**SPOILER ALERT: No, I’m not trying to post spoilers, but this discussion might lead to some story elements and character revelations being brought up. Consider yourself warned.**
And now, here they are: my thoughts on Captain America: Civil War.
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the comic book story from Mark Millar and characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, and basically every other Marvel hero you already know, short of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), but introducing Tom Holland as Spiderman and Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther.
By know we have all heard the basic story of what had caused the Civil War among earth’s mightiest heroes. After the events in Battle of New York, the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Washington D.C., the destruction of most of Sokovia, and then an opening disaster in Lagos in which many civilians are killed or injured during (by?) an intervention in which the Avengers attempt to prevent the theft of a bio-weapon by a group of arms dealers lead by Crossbones, played by Frank Grillo (last seen in a hospital bed after having a building dropped on him in Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
Such uncontrolled, international action, undertaken unilaterally by such “enhanced” persons can no longer go unnoticed or unchecked by the world’s governments. The Sokovia Accords are written and agreed to by 117 countries giving such persons an option: submit to oversight and control to a council of the United Nations, “retire,” or become a criminal acting outside of international law to be hunted down and captured if possible…
So begins the great philosophical debate that underpins all of the action throughout the movie.
Clocking in at a brisk 2 hours 27 minutes, you are in for a heck of a ride, and I don’t want to intentionally spoil anything, but please be reminded that some information swap will be inevitable.
First, despite all of the build up that this was going to be some sort of two-hour fight with a hundred heroes: not so much. There is the widely seen fight at the airport where Iron Man and Captain America face off in a six on six, with Spiderman making his first appearance in battle, unknown to anyone but Tony Stark, who recruited him less than a day before. It was nice to not see another Spiderman origin story during his initial talks with Tony, but just a simple recognition of that background and Peter Parker’s regret at his actions (or inactions) that cost his uncle’s life.
Tom Holland was good as Peter Parker, and so I hold out hope for his upcoming standalone feature: Spiderman: Homecoming.
It was nice to see Paul Rudd back in action as Ant-Man again. Can’t wait for his next movie.
Chadwick Boseman was great at embodying the reluctant new king of Wakanda trying to balance his duties as Black Panther with his desire for vengeance, also. That standalone really has some possibility, so I hope they don’t scrimp on the storyline for it.
This is a large, diverse set of characters, which might seem too unwieldy to craft into a coherent narrative, but the Russo do it in a couple of ways.
First, already-established, but minor, characters for this movie, are simply brought in as needed with a minimum of fuss and asked to do a job. Paul Rudd brings the same charm he brought to Ant-Man to the airport fight scene, and then the story moves away from his involvement. The same can be said of Spiderman, who was built up as an incredibly essential character for the film, but whose appearance is, in reality, simply an introduction of him to the MCU. His absence is explained by his statement that he has only had his powers for around six months, and so could not have been involved in any previous Marvel outings. He, like Ant-Man, is done after the airport battle, his purpose having been served, and the real Civil War continues.
They also make every second of non-combat time count. Rarely is a scene not disclosing a piece of a character’s background or their thinking on the Accords. The weight of their situation is felt in every scene, with the likely exception of Tony Stark’s recruitment of Peter Parker. In other words, the Russo’s don’t allow the narrative track to take any detours. Even the opening sequence featuring Tony’s presentation at MIT is necessary to establish his guilt as a motivating force for him that is exceeded only by his ego. Steve Rogers at **SPOILER ALERT** Peggy’s funeral serves to remind him of what he is, why he was chosen, and what he is supposed to be doing.
Because the real Civil War isn’t all of these heroes battling one another, it’s in the difference of ideas between two men: Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. In many ways, the two of them agree that mistakes have been made and tragedies have occurred because of their actions, but whereas Steve believes that their good outweighs any negatives, Tony, already wracked by a loss of control in his personal life, is easily subjected to the guilt that comes when confronted by a woman whose son was killed in Sokovia.
But, as with everything Tony, it all boils down to his ego. He has to be right. If he’s not right, then the bedrock on which his universe is built begins to crumble.
Unlike Steve, who knows that he isn’t perfect, isn’t always right, but who knows what he will do be set things right. The events of The Winter Soldier show that well enough.
And so we are left with these two men, battling to do what they believe is right, and both willing to do whatever it takes. Although clearly Tony Stark doesn’t have the will of Steve Rogers in that regard. He constantly strives to push the middle ground of registration and oversight instead of the extremes of autonomy and apprehension not because he believes it is right, but because it frees him from the responsibility for the actions that he admits he doesn’t want to stop taking as Iron Man.
Steve Rogers, however, has no such qualms. He tells Tony that when he “sees a situation pointing south, I can’t ignore it.” This opinion has always been his, although he had almost forgotten, and conceded to signing the Accords, until reminded of that ideal by the words of an old friend. Do what is right, the whole world be damned.
The discussion/debate before the Accords are to be signed is where the true Civil War happens. With Tony arguing that the Avengers need to be reigned in, Steve countering that abdication of control of when they react, and to what, shouldn’t be dictated by the whims of political operatives. Tony argues that the political viewpoints, and their ability to change, is why the Accords are their best choice.
I’d like to take a moment here, before delving into some other storyline and character issues to note the inevitable comparisons between Captain America: Civil War and the recently released Batman vs Superman (see my review of that HERE). Both involve respected and loved heroes going toe-to-toe against one another.
In Batman vs Superman, however, the idea is that the only way Batman and Superman comes to blows at all is through the manipulation of Lex Luthor. Even then, there is no larger ideal behind it all. There is simply the idea that if Batman kills Superman, or vice versa, it means… well, I’m not sure we ever did figure out what it means, precisely, what it’s purpose was other than… yeah, actually, I still got nothing on that. Sorry.
But in Civil War, the idea that the Accords, and thus the conflict between heroes, are inevitable, not through any outside, Machiavellian actions, but rather through the actions of the Avengers themselves and the world’s reaction to them. Yes, there is the plotting by Zemo, designed to fast-track the process, but it is an almost unnecessary sub-plot to the heart of the story: who controls the heroes, and are the heroes beholden to anyone but themselves?
Zemo’s obsession with watching an “empire fall” seems more logical than Lex Luthor’s… whatever… but to have been only working on this plan for a year, aided by the Black Widow’s release of S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra documents, which allowed him to find the “Original Sin,” as it were, the one thing that would surely tear the Avengers apart, seems a bit of a stretch.
I called that event during the opening sequence, by the way.
But once again, Marvel, and especially the Russo brothers, take basic human truths and boils them down to representative individuals, in this case Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, and then dresses them up in big action set pieces for our entertainment, while hiding the education in the background, in the quiet moments. The fights might be the big, sparkly item, designed to draw the eye, but they are merely the symptoms of the smaller, more basic conflicts that exist in and between each of us, and that Marvel has mastered in their films in a way that DC continues to strive to replicate.
Regardless, we now exist in a Marvel Cinematic Universe governed (?) by the Sokovia Accords, which means… well, I guess we’ll see what that means in Marvel’s Phase 3, won’t we?
[Editor’s note: you’ll note that I basically refer to Steve and Tony throughout this piece, not Captain America and Iron Man. That’s intentional. Captain America and Iron Man are not who are fighting here. Not really.]