I viewed Captain America: The Winter Soldier at the theater this weekend. I found the film to be among the most thoroughly enjoyable of the films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. But this isn’t a movie review. There will be spoilers for the film, so beware of reading further if you’ve not seen it yet.
Several reviews and articles I’ve read about the new Captain America film (examples one, two) have spoken favorably on how “subversive” the film is, with its use of SHIELD’s policy of preemptive action (along with an intended use of computer-controlled drone-like helicarriers against perceived threats) paralleling the real life US government policy of preemptive action (along with actual use of armed unmanned aircraft and cruise missiles). Such points are well worth raising, but as edgy as this may all seem to establishment entertainment media, the real edge is left untested.
The untested edge exists because in the film the enemy turns out to be the modern iteration of HYDRA, the Nazi deep science division Captain America fought against in World War II (as seen in Captain America: The First Avenger). As the climax of the film approaches, the trio of helicarriers select targets to eliminate. Among the targets are the President of the United States, an assortment of Senators and Representatives, and US military personnel. The first blow HYDRA strikes will be to the nation that hosts SHIELD, under the guise of SHIELD itself.
I first encountered the idea of the externalization of evil while reading books and articles by Chris Hedges. To externalize evil is to always assure yourself that evil originates with the other, that one’s self can never act as an origin point for evil.
The externalization of evil is a powerful aid to those who would rationalize preemption as a favorable tactic in counter-terrorism policy.
The untested edge in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is this: What if the masterminds behind the drone helicarriers had been forces within the US government? What if those same forces were shown being aided and abetted by our politicians, bought and paid for by those corporations who trade the lives of innocents for a good quarterly projection? What if the film had dropped HYDRA and used current affairs as more than a flimsy backdrop?
But then, Captain America: The Winter Soldier wouldn’t have been a movie based on a comic book, set in a fantasy version of our world. And I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly so much.