John Ostrander: For What It’s Worth
“Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.” – For What It’s Worth, 1967, written by Stephen Stills, performed by Buffalo Springfield
SPOILERS! Warning! Danger! I’m going to discuss some questions raised in Captain America: Civil War, which means some plot points will get spilled. If you haven’t yet seen the film – it’s just out on Blu-Ray – you may not want to proceed.
There are a lot of things I enjoyed about Captain America: Civil War but what I liked best was the question that was at the center of the narrative. During an action in Legos involving Cap and some members of the Avengers, there is a mistake and an explosion and innocent bystanders get killed. This, coupled with the human collateral damage witnessed in previous Marvel films, causes members of the United Nations to create The Slovenia Accords – named after the site of the massive destruction in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now the Avengers must submit to an oversight panel. If they don’t, they will be disbanded.
This creates a split within the Avengers themselves. Tony Stark (Iron Man) believes they must accept the accords and some restrictions on how they use their powers or they would be no better than the foes they oppose. Steve Rogers (Captain America) does not, cannot, and will not agree. This compromises their freedom including the freedom to act when they see a situation calling for it. They can’t wait for bureaucratic paper rustling. Lives are in the balance. The Avengers split into Team Cap and Team Iron Man (along with some guest stars) and they will, of course, fight it out.
So… which team do we, the audience, ally with? The film is clever in that neither side is set to be absolutely right or absolutely wrong. There are arguments for both but the question at the center of the film is – can society allow masked, super-powered individuals to act without some check?
There is no right answer. Oh, my inclinations is to go with Cap; I’m a stinkin’ leftist liberal progressive pinko commie after all. FreeeeeeeDOM!
Except. . .
All these superheroes are basically vigilantes. They operate outside of the law; for the most part, the heroes are not deputized by any government or law enforcement organization (Green Lantern is an exception but that was a lousy movie). They don’t really have any authority to do what they are doing.
I do take exception to one trope in the movie. “Thunderbolt” Ross from The Incredible Hulk film returns, now as the U.S. Secretary of State and evidently liaison to the Avengers from the U.N. He cites all the collateral destruction suffered by society in both Avengers films and the previous Captain America film. He lays the blame for this on the Avengers, noting that there are others in society that feel the same way.
Except. . .
Neither Cap nor the Avengers initiated the situations in those films. Because of their actions, humanity was not enslaved or outright destroyed as would have been the case otherwise. I would have liked to have that mentioned in the film by the heroes.
However, that doesn’t change the root question in Captain America: Civil War. Can any society allow such masked, perhaps super-powered, individuals to act unilaterally? Some of them are masked and the authorities don’t know their true names. Can a society of law survive in such circumstances? It is not a simple question and, to its credit, I don’t think Captain America: Civil War presents it that way.
My heart remains with Cap but I think my brain may agree more with Iron Man. I think I have my own civil war, one that most of us have at one time or another – heart versus head. I don’t think that one is going to be resolved any time soon.
At the start of the column, I quoted a line from Buffalo Springfield’s song “For What It’s Worth.” Despite being fifty years old, the piece is remarkably suited for today. Check it out on YouTube or some such place for yourself and see.
Editor’s Note: A somewhat less subtle version was recorded by Ozzy Osbourne about 10 years ago.