Marvel’s Civil War may be most political movie of the year

Powerful questions for today’s world. Does the government control the us or do we individually monitor ourselves? How do we maintain fidelity in a corrupt world? How do we deal with individuals who could wish us harm?

When Captain America: Civil War hits theaters at the end of this week, Marvel’s two most American superheroes, Iron Man and Captain America, will fight.

It’s a strange conflict — Iron Man, a.k.a. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), and Captain America, a.k.a. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), are both “good” guys. They’re also good friends. And their battle is not about which man is stronger (Rogers) or which man is smarter (Stark). Nor is it a fight for no reason at all (as in Batman v Superman).

This fight means something — something political.


The movies have led us to this point. What is the best way to control our behavior in a complex world?

We have how seen the Stark view – let government regulate – does not work. How can you trust a government infiltrated by Hydra? Corruption destroys the usefulness of hierarchical authority.

But extremely powerful superheroes should not be free to do whatever they want, ala Cap’s view. Full and total distributed democracy leads to chaos.

So, who controls the heroes? Who watches the Watchmen? In the MCU we need to figure this out because we are likely to be attacked by superpowerful aliens any day.

In the MCU, they need to find the right balance in order to survive.

In the real world, we need to find the right balance in order to survive.

Both Tony and Steve are right. And both are wrong. Each view is too simple to contain the complexity of what they are presented with.

The superheroes need to be policed. They cannot be permitted to just make individual choices on what to do. The danger to all is too great if we are to capitulate to no oversight.

But the presence of Hydra demonstrates that allowing the government to regulate them will also not work. Corruption of authority leads to serious problems. The danger to all is too great if the superheroes must totally capitulate to government oversight.

So who does provide oversight? Who is actually capable?

The only solution I can see is one that fits naturally into the arc of the Avengers already – the group polices its own members. Only Avengers can control the actions of other members. They are the only ones powerful enough in the first place.

And their real power comes from the social connections they all make. Bruce is the only person whose intelligence Tony respects. 

The team as a whole is more powerful than the individuals and more pen to self-policing in appropriate ways.

No one member can overcome the combined power of the others.

This is pretty much how all human societies work to control their members. Normative behavior is used to make sure group members adhere to a standard.

And if that standard behavior is followed, the group protects its members.

Now we end up with a team whose members can be policed in ways that no one else could do. And it means that the power of any member of the Avengers derives not just from their individual power but from their ability to help the group make good decisions.

Which is the most any of us can hope for.

Image: JD Hancock