The basic plotline of Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War comes from a cross-over comic book published in the mid-2000’s. In the comic, Tony Stark comes head to head with a group of citizens who harshly oppose the autonomous actions of the superhero community. Who is responsible for the damage their battles have left behind? Who supervises their brand of vigilante justice?
The movie then takes this basic premise a step further. It puts a face on the issue (a mother explaining the loss of her child from a building dropped on him accidently during the fight in Sokovia) and hones in on Tony’s guilt over his mistake with Ultron. To further drive home the point, Civil War creates a post-Sokovia fall out issue in which Wanda (the Scarlet Witch) fails to contain an explosion with her powers and accidently collapses part of a building, thus sparking additional media attention on an already hot-button issue.
The United Nations wants the superheroes to register their identities and their powers. In the comics, this includes a vast number of the Marvel franchise heros (everyone from She-Hulk to the Fantastic 4 and Daredevil), but the movie focuses mainly on those we already know from the previous Marvel movies: Iron Man, Captain America, War Machine, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Falcon, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, etc. And then it tosses in a few newbies, the Black Panther and a teenage Spiderman, for cinematic effect/further expansion of the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe.
On the pro-registration side you have Iron Man, reeling from post-Sokovia guilt and determined to (for once) not kick up a fuss. On the other you have Captain America, a man who fought for freedom in World War II and who understands better than most how important it is to remain free to make his own determinations of right and wrong. Add to that Steve’s personal need to uphold the values of his recently deceased love, Peggy Carter (founder of SHIELD), and you have The Cap standing steadfastly against his pro-registration friends. The rest of the heroes pick sides somewhat reluctantly or are actively recruited for additional muscle by one or the other of the teams.
So there are several moving parts to this movie, most of which deviate from the source material. You have Tony Stark’s initial guilt and the Ultron fall out, followed by Wanda’s well publicised mistake increasing the public’s demand for superhero registration, all of which boils over when Bucky (aka. The Winter Soldier) is framed for a terrorist attack on the United Nations the day of the signing by (yet another) grieving parent who lost their family in Sokovia and wanted the Avengers to destroy the only thing that truly mattered to them: each other. This moment also represents the introduction of the Black Panther, also known as the African prince T’Challa, ahead of his 2018 movie release date. He goes after the Winter Soldier with fierce determination because his father was killed in the terrorist attack and he believes Bucky to be responsible, thus inadvertently taking Iron Man’s side in the fight.
The action scenes in this movie are incredible, the highlight of which is an extended bout of mayhem in an abandoned airport. The two teams tear into each other, tempers flaring and insults going off like fireworks; a free-for-all between superheroes like we’ve never seen before.
In a lot of ways I feel like the MCU has been building up to this moment. In the past few movies Tony has followed a very telling path: his guilt over the sale of Stark Technologies weaponry to terrorist groups led to his becoming Iron Man in the first place and his fear of extraterrestrial invasion like Loki brought in Avengers drove him to create Ultron as the world’s first line of defense, a project which went catastrophically awry. He is consumed by his guilt, his fear, and ultimately the loss of Pepper’s love and respect over what he’s done and what he himself admits that he cannot give up trying to fix. The Captain has also followed a path, albeit one with several interruptions. He was chosen to become a super-soldier because of his moral compass, his determination to protect the little guy even when he was one. And in each of his movies, he puts himself on the line because he’d rather die than lose those he loves at the hands of Hydra or a corrupt government.
The “villain” from Civil War picked up on all of these character traits and the situation with Wanda and then used Bucky as a catalyst to begin a fight that was already brewing. He knew he couldn’t take down the Avengers on his own so he found a way to rot them from the inside out. And in a way, that’s almost worse. Because how can you begin to rebuild when everything has fallen apart?
How the MCU will continue to unfold from here is somewhat unclear. Civil War was always more of a character driven plot than anything else, so it didn’t leave any obvious trails about its storyline connections to the upcoming films, the next of which are Doctor Strange (November 2016) and Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume II (May 2017).
Stay tuned for more Marvel reviews from me and let me know what you thought of Civil War in the comments down below.