Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Captain America: People who value Truth, Justice, and Freedom vs. People who value Slavery, Murder, and the Nuremberg defense

I was going to have one post.  That was impossible.  There is too much.

This is part one of what will be a series of posts on the movie Captain America: Civil War; if you want a glimpse of things to come, please do click over to this post which gives just that in a disorganized fashion, but numbered so that it has an appearance of organization.

Spoilers for Captain America: Civil War abound.

This post is about the lack of moral balance between the two sides.

I was going to try to do a brief "what should have been here instead" but, no, there is too much.  We'll save that for another post.  Here's the background for you:

- - -

Tony making Ultron pretty well screwed over Sokovia in the previous Avengers movie and a bit of collateral damage at the beginning of this movie* led to the Sokovia Accords, henceforth referred to as "the Accords", which said, basically, that superheroes need to either sign on saying that they'll take orders from a committee put together by a coalition of 117 countries or, if they don't sign on, never help anyone again without becoming an outlaw.

* Wanda tried to throw a suicide bomber out of range, as someone who lacks superpowers might try to throw a live grenade away from a crowd, but while she saved the people that would have been killed (ordinary Nigerians on a crowded street in Lagos) it just ended up killing different people (affluent foreigners in a building.)

Tony, after having an unplanned-on-his-part meeting that really, really, really looks like it was staged with the mother of someone who died in Sokovia wants to drown his guilt by having the Avengers sign onto the accords (which wouldn't really affect him because he's stopped doing field work.)

Steve is worried about two things.  1 They could be ordered to do something that shouldn't be done.  (See the previous Captain America movie and "Project Insight".)  2 They could be ordered not to do something they should (if they hadn't gotten clearance to go into Sokovia at the end of Age of Ultron then the human race, and a lot of other speices, would be extinct.)

Then, when the accords are being signed and the Avengers are already split over which side to be on, someone blows up the summit.  Bucky was framed, poorly, and everyone decided to run with that.  The Black Panther's father was killed.

- - -

Background over, the two sides take shape:

We have Tony's pro-Accords anti-Bucky side and Steve's side.  Lets talk about who is on which side, why if applicable, and what they do in the movie.

Tony's Side

Tony Stark / Iron Man

First off, Tony returns to field work so he can lead this side and beat up his so-called friends.

This marks, at least, the second time that Tony has quit retirement.

First off, Tony's reason for being on this side is, "I can't be trusted without someone to tell me when I'm wrong therefore no one can be trusted, and we need a law outlawing me doing the things I'm accustomed to doing so that I won't do them and anyone who disagrees with me is totally (morally) wrong."

This comes with a side helping of, "I'm always right, but today I'm super right because I've just realized that I was wrong yesterday so that means I'm ever righter than I was then, and back then I was completely convinced I was right."

There are shades, of "We need a law against X because I don't want to do it but lack the self control to stop myself without there being a law," and also, "My liberal guilt is more important than other people."

And that's before he starts doing bad things.

The first thing he does is determine that Wanda can no longer be considered a house guest and reclassifies her as a slave.  She's not allowed to leave the premises unless it's to do work for him.  He doesn't tell her this and so she gets the illusion of being free until she tries to go to the store to buy spices because the slave slop wasn't the best.

When Tony finally gets around to mentioning this to anyone other than the one enforcing Wanda's captivity, that person is rightfully outraged.  Tony, on the other hand, thinks that ...

Hang on, I have to look up a quotation written by a horrible person.

Tony thinks that Wanda is a young spoilt girl whining about being kept in luxury by an older man who's concerned with her safety and the safety of others.  Well, he would if he cared enough to realize that she was opposed to her captivity.  He actually hasn't paid attention and just assumes that the luxury will make the lack of freedom palatable.

There's a reason that in my summation/preview post I directly referenced Fury Road.  No, Wanda isn't being held as a sex slave, but the thing is ... the movie wasn't specifically anti-sex-slavery, it was anti-slavery in general which made it anti-sex-slavery by default because the slaves who discussed their slavery the most happened to be sex slaves.

I kind of wish that I'd flipped it though, had Wanda be against it without commentary and Clint be the one to add in "I've seen Fury Road."  Oh well, what's posted is posted.

That's enough to make Tony horrible, right?  We don't need anything more, right?  There's no way he would do more terrible things, right?


