Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Fighting Evil with Evil

The desire to fight evil is as much of moral impulse as it is a legal one, and, indeed, the illegality of evil typically stems from the morality aspect. The desire to fight evil and wrong is also an imperative of many movies and television programs, to say nothing of comic books. One of the most recent installments in the Captain America film series – The Winter Soldier – provides a vivid example of this and takes the issue further to ask the question of the boundaries of fighting evil by using evil itself.

At the beginning of the movie, it appears that there is a standard flow of synergy from previous stories in which the group known as S.H.I.E.L.D., comprised of characters such as Captain America, Fury, and the Black Widow, had vanquished the forces of evil known as Hydra, an organization that had been created out of the remnants of World War II villainy. Hydra was known for operating without remorse or moral code and fomenting some of the worst crises faced by the world community, including civil wars, brutal dictatorships and genocide. Indeed, the movie opens with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents committing a daring hostage rescue mission on a tanker in order to free innocent civilians working on the ship. Nothing, it seems, could be a better way to fight evil.

And yet, there are murky aspects of the mission and in the organization’s governing structure. Once the mission is completed and Captain America and others return home, it becomes apparent that something is very wrong. Organization members such as Fury – the leader of significant organization operations – is targeted for death and indeed appears to die after a blatant and public attack. Following this, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s leadership appears to turn on Captain America and his compatriots, attempting to kill them and deploying a notorious assassin to achieve this outcome.

Captain America, the Black Widow, and Fury are reunited – Fury staged his death in order to escape those seeking to kill him. Fury reveals his fear that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been corrupted, although he is unaware of the true depths of this corruption. He has ideas as to some of those involved in the corruption and the ways in which they have operated – and even suspects the continued existence and involvement of Hydra – but can go no further without the assistance of his closest and most trusted agents. With this in mind, Captain America and the Black Widow set off on an interstate chase for information – and ultimately the truth – while seeking to avoid those who are seeking to stop them.

Eventually, clues point to an old military facility where Captain America and the Black Widow make the shocking revelation that the machine involved in undermining S.H.I.E.L.D. and perpetuating Hydra’s activities was powered by the mental functions of Baron von Strucker, a villainous and evil member of the Nazi regime who had been captured during World War II. It appears that von Strucker was used to create machinery and systems that could effect Hydra’s activities. The argument proffered by von Strucker is seductively simple – Hydra and his machine were necessary to create evil in the world so that the world could be saved from itself because control of these activities made the world safer than allowing them to happen organically. In a nutshell, his argument is that there is virtue to using – and indeed fomenting – evil in order to fight evil, which includes controlling it.

In the end, there is a movie appropriate finale to the film. Hydra’s attempts to perpetuate chaos are thwarted by Captain America, the Black Widow, Fury and others picked up along the way. There are moments of drama and intense fighting, however in the end the fight against evil is successful and Hydra’s forces are vanquished. At least they are vanquished momentarily – all involved agree that there will be elements of Hydra in hiding.

Many aspects of The Winter Soldier are somewhat formulaic in terms of storytelling. What is important to note is the way in which the question of using evil to fight evil is addressed. Rather than creating a clear dichotomy between good and evil, the film casts the relationship in a more complex tone and explores the ways in which those who use evil to fight evil offer justifications for themselves. This necessarily touches in the level of control that is surrendered in order to prevent evil – or at least protect against it – and thus questions the balance of value between fighting evil and corralling it.   

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