Marvel's latest blockbuster, [Captain America: Civil War](tag:994409), is already proving itself to be a tremendous success. The critics love it, the fans love it, and the box office takings look very healthy indeed. Perhaps the most interesting part of the film's success is that it continues the surprisingly deep, and very politically aware, narrative that the Russo brothers began in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. That said, there's one particular political aspect that fans haven't really noticed.
First, To The Comics!
Partly inspired by Marvel's successful "Civil War" event (particularly the core miniseries), Captain America: Civil War divides the superhero community around the principle of government control. Should the world's superheroes be accountable to the world's government, or should they be independent from political interference?
The plot has a lot of similarities to the core miniseries; the airport battle replaces the conflict at the Geffen-Meyer Plant (an industrial complex, and a subsidiary of Stark Industries, that was used as bait to draw Cap's forces out). Vision's late arrival mirrors that of the Thor clone, Ragnarok, although Vision's kill-shot doesn't end in a fatality. But most interesting of all is the Raft, a prison repurposed as the film's equivalent of "Project 42."
In the comics, "Project 42" was a superhuman prison designed by Mr. Fantastic, Ant-Man, and Iron Man; it was so named because it was their 42nd idea as part of the pro-registration team. Project 42 was based in the Negative Zone, a chaotic alternate reality that Mr. Fantastic discovered back in the classic Fantastic Four comics. Captured superheroes were taken there and imprisoned without trial. Because they weren't on the soil of any nation on Earth, they had no legal rights to representation. It was a horrific idea, and discovering this dark secret led to Spider-Man changing sides.
The "Civil War" event was a product of its times. Although writers of each tie-in were allowed to choose their own side, Project 42 was intended as a liberal criticism of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Here, those believed to be terrorists are held without trial and interrogated for information on potential terrorist attacks. Regardless of your political views here (Marvel tended towards the liberal criticism of Guantanamo), the idea of paralleling anti-registration superheroes with imprisoned terrorists is a pretty startling analogy.
But What About In The Film?
In the film, the Raft is the equivalent of Project 42. The Raft was originally created by Brian Bendis in New Avengers #1, and in the comics is a maximum security wing of Ryker's Island. Captain America: Civil War takes the basic concept of the Raft, and dramatically adjusts it. Now, the Raft is a maximum security prison created solely for the purpose of containing superhumans. It's a submarine complex that emerges from the water if you have permission to land, and it appears to be situated in international waters.
The details here matter. Because the Raft is situated in international waters, no government has legal jurisdiction - and, given that there is no flag state running the Raft, laws do not apply. This is why the Avengers can be imprisoned without trial - and, in Scarlet Witch's case, can be kept in a straitjacket!
One of the most disturbing elements of the film is that all of Team Cap are sent to the Raft. I could understand Scarlet Witch being sent to a prison for superhumans, but Falcon and Ant-Man derive their abilities from their technology. Stripped of their technology, they are powerless, and thus should have been sent to a normal prison. There is a case for arguing that, as Falcon has signed the Sokovia Accords, he presents a special case; as a signatory, he falls under the penalties presumably specified in the Accords, which must allow imprisonment on the Raft. But Scott Lang, minus size-changing science, is just an ordinary man.
The Raft is a clear analogue to Project 42. It's a surprisingly dark twist, and a powerfully political one; it again leaves us in the shocking position of seeing superheroes treated in the way the US has treated potential terrorists.
And Another Thing...
In the comics, Project 42 didn't take long to build. How could it, when the creative genius of Mr. Fantastic was involved? The guy could pretty much build a dimensional interface out of paperclips in an hour. But in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a project like the Raft is a very different proposition. Vast amounts of money must have been poured into the Raft in order to complete it.
When did construction of the Raft begin? I'd suggest that construction probably began after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Until the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., the world left policing of superhumans to S.H.I.E.L.D. — hence they had imprisoned the Abomination in cryogenic suspension in Alaska. Had the Raft been a work in progress at this time, S.H.I.E.L.D. would have been involved, and the Raft would surely have been sought after by Hydra. So it seems very likely to me that construction of the Raft began after the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D.
This adds a startling political twist to the narrative of Captain America: Civil War. As we've seen in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the world's authorities fear superhumans. The building of this prison — and the Sokovia Accords that legitimise it — was, without a doubt, in progress long before the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Sokovia was an excuse for the Accords; the world's government was already moving in that direction. The destruction in Lagos was the politicians' opportunity to put the Accords into play. Given that the Raft seemed to be deserted bar Cap's allies, I suspect that the Accords were brought into law a little sooner than had been planned, perhaps even before the Raft had been completed.
All in all, I'm fascinated by Captain America: Civil War's faithfulness to the comic as regards the idea of a superhuman prison. The same disturbing questions about human rights are brought up as in the original Civil War miniseries; they've not been noticed because Guantanamo Bay isn't quite so topical a debate as it was back in 2006. But it adds a much deeper political slant to the film, and a disturbing one at that. Watch the trailer below: