Summer movies and philosophy 2016
Summer movie blockbusters are usually big budget, big action, and big special effects extravaganzas. Sometimes you just want to be entertained by a movie, instead of being challenged or working hard to understand the motivations and consequences of the characters’ choices. And sometimes a little after-credits discussion is just what you need to get more out your movie tickets.
Here are 3 summer movies that give us something different to talk with our family, friends, and older children after the show is over: “Captain America: Civil War,” “Warcraft,” and “Star Trek Beyond.” Unfortunately, I didn’t see any family movies this summer; these three movies all deal with war, battles, and the need for teamwork.
Note: There are spoilers in this post, so please don’t read further if you haven’t seen the movies.
“Captain America: Civil War” (2016) is an action-packed thriller about acts of terrorism that provoke the government into imposing more controls over people with enhanced abilities. There’s really no reason for some of the fight scenes and explosions except pure entertainment.
* Friendship vs. upholding the law. Steve Rogers unequivocally believes that his friend Bucky is innocent, and helps him evade the police. He chooses his loyalty to his friend over upholding the law, without any evidence that Bucky is innocent. On the other hand, law enforcement preemptively assumes that Bucky is guilty based on a partial image and no evidence of Bucky’s guilt. How far would you go for friendship?
* Freedom vs. security. After the Battle of Sakovia, government leaders wanted to register and monitor all people with superpowers, so that such devastation couldn’t happen again. You could argue that the destruction was caused by Ultron, a product of technology – yet there were no calls for limits on scientific research. If you had a superpower, would you be willing to be registered, tagged, and monitored? Would you give up your freedom so that other people could feel safer? What if it’s not superpowers, but gun ownership?
* Trust individuals or government leaders. Tony Stark believes that people with superpowers should be registered, monitored, and called upon if there is an emergency. He believes that individuals cannot be trusted to do the right thing, because we are all flawed. Steve Rogers believes that people with superpowers should be free to act in an emergency, whereas government leaders may have different agendas and may not cooperate with other world leaders. He believes that individuals are basically altruistic and can be trusted to do the right thing. Who do you trust with power – individuals or government leaders? Who would you trust in a crisis?
“Warcraft” (2016) is an exciting fantasy about orc warriors who leave their dying world to take over a peaceful realm.
* Judging people by appearances. The humans on Azeroth seem to easily trust half-orc, half-human Garona because she looks human and speaks their language. Lady Taria gives Garona her first weapon. King Llane trusts her to become an orc leader and work for peace. Garona doesn’t actually do much to gain their trust, except speak to them, not try to escape, not attack them, and not betray them during battle (things a spy might do to gain their trust).
* Does might make right? Their world is dying and the orc leader Gul’dan believes that because they have superior strength, they have the right to invade other lands. He also believes that because he can control the fel, he has the right to gain power by killing others and force orcs to be changed by fel magic. Just because you can do something, does that mean you should? In Hawaii, did Kamehameha have the right to conquer the islands because he had a prophecy, the strength, and an army to back him up?
* Power and responsibility. Azeroth is a peaceful and abundant land, where people generally get along with other races. Do they have a moral obligation to help refugees from a dying land? If someone needs help, are you obligated to help them?
* Power corrupts. Fel magic physically changes orcs and humans, and seems to change their personalities too, making them do things they would not otherwise have done. The Guardian Medivh admits that he doesn’t remember everything he has done under the influence of the fel. Is the orc leader Gul’dan a victim of fel magic himself? And a related question: can fel magic be used for good? Is someone who was healed by fel magic, like Durotan’s newborn son, irredeemable?
“Star Trek Beyond” (2016) is a striking science fiction adventure in which the crew of the USS Enterprise end up stranded on an isolated planet, facing a ruthless enemy determined to destroy the Federation.
* Unity vs. the individual warrior. One of the overarching themes is the idea that unity and cooperation makes us stronger. Unity is embodied by the Federation, which is made up of many races. The Enterprise must work together to save their people and defeat their enemy, while refusing to leave their team members behind. “It wasn’t just me. It never is,” Kirk explains, refusing to take all the credit for saving Yorktown. In stark contrast is Krall’s philosophy that champions the individual warrior. But Krall is not a lone gunslinger, a warrior who protects his people while remaining an outsider; he is a warrior who proclaims his strength by defeating others. He threatens one Enterprise crew member in order to gain the artifact he seeks, declaring “Unity is not your strength. It is a weakness.”
* It is easy to lose our way. Kirk has doubts about continuing to captain the Enterprise, and Spock questions his commitment to the Enterprise’s exploratory mission. It takes a shared danger to reaffirm their commitment to the Enterprise, which has become their family. Even Krall has lost his way as a warrior who fought to protect his people, becoming a warrior who wants to annihilate others.
Side note: I had an odd “The Princess Bride” flashback when Jaylah confronts Manas, the warrior who killed her father.
What were your favorite movies of the summer? What did you like best about them? What could they teach you?