MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

This article is a response to What CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR Gets Wrong about CIVIL WAR (2006).

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (CA: CW) is a fantastic movie, but it definitely suffers from trying to morph together what has already been established in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with the comic book CIVIL WAR (2006) storyline. The problem is that CA: CW isn’t about ideological differences on superhero accountability and oversight; it’s about Bucky and Steve’s relationship and Steve’s attempt to foil Zemo at the expense of the Sokovia Accords and his relationship with the Avengers. This isn’t to say that the film doesn’t accomplish many spectacular things. CA: CW is full of excellent character moments for our three main protagonists, especially Steve and Tony, and the movie succeeds in eliciting a strong emotional response from viewers. That said, CA: CW fails to deliver when viewed with the expectation that the film is going to be a ideological war zone that dives deep into the psyches of our favorite Avengers. In place of that, however, the film manages to address the more relevant and, in my opinion, fascinating question of “who is Steve Rogers apart from Captain America?”

In this response, I will address where and how CA: CW fails to deliver upon its promise to be an intellectual battleground for both Avengers and viewers alike, beginning with why adapting CIVIL WAR (2006) was unnecessary in the first place. Next, I will examine the role of the Sokovia Accords in the plot of the film and consider the motivations behind each Avenger with regards to his or her stance on them. Finally, I will propose an alternate reading of the film that redeems CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and cements the movie as a high point in Marvel’s cinematic legacy.

Why Adapting CIVIL WAR (2006) for CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR Was a Bad Idea in the First Place

I will go on record as saying that I do not mind when the MCU movies deviate from the comic book storylines. What I do mind, however, is when directors unsuccessfully try to merge multiple storylines without giving any the careful attention they deserve.

In making the CIVIL WAR (2006) storyline a CAPTAIN AMERICA film, Marvel forcefully shifts the tide in favor of Steve Rogers, setting him up as the protagonist who stands firm for his beliefs without compromise, while vilifying Tony Stark as the weak-willed puppet of a corrupt government. This simple premise does not do justice to the more complex and nuanced original storyline. The Russo brothers did a better job than I had expected of giving each side fair treatment, but the film still felt overwhelmingly biased towards Steve and, as a result, diluted much of the tension that should have built over the course of the film. The only moment of real tension between Tony, Steve, and Bucky was the final fight scene in the Hydra bunker in Siberia where Steve was truly forced to choose between Tony and Bucky. This is a testament to the actors and to the Russos’ thoughtful and thorough treatment of the characters, not to the premise of the film.

READ: Check out our review of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR!

There were so many random and unnecessary characters and storylines rammed into CA: CW because the directors were trying to integrate the CIVIL WAR (2006) storyline into the film. If the Russo brothers had wanted to tackle superhero accountability, they could have done so on a much smaller scale by pitting Steve and Bucky against a multinational governmental body trying to prosecute Bucky for his actions as the Winter Solider. This would essentially be the same plot as CA: CW. The other Avengers could have easily been integrated into the film with a simple ideological question: should Bucky be held accountable for his crimes in connection to his time as the Winter Solider? And, if so, who should he answer to?

This question comes closer to the true spirit of CIVIL WAR (2006) and could have easily divided the Avengers based on their own personal ideology and history. If Tony had found out that Bucky was responsible for his parents’ deaths in 1991, it would have been no stretch of the imagination to picture Tony in opposition to Bucky and, by extension, Steve. Such a question would also provide an ideal scenario for the Russo brothers to do further character studies on each Avenger through their response to the situation. Whose side are they on and why? The divide would represent a true ideological schism, unlike the pseudo-divide in CA: CW. This could have served as the basis for a much more cohesive and faithful AVENGERS: CIVIL WAR film down the road.

Examining the Role of the Sokovia Accords in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

In the very beginning, the Russo brothers do an excellent job of adapting the CIVIL WAR (2006) conflict to fit with the cinematic universe it is set in by introducing the idea of superhero accountability through the Sokovia Accords.

Whereas Steve in CIVIL WAR (2006) opposed registration because it would require all superheroes to register their public identities with the government, endangering those superheroes’ friends and family, Steve in CA: CW opposed the Sokovia Accords because he distrusts all governmental bodies for their selfish agendas. He also argues that the Sokovia Accords only shift the blame from superheroes to a faceless U.N. panel and therefore has nothing to do with superhero accountability. His trust doesn’t lie in the Avengers as an institution but in the individuals within the Avengers: so long as the team is comprised of those with noble intentions, the Avengers should operate autonomously. He trusts his teammates enough to believe that their collective agenda is a simple one: to protect the innocent.

WANT more Steve Rogers? Read our list on essential CAPTAIN AMERICA comics! 

On the other hand, Tony’s motivation remains largely similar in the comic book and in the movie: superheroes need to accept responsibility for their actions and operate within the will of the people. Otherwise, superheroes are no better than criminals, possibly even worse because they remain convinced of their nobleness. From his perspective, attempting to resist public sentiment only leads to unnecessary violence and conflict, and it’s better for all if superheroes operate with some oversight and proper training. For civilians, the argument is a simple one: just because a person has extraordinary abilities doesn’t put them above the law and definitely doesn’t vindicate them from blame.

