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Liberty at the movies: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War, the latest offering from Marvel Studios, is breaking box office records and winning well-deserved critical acclaim. This may be the best Marvel movie yet. It features a great script that deals with weighty philosophical and political  issues without scarfing the humor and (most importantly) the action that are, after all, the reason most of us go to these movies.

As the title suggests, Civil War focuses on a conflict between the Avengers. While every member of the team gets at least one or two featured scenes (even if the reason some of them choose the side they end up on is not clear) the main conflict is between the two team leaders: Captain America (it is after all a Captain America movie) and Iron Man.

The conflict revolves around the "Slokva Accords." Slokva is the country literally lifted in the sky in last year's Avengers: Age of Ultron. The accords are the UN's response to the mass destruction as well as an incident with one of the Avengers Scarlet Witch, one of the most fascinating characters in the Marvel universe. Her attempts--and the attempts by her fellow Avengers to deal with the fallout is one of the movie's most interesting subplots.

The accords forbid the Avengers (or any other group of "enhanced" individuals) from intervening  in any conflict unless authorized by the UN. Iron Man (Tony Stark) is all for the accords, believing that the Avengers needs to be "put in check." Stark may be motivated by his guilt over his role in creating Ultron. Steve Rogers (Captain America) opposes the accords because he sees them as a way for the Avengers to avoid responsibility for the consequence of their actions by handing control to a governmental body.

Rogers also points out that governments are run "by people with agendas...and agenda change." There is also no guarantee that the UN will wisely use the Avengers. Captain America's perspective may be colored by his prior experience in Winter Soldier where he learned that the spy agency SHIELD was secretly controlled by the evil organization HYDRA.

I suspect most  of us will side with Captain America, especially considering there is no explanation of how giving the UN control will eliminate the collateral damage caused by the Avengers battles.

Things heat up after the UN is bombed during the signing ceremony for the accords. The bombing is blamed on Captain America's old friend Bucky Barnes, who spent years as the brainwashed Hydra assassin in the Winter Soldier. As a result, T'Challa, king of Wanaka and the super hero Black Panther, gets involved in the battle.

Wanaka is a fictional country that is the source for the metal that the US Government used to construct Captain America's shield. Not coincidentally, Black Panther is scheduled to get his own movie in 2018.

Another new character introduced is the latest version  of Spider Man, who is recruited by Stark for team Iron Man. Since this new reboot goes back to the comic  book roots of  making Spider Man a high-school  student, some have questioned the morality of Stark recruiting a fifteen-year old boy to go up against Captain America and his team .

It is also never stated whether or not Stark makes Spider Man sign the accords, which would mean every time he stops a mugging in Brooklyn he would have to get permission from the UN. But if Spider Man is operating as a free-agent than he is an international criminal. Since Iron Man is supposed to make an appearance in the next year's Spider Man: Homecoming hopefully this issue will be addressed in that movie.

In addition to the accords, the splintered Avengers also have to contest with Helmut Zemo. Without spoiling anything, let me just say this is one of Marvel's best villains and his motivation parallels some of the debates over the accords. The movie manages to end on a positive note without fully resolving the conflicts, which is a refreshing change from the way most movies like this end.

Some have compared Captain America's refusal to submit to UN control with the US's foreign policy of unilaterally invading other countries in order to bring them democracy. I think the comparison is not quite right because, unlike the US Government, Cap only respond to legitimate threats, he does not create excuses to go on global crusades.

If any hero is an analogy for  US Government's policy it is Tony Stark. Stark crated Ultron in an attempt to guarantee  global peace and security (sounds pretty neoconish to me). When that backfired, instead of giving up his utopian drams he embraced an even more utopian scheme--given the UN power to control all "supper powered" individuals. Hopefully, the libertarian themes of Civil War will be reflected in other Marvel and other movies. But until then go see Civil War.

Read Reason magazine's take  on the movie here, and read an interesting look at the movie from the Acton Institute here.


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