Benevolent Hero, Subject To None: A Review of ‘Captain America: Civil War’



When Secretary Ross of the State Department enumerates the destruction that the Avengers have been leaving in their wake, it almost sounds as if he is describing American involvement in global affairs. Because of this, Secretary Ross says, the Avengers must be subject to oversight, unlike the United States, which ignored pleas not to invade Iraq in 2003 and instead made a unilateral decision to occupy the country.

Whether the Avengers should be subject to such oversight is the issue that divides Iron Man and Captain America, and splits the Avengers into two conflicting camps. Captain America is against, while Iron Man is pro. And so, the Civil War’s on. 

But the conflict is rendered somewhat moot and the issue is unexplored because we learn that Captain America has the right not to sign the Sokovia Accords and defy the authorities. He wants to protect Bucky Barnes, who we later learn is framed for the bombing of the Vienna facility where the UN Meeting to ratify the accords was set to take place.

So the movie dashes the opportunity to probe deeper into the nature and limits of American Power, as symbolized by the Avengers, who are all presumably American citizens.  Instead, we get the age-old American motif of one man — Captain America — defying the rest of the world (assisted by a few) and sacrificing his freedom (he’s now a wanted man) in order to do what is right. The Captain is indeed right, as we and he learn of the evidence that Bucky has been framed.

But this fact is given only to us the audience, not the rest of the world in the movie, who thus think that Captain America has gone rogue. But we the audience know better, having been given the privilege to be privy to one man’s crusade, while the rest of the world are kept in the dark. The truth is only given to a very few, reinforcing the idea that individualism and autonomy gives one access to insight and knowledge, and that others are wrong.

This too is typical of and enshrined in American culture, which praises people who go at it alone, especially when they defy the odds to do the right thing. But that is not always the case: sometimes, going at it alone all the way is a recipe for pride, disaster, megalomania and the misguided sense of being special; and individuals rarely are the only ones who have access to the truth and to being right.

At any rate, by giving us the audience access to the truth (that Bucky was just framed), we the audience no longer press the issue of whether the Avengers and American power must be subject to oversight. Captain America is right after all. And thus we cheer as he breaks out his fellows at the end, essentially running roughshod over the American government, the America that he represents. 

In the end, Captain America is to be subject to no one, not even his fellow Avengers, though in a letter to Tony Stank, he expresses his intent to help them in future troubles. But at the same time, he still wins our admiration by sticking with and protecting his friend until the end. Captain America answers to one, but he does the right thing and stands up for a friend. Does that translate to “America answers to no one, but is willing to do the right thing?”

By the way, social commentary aside, should you watch it? Yes, with the great combat scenes, superhero overload, rapid plot, and witty dialogue, it’s great entertainment. Probably the best of the Captain America trilogy.


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