A Nation Divided. Postcolonialism in “Captain America: Civil War”


Films and other artifacts of cultures reflect the peculiarities of the human society and its primary concerns. Humanity has to address various issues, including but not confined to environmental challenges and global terrorism. Captain America: Civil War also provides a certain remedy to solve the current problems, and filmmakers utilize the postcolonial perspective that has gained momentum in recent decades.

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Superheroes have been placed within the boundaries of a bureaucratic machine regulating their decisions and actions, which becomes the primary conflict in the film (Woltornist). People with supernatural powers become divided by their attitudes towards their roles and responsibilities. It is possible to note that Captain America: Civil War is an illustration of the postcolonial theory expressing two different viewpoints the Avengers have regarding government interference in their daily activities.

Postcolonial Perspective

Defining the Term

Prior to the analysis of the film and its central conflict, it is essential to define postcolonialism and its manifestation in the current popular culture. Reid notes that there is still no single definition of postcolonialism or specific time frames for its emergence (256). It is emphasized that researchers concentrate on diverse aspects of the issue, which makes the identification of any frames or the development of a definition rather problematic.

Nevertheless, the most common and generally accepted method to address postcolonialism is through the lens of geographic borders and power or rather a conflict. It is acknowledged that the postcolonial paradigm is associated with the experiences of people who live in former empires and their colonies.

At present, people try to reflect on the existing world order utilizing the critical tools of the postcolonial theoretical framework. It has been acknowledged that “postcolonial reading strategies” provide effective instruments to understand “the complex relationships between power, culture, body, and identity” in the modern popular culture (Reid 259). Modern films, literary works, and other pieces of art have become the platform for the exploration of the outcomes of the domination of a number of western countries over a larger part of the world.

The imposed regulations of industrial societies transformed other nations affecting people’s identities and their countries’ developmental path. The influence of the western world can be traced in various aspects of other peoples’ cultures, and these traces are becoming a target for elimination or, at least, neutralization. Irrespective of considerable effort invested in this endeavor, the aftermaths of the colonial epoch will have a lasting effect.

Modern Remnants of Postcolonialism

Some optimistic views related to the matter suggest that there is no subordination, but colonialism is still apparent in different forms. Generally speaking, the western world is still dominating in various parts of the world. The occupation of Afghanistan by British-led forces or the American invasion of Iraq are only some of the examples of the contemporary colonialism (Davies 11). Moreover, various international institutions quite often serve as instruments of imperialistic control because western countries tend to control some decisions made by other states’ governments. Therefore, it is possible to note that the modern post-colonial society is still characterized by various traces and traits of colonial perspectives and practices.

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Captain America as a Symbol of Imperialism

Interestingly, Captain America opposes the rule of a supreme international institution, although he can be seen as an embodiment of American imperialism. In the 2011 movie Captain America: The First Avenger, an average citizen is transformed into a man with supernatural features. Steve Rogers truly wants to make the world better and stand up to the evil (Captain America: The First Avenger). After his participation in an experiment, the young man becomes a superhero who is involved in addressing international affairs, trying to solve global issues.

Likewise, the USA became a leading nation after the World Wars and started performing a policing function in the international arena. As a result, the country comparatively soon developed the “Captain American complex” since it utilized “nondemocratic means to achieve democratic ends” (qtd. in Yaquinto 251). Americans regularly employed soft and hard power to force or motivate other countries to adopt certain values or strategies.

Although the highest democratic values have been declared, various actions of the United States in the international arena can be regarded as an illustration of the American imperialism. The situation has not changed since the middle of the twentieth century, and the U.S. policies serve as an example of colonialism in the present day. The country’s involvement in military conflicts and the way it develops relations with other countries show its firm belief in its major regulatory mission.

