Since my 15 year old is working her way through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I have had the pleasure to watch these movies with her in the order that they were released, without months or years in between. As I watched Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War back to back, I was struck with depth of worldview conflict between Iron Man and Captain America.
In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Iron Man, or Tony Stark, again playing god in the name of protecting the world, inadvertently creates Ultron using a fancy computer program and an energy source from space that he does not fully understand. But his creation has all his worst traits. Tony, though trying hard to do good, is plagued by immaturity, selfishness, the pride that comes with genius, and his own playboy past. In Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde style, what Tony really created was evil, bent on destroying the world. The way Ultron sees it, the only way to save the world is to destroy humans, since they are the origin of the world’s problems. At the same time that Ultron is created, a good version of the computer program remains, is given a body and deemed worthy to protect this crazy space stone, which gets lodged in his forehead, and is called Vision. Vision seems gifted with objective, rational insight, but is mostly Tony’s creation and follows orders.
Captain America, a/k/a Steve Rogers, has always been against Tony’s mission to create super robots to police the earth so the Avengers won’t have to, trusting real people to make judgment calls, not machines. So when an Avenger’s own creation destroys a small fictional country in the movie, the sequel has the governments of the world calling for oversight, requiring the Avengers to submit to their authority or quit protecting the world. The good Captain understands that governments, through the people behind them, have agendas. He believes that super heroes, that good men and woman, can govern themselves. The other Avengers are then forced to choose sides and do so for their own reasons. Cap disobeys the powers that be in the name of friendship and loyalty. He understands that someone has been horribly used and seeks to rescue and redeem his old friend, Bucky.
Wanda, the Scarlet Witch, who does not wish to be controlled by Tony and held captive in her home, chooses freedom. Natasha, the Black Widow, has a long history of government work, first as a KGB assassin, now, through the redeeming compassion of Clint Barton, or Hawkeye, she has been working for the good guys. She chooses to follow the law imposed on her, though she has misgivings and her fight is half-hearted. Finally, her best friend, Hawkeye, chooses to side with Captain America. Notably, Hawkeye has the most to lose. He is the only Avenger with a family. He hides them on his midwestern farm where they can live a normal life. Hawkeye initially chose retirement rather than subject himself to international oversight, but comes to Captain America’s aid believing in freedom and doing what is right, rescuing the used and abused, even though they are not pitiful and helpless, respecting Cap’s judgment call, having once made such a call himself.
There are other Avengers with minor issues and notable absences like Thor, who would scoff at answering to the weak authorities of an inferior planet, and Hulk who cannot be controlled by anyone, though he would like to. So the question that the movie puts forward is this: Can we the people govern ourselves? Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Our founding fathers asked the same question. They certainly thought so. They were greatly influenced by Locke, Rosseau, and Hobbes and their ideas of social contract, this is that people allow themselves to be governed in exchange for protection. They were also influenced by Calvin’s ideas that man is depraved and needs structures that provide checks and balances. Madison sums it up in Federalist 51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
The question remains then: How much freedom do we give up? How much oversight do we need? And that is exactly what drives both sides of politics. The differences in world view drive those hot button gun debates, vaccine debates, social welfare and immigration arguments. Those differences are well illustrated in the stark (pun intended) contrast between Iron Man and Captain America and their takes on the fictional Segovia Accords. But it is a fictional page out of the real world script. This is an age fraught with terrorism. We trade freedom for protection all the time. But the greater lesson to be learned is that it is our differing views of the world that cause our disagreement. It brings us to a clearer understanding of the person on the opposite side of the debate if we can see our disagreement lies far behind the line we have drawn. It originates with foundational things that we value. Priorities of humans differ based on different life experiences and teaching and that will filter down through every facet of life, including the people we vote for or whether we think a meme is funny or offensive. So before you condemn a brother or sister in anger, think of repentant Iron Man and virtuous Captain America. They are both good guys with fundamentally different views of the world. And maybe join forces against bigger evils. But that’s a post for an Infinity War.
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