The 2006 Civil War storyline that affected every Marvel book started with a good premise: superheroes are required to register with the government and take orders from them. Some agree, some don’t. This sparks a civil war in the superhero community with Iron Man on one side and Captain America on the other. Although the comic fell a little flat in its implementation, the basic idea was still a good one.
Captain America: Civil War starts with roughly the same premise, but where the original Civil War comic had the bad idea to make us hate some of our favorite characters (namely Iron Man, who is a real villain in the comic) the film adaptation was able to make us see both sides of the conflict and feel for the characters.
In fact, while reading Civil War I was on Team Cap: super heroes shouldn’t be forced to register. It was essentially the same problem the X-Men had to face with the Mutant Registration Act in their books but on a company wide level. And when you think of this, being forced to register with the government just because you are different (have super powers) is a completely un-American thing to do, and this was why Captain America was against the Superhuman Registration Act. It wasn’t that the government wanted to control the super-heroes, give them orders and be able to track and control them (well, they wanted that too) but that every single super-powered individual was required to register, and the very act of not registering made them criminal. This, I think, was a bad move on the part of Marvel because it changed the narrative from one of proper oversight to one of personal freedom.
The two are completely different issues: If all superpowered individuals are required to register with the government, regardless of whether or not they have been operating as superheroes (or villains) then the that is a clear infringement upon the characters’ personal liberties. If, however, the narrative is about proper oversight, then the story changes tone completely.
Captain America: Civil War is not about personal liberty – it’s about proper oversight. In the film we see the backlash from superhuman activity in the form of the Sokovia Accords. Unlike the Superhuman Registration Act, the Sokovia Accords pertain only to The Avengers (although recent developments on Agents of SHIELD seem to disagree). The Avengers are not required to sign the Accords – they have the option of either signing or retiring. Hawkeye chooses to retire. Scarlet Witch is undecided, and Captain America and Falcon refuse to sign. Iron Man, Vision, War Machine and Black Widow sign the Accords.
In essence the Accords makes The Avengers a sort of United Nations Peace Keeping force. The first act of the film, which is a bit slow, does a good job of setting this up. Captain America worries that, if the Avengers sign, they will become a blunted sword. He fears that the UN will refuse to send the Avengers somewhere they feel they need to go, while at the same time worrying that they’ll send them somewhere they shouldn’t be.
Its an important problem, and one that comes up later in the film. But Tony Stark replies with the famous line from the trailer:
If we can’t accept limitations then we’re no better than the bad guys.
Think of it like this. Forget the super powers; imagine there was a force of half a dozen private citizens with advanced weaponry fighting terrorists internationally. Sounds great, right? Screw the red tape; go in and get the bad guys. But what happens when something goes wrong? What happens when, for example, there is collateral damage and civilians get killed? Or when those private citizens go after an innocent man whom they thought was a terrorist?
The former actually happens in the film, which sets the entire story off.
As a result of some collateral damage, the Accords are enacted. Any Avenger who choses not to sign may retire. If they do not sign, yet continue their vigilante activity, then they will be criminals.
This is exactly what happens. Bucky, Cap’s old friend and current brainwashed Winter Soldier, is seen in photographs bombing the signing ceremony of the Sokovia Accords. As a result a manhunt begins and the Avengers (specifically Captain America) are not allowed to take part. And by manhunt I mean that in the literal sense as they don’t plan to take Bucky in alive. Cap finds Bucky first and intervenes, along with T’Challa, the king of Wakanda and Black Panther, who seeks revenge for the explosion that killed his father. He brings Bucky in alive and is given a slap on the wrist. However, we learn that this is all part of the larger plan.
Helmut Zemo, who is actually Baron Zemo from Marvel Comics, is the mastermind of the plan. He pretends to be a psychiatrist sent in to interrogate Bucky. Instead, he activates his Winder Soldier programming and the two escape, with Cap and Falcon giving chase. Cap finds Bucky who is free of the brainwashing and the three are on the run.
As a result the three are branded as fugitives and Tony Stark is tasked to bring the three in. It is at this point that we see the two teams assemble, Tony Stark’s Avengers (consisting of Iron Man and War Machine, Vision, Black Widow and Spiderman) and Captain’s Secret Avengers (consisting of Captain America, Falcon, Bucky, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Ant Man).