Turning back to Captain America, the superhero who eventually becomes a part of the Avengers, he is committed to the highest ethical standards and is determined to save the world. It is noteworthy that he is completely supportive of the government and its agenda (Staley). He also uses non-democratic means to meet democratic objectives as the soldier makes decisions that do not always rely on discussions that are the basis of the very concept of democracy. However, this attitude changes after several years and diverse operations when Captain America witnesses the corruption and sometimes unprofessionalism of the government as well as other institutions trying to control superheroes’ actions or even abilities.

Anti-Governmental Views and Reasons Behind Them in Terms of the Postcolonial Paradigm

As mentioned above, Captain America has high ethical standards, so he places a substantial value on people’s lives and the wellbeing of the entire population of the planet. After the accident in Lagos, the UN and other officials try to regulate the activities of superheroes (Captain America: Civil War). Rogers becomes critical of the role the government or any institution can play in their activities. The superhero loses his confidence in such entities because of their insufficient flexibility, vulnerability to corruption or violations, and the overall idea of some dominant power having control over individuals’ activities.

At this point, it is possible to consider the way the postcolonial perspective is manifested in Captain America’s concerns. One of the basic grounds for the postcolonial agenda is associated with the power-related conflict (Praveen 47). Since the Middle Ages, the West and the East collided, and the former eventually gained more power and resources. Technologically-advanced western countries such as Great Britain, Spain, and France satisfied their imperialistic desires and shaped the world’s cultural, economic, and political landscape. As stated above, this dominance is still present in various spheres of the modern life.

Captain America detects this intrusion in various institutions’ attempts to decide what actions should be implemented in different situations (Captain America: Civil War). Rogers is also negative about these dominant entities’ commonly accepted right to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of superheroes’ operations (Staley). The individual with supernatural abilities becomes prepared and determined to take responsibility for his and his team’s actions and the associated outcomes, even if they lead to casualties or considerable destruction.

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Pro-Governmental Position and Its Background as Related to the Postcolonial Perspective

Tony Stark can be seen as a positive protagonist, meaning that he is a representative of the forces of the good, but he is in opposition towards Steve Rogers. Interestingly, the image of Tony Stark also undergoes significant changes throughout the Avengers films (Staley). He is rather an antigovernmental individual running a company producing weapons; hence, he is confident in his own judgments in the first films about Iron Man and the Avengers.

However, he transforms into a person who is overwhelmed by making decisions that often lead to the loss of people’s lives. He says their team needs “public check” as he admits that they may make mistakes because of the lack of information and their inability to see the whole picture (Captain America: Civil War). Iron Man readily accepts the control of a dominant power, the United Nations, because he believes in the supremacy of centralized coordination.

Initially, the transformations Iron Man undergoes seem rather surprising since an antigovernmental and self-confident billionaire turns into a pro-governmental conservative superhero; however, the change can be explained within the scope of the postcolonial paradigm. Tony Stark is a representative of a dominant nation that has performed a policing role for decades (Yaquinto 251). He is proud to be an American and shares American values. Therefore, it is but natural that the superhero develops a positive viewpoint concerning the rule of a strong entity that guides others. Tony Starks accepts that the United Nations have resources that enable it to guide superheroes and justify this organization’s regulatory function.

The Film and the Society

Likewise, western nations often try to justify their actions in the world by their focus on the good for all as well as the resources they have to attain this objective. In the present-day world, the USA, the UK, France, and Germany, as well as other countries, often try to influence the way other countries develop. Such international entities as the World Bank and the United Nations provide certain commodities and diverse types of aid but expect specific decisions to be made. This common situation is a representation of the colonialism of the postcolonial times.

This trend is also depicted in the film under consideration, and the filmmakers reflect on the outcomes of the existing paradigm with the help of two main characters who are both loved by the public. Captain America and Iron Man develop opposing views on the matter and serve as the representatives of the groups existing in the contemporary society. The modern world (as well as the American society) is divided in terms of different camps’ positions regarding the aftermaths of the colonial era (Praveen 49). Importantly, the film under analysis does not display the two heroes’ positions at the end, and it is not rather evident whether Tony Stark or Captain America is still committed to their government-related mindsets.

