Gods have been and continue to be a big deal. For millenia many people have worshipped one god or many gods. Whole cities have been built in honour of the gods and many a war has been fought over whose god is better. Much good has been done in the name of gods as well. Unsurprisingly, gods play a big role in culture too – in the Ancient Greek theatrical classics that still get performed today, in iconic imagery from Botticelli’s Venus to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons and in cinema. And if ever there was a modern film about decidedly modern gods it’s Captain America: Civil War.
The trailer speaks for itself but to give a brief summary: basically the United Nations want to pass a new law that would ensure the Avengers (Captain America, Black Widow, Iron Man, the bird guy, the big green guy etc) cease being a private entity and come under the remit of the UN. They want to do this because humanity is fed up of the amount of collateral damage the Avengers cause. Sure, they destroy nasty baddies hellbent on bringing about the apocalypse but they also cause a fair amount of unnecessary death and destruction. Iron Man thinks this is a good idea because he’s getting a bit jaded and all the civilian deaths are making him feel a bit guilty. Captain America disagrees – what if the UN have their own agenda? Bureaucracy takes too long, what if they have to respond quickly to a some mad, killer robot – they can’t wait around until the UN ratifies it? Naturally, a disagreement between the Avengers isn’t settled at a table – unless that table is a death match arena rammed fulled of explosives. Yup, lots of fighting ensues, and that’s basically the film.
Between the falling buildings, metal suits and impressive gymnastics there is actually quite an interesting underlying philosophical question at the heart of Civil War – who are the powerful responsible to? If we zoom back to Ancient Greece we’ll remember the stories of the gods on Mount Olympus – vain and selfish superhumans who argue a lot. There was Zeus with his homing lightning bolt, Hermes with his flying shoes and Poseidon with his tidal waves. Civil War takes a similar stance: the gods (aka the Avengers) tend to be vain and selfish and they do argue a lot. They also have extremely advanced weapons with rocket launchers big enough to match the size of their egos. And the question remains – who are the powerful responsible to? Should they be answerable to the UN, a decidedly mortal organisation, or to themselves? The answer kinda depends on whether you prefer Captain American with his funny, spandex suit and bouncy shield or Iron Man with his metal armour and power punch.
Of course, fictional superheroes aside, we must ask this question of ourselves to. The power of our technology and weaponry is immense. We have surpassed the Greek gods – homing missiles instead of lightning bolts, fighter jets and drones instead of flying boots, and atomic bombs to create our own tidal waves. And it won’t be long till our soldiers wear flying metal suits. We are humans amongst gods. And who do we answer to? The obvious answer is the people – the ‘demos’ of democracy. But the powerful have a habit of overlooking the lowly civilian, just like the Greek gods and the Avengers – when their petty rivalries get out of hand it’s the human world that suffers as a consequence. So, let Civil War be another warning to us – that the power of the powerful needs to be curbed because they really can’t be trusted. They’re basically just adult sized toddlers with a-bombs.