The MCU’s journey of Steve Rogers thus far has taken audiences from the streets of Brooklyn; the battlefields of World War II; and into fights with gods, monsters, and even old friends. So could his latest installment possibly bring his story arc together?
The answer turns out to be a rousing “yes” and is perhaps the pinnacle of how Marvel studios has orchestrated its universe.
The plot is well-known by now. The Avengers’ heroism has caused considerable collateral damage and the governments of the world would like to exercise some control over them.
Current, past, and future team members become divided on their opinions of these controls; with those supporting the so-called “Sokovia Accords” lining up behind Tony Stark and those opposed to them lining up behind Steve Rogers. It turns out a very creative and subtle villain is orchestrating additional animosity between the sides and this leads to a clash of the two opposing ideologies.
As usual in Marvel films, especially when directed by the Russo Brothers, there is a lot more going on than just one level, or even two. Let’s look at some motivations.
Tony Stark: Then came Ultron…again my fault…
To a lot of the audience’s surprise Tony Stark lines up to be regulated by the government. Mr Rebel himself putting his powers in the hands of someone other than him. But there are very good reasons for why he does, beyond even what Civil War provides.
Stark’s motivations in the film are given to him by a grieving mother whose son died in Sokovia during the events of Age of Ultron. Stark’s mental state was already a bit of a mess we learn due to the absence of Pepper Potts, but also as he says later, the entire Ultron problem was more his creation than anyone’s since he created Ultron. So while many can easily argue that the Avengers saved far more people than they accidentally killed, the Ultron escapade was without a doubt resting of the shoulders of Iron Man. So maybe he feels he needs some “adult supervision” as it were to keep things in check.
Add to that the events of Iron Man 3, which he mentions in Civil War, left him not using his superpowers anymore and…maybe looking for a reason to come out of retirement, with some oversight if needed.
And if Iron Man’s motivations seem complex…wait until we look at Captain America…
Steve Rogers: The best hands are still our own
Again to a lot of audience surprise the guy literally dressed as a national flag is opposed to government oversight. This is because, as was mentioned previously, Rogers’ isn’t a symbol of the US government but the ideals of the country. He represents its people not its leaders.
Rogers is diametrically opposed to some governing body controlling where and when the Avengers can go. As he says, they could be sent to handle a problem they don’t believe in, or told to stay out of one they do. Especially after his experiences with Nick Fury in Winter Soldier he’s very wary of other people’s agendas for him.
And then there are his personal feelings. What did we learn about Rogers’ worst fear in Ultron? During his nightmare sequence we see the times he missed and the empty Stork Club with the dance he never got to have and the people who have left him long ago. In Winter Soldier he found connections to his old life in the now aging Peggy Carter and again when his best friend Bucky Barnes is revealed to be the Winter Soldier himself. The two most important people in his life were still in his life, even if it wasn’t in the same way.
Right in the middle of the first debate about signing the accords amongst the Avengers Steve gets word that Peggy has died. One more link is gone. Compounded by Peggy’s niece, Sharon, providing some profound words from her Aunt that helps bolster his decision to stand firm on not signing the accords.
During the summit to approve the accord his MIA best friend is blamed for the bombing that disrupted the entire process. And Steve sets out to find him, with his entire goal being to bring him back alive.
Because this one person is his only link, his last connection to his previous life. The loss of Barnes would be his nightmare, which he lives a version of every day, to come starkly and cruelly true.
So while Captain America opposes the Accords on moral grounds…Steve Rogers will do anything to save his friend and last connection to the world he left behind. And this leads one bad choice…
Cap Calls it Wrong
No I don’t mean his decision not to back the accords. While it could be debated, I feel Cap is 100% right to not give control over super heroes to the friggin’ United Nations to use as their own person hammer. A hammer that would either be locked in a drawer never to be used or swung with an arm heavy with personal agendas. Cap knows people’s politics and knows what it would mean to be a branch of an operating government.
What call did the Captain get wrong? He should have told Tony about the Winter Soldier’s role in his parents’ deaths. It is the discovery of Barnes’ assassination of his parents that causes Stark, who had arrived humble and contrite after his crusade was proven to be based on lies, to go ballistic on the two of them, perhaps ending the Avengers as we know them. Would the result have been different if Rogers had told Stark what he knew ahead of time? It’s hard to say. But keeping it secret made things worse. But Barnes is Rogers’ weakness for the reasons mentioned above. And his weaknesses compromise his judgment. Even he acknowledges he made a mistake handling this in his letter to Stark.
Civil War is more like WWI to me. The motivations of the protagonists and antagonists are so varied and complicated that none of them are wholly right and none are wholly wrong. The result is a catastrophe…that could potentially lead to a bigger disaster should it be allowed to escalate. Even in the grand scope of ideology the conflict can still be brought down to personal, almost petty disagreement. Tony and Steve have been fighting since the first Avengers hammered home again by Tony’s statements of how much he hated Rogers just from hearing his dad talk affectionately about Captain America endlessly. Which is even more powerful as in Iron Man 2 he says his father “never said he loved me he never even said he liked me.” The titular civil war is about Sokovia Accords and long-kept secrets but it’s as personal as a fight could be, built up over years of movie narrative.
But mixed into all of the weighty storyline and intricate subplots are characters who are true to themselves, it’s still very funny when it needs to be, very moving when it needs to be, it’s fun and tragic (Winter Soldier is remarkable tragic, his line, “I remember all of them” is downright heartbreaking) and just a terrific film. So the villain’s intricate plot is left in the background (appropriately as that’s how he played it) to let Iron Man and his group become quasi-antagonists through most of the film.
Whether or not it’s a better movie than Winter Soldier is a hard one for me, since Soldier is so wonderfully constructed and tightly built. Civil War is certainly right up there, though as one of the best films in the MCU and a fitting end to this chapter of Steve Rogers’ journey.
I personally am looking forward to seeing what is in store for the character next!