Marvel's Mighty Military: The role of the U.S. Army in Marvel movies

By Merlijn Priester | May 17, 2019

Now that Avengers: Endgame is out, and we all know that Mufasa gets trampled by a wildebeest stampede- sorry, wrong Disney movie- it is time to reflect on the many movies that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the 22 movies that have been made so far, the military has always been a central theme. So much so, that the Pentagon considered collaborating with Marvel, supposedly to supply military gear for the movies. However, they halted this cooperation when they decided that The Avengers was not a realistic enough movie and it was impossible to decide which position S.H.I.E.L.D. would take in the U.S. army. The fact that the Pentagon considered a collaboration with the MCU warrants a closer look at the role of the U.S. army in these movies.

Both Captain Marvel and Captain America find their origin in the U.S. military. The army is used in order to show the strength of their characters, as they fall down and pick themselves back up, and they eventually show that they are worthy of defending their country. Though both Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) eventually have to leave the army, they join the Avengers to defend their country and the rest of the world, clad in red, white and blue. They are the epitome of everything America stands for. Unstoppable power, a strong desire to help others, endless bravery, and of course a need to bring justice wherever they go. Though Captain America starts his career with fighting Nazis, he later picks up the art of killing aliens, as many MCU movies are centered around a foreign threat. In this, he is helped by War Machine. War Machine is just as determined to bring peace to the world as the rest of the Avengers. War Machine does this with his battle suit that shoots lasers.

Anti-War Message
Of course, it would be unfair to leave out the strong anti-war message in some of the movies. In Iron Man, Tony Stark leaves behind the weapon industry (so he can go and build more effective weapons for his own collection). In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Sam Wilson/Falcon demonstrates the struggles of being a war veteran in America. And above all, Captain America: Civil War proves that there are consequences to the actions of the Avengers. After all the “helping” the group has done in other countries, they get to face the destruction they’ve caused. Tony Stark, or Iron Man,  who has deployed his robots all over the world to fight threats, agrees that the Avengers should be put in check by the government. Steve Rogers, or Captain America, does not agree with this. He is after all the ultimate American, and he’ll bring justice to all to corners of the universe, no matter what the current government says. The fact that the Avengers are aware of the destruction they cause does not mean they stop doing it, though.

Military recruitment
It is no secret that government institutions such as The Pentagon, the CIA and NSA have always had connections with Hollywood. When Top Gun came out, supported by the military, it caused a 500 percent increase in people who signed up for the NAVY. When it comes to Marvel, all three Iron Man movies have received military support. When Captain Marvel came out this year, many movie theaters showed a recruitment ad for the Air Force in advance. The ad focuses on women who like superhero movies, as if to celebrate female empowerment: if you want to be like Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel, all you have to do is join the air force so you can be a superhero as well.

Whether Marvel movies are influencing military recruitment remains to be seen, as the MCU’s relationship to war and the military is complex and often conflicting. However, the U.S. army often has a prominent role , whether in the shape of actual army equipment or the use of the army for character development. Though most Marvel superheroes were created decennia ago, they are still being used as representatives of America in this movie, and their way of representing is through violence. Then again, what would a superhero movie be without violence. Though many little kids look up to these superheroes, there are more things than just violence that inspire them, as every single Marvel hero also represents specific virtues that can teach us something. Yes, Captain America is an unstoppable force of American patriotism running around in red white and blue. But honestly? I can watch that all day.