Two Teams and Postcolonial Concepts

Reasons Behind Team Members’ Choices

The primary conflict is between Captain America and Iron Man, but other superheroes also contribute to the description of the way postcolonial ideas interplay in the contemporary society. It is noteworthy that the positions of these characters are not always well-pronounced, although some of these attitudes are worth closer attention. Each member of the team has their own background and viewpoints concerning the conflict and potential solutions.

Similar to Iron Man and American Man, the characters’ nationality or relation to certain areas has little to do with their attitude towards the dominance of external entities over their actions. For instance, T’Challa is a prince of the country that is regarded as the one pertaining to the developing world, so this superhero could have developed a negative view of some organizations’ dominance. Nevertheless, Black Panther joins Iron Man in his attempt to stop former members of the Avengers who oppose the involvement of the United Nations in the activities of superheroes.

It is possible to note that these people’s beliefs are diverse and are often related to their specific needs. Vision and Falcon are the characters having quite a direct pro- or anti-governmental perspective respectively. The two superheroes reflect the discourse concerning the distribution of power and the justification of some entities’ dominance. They have specific beliefs and moral standards that lead them to their clear-cut personal doctrines regarding power distribution in certain areas.

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Other mindsets remain rather obscure and can hardly be deciphered. For example, Romanoff helps Steve Rogers, although she is in Tony Stark’s team, which suggests that she has rather mixed feelings as to the entire situation (Captain America: Civil War). Spiderman, Rhodes, and Antman are mainly involved in the conflict by following their leaders (Iron Man or Captain America). T’Challa is mainly led by his desire to avenge his father’s murder, so this superhero’s personal needs coincide with the position of the dominating entity (the United Nations).

The Teams as the Reflection of the Contemporary Society

Likewise, the society is divided into two major camps who accept or oppose the control of a major power. At the same time, these camps are not homogenous as there can hardly be a black-and-white perspective. Some people have their convictions and try to follow their moral standards. Others become distrustful of governments’ and start opposing any dominating groups. In many cases, people do not have a clear and well-established position on the matter, so they may change their mind or simply remain distant from any discourse. Furthermore, personal interests and desires also have an impact on individuals’ attitudes and actions.

Interestingly, the origins of people are not central to their standpoints related to the conflict of power. As mentioned above, postcolonialism has been regarded as the paradigm associated with geographic borders (Reid 256). However, contemporary beliefs and opinions show a certain shift that can be explained by globalization. Geographic boundaries are becoming blurred in the modern world due to the development of technology, so the representatives of the third-world countries may share the views of conservatives when it comes to power distribution.

Filmmakers’ Vision

Dominance of Bureaucrats

Although the filmmakers leave many questions unanswered in this work, their assumptions linked to some matters are rather apparent. One of the primary ideas of the film under consideration is the possible impact of bureaucratic control over some incentives (Woltornist). As mentioned above, dominance has many faces and can penetrate in various spheres of people’s lives. One of the areas prone to the conflict over power is the tension between dominating bureaucratic forces and creative initiatives that are often characterized by fewer resources and less influence.

The intrusion of bureaucrats leads to discord in the group of those who act (Captain America: Civil War). According to the filmmakers, the centralized power has adverse effects on the situations where prompt decision-making and the ability to take responsibility are essential. Therefore, the major idea of the film in question is well-defined: the dominating group should not control a group of active people who have the necessary skills and resources to address emerging issues.

Policing Role

Another prominent idea that is discussed in Captain America: Civil War is related to the justification of the policing role. The film alludes to the role of the USA in the world as the superheroes are almost all Americans and people who spent their entire lives in this country. In simple terms, the team of superheroes is US-based, and it addresses global issues as they try to prevent the end of the world (Captain America: Civil War). Likewise, the USA is involved in various discussions and projects aimed at solving environmental and economic issues, as well as specific conflicts in some parts of the planet.

