Let me be brutally honest: I have never really liked Marvel in any of its incarnations. Back when I collected comic books, most of the titles I bought came from the independent scene or were from some of the more experimental titles from DC (e.g. their Vertigo line). I enjoy the genre and the fact that we now have the ability to put these characters on film in all their glory, but the MCU has never been something that I ever got excited about. I have enjoyed watching the odd MCU film, but the only one that I had seen more than once was the first Iron Man movie and that was because it allowed me the rare opportunity to watch a movie with my wife, not because I went out of my way to see it again.
Therefore, when Captain America: Civil War came out, I was wholly uninterested. When people began to impose upon it a political message of Libertarianism (embodied by Cap) vs. Authoritarianism (embodied by Iron Man) I was even less interested. Not only do I find that politics in movies get too preachy and harm the artistry of the film, but I believed they had got the politics all wrong. Iron Man should have been the libertarian, having stood up to the government in Iron Man 2 to defend his property rights. Cap should have been more amenable to authoritarianism because the government he fought for not only had authoritarian leanings (FDR was all about government control) but was the very source of his power. If you disagree with my assessment of FDR, compare his policies to those of Hitler (minus all the racist/superior race crap) and you will find a shocking amount of similarity.
Thus, I didn’t see the movie for a long time. When I finally did, I realized just how wrong I was about the movie. Not only is it really good, not only have I watched it multiple times, not only is it not really about politics, but it is the most Christian movie to come out of Hollywood in a long time.
Let me explain:
This movie has three main characters:
- Captain America who represents Christianity (remember his line from Avengers, “There is only one God, ma’am, and I am pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that.”)
- Iron Man who represents the man of science who has successfully replaced God with man-made miracles and is in full control of his life and his environment.
- Black Panther who represents the non-Western man for whom age-old tradition is still important.
In the first act of the movie, each man must face tragedy. Each reacts in a different way:
- Iron Man is confronted by the fact that despite all his miraculous technology and all of his scientific genius, he is not in control. Out of desperation he tries to seize that control through government power.
- Black Panther falls back on one of humankind’s most primal reactions to tragedy, one that we have turned to since the beginning of time: revenge.
- Captain America insists on liberty and forgiveness. Thus, he insists that every human being is made according to the image and likeness of God and therefore has value. He is also willing to die to prove that point, even for those who are accused of heinous crimes.
As the movie progresses and lines are drawn and sides are taken, each of these men’s approaches to tragedy begins to play out:
- Iron man begins to lose his freedom and his people begin to lose their value. Superheroes are treated as a faceless category of people rather than unique individuals.
- Black Panther becomes more and more isolated and ends up fighting with everybody.
- Captain America and those who choose his path become martyrs. Their sacrifices begin to affect those around them to the point where people begin to see that Cap may very well have a point.
In the end it is Captain America’s Christian approach that allows these men to not only move through and past tragedy, but become stronger for it.
- Black Panther understands that his revenge will only beget more revenge in an unending cycle. As a result, he ends up saving the life of the man who killed his father.
- Those that followed Captain America are freed from their imprisonment.
- Despite being trapped in the dehumanizing government machine he created, Iron Man knows that Captain America will always be there for him, personifying Christ’s words to His disciples in Matthew 28:20, “and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
So, this really took me by surprise because I am not used to having such big blockbuster movies being so open to Christian themes and ideas. I was doubly shocked when those ideas prevailed. So, I invite you to watch Captain America: Civil War again and see it through the lens of Christ.