A Communist’s Impressions of Captain America: Civil War
I make it no secret that I am a communist. But, I am also a dork. I like comic book movies. With age, I have given up a lot of the dorky pursuits such as collecting action figures, my obsessive love of Dragon Ball Z, and creating comic books for my friends. Still, I am glad that I can find joy in going to a Marvel movie…alone….for a 11 pm showing. There is a certain satisfaction that the only solo movie goer in the theater was a female bodied person in her mid thirties.
With that said, I have never been a fan of Captain America. Obviously, he wears patriotic colors, fought in WWII, has this “Greatest Generation” shtick, and well…represents U.S. interests. I hated the first Captain America movie as it played up good old patriotic Captain America…fightin’ Nazis…the most. Not that I am against fighting Nazis. But, the United States did not play a wholesome good guy role in WWII or any war…nor can it. While Captain America fought Nazis, or secretly Hydra (groan), with his multiracial Howling Commandos, the U.S. was detaining Japanese citizens and socialists at home. We were alright with dropping atomic bombs on the Japanese, but not okay bombing infrastructure that supported concentration camps. Corporations like Coca-Cola, General Electric, GM, and Ford were content to continue reap enormous profits from Nazi Germany through the 1930s and into the 40s through subsidiaries. I won’t belabor this point as it is not central to the review. The basic idea is that there was no “good war.” While I have certainly benefited from being an American, one of the first terrible realizations that I had when I was in college was…well, we are a really awful country in how we relate to the rest of the world. We have supported dictators and overthrown democratically elected leaders. Our relative often comfort comes at the expense of others. Yada, yada, not patriotic…not into Captain America.
At the same time, through the Marvel movies I have come to like Captain America. As a character, he is pretty nice. He is polite, square, loyal, honest, and consistent. The movies have also raised interesting questions. They make me think more than say Antman and Deadpool did (except maybe think that I was not going to see those movies a second time). I appreciated that Captain America: Civil War gave me things to think about. I wouldn’t have anything to post about if it hadn’t!
Thought One-The UN Myth:
Back in my early college days, I had to face the fact that the U.S. was involved in some bad things in the world. That stinks! What should I do? I know, turn to the UN. The United Nations sounds benign. It’s pale blue, olive branch framed globe flag looks so peaceful. It is made up of all the countries of the world…working together for peace and human rights. My political evolution in support of the UN evolved again when I thought… “Wait, the security council has five permanent members who were the “victors” of WWII and this body can determine peacekeeping/military activities and sanctions.” That stinks. And while it seems alright to send internationalist soldiers into situations, these soldiers do many of the same things as soldiers who do not wear pastel blue hats: engage in rape, prostitution (even of children), torture, and other war crimes. And while the UN may seem like a counter balance against the United States, it has been pretty toothless in standing against any of the United States’ military/foreign policy actions in the world. Sometimes it is nice to say things like…wow, almost every country in the world has voted on like 20 resolutions about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians or almost every country in the world was against the United States when we did “fill in the blank”, at the end of the day the UN consistently serves the interests of imperialist powers OR, can do nothing to stop these interests.
Anyway, in the movie, in order to make superheroes accountable, the Avengers must sign that they agree to follow the Sokovia Accords. Basically, about 112 countries have signed an accord that states that the Avengers will be overseen by the UN. In an interesting twist, the UN will oversee the Avengers directly. So, decisions will not go through the Security Council. Rather, the entire General Assembly will vote on every single issue that they decide to send the Avengers to do. Tony Stark is for this. Captain America is not. Thus, the catalyst for the civil war between the Avengers. Captain America’s critique seems based upon a distrust of large organizations (from his Hydra and Shield experiences) and the fact that organizations or countries can change their minds. It isn’t a critique of multilateralism or the UN.
If I was an Avenger, I would side with Captain America, though it is because I do not buy into the myth of the UN or multilateralism. This same theme came up in the Batman v. Superman film. Again, it seems that people often believe that it is better for a coalition to promote “justice” in the world than an individual or an individual nation state. However, coalitions of nations can do the same injustices if they are guided by the interests of imperialism. Hence, the invasion of Iraq would have been no more just had it been approved by the United Nations. While this would have had a veneer of internationalism and neutrality, but would have been the profit motivated invasion of a sovereign country all the same. In this same way, the actions of NATO are no better than those of the U.S., even if allies are involved. In short, the Avengers should have indeed been skeptical about being overseen by the UN.
Though I am pretty curious, who were the 80-85 countries who did not support the Sokovia accords and why?! Who doesn’t want to oversee the Avengers or superheroes in general? Did Latveria vote against it for fear Dr. Doom would have to answer to the UN? Did Genosha vote against it? Is Genosha a country in the Avengers? How about real countries? The Avengers seem to serve U.S. interests, so it seems anti-American countries would want the Avengers to be overseen by an international body. Maybe those who did not support the accords were countries such as the Maldives and Kiribati, who were upset that time was being wasted on the stupid accords rather than coming up with a solution to climate change. “You built an underwater prison to house super heroes. Super. Underwater is where we will be if we can’t stop climate change” says the delegate from Kiribati.
Thought Two: Black Lives Matter
I appreciated that a black woman confronted Ironman about her dead son. Her son died because the Avengers could not keep Sokovia safe. Of course, to make the death more tragic, the son must be the son of a middle class black woman who works for the State Department. The son was in Sokovia to do volunteer work. Had the son been a criminal or from a lower class, his story would not have been as tragic to white viewers. The message here is that black lives matter so long as the black people talk and act like middle class white people. Still, I liked that Tony Stark thought that the woman was reaching for a gun rather than for a photograph. I think this represented the fact that because of her skin color, he thought she might be dangerous. It was only when she identified herself as a member of the upper middle class, she assured him that she could be trusted. It is possible that the movie wanted to show African Americans in a positive light by highlighting the fact that the son was a volunteer rather than giving him a less favorable story.
