Captain America: Civil War practically demands its fans to take sides—even before they even walk into the theater.
When I went to my advance screening for Civil War, the PR reps asked me whose side I was on. I said Captain America, of course, and they handed me a blue wristband and waved me through.
I’ve always been a Cap guy. His motives are purer than Iron Man’s His movies are better. Heck, he’s better. Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans) is an old-fashioned hero, a product of Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation” and cut from the same cloth as a Gary Cooper cowboy or Jimmy Stewart everyman. He’s honest, modest, courageous, courteous. He not only is a hero. He defines the very word.
Iron Man? Genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist bona fides aside, he’s just a guy in a suit. And not a very good guy at that.
If you watch Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark in some of the movies he’s in, the villain’s practically an afterthought. Tony’s real enemy, often, is himself. My main recollection from Iron Man 2 isn’t Ivan Vanko flicking his electric whips (as cool as they were), but Tony drunk as a skunk at his own birthday party. And even when he means well—as we saw in Avengers: Age of Ultron—his good intentions can unleash a whole lot of bad. He’s an arrogant, selfish, loutish drunkard. Sure, he has his moments. But is he a role model? A hero like Steve Rogers? Hardly.
Tony Stark can’t be a hero. He looks too much like me.
I don’t have all of Tony’s faults. But I have enough of them, and probably a few extra. I like to pretend I’m a pretty good guy. But deep down, in my 2 a.m. moments, I know I’m not. Sometimes I need help to be good. Like Tony.
In Civil War, Captain America and Iron Man clash over something called the Sokovia Accords—a document designed to rein in the freelance superheroes suddenly populating the planet. Superheroes will be governed by a United Nations panel. Only with that panel’s permission can superheroes do any real superheroing.
Captain America doesn’t want to sign the Accords. Better to have that authority in the hands of the heroes themselves than in some government entity. “My faith’s in people, I guess,” he later says. “Individuals. And I’m happy to say that, for the most part, they haven’t let me down.”
But Iron Man knows his own tendencies to let people down. He understands that, sometimes, he can’t be trusted to do the right thing at the right time.
Steve Rogers is a good person. Tony Stark can’t say the same. Maybe because of that, the two of them—as much as they may appreciate and trust each other—will never fully understand each other. And that’s a source of friction.
“Sometimes I want to punch you in your perfect teeth,” Tony tells Steve.
I obviously hang out in some Christian circles. It’s been that way for most of my life. And sometimes, the Christians around me can feel a lot like a bunch of Captain Americas. They say the right things. They do the right things. They love God and sometimes, I think, they feel His closeness in a way that I don’t very often. They feel better than me. And you know what? I think some of them—many of them, maybe—are.
Sure, there’s some hypocrisy probably in play, some skeletons slumped in many a Christian closet. But I don’t think that’s true for every Christian I know. I believe that some Christians have an easier time walking the walk than I do. They take in strangers and feed them. They wake up and feel the Lord’s joy the minute their feet touch the floor. They don’t laugh at crude jokes. They reject temptation without much thought, it seems.
I love my God, but I’ve not yet found that peace in Him yet. I wish I could be more like my good,Christian friends. I try. But sometimes, it feels like they’ve unlocked a door that I don’t have a key for. And sometimes, their very goodness makes me want to punch them in their perfect teeth. (Admittedly, this could be part of my problem.)
But Iron Man gives me hope. As imperfect as Tony is, he’s still part of the team. Even in this moment of division, there’s no doubt that he’s still trying to do the right thing.
Sure, Tony’s just a guy in a suit—a suit powered by a tiny, glowing source of power implanted near his heart. But when you think about it, we Christians believe that we’re powered the same way: We let something inside our heart that changed our lives forever. Our strength isn’t in us. It’s in Him.
In Ephesians, Paul talks about putting on the armor of God: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Tony isn’t inherently good. Maybe lots of us can commiserate. But when he puts on his armor, he serves something greater, something better than himself. And I’d like to think that, in my own smaller way, I have the opportunity to do that, too.