Jun 1 2012 11:00am

No One Watches the Watchmen: The Authoritarianism of The Avengers

At the end of The Avengers, when Nick Fury’s explains why he let the six most powerful people on the planet disappear with a war criminal and a source of unlimited energy, and that we should just trust them to return in the event of another alien invasion, “because we’ll need them to,” he is basically making an argument for authoritarianism: that we should trust a small group of powerful individuals with the fate of the world because they are already powerful.

That’s a troubling moral to the story, made worse because it is supported by the two real character arcs of the movie, Natasha Romanov’s and Bruce Banner’s. (Of the remaining four, three of the Avengers change very little over the course of the film, leaving them basically where they were at the end of their titular movies, and Hawkeye spends two thirds of the film brainwashed, and the last third pissed off about being brainwashed.)

Natasha’s arc is that of humanity coming to terms with the existence of superbeings. Black Widow is the most human of the Avengers, more so than even Captain America (who has Super Soldier Strength and his shield) and Hawkeye (who’s got trick arrows). Not that she isn’t a force to be reckoned with—she’s in control of what looks like the worst situation, and can outwit even Loki. But she’s limited to a human range of abilities. She could, for example, be dropped into a Bond film, or even an episode of 24, without breaking the world. 

So, because she is used to being the most dangerous person in any room full of humans, Natasha’s near-death experience with the Hulk shakes her, leaves her shell-shocked and unable to move even as the Helicarrier falls. The Hulk, and the world of superbeings he represents, are simply beyond her ability to physically and emotionally cope with on her own. He’s literally too big for her to deal with.

Yes, Black Widow shakes off her shock, rescues Hawkeye, and becomes a vital part of the defense of New York. But she gets over her shock by accepting that there are powers beyond her, and to survive, she’ll need to rely on some super powered beings to protect her from others. When she welcomes Bruce back by saying “we could use a little worse,” on the one hand she’s forgiving him for losing control, but on the other she’s also admitting that she’s not capable of dealing with the alien threat by herself. And she’s not alone. Captain America practically begs Bruce to turn into the Hulk. The threats have gotten too big, and the humans must now rely on the monsters.

And what about the monster? Bruce Banner’s arc is even more troubling, because he learns to embrace and enjoy his overwhelming power. Bruce starts the film in control of himself, having not let the Hulk out for over a year. It’s possible that if SHIELD hadn’t brought Bruce in and Loki’s magic hadn’t set him off, he might never have turned into the Hulk again. Bruce starts the film knowing that with great power comes great responsibility. What he learns, specifically from Tony Stark, is to embrace his power, and use it to have fun. It’s fun to beat the hell out of bad guys! Fun to jump through buildings and crash space whales into Grand Central Station and fling evil gods around like rag dolls.

And, yes, it’s totally fun to watch him do that. But it’s only fun because the aliens have no personality and Loki is basically invulnerable. If we the audience had any sympathy at all for the Chitauri, as we did for the Frost Giants in Thor, then watching the Hulk grind them into paste would be sickening. Watching the Hulk throw Loki around is the best gag in the movie, but only because we know Loki can sit up afterwards and order a drink. If the villain had been the Red Skull or the Iron Monger—that is, if the villain had been human—then we’d have to question the morality of unleashing unrelenting brutality on our enemies. But we don’t have to ask that question, so Banner learns that it’s okay to be gleefully destructive as long as he’s fighting bad guys.

With these two parallel arcs, The Avengers basically argues that in a dangerous world, we should let the powerful do whatever they want, even if what they want is terrifyingly brutal. And that the powerful should be brutal, if that’s what’s fun for them.

What’s the role for non-superheroes in the Avengers? Well, if you’re the police, it’s to do exactly what Captain America says, because... well because he’s really good at beating up aliens. If you’re not, if you’re say a waitress caught in the crossfire, then your job is to thank Captain America for saving you once it’s all over. 

The last thing a normal person should do is try to save the world themselves. Don’t try to make your own weapons based on Hydra designs or Iron Man armor, or Captain America and Iron Man will get angry at you. Don’t try to use those weapons to actually fight a god, that will get you killed. And certainly don’t fire a nuke at New York while the heroes still have a chance... actually, DON’T DO THAT! That’s stupid. Send in the air force and the army first.

Look, a lot of superhero stories have troubling levels of authoritarianism baked into them, because they’re stories about good people fighting for justice unbound by the laws of man or nature. That said, other superhero films are better about addressing an active role of normal people in a superhero world. Spider-Man ends with New Yorkers saving Spider-Man by throwing junk at the Green Goblin. The Dark Knight has Batman accept the blame for the murders Harvey Dent committed so that civil government can be seen to have some authority in the Gotham.

Even the other films in the Avengers series are better about this: Captain America takes orders from the U.S. Army, Tony Stark has to answer to Congress, even Thor learns humility and respect for others, both human and frost giant. In The Avengers, however, all of that “respect for others” is kind of tossed out the window as Iron Man redirects the nuke into the Chitauri ship. Which is like if Captain America had turned the plane around at the end of his film and rammed it into Berlin.

In The Avengers, superheroes are rewarded for using unrestrained force against an alien Other with the praise of the world, the freedom to go wherever they want, and control of an unlimited power source. The film says we should be thanking these gods and monsters, thanking them and just hoping that they’ll be there if we need them again. Also hoping that they don’t, you know, abuse the incredible power that they have. They answer to no one, jealously shut down all attempts to share their power, and can be stopped by no one. And this is supposed to be awesome!

The Avengers answers the question “who watches the watchmen” with a gleeful, ecstatic “NO ONE!”

Steven Padnick has written about comics and other subjects before on and will surely do so again.

Mordicai Knode
1. mordicai
I would like them to deal with these a way that is less silly & heavy handed than say..."Civil War." That is all I'm asking, don't do "Civil War."
Sean Vivier
2. SeanVivier
So, in order to demonstrate less authoritarianism, they need to meekly submit to centralized authority?
J Mccaffery
3. J Mccaffery
1. Mordicai

Yeah, this seems ripe material for the conflict of a 2nd movie, since "the Avengers have to get over their differences and make friends!" of off the table. And it would be dumb if they had another disagreement for some reason instead of all being BFFs. I did at least gather that the Chitauri were, like-- remote controlled bio-robots? Or something? I didn't think you could ever talk to one, I mean, even if you spoke Chitauri.
Josh Kidd
4. joshkidd
I think audiences are willing to accept the autoritarianism of The Avengers because they are all mythic American heroes patterned after George Washington, reluctantly taking power because duty demands it and then fading immediately into obscurity after the need for them is gone.

That, and the total lack of moral ambiguity that you mention.
Mordicai Knode
5. mordicai
3. J Mccaffery

The should totally make the second movie a honeymoon. Avengers all working together, all just PALS, just kicking butt & grinning.
J Mccaffery
6. AlBrown
One of the best things that has happened in the modern age of comics is that the writers have begun to wrestle with some of the moral issues of power. Right from the start, Spiderman grappled with these issues (with great power comes great responsibility). Comics that started with fairly unambiguous characters like Batman and Daredevil dealt with the moral issues of vigilanteism. Captain America in the Watergate era dealt with the issue of a moral soldier finding that he is subordinate to amoral leaders. X-men deals with the plight of more powerful beings appearing humanity, and the moral issues presented by these genetic anomolies. As mentioned above, Marvel Comics addressed this issue in its Civil War series--who are these powerful people answerable to?
I remember at its inception, SHIELD was presented as an arm of the United Nations, in keeping with the utopian hopes of the 1960s that mankind might be moving toward a unifed and benign world order. The Nick Fury and SHIELD of the Avengers movie, however, is drawn from what is known as the Marvel Ultimate world, a world where the traditional characters interact with each other in a different way than in the continuity of other Marvel comics. This world is much darker than our own, and Fury in particular is presented as a more amoral and authoritarian character. The world of the Ultimates is a world where "Might makes right," rather than a world where "Might serves right."
Often in adventure movies, the heroes do things that would not be proper in the real world, where it is often far less clear who is good or evil, what is right and wrong. And, as you point out, once the enemy has been dehumanized (and what is less human than a reptilian alien invader?), the audience is willing to accept much more brutal actions against that enemy.
One of my favorite fictional examinations of the issue of might and right is The Once and Future King, by TH White, which was far more than just a simple tale of King Arthur.
Hopefully, as more Marvel movies are created, they will deal with all these issues. It is this kind of moral element that raises the superhero genre above simple entertainment. One of the most compelling questions in literature is the question this article raises, "
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"
Jonah Feldman
7. relogical
"Also hoping that they don’t, you know, abuse the incredible power that they have. They answer to no one, jealously shut down all attempts to share their power, and can be stopped by no one. And this is supposed to be awesome!"

Because yes, it is awesome. The Avengers, like many superheroes, are admirable for being superhuman beings who are not corrupted by their power and can be counted on to act as moral authorities, and that is awesome.

And meanwhile, in nearly all the Marvel movies such as The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 1 and 2, Captain America, and The Avengers, other people, including representatives of governments, prove themselves unworthy of these powers while the individual heroes remain morally superior. You can argue from an out-of-story perspective that these stories are contrived and unfair in creating situations where civilization can't properly regulate itself without their aid while the heroes remain pure, but you can't say that the characters are wrong from the in-story POV.

That's not authoritarian. That's about as anti-authoritarian as you can get. Superhero stories are almost always about individuals with power above that of duly-constituted authorities as well as moral superiority. It might be a fantasy because in real life no such beings exist, but not an authoritarian one.

Watchmen doesn't work as a counterexample to this fact of superheroism, because Watchmen had an ambiguous, nihilistic ending. It examined the question in a powerful fashion, but doesn't make a conclusive statement.

Who watches the Avengers? Aside from millions of moviegoers, I suspect the answer would be "they watch each other." I think the movie safely established that they could count on each other, which is more than what most superheroes get.
J Mccaffery
8. Herb933
Authors tend to be too quick to presuppose that having these powers changes the rules. As we speak two of the most intelligent, accomplished, and, for one, wealthy men in America are engaging in a months-long ordeal best described as ritual humiliation to persuade Americans of all sorts of dubious distinction to vote for them. One of those men will become (or continue to be) the most powerful person in the world, far more powerful than any of the Avengers. And at the end of four years, he will be expected either to ride off gracefully into the sunset or go through the ritual humiliation all over again.

There are no gamechangers. The idea that all men are equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights has also been perfectly recognizable with men of vastly differing abilities.
J Mccaffery
9. thehost55
I'm not sure you're quite right, though I enjoyed the article quite a bit.

The piece you might be missing is that what makes the good guys "good" in this film was clearly defined as their desire to prevent their powers from being weaponized - not in order to keep a monopoly on their own power, but rather to keep the world safe.

Now, what you are saying about monoplizing power in a few is possibly true, but I don't think the movie went on long enough to deal with this issue. This is like the Gun Control argument - is it better for power to be possessed by the trustworthy few, or does everybody become more trustworthy when anybody can posesss power. The Avengers clearly believe the former, the NRA might argue the latter.

To me, the message of the Avengers was that humans may look weak to celestial predators, but it turns out we have heroes among our kind who are good enough to save us without litterally "lording" it over us. The government's desire to control the energon cube at the beginning of the film, and then the Avengers themselves at the end of the film, shows the governments discomfort with sharing power. It means they must give up some of their own authority. According to the film, it is the Avenger's reluctance to take authority over others that makes them good. It is their desire to do their duty to their fellow man (yes, all the Avengers except Thor are indeed human), and then, like George Washington, retire to Mount Vernon or Stark Tower or wherever.

They are ultimately not authoritarians like Loki, but rather very typical, American, anti-authoritarian heroes. What else would you expect Captain America to be?
J Mccaffery
10. Hedgehog Dan
Interesting points. My thoughts are the following:

1) These films show the birth of super-humans and super-teams. Of course, the beginning is rough, every beginning is rough - they kind of act like sheriffs in the Wild West, I guess. However, these films also show, that the world tries to catch up with them, for the better or the worse - we will see, where this plot-thread will end.

2) The funny thing about the authoritianism-thread, is that we can trust our heroes better. Why? Despite all of their flaws, we witness their well-meaning. They fight in the front, risking their lives, but that is just one thing. They are superheroes after all. However, we also witness, what Bruce Banner does in his non-Hulk time: he uses his knowledge of physics to cure poor people. Those people, for whom the world generaly cannot give a ratcorps.

3) Goverments and super-secret councils on the other hand draw our suspicions, instead provoking our trust, and not without a reason. What can we know about the WSC? They are powerful man we don't really know about anything. They are not accountable by little people, even though they should be, since they just ordered to nuke a city. Yeah, the team disbands in the end, and goes to their separate ways, but people know, who is Iron Man or Captain America, and if they would do such questionable act, they would be quickly ostracised from society. They would be reported to the authorities, and so on, and so on...

Politicians and secret councils, on the other hand... hell, did the public know, that they built a super weapon? If not, why? If they are not authoritian, if they are accountable, they should have damn reported to the world, that we built a weapon. A weapon they intended to use on civilians, by the way. Okay, one can argue, that they freaked out, that is true - still, in the end, the WSC got away scott-free. No one asked, "hey, what was with this upgraded A-bomb, by the way?" So it is not just about that they gave orders from a safe, hidden place - they remain hidden after the battle.

Therefore they did not earn my trust - okay, they wished to use against aliens. But with this attitude, it is not inconceivable, that they would quickly use it against a country in the Middle-East, for example. They showed that they would cheeringly use against people.

And that is why they represent the worst fears of our heroes - they fear, that somebody will misuse their power for shady causes. And they have a reason. Tony dealt with greedy and spineless business men like Obadiah Stane and Justin Hammer, who only care about profit, and who endanger innocent people without any hesitation out of spite or resentment for one person. Hulk is dangerous - yet the military wishes to catch him not only for protecting civilians... but to mass-produce monsters like him. General Ross first reaction was against accusations is not "hey, I wish to protect the innocents", but rather "Banner's body is the property of military". And their methods are not subtle... even if Bruce is calm at that moment, and he has not hulked out for month, they attack him in the heart of a city, innocents nearby, instead for example luring him to the wild where the Hulk cannot threaten civilians. Who cares, if someone dies - it was the Hulk fault, see, he is a monster, we told that! Not the sign of acting in a responsible way.

(And yeah, Natasha also did not lure Banner out of the city, but she reasoned with him.)

Yeah, there are decent people in the military of MCU, shown in Captain America: The First Avenger (Tommy Lee Jones for President!), but there are also those people - i.e. General Ross - who can act like a drunken cop, and get away only with a slight demotion. And we shall also note, that one of the fear of the heroes is that they will be forced to fight against a nation against their own will for the good of a few people (mainly rich assholes), if they sign a contract with US Military.