The filmmakers show the price for performing the policing role, shedding light on some heroes’ past and future. Iron Man finds the burden rather unbearable as he feels his responsibilities for casualties that can hardly be avoided. The recurrent theme in the film is the fact that people can be saved, but not all (Captain America: Civil War). The U.S. government also has to explain the outcomes of their international policies to its citizens. Americans feel the responsibility for the casualties that are a result of such activities as the invasion of Iraq, so they protest and try to make their government shape their actions in the global arena.

The film under analysis invites viewers to consider whether any policing roles can be completely transparent and characterized by high moral standards. Captain America saves his old friend, James Barnes, who commits numerous violent crimes (Captain America: Civil War). The quilt of the soldier is not convincing because he is brainwashed, which makes him innocent, at least, in some people’s opinion. Tony Stark’s and T’Challa’s motivations are not purely based on their commitment to ensuring peace in the world. These characters want to take revenge, which often becomes an obstacle to some goals and operations.

It is obvious that the world is comprised of numerous ideas, concepts, attitudes, and actions, and it is difficult to find the most appropriate solution to the mosaic of existing issues. Even almighty superheroes are not capable of saving everyone and ensuring complete security to the humanity. Therefore, this world is unlikely to become flawless any time soon. At least, this position of filmmakers becomes apparent after watching Captain America: Civil War.


On balance, it is necessary to emphasize that the film under consideration can be seen as another piece of popular culture reflecting postcolonial perspectives. Although the contemporary human society seems to be distant from the colonial era, its traces and major characteristics are still apparent in various spheres of human life. Captain America: Civil War is an illustration of the ongoing discourse where some take the side of Tony Stark, who supports the presence of a major referee when addressing global issues. Millions of people find the view of Captain America more viable and appropriate for the modern world.

The filmmakers do not give the answer to the question concerning the best option for humanity. However, they display the benefits and the darker side of each paradigms. At any rate, the film is a product of the postcolonial society that is yet to identify the most winning path that will lead to further development and wellbeing of all people.

Works Cited

Captain America: Civil War. Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, performances by Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, and Sebastian Stan, Marvel Studios, 2016.

Captain America: The First Avenger. Directed by Joe Johnston, performances by Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, and Hayley Atwell, Marvel Studios, 2011.

Davies, Dominic. “Postcolonial Comics: Representing the Subaltern.” Critical Insights: Postcolonial Literature, edited by Jeremiah J. Garsha, Salem Press, 2017, pp. 3-23.

Praveen, Ambesange. “Postcolonialism: Edward Said & Gayatri Spivak.” Research Journal of Recent Sciences, vol. 5, no. 8, 2016, pp. 47-50.

Reid, Michelle. “Postcolonialism.” Critical Insights: Postcolonial Literature, edited by Mark Bould et al., Routledge, 2009, pp. 256-266.

Staley, Samuel R. “Captain America’s Civil War and Political Principle.Independent Institute, 2016. Web.

Woltornist, Daniel. “The Conservative Lessons of ‘Captain America’.The Daily Signal, 2016. Web.

Yaquinto, Marilyn. Policing the World on Screen: American Mythologies and Hollywood’s Rogue Crimefighters. Springer Nature, 2019.

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"A Nation Divided. Postcolonialism in "Captain America: Civil War"." StudyCorgi, 29 June 2021, studycorgi.com/a-nation-divided-postcolonialism-in-captain-america-civil-war/.

1. StudyCorgi. "A Nation Divided. Postcolonialism in "Captain America: Civil War"." June 29, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/a-nation-divided-postcolonialism-in-captain-america-civil-war/.


StudyCorgi. "A Nation Divided. Postcolonialism in "Captain America: Civil War"." June 29, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/a-nation-divided-postcolonialism-in-captain-america-civil-war/.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "A Nation Divided. Postcolonialism in "Captain America: Civil War"." June 29, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/a-nation-divided-postcolonialism-in-captain-america-civil-war/.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'A Nation Divided. Postcolonialism in "Captain America: Civil War"'. 29 June.

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