Captain America: Civil War, Marvel’s high stakes punch-up, hit Netflix on Christmas Day. The film, which made over a billion dollars at the box office in May, is as much about multilateralism versus unilateralism as it is about introducing Ant-Man and Spider-Man to the other -Men in the MCU.
Put simply, the conflict between Iron Man and Captain America that plays out in the movie is currently playing out between President Elect Donald Trump, foreign policy and intelligence experts, and the United Nations — albeit in the form of Twitter bricksmanship. Trump has positioned himself squarely with Captain America despite not having a best bud like Bucky to defend. (The Putin parallel can be drawn, but it’s a reach.) Trump has more faith in his own moral compass than he has in consensus or systematic decision making. Perhaps he is a patriot, but he doesn’t wish to act as nation states within the international system historically have.
Civil War proved that Captain America will always choose his brothers in arms over the concerns of the rest of the world. His stubborn take on international relations is, of course, informed by the events of Winter Soldier, in which Cap saw SHIELD, the only constant in his life other than Bucky, eaten away by corruption from the inside. Rather than turn him into a skeptic, Cap’s trilogy gave him a near-paranoid distrust of any establishment, existing system, or government regulation. Sound familiar?
Iron Man, on the other hand, ends Civil War with the opposite views he held in his first film, begging Cap to turn over some control of humans with exceptional powers to a global governing power. Tony Stark, once the perfect rugged capitalist and an individualist to boot, becomes a multilateralist because he sees suffering and mass death and concludes he cannot be trusted with the “needs of many.” It’s a stance Donald Trump would find reprehensible or “So sad!”
The argument here isn’t perfect because international relations within the MCU are a lot less complicated than they are in real life and the nature of weapons (superheroes being the obvious example) is fundamentally different. Non-proliferation in the MCU is about powers, nut nukes. But — putting that aside for a moment — it’s worth remembering that Netflix’s new binge-watch blockbuster incorporates real ideologies and ideas we’re likely to see clash over the next four years. While Stark wants to cede control of the MCU’s growing number of exceptional humans to those who know better, Cap sees bureaucracies as swamps. His superpowers doesn’t help him drain them so he just goes his own way.