However, in the comics, there was a time that they were on good terms with the U.N. and we also saw their well-meaning towards everymen and -women and -kids - it might evolve to something. Superheroes always represented ordinary people, most of the time - that is why Clark Kent is a humble journalist, Peter Parker is a poor student, etc. Yeah, there are examples like Tony or Batman, but we have seen, that they are not indifferent towards us. So despite they don't trust powerful, shady people, it is not unimaginable, from the movies, that they find important retaining ordinary people's trust.

4.) The Hulk's story was not just about "being in a berserker mode is okay". Bruce Banner should have come to terms with his other side, and accept, that the Hulk is the part of him - not another person.

And this is important, because most people with anger issues I know just cannot accept the fact that they can harm others. No, they are gentlemen, who would not hit anybody! And when one of them does, he escapes to denial: it was just the situation. Hell, I know one person, who argued: "it was not me"! And the frustration from the last case and the fact that they cannot learn to handle their own agression leads to another case.

There are a lot of people, who are ashamed of their capability of agression. Instead of learning to handle it, they deny it - and that will usually lead to violent outbursts. Of which victims are not unusually people who don't deserve.

We shall come to term our agression, otherwise we end up like poor Dr. Henry Jekyll. Sometimes agression can be useful, if we learn to use it properly. For example, to stand up against a bully - we do not throw a punch, we do not call him an a-hole... but we let know, that we are no easy prey. Sometimes we shall use our fury to fuel our will, because otherwise bullies will oppress us - and we cannot say that: "let us just sit around the table and talk about that matter". I wish we could always say just that, but we could not.

We can harvest this emotion in a civilian manner - during protests, for example, we tend to be emotional, and when they wish to disband us, well, we cannot be ignored, cannot be dismissed just like that. But we will not kill anybody, or, in a peaceful protest, we will not harm anybody. But in this case, we draw strength from our anger, which emotion is for giving strength to us to stand up for ourselves, and not let others to bully us to do their biding. It is not about acting like a thug - it is about that we shall not oppress our emotions, instead we shall learn, how to utilize this. Not against family-members, for example, but against people who tries to take advance of our well-meaning. Not with a gun, but with words and brain.

When Bruce Banner accept the other guy as himself, he can use his strength against the agressors - who had it coming -, and not against his friends and innocent people, who do not deserve.

5.) The Chitauri are not civillians of a foreign country, but soldiers. They were not just people in the wrong place, in the wrong time - that would be New Yorkers -, but warriors, who have known, for what they have signed for. They were bloody space viking berserkers, who attacked another land - and they hunted unarmed people, they did not engage military!

In the beginning of Thor, we can see Frost Giants murdered by Odin, when he is protecting Earth from them. And we do not feel sorry for them... they are on a foreign land they have just invaded. Loki's plan to eliminate the threat of Jotünheim is not wrong, because of killing Frost Giants. Heck, we witnessed in the beginning of the film of murdering several Frost Giants by Thor - which was more questionable, than what the Avengers did, since Thor visited Jotünheim and initiate a fight in their land, while the Avengers protected Earth -, and we even found Thor sympathetic in the end.

No, Loki plan was wrong, because:
- it was all about genocide: killing a whole race with destroying their home planet!
- he manipulated a couple of Frost Giants to sneak into Asgard for casus belli.
- so, from the first point, he did not just wish to kill soldiers in his homeland - he wished to kill civilians as well in their own homeland! (and from the second point, he did not really even have a solid reason for this.)

Iron Man, on the other hand, do not (re)send the nuke to a planet full with innocents (or to a city, like WSC), but to a warship, from which the soldiers came. The Avengers do not go after the Chitauri, crippling their homeland, like the freaking Authority would do. Iron Man only decapacitated a battleship, which main purpose was to be a base for invading other worlds. It is not Berlin. It is just carrier.

And the Avengers only killed in fight, and not people who surrendered (not that they had the option, but still).

6.) I am a white male, even if I am from an East-European country... but, just like the waitress, I would have also thanked them. I am a little bit flabberghasted, that this "thank you" is viewed mysoginistic, even more so, because it came about a politican's rant (which was not about "this guys need somebody who check them", but rather "they are monsters that should burn!"). If an alien warrior attacked me, I could not fight back.

So, if the same happened with me, not an alien-attack, but a hostage situation in a bank, I would thank the policemen who saved me. Or the soldier, who saved me from a similar situation.

Despite I detest war - moreover, preemptive wars, and that bull -, I never detest soldiers, who risk their lifes for their country or for people like me. I don't wish to go into politics, but invading another country usually buggers me... but repelling an invasion is another thing.

And our heroes next move is not "let's just find the Chitauri, and cripple their country". Their next move was to eat shwarma after they imprisoned Loki.

7.) And, by the way, in the end it is shown, that our superheroes do what superheroes should do - inspire people. We see, where this leads.

