One of the last things audiences are going to be expecting when they hit theaters to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a commentary on freedom, security, and the current political climate in the United States, but that is exactly what they will be getting. Marvel Studios has upped the ante with the latest installment in their intricately interwoven cinematic universe, trading in their underoos for a pair of big boy pants. Government conspiracies, cover-ups, and tons of stellar action sequences makes for a thrilling ride, but the themes of the film are intended to make viewers think about the issue of national security, and whether or not Americans are willing to trade freedom for safety. Anyone who has not seen the film, beware, as massive spoilers lie ahead.
The main plot point of the film centers around the fact that government intelligence agency, the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division, otherwise known as S.H.I.E.L.D., has been infiltrated by Hydra, a terrorist organization similar to the Nazis from World War II. Captain America discovers that his old nemesis, Arnim Zola, was recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. and after getting a terminal illness, had his consciousness transferred to a computer, essentially making him a form of artificial intelligence. With access to the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. database, Zola helped Hydra infiltrate the intelligence organization from the lowest to the highest levels. Zola and Hydra made use of the Winter Soldier to help orchestrate world events, such as wars and civil unrest, to try to coerce people of the world into surrendering their freedom in the name of safety. Hydra realized that if they attempted to take people’s freedom by use of force, they would resist, but if they made it look like they were trying to keep them safe from danger, people would simply give away their freedom. This does not sit well with liberty-minded Captain America, which is where Ben Franklin comes into play.
Ben Franklin once said that people who are willing to trade their freedom for security deserve to have neither. It is safe to say that Captain America, and Joe Russo, along with brother Anthony, who directed the film, would agree with that statement. In fact, that was essentially the central focus of the movie, and this is not simply an inference drawn out by critics, but is a fact that comes straight from the mouth of those who made the film. In a recent interview, the brothers stated that it is no coincidence that the movie touches on government spying, and the creation of the kill list which features names of people deemed to be terrorists who have been singled out to be killed by drone strikes without a trial. This theme was intentionally put in the film, with the hope that it would inspire people to think about these issues, asking where the line should be drawn. If killing a couple of million people can save lives, should it be done? The answer, of course, is no. There has to be a line that is never crossed, or else people lose their humanity.
Most of the atrocities that have been committed by governments throughout the world have been done under the disguise of “national security.” The most recent examples would be the Patriot Act and the PRISM program where the federal government has used safety and security as excuses to violate the rights of citizens in alarming ways. Consider how the government has used the idea of looking for terrorist threats by mining data from email and phone records, with a blanket warrant rather than a personal warrant called for by the Fourth Amendment. The Patriot Act has been used time and again to detain people indefinitely while being interrogated ruthlessly in secret locations. In all honesty, it sounds like the plot to Captain America: The Winter Soldier was ripped from the latest news headlines, and was designed to be a primer on what happens when people trade freedom for safety, validating the wisdom of Ben Franklin.
There is little doubt the movie is going to end up making a ton of money for the Russo brothers and Marvel Studios, but it also has the potential to serve as an eye-opener for those in culture who are moving through life asleep, unaware of the intrusions and dangers posed by an out-of-control government sneakily tricking them into giving up freedom to feel a little more warm and cozy at night. If audiences pay attention to the theme of the film, and decide to do their research and take action to oppose government interference into their private lives, this could be one of the most important comic book movies of all time. Ben Franklin would be thrilled to see his words of wisdom given credibility at the cultural level through a film like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and would no doubt encourage others to see it and heed its truth.
Opinion by Michael Cantrell