“Avenging” the American Ideal

As fellow blogger “alexkimpwr” pointed out in an excellent post, Marvel’s 2008 Iron Man film replicates the strength-oriented, “us vs. them” rhetoric of the Cold War. However, this film is but one in a series of films and TV shows released and in production by the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the joint intention of building up to 2019’s culminating Avengers: Infinity War- Part 2. Based on the heroes of Marvel’s beloved pre-9/11 comic books, this contemporary cinematic universe combines its heroes’ storylines to forge multiple storylines in one cohesive narrative. Yet despite the futuristic technology and humorous banter between characters, Cold War themes continue to shine through this seemingly non-Cold War tale.

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An illustration of some key heroes in the Universe. Reusable image courtesy of flickr user marvelousRoland.

 

Nowhere is the influence clearer than the alienation of Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff (the Black Widow) and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier). While both these characters are considered “good”, their previous affiliations with the USSR continue to mark them as suspicious. It does not help that they stand in direct contrast to Chris Evan’s Steve Rogers (Captain America), the embodiment of American strength and patriotism.

That Steve is close friends to both Natasha and Bucky does not lessen the fact that the series continuously antagonizes the foreign, and, specifically, Eastern Europe. The (human) criminal masterminds of the story all speak in Slavic tongues/accents and create plots that spur paranoia. Even in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, the movie concludes with the discovery that a foreign threat was manipulating characters’ tensions behind the scenes rather than risking to show two American heroes, Steve Rogers and Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark (Iron Man), at extreme odds with each other (watch clip of discovery here).

After all, the film is still very much about “us vs. them”. In 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, only a visit to the farm home of Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton (Hawkeye) reinvigorates the heroes with the strength to fight by reminding them of the ideal they are trying to protect. The glimpse of American life shown there – the white middle class family of (almost) five living peacefully on an idyllic farm – aligns very closely to the American image projected during the Cold War as both the situation to protect and aspire to. In much the same way, the “other” in this film is a technological advancement that went too far and threatened global destruction in much the same way as nuclear weapons. Indeed, the enemies’ plots in many of the series’ installments involve mass destruction and spur paranoia, as the nuclear arms race of the Cold War did.

It can be argued, of course, that these Cold War cultural remnants are due to the fact that the series’ inspiration came from Cold War era comic books. Nonetheless, the popularity of the films continue to suggest that the Cold War narrative of potential destruction is still one the audience buys into, just as the film’s depictions of “us vs. them” still enforces the idea of these divisions. Although the series has not yet reached its conclusion, so maybe it will eventually cut ties with the Cold War storyline. Maybe.

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2 thoughts on ““Avenging” the American Ideal”

  1. I think its great you address both sides of the argument regarding the use of containment culture in the movie, and how it might only be there because the comic books were from the Cold War era. It’s definitely something to look into: if we are drawn back into the appeal of containment culture as a coping method for 9-11, and if we would be that invested into the movie had it been released in the 90’s.

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  2. I really like the point you made about “the discovery that a foreign threat was manipulating characters’ tensions.” I think that this is a good parallel to how citizens of the US became suspicious of and turned against each other due to a vague foreign threat during the Cold War. The same paranoia is true in today’s post-9/11 society, and you do an excellent job pointing them out.

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