(Thanks for the article, by the way, it was really thought-provoking and a real fun to answer... hope you don't mind. :))
Nathan McGrath
11. NathanM
I'll try to be brief.
As Barthes said, "Full of all meaning and empty of all meaning"
It could easily be interpreted along more psychological lines.
The movie only appears to promote authoritarianism because the writer chose to allow the Avengers liberty to act outside the norms.
The story would have required a lot more explanation and rationalisation of actions and motives if the heroes had to handle a bureaurcacy and put everything to a vote.
It's also a fantasy in the sense that there has been times for all of us when we wished we had the power and ability to handle the big problems in ways no other person could because of physical / institutional / legal constraints.
The logic of your argument is an extrapolation of classical fictional themes presented through a conventional political discourse; as you point out yourself.
You sum it up with "The Avengers basically argues that in a dangerous world, we should let the powerful do whatever they want, even if what they want is terrifyingly brutal. And that the powerful should be brutal, if that’s what’s fun for them." That is the core of occasional fantasies we've all had at least once in our lives. the movie justs magnifies and adds glorious characters and colour the most primitive of fantasies we've all had.
Harry Burger
12. Lightbringer
"The threats have gotten too big, and the humans must now rely on the monsters." - this is the TV Trope "Godzilla Threshold" defined, the point where the problem is so bad, inviting Godzilla to fight for us sounds like a good idea. Even if he punches Thor for no good reason besides comic relief, but fortunately he's a god, so he can take it.

Or is it all anti-authoritarian, because the heroes are free and not subject to control by The Man/Government, which is corrupt. They are Heroes because they are powerful and not corrupt, once power corrupts them, they become Villians. And practically speaking, what is anybody going to do to stop them? Banner tried to eat a gun, but that turned him into Hulk, who spat out the bullet. If that can't kill him, or even really hurt him, and nothing can contain him, the classical Greek answer is to asphyxiate him, but good luck chaining him down long enough to do that.
Kimani Rogers
13. KiManiak
Mr. Padnick, I have a combination of some responses and questions for you, regarding your post:

Who’s authority should be submitted to? The Shadow Figures behind SHIELD (I don't know the official name of the group; the one with Powers Boothe and it looked like 3 others) that were secretly using alien artifacts to devise powerful weapons? We’re supposed to trust that that power won’t be abused? By the same Shadow Figures who decided to launch a nuke on New York City? Without exploring other options?
(Wow, can I do anything other than ask loaded questions? Let’s switch it up)

Blanket statement: Almost every “superhero” is a vigilante. Vigilantes by definition don’t follow all the rules of society; they arrogantly (and most often correctly) depend upon their own judgment to serve the “greater good.” In other words, they follow some laws, but they eventually see themselves or some arbitrary code as the ultimate authority.

But let’s set that aside.

Let’s look at the characters you criticized:

Thor: Demi-god/extraterrestrial/whatever who travels to the Earth to reclaim his villainous brother, but also the artifact that belongs to his people, which humankind is looking to exploit.

Why should he answer to a human government? It could be argued from his perspective that they are either thieves (they know the artifact doesn’t belong to them, and suspect it most likely belongs to Thor), or ignorant folks playing with powers they can’t comprehend. It’s his responsibility to not be manipulated or directed by them.

Plus, isn’t the All-Father responsible for the 9 realms? Wouldn’t he have the ultimate authority? As his agent, isn’t Thor the proper authority in this matter? So, shouldn’t they all (Shadow Figures included) be listening to Thor and doing what he says? If they’d done that, the movie may have been mostly done when they apprehend Loki in Germany.

Iron Man: He built his suit. The government subsequently tried to take it from him. The government got its hands on his prototype, and then wasn’t going to return it (fortunately, Rhodey decides to do that; we think). What’s more, he’s seen the abuse of his weapons by others. Why would he trust anyone else? But, I grant that he doesn’t listen to authoritative figures. The government knows who he is; he can’t hide. If they have a problem with him, arrest him.

Captain America: He served his country and (he thought) gave his life for others. He’s resuscitated into an era he doesn’t understand, and given direction by what he thinks is a proper authority figure to apprehend Loki. Which he does. Loki escapes; he goes after him, and in the process he sees aliens siding with Loki and attacking New York.

What is he supposed to do; not fight them? Not defend his country? Wait on the sidelines until he can find someone with the proper authority to give him direction? Watch his comrades fight, but say “My orders didn’t explicitly state that I should engage Loki and his minions in a fight over New York city and rebuff a likely alien invasion?”

Again, the government knows who he is. They don’t like his actions, arrest him.

Black Widow and Hawkeye: As far as they know, they are following orders. Plus, Hawkeye is pissed at Loki and the Widow has red in her ledger. And again, you don’t like what happened, arrest them.

Hulk: Arguing about him submitting to authority is silly. He’s the Hulk. Get him angry, he smashes. Plus, wasn’t it the US government (via the military) that made him what he is? He’s supposed to resubmit himself to their blanket authority, without question? He tried to remove himself from society and take his alter-ego’s influence out of the mix. Shield (with knowledge by, and likely direction from, the Shadow Figures) brought him back into the mix.