At the same time, I was also glad that the movie decided not to follow the trope that black characters must die. I thought that Iron Patriot was going to die. I felt pretty bad as the death was horrific. He fell from the sky when Vision accidentally destroyed his suit’s functionality. I thought he would be a splatter spot on the ground. Instead, he was disabled by the fall. His life mattered to Tony Stark and I felt that there was a genuine message that he wasn’t an expendable character (even if he is a pretty marginal character).
Generally, the black characters acted like white characters. The Marvel movies approach race with color blindness. Racism is never depicted, which perpetuates racism by sending a message that everyone is the same, race doesn’t matter, and everyone can be friends and equals. Everyone can be friends and equals, but to do this…people need to be allies and collaborators in ending racism.
I do appreciate that the movie featured three black characters. Black Panther was given a larger role than I expected. Wakanda is an idealized African nation full of jungles, minerals, and lacking poverty. It is quaint. It never had to fight a bloody war of independence against Portugal or France. It has a monarchy. Color blind Africa is just like us! No pesky AIDs or legacies of colonialism. Well, it has survived by extreme isolationism to protect its secrets and avoid the plunder of its valuable vibranium. So, if you read between the lines perhaps it is not untouched by European power.
Thought Three: Cold War Cool
I liked the stronger Cold War themes in the film. To clarify, I am a Trotskyist, which means I am a critic of the Soviet Union. It is considered a degenerated worker state. Still, I have a soft spot for the USSR. The movie has a scene that takes place in December, 1991. My attention was glued to the screen and I was flooded with bittersweet feelings about the end of the USSR. It is Winter Soldiers final mission for the USSR/Hydra. The movie is ambiguous about the relationship between the USSR and Hydra. In this mission, Winter Soldier kills Tony Stark’s parents! He steals a serum from them so that more super soldiers can be made. The soldiers remain in a frozen state in Siberia. It is assumed that with the collapse of the Soviet Union the program was forgotten. Still, it is a nice story line and one that I have used in my own books (that I have not released to the public). It captures my imagination. It is eerie when Winter Soldier falls under the control of some handler when a sequence of Russian words are spoken. Plus, he is a cool character. A metal arm with a red star on it! Awesome!
Winter Soldier is so interesting. Although this is not part of his Marvel cinematic universe identity, he represents Stalinism to me. So, this Stalinist super soldier killed the billionaire parents of Tony Stark. That is a pretty big blow to capitalism, at least on the level of individuals. Like the degenerated worker state, he is brain damaged. To subdue his free will, he must undergo terrible mental control and torture. This is all in the interest of fighting for the USSR and fighting Captain America. The bureaucratic and nightmarish state was an outcome of war and survival. Trotsky predicted that the USSR would either have a political revolution to overthrow the bureaucratic caste or that the USSR would return to capitalism. Winter Soldier in the film is a Cold War relic that can’t shake off the past. He can’t return to being Bucky Barnes, an American and patriot. Instead, he chooses to freeze his body in the end, so that he can avoid harming others. Perhaps legacies of the Cold War are not easily overcome. At the very least, the United States continues to have an adversarial relationship with Russia. Russia has a weak capitalist economy, but punches above its weight when it comes to foreign policy. So, it remains a villain as it refuses to be relegated to the periphery of nations.
I also like the relationship between Captain America and Winter Soldier. Captain America is a dedicated friend. The movie is not really about holding super heroes accountable, but about friendship. Captain America almost kills Iron Man over Winter Soldier. So, in this way there is real love conveyed in the relationship. Captain America knew all the bad things that Winter Soldier had done, but forgave him and risked his life to protect him. The love between men in the Marvel movies is always more compelling than the love between men and women. I felt that the love was sort of like Thor and Loki’s brotherly love. They are two men who are on opposite sides of a fight, or at least should be. I also think because the characters are portrayed as equals or near equals, it is easier to be moved by their friendship. I don’t feel touched by the relationships between Thor and Jane or Captain America and Agent Carter. These relationships are boring and expected. Of course, despite the closeness, heteronormativity is protected through banter wherein Captain America remembers a time wherein Winter Soldier spent all their money on a red headed woman at the fair. Winter Soldier also nods in support of Captain America’s kiss with Agent Carter. Nope, nothing queer here. Just a lot of attractive guys hanging out, being fit, having close friendships, and keeping female characters busy doing other things. Granted, I don’t really want to “ship” any characters. I wouldn’t mind more variety in sexualities and genders. I would also like it if women could have such compelling relationships with men or with each other.
Really, I liked the movie.
It gave me plenty to think about and it was entertaining. I would say that it was the best Captain America movie and one of the best in the franchise. The stakes felt higher. The villain was not an overpowered robot or god, but a frustrated human being. There were several times wherein I was surprised by a turn of events. Instead of good versus evil, the boundaries were blurry. Because of the large cast of heroes, it certainly felt like an Avengers movie. The movie was much more emotional. For me, in a way it felt more like the Illiad than Antman. There are deep friendships and possible deaths. Like the Greek tale, it really was about the relationships between men, with little attention to female characters. In a way, to me this shows me how hard it is to imagine deep relationships between men and women. Women aren’t comrades to men. Black Widow is a friend, but a femme fetale who can’t be trusted. Scarlet Witch is a girlfriend to Vision. Agent Carter is a cheerleader.
Thankfully, I am a communist…so I get to be a comrade by default.