Tony recruits a child soldier (Peter Parker/Spider-Man) by saying, basically, "I know what you've been doing and I'll out you to your [closest thing you have to a mother] if you don't do it with me."

That sounds creepy, and the fact that Tony spends much of this sequence as someone who has a creepy interest in Aunt May as a sexual object means there's not anything we could do to make it worse, is there?

Well, yes.  In case the threat of outting weren't ringing alarm bells in the audience's minds, the scene repeatedly uses the symbolism of Tony pulling Peter's Spider-Man suit out of the closet and Peter shoving it back into the closet.

Vision / doesn't have another name

His involvement consists almost entirely of keeping Wanda captive on Tony's orders.  Tony has ordered, and Vision doesn't disagree, that Wanda should now only be allowed out when her former colleague/current captor wishes it.  For the safety of others.

She's dangerous, that's why she must be kept in captivity.

This is the guy who can lift the hammer of Thor and he doesn't see a problem with keeping an innocent person captive.  Mind you, Marvel Odin is the one who put the enchantment on it so it's presumably his version of "Worthy" and Marvel Odin is pretty fucked up.

James "Rhodey" Rhodes / War Machine

Rhody is barely in this movie because having three black superheroes is way too much in a movie with eight white ones and one red one.  (The red one is played by a white guy, obviously.)

Insofar as he is in the movie he takes a "just following orders" approach.

Rhodes is used to being in a command structure where he's given orders, the orders are obeyed, and if he fucks up he gets court martialed.  He knows the system doesn't work because he spent Iron Man III being given bad orders, going around the world, kicking in or blowing up doors, and then saying, "Oops, sorry, I was told that there were terrorists here, I'll just be going now.  Sorry if I caused anyone to have a heart attack."  But that's not important.  He's used to the system, he's comfortable in the system, and unlike Cap and crew he wasn't there when the system tried to implement a one world surveillance and assassination state.

Which is to say, Rhodes has seen the system be incompetent, but he's not really up to date on the fact that it's actively evil and will order you to bring about the mass murder of innocent people if given half a chance.

He also wasn't in on the whole keeping Wanda captive thing (that was a Tony and Vision deal.)

He's got to be the moral center of the team because he actually believes in the oversight that this fight is nominally about and he's not doing anything evil on the side.  The trouble is, as noted, he's barely in the movie.

Also his reasoning, in as much as it can be worked out from his not-very-big role really is that Rhodes is just following orders.  That's why he's on the side he's on.


Natasha Romanov / The Black Widow

From a narrative perspective instead of a moral one, the worst of the lot is Natasha.  She's on the wrong side.  I don't mean the morally wrong side here, but that too, I mean that she should, in character and for Watsonian reasons, be on the other side.  Instead she seems to be on the "We know these people are villains, right?  Please tell me we can all agree that they're not heroes anymore" side simply because each side needed a token woman.

She seriously comes out and says that she's completely against the whole thing and is only doing it to try to keep the team together.  Given that the team broke up before things came to blows, she no longer had reason to do what she found repugnant, and yet that's what she did until the fighting was over and all that remained was the question, "Do I really want to let the guy in front of me murder a probably-innocent man in front of the friend I and probably-innocent man share when doing so may well end the world?"

So Natasha is on Tony's side because we needed a token woman (and one woman per side because otherwise they might talk to each other and we can't fucking have that, now can we?)


T'Challa / The Black Panther

T'Challa spends much of the movie with his judgement clouded.  His father was murdered in front of him in spectacular fashion and I don't think we can blame him for not thinking completely rationally after that happened.

Also, this is very much his origin story.  He starts off so consumed by the need for vengeance that he isn't even paying attention to whether or not he's trying to murder the person who actually killed his father.  By the end he'll confront the person who really did kill his father, have the person completely at his mercy, and indeed not have to do anything at all in order for the person to die, and decide that Justice is better than vengeance, save the person (from himself) and hand him over to the legal system.

This is a character with an arc.

But while he's on Team Tony he's still in need of growth, his position on the accords is, "I think they should apply to other people, but I'm fucking invading Romania because I've got a score to settle, damn it," and he's out for blood.

While he's on Team Tony, in other words, his primary motivation is the desire to commit (a retribution) murder, and he's in a state of mind where the accords, which he would normally support, can go fuck themselves.