Mr. Padnick, I do agree with your base question about Who Watches the Watchers/Who Guards the Guardians or however you choose to translate the famous (Latin?) phrase. However, I think your critique (of this fantasy situation that has no basis in reality but is still a pleasant diversion that is fun to discuss, so thanks for that) is idealistic and naïve.

Let me bounce it back to you Mr. Padnick:

Who should Watch these Watchmen? (The Shadow Figures who disregarded Nick Fury and launched a nuke on New York? Someone else?) Why?
J Mccaffery
14. Japheth
"Bruce starts the film knowing that with great power comes great responsibility. What he learns, specifically from Tony Stark, is to embrace his power, and use it to have fun." - This line touches one the best aspect of Banner's character and isn't directly mentioned in the article. I worry that it will be overlooked because it was only a line and was in a similar situation to the last Hulk movie. Banner, when asked if he can get angry and change in time, replies (I'm paraphrasing) "That's my secret: I'm always angry."

I think this explores your notation of the powerful necessarily being responsible, but attacks it from an angle that you don't in the article. This angle is explored throughout the Iron Man movie. The idea that the responsibility of the powerful to society is not simply to step aside and let it function with its own devices, but is instead to use that power to do what only the powerful can. It is the, uncomfortable to most, idea that some are better than others. Once that admission can be made, then the lesser can be comfortable with the greater using their ability to make everyone better. Note that I am not saying that being powerful makes anyone better! In the world of the movie, the powerful are ALSO the better, because of how and why they use their power. Cpt America, when returning to Germany, doesn't admonish the German people for allowing Hitler, he protects them from a new dictator.

In short, Banner is not gleefully killing because its fun. He now sees (from Stark, who found it out in his own movie) that his duty is best served not by keeping the Hulk supressed, but by unleashing him when he is needed.
lake sidey
15. lakesidey
Who watchers the Avengers, you ask?

(goes to check latest box office figures)...

Umm, well, that would be just about, uh, half the Earth's population. Everybody and his other guy seems to have gone to take a dekko.

Charles Moore
16. Shadeofpoe
I was under the impression that Colson was supposed to be the Everyman in this movie. By having his "death" (Which I still don't buy because you never saw a body) you show that this one is a bit out of the our league. But with the sacrifice offered up by us mere mortals, the team was able to galvanize themsleves in order to *ahem* avenge us.

Sometimes there just happens to be a mountain that we can't all climb. So we need a Doctor/Superman/God to come in and give us a boost. The Team never would have worked without Colson's Death. In a way they were all scared of their own power and authority and were UNWILLING to take it up. Even Fury had that constant tortutred "you're making me do this" act going on. Which is why he drew the line at nuking the Island of Manhattan.
J Mccaffery
17. AlBrown
One of the best moments in the above-mentioned Civil War series, where the government was moving to register, licence and control anyone with superhuman powers, was when Captain America faced the choice of supporting or opposing that effort. I expected him to support it, but to my delight, he decided that his loyalty to liberty in general was more important than hewing to a particular law. And that choice, and the struggle that followed, was a very compelling tale.
All of us, every day, without any particular superpowers, face choices that shape our lives, the lives of others, and our characters. These colorful and broadly drawn adventures simply paint those choices more vividly.
J Mccaffery
18. AlBrown
One of the best moments in the above-mentioned Civil War series, where the government was moving to register, licence and control anyone with superhuman powers, was when Captain America faced the choice of supporting or opposing that effort. I expected him to support it, but to my delight, he decided that his loyalty to liberty in general was more important than hewing to a particular law. And that choice, and the struggle that followed, was a very compelling tale.
All of us, every day, without any particular superpowers, face choices that shape our lives, the lives of others, and our characters. These colorful and broadly drawn adventures simply paint those choices more vividly.
Nathan Macey
19. nafhan
So... what about the possibility that Nick Fury was just lying and/or is pragmatic and politically savvy? He didn't stop them because he couldn't, and then decided to lie and make it sound like he was taking the moral high ground rather than merely accepting, essentially, his only real option?

Seriously, these guys just defeated a bunch of aliens and a god... what're you going to do?
J Mccaffery
20. 4ontheFloor
I thought the moral of the movie is that the other watchmen watch the watchmen.

In their individual outings, several of the heroes did, in fact, openly defy legal authorities (Tony tells Congress to kiss off, Bruce is on the run from the military, Thor disobeys his father then battles his brother who - technically - was the legitimate ruler). In this one, they unite under the authority of SHIELD and - as far as they know - they're just following orders to defend the world.

This wasn't a movie about the Avengers throwing off the bounds of an interfering bureaucracy - this was about them all realizing that they NEED to be in a team: not just to save the world but on a personal level, to push themselves into becoming better people.
J Mccaffery
21. Megpie71
I think it's worth considering Fury's comment about the Avengers in context. In the course of the film, we discover that SHIELD has been planning to basically weaponise the ultimate power source macguffin, in order to "defend humanity" (and that, indeed, a lot of their apparent beef with Loki is not that he's out for conquest, but rather that he managed to weaponise the macguffin before they did). We hope. We're shown Fury's immediate bosses - a shadowy committee, whose faces we never see, whose roles outside their oversight of SHIELD are never mentioned, and whose orders Fury is apparently supposed to follow without question or query.

