The Guardian’s film critique Catherine Shoard captures the whole essence of the movie in one line: “a giant irresistible snack, not nutritious, but very tasty.” However, I’m a great believer that Hollywood blockbusters’ doubtlessly marvellous 3D techniques and eye-catching scenes have the potential to reveal a lot about social issues and specifically America’s policies while entertaining their audience with appealing characters and an attention-grabbing plot. Just like irresistible snacks and junk foods, they are not nutritious but indeed, reveal much about modern health issues, unsustainable system of food provision, and current failures of the capitalistic food system. And those topics are food for thought, right?
As the cultural theorist, Stuart Hall (1980) notes, “media texts are encoded when they are produced and aired so that the audience can then decode the text.” The cartoonish world of Marvel comics and the fantasy scenes filling the screens boldly comment upon the tension between American public opinion and government policy. With a bit of speculation anyone’s mind can get engaged in these thought-provoking social issues.
The freshness of Civil War’s story is that this time, America’s superheroes are not fighting the always-present external enemy of their country (whose ongoing cinematic manifestation became very bold after the 9/11 terrorist attacks), but Captain is standing in opposition to Ironman. The battle is brother against brother, hero against hero, and citizen against citizen.
With his red uniform of white stripes and stars on a blue background, Captain is the standard bearer of Americanness. His role is to fight for “the American way,” to use Brian Swafford’s words. He refuses to cooperate with governmental laws and prioritizes his free will in deciding what’s moral and immoral, and what’s best for humanity and the world. The red-white-and-blue costumed hero trusts his judgments of morality and believes that becoming a governmental agent means fighting other people’s wars (or in other words: no free will, as American lifestyle has advocated for decades). He affirms the value of human freedom in making decisions, and yet resists the practices of U.S government. On the other side of the spectrum, Ironman defends the law and supports the political insight. Perceiving the disastrous mistakes made by superheroes at times which lead to deaths of many innocent individuals, Ironman believes that if the ultrapowers are not controlled and tamed by law, the very same superhumans can turn into supervillains.
To extract the ideology lying beneath the luring masks of these superheroes, it’s the battle between the legal and the moral, governmental laws and ethical decisions. The narrative is yet to be continued, and the battle is left unanswered.
Before the next movie hits the cinemas, it is worth asking: what does your favourite superhero advocate? Which side of the conflict would you stand if you were to pick a side? #TeamIronMan or #TeamCap? Would you do what the law dictates, or rely on your conscience in a complex situation? Would you “plant yourself like a tree” and trust your guts “even if the whole world is telling you that something wrong is something right?”
In regards to the increased buzz about the film on Instagram, it is interesting to know that the majority of fans apparently defend Ironman’s team, with 202,986 tags in comparison to Captain’s 40,571 tags. Does this mean the majority prefers to stay safe from hands of government even if his or her own sense of morality denies the law?
On a side note, let’s step outside the story and consider the film from a broader perspective: the plot revolves around a series of incidents around the globe and the ever-present American heroes trying to fight against “the bad guys” everywhere, be it Lagos, Vienna, Bucharest, or an airport in Schkeuditz. No need to mention American cities, we all know America ALWAYS has enemies to fight against, and there’s a serious battle going on around every corner (which in Film Studies classes we call it the American illusion of enemy and fear of the “bad” Other). Even though the primary events focus on global conflicts, the focus is finally shifted towards the internal war between American superheroes, arguing about their different ideas on how to “save the world” because it is America’s responsibility to save the world.
Considering politics of representation, the fact that America represents itself as the center of the world, or better to say, as the world, the audience is (un)consciously pushed to perceive America as the world. In one sentence: representing America as the world leads to the perception of America as the world. In regards to the impact of this depicted relationship between the U.S. and global issues, it is possible to note that relying on the power of cinema and entertainment, Captain America: Civil War wants its audience to come to believe that at the end, America is the sole savior of a world full of “bad guys” and its superheroes are willing to ignite a civil war amongst themselves to further be able to “save the world” with the best possible solution.