Regarding the Intellectual Arguments in Captain America: Civil War

Yes, this post is all of the horrifying things that title implies.

However, before I tear it apart, I'd like to say I really enjoyed this movie. I've gone to see it twice, now. Also, despite what I am about to say about it, I think it is about as balanced as a left-wing studio echo chamber can be expected to create. That said, I have some issues with it.

But first, the trailer:

Since this is kinda long, the rest is below the fold. Mild spoiler alert, mostly if you consider the intellectual side of an Avengers movie a spoiler.

The beginning of the plot is that, while a team of Avengers is preventing a supervillain from obtaining a deadly bioweapon, a significant part of an African city is destroyed resulting in many innocent deaths. The world's governments decide that the Avengers are too much of a threat and create a UN treaty and committee to take control of these superheroes. There is a roughly 50-50 split on the team with Ironman leading the argument for accepting the treaty and Captain America leading the argument for rejecting it.

The argument in the movie is, I guess, all that could have been expected of a superhero action movie, and was intellectually quite unsatisfying.

Basically, the pro-treaty side has three arguments:
1. If they don't accept oversight, they're no better than the villains.
2. The rise of the superheroes correlates with the rise of supervillains, and therefore there seems to be a causal relationship. This is presented as the most intellectual-sounding argument on either side.
3. 117 nations have agreed! It's the UN!

The rebuttal is interesting:
1. Whoever would be on the UN committee giving them orders would have their own agendas and might order them to do the wrong things, or order them to not do the right things.
2. ... They never address 2.
3. They trust individuals, not governments.

Part of the problem is that the two sides don't do much to address each other's arguments. For example, when Captain America objects that the committee would have its own, not-necessarily-good, agenda, the pro-treaty side ignores it and moves on to the next point they want to make. Bah-humbug, I thought. There are simple arguments that leapt to mind that I wanted to shout out during the movie, but instead I'll post them here.

First, regarding the reason for the treaty, why is everyone blaming the Avengers for the civilian casualties? They stopped a supervillain intent on obtaining an extremely lethal bioweapon. The damage to the city was done primarily by explosives set off by the villain, and to the extent that the Avengers caused the deaths of innocents, it was unavoidable in stopping a greater threat. This isn't even brought up in the movie. It's ridiculous, but we have all seen real-world examples of this kind of reasoning, I think.

Second, the character Vision, on the pro-treaty side, is presented as a super-intellectual type who uses intellectual-sounding words like "causality" when presenting the fallacy that correlation implies causation. The argument he actually presents, based on the observation that with the rise of the Avengers has come the rise of supervillains, is that the very strength of the superheroes causes people to become supervillains to challenge them, that challenge leads to conflict, and conflict to catastrophe. While it's not impossible, and the alliteration is nice, it isn't terribly plausible, either. Captain America's a smart guy; a simple "Vision, correlation does not imply causation," would have been nice. But, he could have continued with something like, "Besides, Hydra came first. If there is a causal relationship, I think you have it backwards, and if you give up our strength now, you will give the world to the supervillains on a silver platter."

Third, Captain America's point that if they accept being controlled by others, those others will have their own agendas and will not necessarily be good people, actually addresses the pro-treaty argument quite well. I would have liked to see it extended by one of the anti-treaty side pointing out the feckless, long-term corruption of the UN and its resulting crimes and tragedies, but, left wing echo chamber. What are you gonna do?

I hope this hasn't spoiled the movie for anyone. It is a good action flick, and it's far, far more intellectually consistent than the absurd Batman vs. Superman.


No, seriously, here's the intellectual argument in Batman vs. Superman:

Batman: "Superman is an uncontrollable vigilante who must be stopped!"

Superman: "Batman is an uncontrollable vigilante who must be stopped!"

Self-awareness, lying almost dead in a pool of blood: "Really!?"


Ymar Sakar said...

Hollywood, the capital of super villains, making a movie about Captain America the Hero... the irony of fate knows no bounds.

Tom said...

Nope, it doesn't.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

"I think it is about as balanced as a left-wing studio echo chamber can be expected to create"

Whoa. Don't get feverishly carried away with your praise there. (Though I suspect I'd largely agree.)

Anonymous said...

Really, I'm disappointed that they didn't make the clearest point about the UN they could have, in-universe. Remember the Security Council that decided nuking Manhattan was a good way to deal with the alien invasion in the first Avengers movie? A nuclear weapon that Iron Man had to redirect into the invasion portal to save New York City? One would think Iron Man would remember them as well, and decide that putting Thor and the Hulk under their control was, perhaps, not the greatest idea anyone's ever had.

Perhaps tellingly, though, he was brought around to the left-wing cause by a spiteful application of excessive and undeserved guilt.

Tom said...

That's a very good point, Anonymous.

AVI -- Yeah, sometimes I go overboard like that.

Ymar Sakar said...

For a Japanese take on superheroes like Superman, I recommend they watch One Punch Man.

You would probably like it more, Tom. Well, not hard to overcome the Hollywood effect.

jabrwok said...

For what it's worth, I second the recommendation of _One Punch Man_. It's hilarious:-).

Tom said...

ワンパンマン (wanpanman) -- that right there is hilarious. It's got to be a reference to アンパンマン (anpanman), the adorable kids superhero.

And I'm not the only one!

Thanks for the reference, guys. I'll have to check it out.