Hydra organization and Soviet Russia is never explained. In one scene, German police hunt down an American citizen in Romania in response to a crime committed in Austria. Somehow, the film manages to use this kind of nonsense as an excuse to justify its depiction of a bumbling and bureaucratic United Nations.
The Economist sums it up nicely: “The UN is often accused of meddling, only to be called upon when disaster strikes—and then blamed for not stepping in sooner.” If only Captain America could appreciate that he and the UN have quite a bit in common. Neither should be expected to prevent disasters before they strike, but that doesn’t mean either are incompetent or undeserving of their peacekeeping roles. When hell breaks loose in the real world, the UN is the only force capable of brokering peace deals between warring parties—as flimsy as those deals may sometimes be. With such a cynical portrayal of the foremost advocate of global cooperation, “Captain America: Civil War” tempts you to forget that for people in war-torn parts of the world, the UN’s presence is a matter of life and death.
Sincere political drama just won’t gel with the unrestrained excitement that a Marvel movie is expected to provide. Superhero films are usually a great escape and can be quite fun when they’re not bogged down with begging to be taken so seriously. More than ever, sensationalized politics barrage folks at every turn, now including comic book movies.
So, at a time when an ideology of American impunity grows in the United States and Euroscepticism permeates Europe, Captain America also proselytizes for an arrogant, uncompromising approach to international conflict resolution. Remind you of anyone?