While forming the respective teams, Stark searches out Spiderman, played by Tom Holland. I must say that this Spiderman is the version that I’ve been waiting more than a decade for, ever since the disastrous Spiderman 3 hit theatres. No offense to Andrew Garfield (he didn’t have the best script with which to work) but Holland steals the show the second he shows up on screen. He adds some much needed levity to the film at just the right time, yet his appearance is not overwhelming. In the end this is a Captain America film and Spiderman was in the film just enough to lighten the mood and yet not overwhelm the story.
If the first act was a bit slow and tedious (as the first third of this review has been) the second and third acts were paced brilliantly. The second act culminates in a large set piece battle featuring every single Avenger except for The Hulk and Thor, both of whom will feature in Thor: Ragnarok. As the teams battle it out, Captain America and Bucky make their escape in order to stop the real threat: Helmut Zemo who plans to revive some maguffin super soldiers. Sadly War Machine is paralyzed by an energy blast from Vision who was distracted because of Scarlet Witch’s injuries which resulted from the battle.
The third act sees the Secret Avengers imprisoned in a gulag-like prison, one that Tony Stark knew nothing about. This is a very clear deviation from the comic, one that was a smart choice by the Russos. In the Civil War comic Tony Stark is imprisoning all the rogue superhumans in a gulag-like prison of his own design in the negative zone, sans trial. The film sees Tony against this move, stating that he had no idea that this was where they would end up. This is one reason that causes Tony to have a change of heart, in addition to him finding evidence that Bucky was innocent and Cap was right all along: the true enemy is Helmut Zemo who plans to revive some more Hydra super soldiers.
Stark flies to meet Cap and Bucky in Siberia where the three reconcile and prepare to face Zemo’s maguffin soldiers. However, they find the soldiers all dead, having been shot in their sleep by Zemo. His true plan was not to use the soldiers to fight the Avengers, but rather to have the Avengers fight each other. He then shows video evidence (and if you didn’t already know this was a spoiler heavy review then shame on you but Spoiler Alert) of Bucky killing Tony Stark’s parents in 1991. This of course sets Stark off on a rampage, and we see a battle between Iron Man, Captain America and Bucky which ends in Cap taking Iron Man down.
This is in fact the most emotional scene in the film, which is surprising considering the third act battle is far smaller in scale than the one at the close of the second act. But it has meaning to it: Bucky killed Tony’s parents, something that he understandably can’t forgive. To add insult to injury Captain America knew of this and kept this information from Tony.
As Captain America plans to leave with Bucky, Stark calls out to him, telling him that his Shield doesn’t belong to him (Howard Stark manufactured the shield for him during World War II). Captain America acknowledges this and drops the shield.
The epilogue shows Captain America breaking his Secret Avengers out of prison and Tony is left with a crippled Avengers team. He receives a note from Cap, stating that even though they have their differences he will always be there to help Tony if he needs it.
There’s a lot to decompact with this film; in fact I’ll be writing separate articles on Black Panther and Spiderman in the next few days, so for now I’m going to keep this review strictly directed at the other characters, namely Captain America and Tony Stark.
Unlike the comic book version, which as stated above makes it very clear that Registration is an infringement upon basic civil liberties, the film takes a different approach. I agree with Tony Stark in his statement that The Avengers need oversight. Captain America believes that the best hands are still The Avengers’ own. This argument is negated by a line, spoken by Spiderman no less, to Captain America:
Captain America (to Spiderman) Did Stark tell you anything else?
Spiderman: That you’re wrong. You think you’re right. And that makes you dangerous.
Captain America: I guess you got a point.
This is the very problem with Captain America’s argument. Cap thinks that The Avengers are the best people to decide where they go and who they hunt. But he fails to recognize the possibility that they could be wrong, their judgement could be clouded. In this instance Cap turns out to be right (he is the hero of his own film, after all) but that doesn’t negate the premise of the Sokovia Accords. This is why oversight is needed. Every other military and peace force has oversight, from armies (overseen by an elected official) to police forces (overseen by either an elected or appointed official). They have accountability which The Avengers lack.
In the end Captain America: Civil War allows the audience to ask questions, deeper questions than what were asked of the comic book. It’s a very good film and you should definitely check it out.