Who is watching those watchers? We don't know whether these people are elected, whether they're just bureaucrats or managers put in to watch the figures and make sure that SHIELD doesn't go over budget, we don't know anything about them. Are they subject to public oversight, or is their very existence classified under about twenty layers of intersecting security protocols? It's made reasonably clear in the film that these are the people who are making the decisions for SHIELD, and that they have the authority to completely over-ride Fury when they choose to (eg sending in the nuke) but we don't know anything of their motivations (and indeed, the Avengers themselves probably don't know of their existence - although I'm sure that agents Barton and Romanov both suspect there's another layer above Fury, and Mr Stark probably wouldn't be surprised by the discovery).

One of the ongoing themes in Marvel's comics over the years has been the efforts by the superpowered to avoid being turned into living weapons, to point out that even if they're different (stronger, faster, more intelligent, more powerful) they're still human beings and they deserve to be treated as human beings. I suspect by having the Avengers scatter at the end of the film, the point was being made: these are PEOPLE, damnit. They're not guns or bombs you can take out of the box, use and then put back. They have lives outside being heroes, they have ties to the outside world, and they have a right to have those lives and ties respected, not discarded. They shouldn't be required to turn themselves into weapons on permanent stand-by "just in case".
J Mccaffery
22. Halcyal
Who watches those who watch?

Anyone who could watch the watchmen would be a yet higher power/authority, and so we would have to ask, who watches them, and so on. The question is recursive and, if you'll permit that I'm not trying to be an ass by saying this, somewhat naive. "Watching" only serves as a potential mechanism to check unpleasantries in those who are subject to being checked, and it inherently requires a power relationship. If there is a watched, then there must be a watcher, who must inherently be a greater power/authority if said "watching" is to have any kind of force or validity. Thus, power, in the end, will always ultimately gain its virtue (or vice) from how the individuals who have it decide to use it. "Watching", indeed, is superfluous to the question, because it will always eventually come down (or go up) to an in-person orientation of good or ill; noble or corrupt.

So, does tyranny need to be stopped? Yes. Do watchmen inherently need to be watched? No, and suggesting that they do bears strong shades of the underlying authoritarian mentality that this article is censuring, as you're basically saying that they need to be monitored and controlled (subjugated, essentially) simply by virtue of their existence. Besides, at some point, they really can't be watched anyway.

Also, as others have noted, powerful individuals acting however they want (provided that they are not greatly impinging upon or dominating how others act) dives into the philosophy of power (its own strange morass), but is not an example of authoritarianism. (Indeed, it’s really more an example of a kind of liberated individualism.)
alastair chadwin
23. a-j
A spoiler alert would have been nice. Ending given away above the line. Not all of us have had a chance to see it yet you know.
J Mccaffery
24. DresdenRose
I think (yes, I'm being shallow) that they need to bring back Coulson. He is the human heart of the movie, and of the Avengers. He is 'us' even more than Clint Barton or Natasha. He is the human balance the Avengers need. I'm just saying ...
J Mccaffery
25. Eugene R.
Norman Spinrad has tried to address the authoritarian impulses in sf/f literature, once in his novel The Iron Dream (a satire of authoritarianism in epic fantasy, which he tried to make obvious by framing it as a fantasy novel by Adolf Hitler, that Austrian emigre who did a lot of sf magazine covers back in the '30s and '40s), another time in his sf review column in Asimov's, under the title "The Emperor of Everything" (a critical take on Orson Scott Card's evolving Ender Wiggin stories, wherein Ender takes on the mantle of unquestioned Leader). I think that Mr. Spinrad's take on a "Why worry? Just do it!" approach to unfettered exercise of power closes parallels yours, Mr. Padnick. You are in good company.
J Mccaffery
26. AlBrown
Spinrad was a polar opposite of editor John Campbell, who filled the pages of Astounding (later Analog) with authoritarian fantasies; stories of the man who knew better than anyone else what needed to be done, the humans who, even if they were not more technologically advanced, were just plain better than any other being in the galaxy. It was only later in life that I realized just how biased those stories were.
J Mccaffery
27. Hedgehog Dan
I shall admit, that I have mixed feelings about the New Yorkers attack on Green Goblin. Sure, on the one hand it was good to see people involved in the conflict, instead just holding out for a hero and shouting "save me"... on the other hand, I felt the execution was blatantly naive.

Don't get me wrong, I like when people stand up to themselves or their friends or even a complete stranger they know that he is a good guy... but I think that the second movie handled it way better. I mean, the ordinary people in the film did not have much chance against Dr. Octopus in the film (nevertheless it was a gesture towards Petey), and he was a jovial gentlemen compared to the raging psycho that is Green Goblin.

It was brave from the New Yorkers to distract the Goblin, however, I found the execution a little bit awkward... I mean, when they throw junk to Green Goblin, he, a real monster, does not even retaliate? I mean he had the arsenal and the attitude to kill at least one of those people, shouting: "Sorry, chap, it was on the cards" or "You knew what would come" or something like that.