Peter Parker / Spider-Man

Peter is there because he'll be outed and/or doxxed (depending on how you look at it) and thus won't be able to keep things in the closet anymore unless he obeys Tony's whims.  That said, he shows a notable lack of curiosity.  He never really tries to be sure that he's fighting for the right side, in fact it's possible to read his character as actively trying to avoid finding out.

Tony owns him.  Tony also has a carrot and a stick.  In addition to the blackmail, Tony is also bribing Peter.  Peter, in spite of living in an immense apartment, is so poor he's reduced to dumpster diving for basic electronics and his suit is ... lackluster at best.  Tony offers money, an amazing suit, and such.

Peter likely doesn't want to know if he's fighting on the wrong side because then what Tony provides is ill gotten gains and he has to choose between his morals and being outed.

To kind of drive this home, Peter gives a speech that might as well have come out of Steve's mouth because their ideals and beliefs seem to be point for point identical.

From a Doyalist perspective people expect Spider Man to be on Tony's side because he took off his mask and revealed his secret identity in support of that side in the comics.  From a Watsonian perspective, though, he's there because he's being blackmailed and he really doesn't seem to want to know who is right and who is wrong.


Steve's Side

Steve Rodgers / Captain America

With the Accords Steve is afraid of two things.  One is that they can be ordered to stay out of places they should be in.  If it weren't for the fact that Marvel doesn't have the movie rights to The Fantastic Four I would very much expect Doctor Doom and Latveria to come up.  Dr. D is never going to authorize the Avengers coming into Latveria to stop him, but Steve has repeatedly met schemes where you have to go to them because if you wait for them to come to you you'll be dead, or worse.

The first two Captain America movies involved things that could not be stopped without going to the source.  In the last Avengers movie Ultron was going to wipe out the human race without ever stepping foot outside of Sokovia.

If Steve can be ordered not to go places then . . .
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
And yes, that's totally an American imperialist view to take.  In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though, it's very true.

You can't wait for the Red Skull to take off on in his plane and enter your airspace.  You can't wait for the Insight helicarriers to leave DC, and as for Ultron: he was going to end the human race without ever leaving the spot where he'd set up shop.

His other fear is that they could be ordered to do things that are morally wrong.  Steve may embody American imperialism, but he's also afraid of it.

He worries that the Avengers won't be allowed to intervene in Rwanda in 1994 but they will be ordered to in Chile in 1973.

Not that he would necessarily get those references, but he's never been naive about the people at the top.  When he found out that Shield was making weapons of mass destruction, lying, and generally destabilizing everything his response was, "Things haven't changed a bit."

When he finds out that the people giving orders can't be trusted he isn't surprised, he's weary, a tad snarky, and a lot pissed off.  But not surprised.

In World War II he worked with a rag tag group of people pulled from every ethnic background based, largely, on randomly bumping into Hydra.  The example I've used before is that he may have met members of the 442nd Infantry Regiment and learned from them what life was like back in the US for Japanese Americans.

He definitely worked with black soldiers.  He probably worked with gay soldiers.  He may be Captain America but he's got cause to not really trust America to get things right.

As for some sort of council overseen by members of various nations . . . that was Shield.  That was Project Insight the grand, "We'll be able to assassinate people millions at a time," project.

Steve has great faith in the goodness to be found in individual human beings but the institutions he's seen have all turned out to be rotten and he's not ready to give the keys to another one.

Mind you all of this goes up in a ball of fire because Bucky is framed, badly for terrorism resulting in mass murder.

At that point the moral positions become more along the lines of:

You gave a shoot on sight order based on the flimsiest evidence in the history of law enforcement!?

Why are you trying so hard to kill an innocent man?

What the fuck do you mean he's not going to get a lawyer?

Do human rights mean nothing to you people?

You know, I was ready to surrender and give in to your side until I found out that you were holding Wanda captive.

The entire world is in danger and you're still hung up on being pissed off that you didn't get to kill an innocent man?

Fuck it.  I'm solving this myself and preventing your scapegoat-murder at the same damned time.  Who's with me?


Sam Wilson / Falcon

Sam's initially somewhat leery of the accords but he didn't kick into high gear until Bucky was badly framed at which point he was very much on the same page as Steve:

Killing an innocent person isn't really going to solve anything.

