May 9, 2016
Captain America: Civil War – Hollywood’s latest from its seemingly never-ending assembly line of superhero movies – raises the cardinal question: “should governments be trusted over individuals?”
Full disclosure, I’m no superhero fanboy. I haven’t read any of the comic books; I hadn’t even seen the prequel going in. Needless to say, Captain America was a highly enjoyable blockbuster film. The characters – albeit, way too many to keep track of, and lacking depth – were witty, and each had their time to shine on screen.
The plot centers on a copious cartel of world governments grown weary of the Avengers’ right to kick-ass around the world free of government bureaucracy. What’s a group of frustrated world leaders with a political agenda to do? Go to the United Nations of course! And thus was drafted the “Sokovia Accords” – named after the city in which the Avengers literally saved the human race from extinction, with inevitable civilian casualties in the process.
The Avengers, caught in a catch-22, now have to make a decision: willingly surrender themselves to the jurisdiction of the United Nations, or resist the will of 117 nations backing the accords and face the consequences of being branded vigilantes.
Tony Stark (Iron Man), guilt-ridden by the collateral damage of his meritorious world-saving heroics, decides to sign the accords. Stark’s argument is that the Avengers are too dangerous to act on their own conscience and require a hierarchical governing council to call the shots for them. Stark believes that this way, any loss of civilian life as a result of his actions, would be on the conscience of his higher-ups, and not on his.
In contrast, Steve Rogers (Captain America) declines to touch the accords with a 10-foot pole for two key reasons:
First, putting the Avengers on a government-held leash limits their ability to act quickly, shackling them with overbearing bureaucracy. Imagine the UN being in charge of the Avengers next time there’s an ISIS terrorist attack in a major European city. Would the Avengers be free to scramble to the scene at moment’s notice? God no. After long, timewasting council meetings, the UN would task the Avengers with preparing a lecture on the perils of Islamaphobia and disenfranchisement of Muslims in western countries.
Rogers’ second key argument is that governments have their own political agendas and are driven by their own aspirations. Accordingly, the idea that any decision unanimously reached by United Nations is superior to that of the Avengers is asinine – especially when taking into account that the United Nations is a paradigm of organizational corruption. More than half of the nations in the UN are morally destitute dictatorships, or only considered partially free. Conversely, Captain America represents liberty, freedom and self-governance, the very ideals that America – the bulwark against tyranny – was founded upon.
Finally, Stark’s argument that his self-consuming guilt would be alleviated in the presence of a superior to bear responsibility for collateral is lazy at best. Would Tony Stark’s conscience be any cleaner when he’s forced to watch innocents die on CNN, as the UN’s bloviated bureaucracy – akin to Thor’s hammer placed on his shoulders – stops him from saving their lives? Of course not. If anything, it would be worse ten times over.