I had zero interest in seeing the latest Marvel Avengers movie, Captian America: Civil War last weekend, but the kid has been looking forward to it for weeks. So we went.

It seems the superhero movies this spring are about “the good guys” fighting each other. First, Batman vs. Superman. Now this.

I suppose it was just a matter of time until characters whose only way of settling differences is by beating the shit out of people and blowing things up would eventually start beating on each other.

Even so, it was a depressing 2½ hours to watch so many icons-of-might-makes-right behaving badly on the big screen. On the walk home, the kid asked us, “So, who was your favorite character and what was your favorite part.” And I had to tell him I thought there were no winners in that movie.

Movies represent the times. The first Star Wars, with its evil empire, reflected the cold war of the 1970s. The later movies in the franchise (episodes 1-3) reflected the post cold-war struggle to hold together a fragile republic against the terrorist threats of the Sith. Now, in the latest episode, the rise of a terrorist state out of the ashes of the old evil. (Hummmm. I wonder what that’s about.)

It’s hard not to draw connections between the silver screen this spring and the mood of the American landscape.

  • A battle between the protector of Gotham City and its “New York Values” and the champion of “truth, justice and the American way”.
  • A Captain representing the virtue of the American Spirit from its heyday of World War II predominance pitted against a powerful corporate wonk in the employ of a bureaucratic indecisive government.

Can these plots be coincidental? I don’t think so.

Are our superheroes telling us that we’ve lost our way? Or are they warning us about the tragic possibilities inherent in a legacy of using force to resolve differences instead of taking the more difficult but promising path of seeking a more complete understanding of one another?

More worrying, though, is that if our superheroes, our role models, are behaving badly, so might the rest of us.

The trouble with the gods and other immortals (“enhanced humans” as Marvel’s bureaucrats call them) is when they behave badly you cannot kill them. But you can consign them to impotence by ceasing to believe in them.

After the latest 2½ depressing hours of nonstop gratuitous violence, I’ve become an unbeliever hoping a new generation of superheroes — a generation worth believing in — might be just around the corner.