This is actually part 3 in a series; a long running discussion with one of my best friends not about Captain America and Responsibility but where Captain America continues to end up right in the middle of what we’re talking about. So, this week is a series in reverse.
We begin with Captain America and Responsibility or why everyone in Civil War is an… wait that’s not nice, and not everyone. Let’s start with… there could be spoilers of the mild variety that can also be learned from the trailer. So, you know… stop now if you want.
The government wants to control The Avengers, as governments are wont to do. They believe The Avengers are dangerous and need to be kept in check because while stopping bad guys all sorts of property and things also get destroyed. And people die. I was a little unclear on how the government thought that they would have any influence on what did or didn’t happen in the midst of battle but let’s not get distracted.
There is a distinction that Captain America drew (and presumably the rest of team Cap) between wanton violence and collateral damage.
Tony Stark didn’t see the difference. He took the blame for every bad thing that happened while he was doing a good thing. He didn’t weigh the choices he made while fighting; didn’t consider the parts that were within his control and the most importantly the ones that weren’t. He let guilt weigh on him and took the offer when the government proposed a solution that would absolve him of responsibility (if someone else decides where you go and when, what you do and who you fight then you can’t be held accountable for their choices – you in essence become a weapon they can aim which is ironic because he compares Scarlet Witch to a missile but missiles don’t think; they don’t choose or reason or feel anything).
The conversation about collateral damage actually began with Man of Steel. It deserves an entire case study into the character choices made by Superman (who joins Captain America throughout this series) but that’s not for today. Today, is the brutal destruction in Man of Steel – the buildings leveled, not because they were caught in the crossfire but because a building is a better weapon against a Kryptonian than a knife. The audience cried out against all of the destruction (but they did not revolt since it still made $290M) and super hero movies have been answering for it since.
Part of the reason for the outcry is that it was Superman. It wasn’t in his character to fight without regard for all of the people around him; to have a knock-down-drag-out in a heavily populated area; to be more focused on beating Zod than saving people. Really, though. Warner Bros. hired Zack Snyder who thrives on excessive violence. What else did they think they were going to get? What did the audience think was going to happen? They got exactly what Zack Snyder delivers because he’s a one trick pony.
Joss Whedon, on the other hand, is not. I’m not sure who at Marvel made the decision to hold the Avengers accountable for Man of Steel’s faults but Joss answered for them and so did the Russos in Winter Soldier and Alan Taylor in The Dark World.
But Joss Whedon is not Zack Snyder and The Avengers isn’t Man of Steel. Not when The Avengers are aware of all the people in danger; not when they actively move the fight away from the most populated areas; not when Captain America is working with the police to get people to safety instead of fighting another giant alien thing. Loki instigated the violence – it’s careless violence from him and he’s held accountable but it’s an entirely different thing with The Avengers who are trying to mitigate the problem.
Still, they talked about the destruction in New York in the successive movies and Tony bought buildings just to smash through them (that’s wanton destruction – owning the building only gives you the right to destroy it, it doesn’t change what you’re doing) and there were questions asked but never quite answered. It became the undercurrent of super hero films.
Until Civil War when it is no longer the undercurrent but the inciting incident. And finally, three movies later, someone finally distinguishes violence for the sake of violence, careless destruction, property used as weapons from damage incurred while trying to stop the bad guy. Cap says it for us right in the trailer, “This job… we try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes that doesn’t mean everybody. But you don’t give up.” None of which is intended to dismiss or minimize the pain of irrecoverable loss. Understanding the difference, however, poses different questions of our heroes and requires them to wrestle with taking responsibility for the choices you make instead of letting someone else control your actions.
The problem is, Captain America knows the difference. And he knows it right from the start. That’s part 2…