What the fuck no lawyer?

Stop shooting at me assholes.

We're trying to save the world, you're trying to do horrible things to an innocent person; my conscience is pretty damned clear.


Wanda Maximov / Scarlet Witch

I hadn't made up my mind on the accords and then suddenly I was a prisoner who couldn't even get paprika.  It may not be the best foundation on which to take a moral stand on the issue of whether or not to murder some guy 'never met named "Bucky", but I'm totally siding with the non-murderers who set me free over the would-be-murderers who wanted to keep me captive.


Clint Barton / Hawkeye

The other side was holding Wanda in captivity.  That was pretty much all I needed to know.


Scott Lang / Ant-Man

Is there any coffee? What day is it?


Random brain-stopped-working-and-I-need-to-finish-this summation:

Not everyone on Steve's side has positions that were thought out in fullness.  Tony using Vision to hold Wanda captive, for example, doesn't mean that he's wrong about the accords or about Bucky.*

That said when we compare their actions and motivations to those of the Tony's crew ... it's kind of lopsided.

The movie makers even seem to recognize this because, with all the logos and ethos on Steve's side, they tried to pile the pathos on Tony's side.


* Though, let's be honest, no one who isn't going through origin-story-severe levels of emotional trauma is stupid enough to actually believe Bucky was guilty of the bombing.  Anyone --save those who lost loved ones and were still in brain-overriding sad-mad mode-- who said they thought he did it was either lying or being willfully ignorant.

There's really no way to determine which because painting Bucky as guilty served the political agenda of everyone who was after Bucky.  Except for Natasha.  Natasha had absolutely no reason to do any of the things she did in the movie and was in the amazingly screwed up position of "token woman whose character and motivations can be ignored when we need a token."


Original summations of each position:

This is what I wrote before in a hurried preview version of what more or less ended up being this post:

Tony: I've come to realize that I can't be trusted not to do X, therefore there should be a law against X. All who oppose me in this endeavor are moral degenerates. If you'll excuse me I have to make sure that Vision knows Wanda is my slave, not my guest, and then I'm going to recruit a child soldier by threatening to out him to his mother-figure. This will involve me repeatedly pulling what he wants kept in the closet out of the closet so that there's no way you can miss the overtones.

Vision: I make sure Mr. Stark's slaves don't leave the property unless he allows them to. I see no moral problem with this.

Rhodey: I'm just following orders. (He's clearly the moral heart of the team since ... yeah.)

Natasha: I actually came out and said that I don't want to be on this side. The only reason I'm here is because "Team Evil" needs a token female character.

Peter: Look, I don't want to know who's right and who's wrong. I'm being blackmailed by a creepy guy who seems to want to have sex with the woman who raised me. I actually gave a speech in which I said that morally I agree with everything the other side stands for.

T'Challa: I'm here to murder someone, but don't worry, this is my pseudo-origin story so I'll learn to be a better person by the end of it and not murder the person who killed my father. My initial position on the Accords is that they should apply to others but as soon as I've got a vendetta, screw everything they say. That said, remember that I grow and change unlike the other people on this team.

While on the other side we have:

Steve: This will seriously harm our ability to do good things and YOU'RE TRYING TO KILL AN INNOCENT MAN. Also, no lawyer? What happened to due process?

Sam: I'm with Steve on this, every part of what he just said.

Wanda: I'm a human being, not an object. I saw Fury Road, damn it.

Clint: Wanda's a human being, not an object.

Scott: Is there any coffee? What day is it?

Not saying that Cap's team is composed of angels, but there's a clear right side here.


  1. There's a non-diegetic problem which I think feeds into this: superhero comics are all about the one tremendously powerful person operating entirely without restraint. That's the fantasy they sell: nobody can stop you doing what you want to, but that's OK because you're a good guy so you don't need oversight. (See also 24 and, well, most cop shows really.) So putting that on one side and an opposed position on the other is never going to be a fair fight within the narrative, because that's the side that the writers and fans are already rooting for, subconsciously or otherwise.

  2. But superhero teams can be democratic within the team. They're basically always doing crime for great justice. In their world they can handle existential threats, leaving local law enforcement to actually protect and serve. And if they don't, a superhero could come kick their asses.