Spoiler Alert – Captain American: Winter Solider
Over the weekend I saw Captain American: Winter Solider and it seemed to highlight for me a current trend in big action movies: the idea of an external existential threat to the United States has become literally unthinkable.
A nuclear arsenal combined with a military budget roughly equal to the rest of the planet means that even in Hollywood fantasies, the idea of another nation seriously threatening America is beyond people’s ability to suspend disbelief. Even less believable than a scientist who becomes an unstoppable green giant of destruction when he gets angry.
The only serious conceivable danger to American freedoms is the military-intelligence-industrial complex supposedly built to protect them.
That has consistently been the source of villains in modern action movies. In both the first and second Ironman movies the villains are American defense contractors. In Winter Solider the threat comes from a corrupt group that has taken control of S.H.I.E.L.D., an incredibly powerful quasi-military quasi-intelligence agency. Once again, the only thing on earth that can threaten the United States is a segment of the United States military.
Similarly, the President is almost assassinated in White House Down only because several top American officials try to stage a coup d’etat. Even in the latest Bond movie, Skyfall, the villain is a MI6 agent that gone rogue.
An external threat to the United States is literally so inconceivable that villains now need to be out of this world. The only thing in Hollywood that can come close to beating the United States military is aliens. They are the source of the conflict in The Avengers, Independence Day, and the Transformer series.
While they are only movies, they are also a reflection of our society. How can we justify spending so much on a military-intelligence system that only makes sense fighting alien invaders, especially when it feeds the more legitimate concern of corruption?
To steal a metaphor from another genre: We have come to a point where popular culture realizes the only conceivable threat to the American way of life is a call coming from inside the house.