I’m always on the lookout in films for something bigger and deeper than the film itself on the surface. So watching the latest Avengers adventure (“Captain America: Civil War“) was no different. Here’s what I noticed:
—–1) When Tony Stark visits Peter Parker, he interrogates the young Spider-Man, asking the kid why he’s been going around town in his costume doing what he’s been doing. Peter’s answer (paraphrasing): “Because if I can do what I can, but don’t do anything, and something bad happens, then it’s because of me.” In other words, Peter is concerned about sins of omission. We Catholic Christians are supposed to confess this at every Mass when we say our Confiteor (“I confess”):
I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault,
through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.
That’s right, it’s not just the wrongs we actively do that make us guilty, but also the good we could have fully done but actively chose instead not to do, aka: “sins of omission,” since we omitted a good we could have done. Of course, for Peter, he’s probably referring to his Uncle Ben’s death, since he could have easily stopped the armed robber earlier, but chose not to out of vengeance, which then allowed to the robber to rampage and murder his uncle, his uncle who did try to stop the robber (and avoid a sin of omission). So, start thinking, how can you too avoid the sin of omission?
This basic lesson applies to Iron Man also, in the first film when he, through negligence, allowed his weapons to fall into terrorist hands. That negligence then harmed many people, which then led to Tony creating the Iron Man suit so he could rectify his sin of omission. Which leads me to the next point from “Civil War…”
—–2) Later in the film, Steve Rogers (Captain America) tries to convince his once-brainwashed buddy, Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) that he is innocent of all the murders and violence he perpetrated since he was not free to choose. He was forced under psychological conditioning, which means he was not culpable (guilty) at all. Yet, Bucky says: “But I still did it.” He knows he is still responsible in some way, and he must make amends somehow.
This hope to set things right, to fulfill justice is part of the Catholic Christian’s understanding of atonement, penance: we may not be able to right our every wrong (and we especially cannot when we insult God, since an offense against an infinite being is automatically an infinite offense), but we still want to try and offer something. This is because being forgiven prompts us to respond in gratitude for having been forgiven (see my essay on Luke 7:36-50) in the first place. We want to return the item we stole, pay for the medical care for the wound we inflicted, repair the car we smashed, apologize for the trust we betrayed, learn from our mistakes and improve ourselves for the people we love.
In Bucky’s case, he decides to have himself locked away until he can be free of his brainwashing, in order to keep people around him safe from himself. Justice is served here, though in a little way.
—–3) Finally, the end of the film sees the main villain admitting his life was lost to his seeking vengeance. His confession moves the Black Panther to realize that he also was losing his life to seeking vengeance.
That’s the ironic thing about revenge: it always harms the avenger more than it satisfies justice, always harms the avenger more than the first offender. The principle is simple: the only thing worse than being a victim is to be the victimizer. And once someone chooses to avenge, and thereby be the victimizer, then they themselves have lost–have forfeited their dignity, honor, and soul.
In the film, Black Panther drops his revenge spree and not only spares his father’s killer, but even saves the villain from suicide so that he can serve justice by the rule of law (and hopefully be rehabilitated and redeemed).
—–) So that’s the good I got out of “Civil War.” It was not a poor film at all, better than the other Avenger films of late, actually! And these moral tidbits surely saved it from being a waste.