Holy Crap! Did a Marvel Movie…Just Say Something?

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-trailer-0

As regular readers will note, I have been consistently fascinated by this huge media machine that fans know as the “MCU.”

That stands for Marvel Cinema Universe for you neophytes.

I won’t waste my breath retreading the history of this massive multi-movie endeavor that has garnered a couple billion dollars so far, but up to now, that history has told a story of action adventure story tropes being successfully staged by A-list talent for pure, empty-headed fun.

The latest installment, though, has offered us just a little more.

[Ahead there be SPOILERS!]

Not only is Captain America: The Winter Soldier by far the most complex of the Marvel films in its plotting (that’s not necessarily a good thing as it has a bit of a “oh, look, there’s the kitchen sink” feel to it), but it also innovates by using this very, very silly world of super heroes and diabolical villains to comment on our reality.

That’s right, kids. Captain America–always a propagandistic symbol in his own right–has a political message for the 21st century.

The plot, boiled down, is that S.H.I.E.L.D–the far-reaching, but thus-far benevolent super-spy organization that has been in the background during the entire MCU evolution–was infiltrated from the early days by the remnants of another group, the Nazi-splinter group of mad scientists called Hydra.

Wow…like I said: silly stuff.

But here’s the important part. Good ole all-American Captain America must bring down both organizations–why? Because these intertwined institutional beasts see too much and are at the “tipping point” of having the technological power to smite their enemies proactively.

It’s not hard to read it all as a post 9/11 allegory. The massive new fleet of S.H.I.E.L.D hellicarriers has built-in drone-like weapon systems that can snuff out satellite-selected human targets. What’s more is that a powerful computer algorithm has allowed the Hydra-SHIELD monstrosity to predict its enemies before they act against it. Analytics, anyone?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes on the surveillance state, but it doesn’t argue for a luddite approach to deal with these encroachments on the right to privacy. Instead, the story demands both accountability and transparency.

In the end, S.H.I.E.L.D. is destroyed. (Marvel fans are hardly shocked; it’s happened in the comics before, too. The only real question is: What are they planning for that TV show that centers on an organization that’s now belly up?) More importantly, though, the deep and dark secrets of both are uploaded onto the Internet.

Tucked in among all the ass-kicking (and some character stories about Captain America finding his old best buddy and a new one) this film asks: If the genie can’t be put back in the bottle, then what? And it suggests as an answer that we all need to know exactly what the genie is up to. What it knows…and what it can do.

Ultimately, corruption is the enemy. Nothing as powerful as S.H.I.E.L.D. was in this fictional universe can avoid it. Its analogue in the real world is clear: Every day we learn that the American security apparatus has more capabilities than we’d imagined the day before. They can read your e-mail. They can hack your computer remotely. Having that power is corruption itself. Its misuse is inevitable.

The only remedy to this inevitability is vigilance.

For that, there can’t be secrets.

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