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'Captain America: Civil War' Captures Politics Of The Moment


"Captain America: Civil War" opens today. Captain America is a member of Marvel's Avengers, and this movie starts with a botched overseas mission. A media frenzy follows as does the wrath of the secretary of state.


WILLIAM HURT: (As Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross) You've operated with unlimited power and no supervision. That's something the world can no longer tolerate.

SIEGEL: The incident leads to a United Nations oversight panel that wants to control the Avengers. And if this sounds like a story you might hear on this very network, minus the superheroes, NPR's Mallory Yu says that is the whole point.

MALLORY YU, BYLINE: Brothers Joe and Anthony Russo directed "Captain America: Civil War." This is the third "Captain America" movie and the second that the brothers Russo have directed. Joe Russo says he and his older brother wanted to infuse both those movies with a real-world immediacy that audiences would recognize.

JOE RUSSO: They feel like these characters are living in their world because they're dealing with issues that they're dealing with on an everyday basis and headlines. And it's invaluable to us to bring our own confusion and obsession with very topical issues and put it in the storytelling.

YU: So when the secretary of state calls the Avengers, quote, "U.S.-based enhanced individuals who routinely ignore sovereign borders," the Russo brothers say they had something much more real than superheroes on their minds. Here's Anthony Russo.

ANTHONY RUSSO: We were very much thinking about the connection between superheroes and superpowers, meaning superpowers in the real world, the conventional idea. We live in a country where we do go over borders all the time and we do what we feel is necessary.

And even though we have the best intentions behind what we're doing, there's still a cost to it.

YU: His brother Joe says the theme of this story is accountability.

J. RUSSO: What accountability do power structures have, who should hold power and what right do you have to use that power?

YU: Maybe grappling with complex political issues in a superhero movie seems like a bit of a stretch. It is, after all, a movie about a super soldier called Captain America. Here's older brother Anthony Russo.

A. RUSSO: While it is a fantasy story, I mean, this character was created by two Jewish guys who were trying to encourage the United States to get involved in World War II. And, you know, it doesn't get any more real than that.

YU: Those two Jewish guys were Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. On Simon's and Kirby's comic pages, Captain America fought Nazis, even punched Hitler. Jason Dittmer wrote the book "Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero."

JASON DITTMER: He starts off as this patriotic propaganda figure. You know, literally in the ads of his World War II comics, he would be pitching for war bonds and stuff like that - right? - literally exhorting the readers to sort of more patriotic action.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Defense bonds. Each one you buy is a bullet in the barrel of your best guy's gun.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) (Singing) Who will campaign door-to-door for America?

YU: That's from the first "Captain America" movie. In it, Cap deliberately crashed a plane into the ocean while foiling an enemy plot.


DICK PURCELL: (As Captain America) I got to put her in the water.

YU: He was suspended in frozen animation for decades.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) You've been asleep, Cap, for almost 70 years.

YU: One minute, he was fighting in World War II, the next, he woke up to find a world completely unrecognizable to him, a man out of time. Again, Jason Dittmer, who wrote a book about Captain America.

DITTMER: He's a character who has real black-and-white morality. And that has made him, if you will, as the sort of marvel universe has developed around him, he remains the sort of moral center of that universe.

YU: This is especially evident in the last "Captain America" movie, "The Winter Soldier." A government spy agency has developed a new way to analyze potential threats using satellites and covert surveillance.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) These new long-range precision guns can eliminate a thousand hostiles a minute. The satellites can read a terrorist's DNA before he steps outside his spider hole. We're going to neutralize a lot of threats before they even happen.

CHRIS EVANS: (As Captain America) I thought the punishment usually came after the crime.

YU: Cap does not like what he sees.


EVANS: (As Captain America) This isn't freedom. This is fear.

YU: Christopher Markus co-wrote all three "Captain America" movies. He says, though Cap remains a man out of time, the character himself changes.

CHRISTOPHER MARKUS: I mean, he really has evolved as America's perception of itself has evolved

YU: And Markus's co-writer Stephen McFeely says they wanted to explore how Captain American, with his black-and-white sense of morality, would be challenged in a modern world that operates mostly in gray areas.

STEPHEN MCFEELY: He missed so many of the compromises we had made over the course of those 70 years in terms of, you know, trading your freedom for security and things like that.

YU: These are lofty subjects to tackle for a character who wears red, white and blue combat fatigues. Whether or not he succeeds, well, one thing's for sure, he'll have at least two more movies to figure it out. Mallory Yu, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.