Regardless of which side you take in CA: CW, you have to admit that both have compelling arguments at the beginning. The film becomes biased in Steve’s favor, however, by only showing the ramifications of the Accords from his perspective. Throughout the entire film, viewers are treated to countless examples of why the Accords lean against the side of justice, as exemplified by the two major plot points in the film.

In the initial aftermath of the U.N. bombing, everyone, even Steve to some extent, believes Bucky to be responsible for the attack. Steve rushes to find Bucky before the join counterterrorism task force, which has orders to shoot on sight, not because he believes Bucky is innocent, but because he wants to bring Bucky in safely. He wants to see that Bucky receives a fair trial and the therapy he needs. In Steve’s mind, the situation validates his opposition to the Sokovia Accords because his intentions directly conflict with those of the governing U.N. panel. Had he been bound by the Accords as Tony and Natasha were, he would not have been able to act on his own to protect Bucky from being killed. Bucky is a fan favorite, and to many, he is the ultimate innocent party, the longest running POW in the history of the world and a victim of nearly 50 years of psychological torture. Protecting him tilts the audience in Steve’s favor.

During the second half of the film in which Steve and Bucky try to fly to Siberia to foil Zemo’s supposed plan to topple world governments by resurrecting an army of winter soldiers, Steve and Bucky must go rogue because Steve doesn’t trust the U.N. panel to take Bucky’s testament about Zemo and the army of winter soldiers seriously. Even if they did, they probably would take too long to review the evidence and deliberate on the next course of action. Finally, returning to the Avengers and the U.N. panel would endanger Bucky, especially after his breakout from the U.N. headquarters and his attack on the staff and the rest of the Avengers. All of this points in favor of Steve’s argument that signing the Accords would jeopardize the safety of all because it would place the world’s safety in the hands of a U.N. panel full of people with their own selfish agendas. As he said in the beginning, “the safest hands are still our own.” While Steve doesn’t necessarily fight the Avengers because of these ideals, however, the plotted course of the movie seems to validate only Steve’s side of the argument. Any evidence showing support for Tony’s side was placed in the first 20 minutes of the film. Between a brutal action sequence in Lagos, Nigeria and Peggy’s funeral, any argument Tony and his team may have had about superhero accountability was all but lost in the chaos. For the audience, the plot evidence in favor of Tony’s side was all conceptual, stories of tragedies softened by the passage of time.

Is Anyone Even Fighting About the Sokovia Accords?

The film all but drops the Sokovia Accords after the first half of the film to focus on Steve and Bucky’s wild goose chase to stop Zemo from resurrecting Hydra’s army of Winter Soldiers. This red herring becomes the motivation propelling the film forward. No one is fighting because of opposing ideologies regarding the Sokovia Accords; they’re fighting because that’s what the plot demands of them.

CLICK: Revisit CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLIDER (2014) here!

The airport battle was not an ideological war zone; it was a battle defined by objective.

As mentioned earlier, Steve goes rogue in the second half of the film because he doesn’t trust the U.N. panel to either believe in Bucky’s testament about Zemo’s nefarious plans or to act swiftly enough to stop it in time. What Steve does not go rogue for, however, is his dissenting opinion regarding the Accords. In fact, Steve was willing to sign the Accords given certain safeguards that would allow the Avengers a degree of operational autonomy, though he may still disagree with them ideologically.

As for Tony, he tries to stop them not because he thinks Bucky is guilty and needs to be prosecuted, but because he wants to prevent Secretary Ross and the U.N. panel from sending in a kill team to apprehend Steve and his fellow Avengers. Tony is motivated by his desire to keep the Avengers together, to prevent unnecessary conflict, and to prevent the Avengers from being crucified on the world stage. At this point, Tony is not motivated by his belief that superhero supervision is necessary and good. In fact, once Tony discovered that Bucky was innocent and that his fellow Avengers had been imprisoned in the Raft, Tony breaks the Accords and goes to help Steve and Bucky take down Zemo. It’s only once the events of December 16th, 1991 are revealed that Tony turns against Bucky and Steve, for reasons entirely personal.

As for the rest of the Avengers, Rhodey is the only one who remained firm in his convictions throughout the entire film. During the Avengers meeting when Secretary Ross introduces the Accords, Rhodey argues that unlike S.H.I.E.L.D. which was an autonomous agency acting on behalf of a single government, the U.N. panel that would oversee the Avengers is a multinational panel representing the will of 117 countries. Who are they to inflict their will on others? What gives the Avengers the right to ignore the will of sovereign peoples? Towards the very end of the film, during a scene in which Rhodey is undergoing physical therapy and rehabilitation after being partially paralyzed during the fighting, he tells Tony that he signed the Accords because “it was the right thing to do” and that he “hasn’t changed his mind.”

