Fury, Nicholas J.

Nick Fury believes in prevention. His formative memories include a grandfather who carried a loaded gun in order to ward off muggers, a philosophy he magnifies in the form of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s new long-range gunships. While Fury himself would likely not seek to use them on civilians, his continued belief in the power structure he sits atop catalyzes his downfall.

When faced with how to proceed, Fury hopes to salvage S.H.I.E.L.D. from individuals who have tarnished it, but Steve Rogers knows better and harshly convinces him otherwise. Rogers has seen what happens when power corrupts; there were no good Nazis in World War II, and so S.H.I.E.L.D. itself must go. It’s grown too powerful to be controlled responsibly, even once H.Y.D.R.A. is weeded out.

To Fury, the problem is likely rogue elements within S.H.I.E.L.D. rather than S.H.I.E.L.D. itself, an organization tasked with deciding who gets to live or die. Though, while Rogers proves Fury wrong through dialogue, the narrative ultimately sides with Fury in this regard — another consequence of whom the film aims to please — since American S.H.I.E.L.D. members un-exposed to H.Y.D.R.A. continue to be framed as unambiguously good.

Instead of confronting the ideology of S.H.I.E.L.D., which created a lethal apparatus for H.Y.D.R.A. to usurp, only the misuse of these ideas is called into question, rather than the ideas themselves. While civilian-murder is framed as requisitely horrendous, the H.Y.D.R.A. reveal sidesteps the need to question pre-emptive strikes as a whole. After Rogers’ initial objection to Fury’s plan (“This isn’t freedom. This is fear.”), the film never returns to this subject.

Unsurprising, given how closely these ideas strikes mirrors the last two decades of American foreign policy, the direct critique of which would have been a non-starter for the D.O.D.

Romanova, Natalia Alianovna

Like Fury, Natasha Romanoff believes in S.H.I.E.L.D., at least at first. She switched allegiances from the Kremlin to the White House, believing herself to finally be on the side of good, but this was a decision she couldn’t have been sure of. Not when her very identity was flux, moving from cover to cover while she did what she had to, no matter the cost. Without figuring out who she was outside these structures and secret identities, or whom she was willing to trust, Romanoff had no way of drawing moral lines, and no one to show her how.

Now working as Fury’s personal thief, how far would Romanoff be willing to go in service of her new country? She still has “red in her ledger,” as seen in The Avengers. She’s still weighed down by violent acts from her past, but her more recent missions weigh her down even further, as she realizes she may be on the wrong side of history once again.

The truth has been “a matter of circumstance to Romanoff for some time. She sees Rogers’ old-world sincerity as being out of its depth and out of step with modernity, and she tells him he’s in the wrong line of work if he hopes to have friends. She even teaches him to lie and to hide in plain sight. However, Captain America, the symbol, soon becomes divorced from the structures representing American defense. It’s here that Romanoff finally sees Rogers as a man representing truth and justice, when “the American way” no longer can.

Of course, Rogers’ and Romanoff’s perspectives are no longer tethered to national identities, given the degree to which America is swapped out for S.H.I.E.L.D. Captain America is only ever called a “fugitive from S.H.I.E.L.D.” rather than a fugitive from the American government. In the process, the duo’s introspection is limited to fictional syndicates whose broader effects on nationalism and identity are never explored, despite the film’s own themes hinging on the recalibration of nationalist outlook.  

Still, the characters’ interpersonal dynamic, and the way it functions within the larger plot, grants the film its momentum. Rogers carries Romanoff to safety after S.H.I.E.L.D. drops a bomb on them, and it’s here that Romanoff learns that trust — something between two people, rather than between a spy and her government — is what’s going to keep her alive. She has a new willingness to be seen, owing to Rogers looking beyond her misdeeds and treating her as a friend. This willingness allows her to blow the whistle on S.H.I.E.L.D. without hesitation. Romanoff, a woman once dependent on secrecy, dumps all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s dirty secrets onto the web, including the ones involving her past.

Each character in the film espouses a political outlook rooted in their respective histories. Those who have a stake in the current goings on — Rogers, Romanoff, Fury, Pierce — and even those who don’t, but still get involved in order to stop their past from defining them, like Captain America’s friend The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), the first African American superhero.

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