Because if we stand up to a raging psycho with a gun, it is on the cards in real life as well. It was brave, but I like better when ordinary people acting brave and sane in a situation - for example, I like, when they save each other, instead of going into a battle where they are hopelessly overpowered. Because there are people who does not respect others' opinion, rights for their choice or even for their life. And in real life, it takes only a depraved person with a gun, and you died in vain, while you could have helped in other ways (save others from the ruins, treat others' wounds, etc.).

Don't get me wrong, I hate the attitude that "everything in this world tries to kill you and you can do nothing just shake in fear inside your house"... but please, just be honest to yourself... how many of us would stand up to a psycho in a power armor with super-strength and deadly arsenal, knowing well the possible outcome?

I don't want to pull an Iron Man and being the cynical in this question, but Kick/Ass, a deconstructive flick of superheroism addressed that honestly, when the titular hero makes out with her new girlfriend, and thinks something like: "people rarely risk their lifes, because they have many things to lose, mainly, their loved ones".

Watchmen did this topic well, when in the end, normal people acted like decent people for all of their flaws, and tried to stop a street-fighting, or shelter other from harm. But it was on their level (at the start, when they could not do anything even for a second).

So all in all, despite I like the concept, I hate the execution, because even I wish my kid would stand up to herself, and help and protect others when she can, I don't want her to die, murdered by a scumbag, while playing hero. There are times, when she will need the help of others, and it is not shame - being ungrateful is. And we can stand up to others with words as well - a thank you is not a bad choice.

However, I have to admit, that Fury's closing speech was a little bit overly heroic for my taste, with the heroes riding into sunset, yet I was able to take it. Sometimes it is okay to feel heroically, if it is handled in an acceptable way (without butchered mythology or robots pissing on Torturro).

Other topic: If we talk about sci-fi writers, then I think super-humans in reality would rather act like Joe, the mutant from the City by Clifford D. Simak. He does not feel himself to be entitled to save humanity (neither to enslave, for that matter), in fact, he does not wish to have any business with our race, except the minimal, when he helps others out of whim.

And when a human tries to enroll him in a task, he does not wish to help, because he really does not need anything for compensation - least our gratitude, which he finds rather unabiding (and he is right). He just wishes to be left alone, and when humanity monitors him, he finds it rather unacceptable and authoritian. And in the end what he does due to this - I won't spoiler it - is an act that I think deserves its own article like this one about rights and wrongs. :)
J Mccaffery
28. Hedgehog Dan
Oh, and just one thing which I forgot, but the article forgot too: what about the old German man, who stands up to Loki?

He is an ordinary person, and he does not let himself become subjugated by the villain. That scene was actually handled better, than the one in Spider-Man. The old man clearly wished to make an example for others not to let themselves fall in the clutch of a tyrant, while Loki reacted in a way believable from a power hungry bastard - he tried to kill - sorry, crush - the old man for rebelling against him.
Harry Burger
29. Lightbringer
Being of German ancestry, I was really proud of Joss for doing that. The old German guy refusing to kneel to Loki was a moment of redemption for the German people, in front of the whole world. I think a lot of people still think of us in terms of the atrocities of WWII, and the truth that many don't realize is that the German people are almost uniformly apalled at what happened and more determined than anyone to prevent it from happening ever again. There are tiny splinter groups who are vocal exceptions, but they get shut down pretty harshly and quickly. Germany's Basic Law (Constitution) allows for freedom of speech, with the exception of Nazi stuff - posession of Mein Kampf is enough to get you arrested.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
30. tnh
Lightbringer, that was one of my favorite moments too. I especially liked that it was an older guy. He knew what he was seeing, and how dangerous it could be to stand up to it.
J Mccaffery
31. laotsekung
It's not their power that makes them heroes, but their incorruptability. Even the most human of them (Black Widow) aspires to this level of moral being (for her acts of heroism are a form of atonement, and indicative of her move to becoming a moral being rather than an amral one). That they are simultaneously powerful simply makes it easier for them to function as sources of self-authorising moral certainty.
Loki is the villain because he is self-centered, his motivation is his own wellbeingat the expense of others. In this sense he's not bad, so much as selfish. Stark maybe narcassitic, but, as he proves in Avengers, he is not, ultimately, selfish (his act of self-sacrifice at the end), and he therefore manages to not slip into the 'bad guy' slot.
J Mccaffery
32. AnsonO
I started to write a long, considered reply to this poor excuse for an essay. Then I realized I'd probably spend more time at it than the original writer did watching the movie itself. After all, he managed to miss Tony Stark's character arc. Not like his transition to the guy willing to sacrifice himself was the backbone of the movie or anything. And he managed to miss that (normal human) Erik Selvik managed to save the day with help from (semi-normal human) Natasha Romanov. Having an axe to grind causes one to miss little details like that, I suppose.
J Mccaffery
33. rezeveiz
Just think about the average, what use have they for you?

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment