Superheroics on the screen and in our hands

If you’ve seen the comic-book film The Avengers, you know that its military presence is perplexingly slight. There are a couple jets, a few weapons here and there. The truth is that the U.S. military was (somewhat surprisingly) uneasy about being involved in the project. Well, that’s strange: They were featured in both Iron Man films; weapon development and dealing was central to the plot of Iron Man 2. As Wired‘s Spencer Ackerman reports, the military found the premise of The Avengers too unrealistic for its involvement.

Phil Strub, the Defense Department’s Hollywood liaison, said:

“We couldn’t reconcile the unreality of this international organization and our place in it. To whom did S.H.I.E.L.D. answer? Did we work for S.H.I.E.L.D.? We hit a roadbloack and decided we couldn’t do anything” [with the film.]

S.H.I.E.L.D., for those less familar with the comic’s lore, is the covert organization responsible for maintaining peace throughout the world in times of extraordinary circumstances. Whether it’s giant aliens or supervillains, they’re the ones that pick up the red phone.

Yet as Ackerman points out, the military loves helping Hollywood out. It’s clear in this summer’s crop of films, with Battleship and Act of Valor heavily featuring military figures to the point of near-propaganda. In the blatant recruitment tool Battle: LA, the military seems so unstoppable that it can repel alien invasions. 

This isn’t a question of unreality; it’s one of power. After all, the military is happy to be associated with military shooters like Medal of Honor, in which war is fun. Answering to S.H.I.E.L.D. undermines the military’s identity. For decades, the military has been friendly with entertainment. We already have the countless fictional instances of military men and women so powerful, so cunning, so brilliant, that they (and only they!) could repel myriad alien threats. In gaming, we now have stories of nuclear catastrophe narrowly averted by you, the supersoldier holding the controller. But with its evasion of The Avengers, the military suggests that what it needs most is to remain in control.