Sam and Clint participate in the airport battle out of loyalty to Steve. They were there because, quite simply, Steve asked them to be. They were not there to help him defend an idea but to help him to accomplish his next objective. Sam and Clint remain loyal to Steve because they trust him implicitly. In CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLIDER, Sam and Clint witness the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D., the very agency they risked their lives for time and time again, from within, destroyed by its own internal corruption. Like Steve, they now place their faith in individuals instead of governments which, quite frankly, lack transparency and, ironically, the very same accountability the Accords set out to achieve.

HYPED about Black Panther’s introduction in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR? Read our review of BLACK PANTHER #1 here!

It could be argued that Wanda helped Steve because she ideologically opposed the Accords and was tired of being treated as some dangerous weapon that needed to be isolated from the rest of the world. Given that Steve opposed the accords and that Vision and Tony both felt that she was too dangerous to be left unsupervised, her alliance with Steve on the tarmac makes sense. Ultimately, however, I think Wanda joined the fight on the tarmac out of loyalty to Steve and Clint who have believed in her since the very beginning.

As for Ant-Man, I think Scott was just happy someone remembered he existed. He has absolutely no idea what he was fighting for or even who he was fighting, for that matter. I’m almost positive he was motivated by pure adoration and idolization of Captain America (and to be honest, I would be the same). He wasn’t even asked to sign the Accords.

It goes without saying that Bucky has no investment in the Accords one way or another. He doesn’t even know a single thing about them. Interestingly enough, his stance on superhero accountability may be the most nuanced of the entire cast. He knows that even though he had no choice in what he was doing as the Winter Solider, he still did it. Whether this abdicates him of guilt for his crimes is not for him to decide.

Tony’s team is equally lackluster in conviction. Peter is present because the Tony Stark asked him to. Basically, he is Tony’s equivalent of Ant-Man.

T’Challa’s sole motivation is to kill Bucky and avenge his father. Simple as that. Furthermore, while he agrees with the Accords in theory, he disagrees with them in practice, as evidenced by his discussion with Natasha at the ratification of the Accords in Vienna. Had his father not died during the U.N. meeting, T’Challa would probably not be involved in the dispute at all. Remember that T’Challa never signed the Accords, so he would not have been forced to help stop Steve and Bucky.

For Natasha, siding with Tony and signing the Accords was the path of least resistance. As she said herself, with one hand on the wheel you can still steer. By the end, however, she allows Steve and Bucky to escape because she knows that Steve won’t stop and that his loyalty to Bucky outweighs his loyalty to the team. She lets them go not because she has been convinced of his stance on the Accords, but because she knows there’s no point in trying to stop Steve. Steve will do what Steve wants. Her friendship with Steve outweighs whatever little opinion she has on the Accords. Black Widow has always had a tenuous, borderline toxic relationship with governments. Her time in the Red Room of Department X and with S.H.I.E.L.D. likely destroyed any faith she might have once had for them.

To an extent, even Vision’s decision to sign the Accords is in line with Natasha’s desire for the path of least resistance. He suggests that the Avengers’ presence invites conflict and conflict brews catastrophe. Much like Tony, he feels that resisting the Accords only leads to unnecessary conflict. Unlike Tony, however, he doesn’t seem to have much of a stance regarding superhero oversight and accountability.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR as a Character Study on Steve Rogers as Captain America

So what though? Does any of this matter?

Yes and no. There is no arguing that CA: CW is a thought-provoking film that manages to incorporate multiple storylines, characters, and themes into one cinematic climax. In fact, upon leaving the theater the first time upon viewing, I had the gut instinct that the film was really good. It wasn’t until after I had time to sit down and think critically that I found myself disappointed with certain aspects of the film. The Russo brothers try to incorporate the two storylines together as best they can, but the result is clumsy to say the least. Regardless, it’s truly a testament to the Russo brothers’ directorial skills that the film has generated such passionate responses from supporters of both sides.

CLICK here to read our thoughts on the ALL NEW ALL DIFFERENT AVENGERS #1!

Most people think that the movie is about the relationships between Tony, Steve, and Bucky, and that’s true to an extent. Some people think that the movie is about the Sokovia Accords and the costs of compromise, and that’s true to an extent as well.

What I will say about CA: CW is this:

CA: CW is about Steve Rogers’s identity as Captain America and what he is willing to sacrifice to maintain that identity. It’s about who Steve Rogers is apart from his superhero persona.

For Steve, Bucky is his lifeline to an identity he’s long forgotten, an identity that has been hidden behind the red, white, and blue costume since 1942. Bucky is a reminder of who Steve Rogers was before Captain America and of the man behind the legend.

By dropping his shield at the very end, Steve chooses his identity as Steve Rogers over his identity as Captain America. Captain America should place the safety of the innocent over all else, and be an infallible symbol of justice and honor.

By dropping his shield, Steve rejects the ideals that the persona forces him to embody. Steve chooses Bucky over Tony and the Avengers. The Avengers may be Captain America’s team, but Bucky is Steve Rogers’s friend. When confronted with the brutal reality that he cannot have both, Steve chooses to shed the mantle of Captain America and reclaim his identity as Steve Rogers, the kid from Brooklyn who used to stuff newspapers in his shoes. In many ways, Steve was never able to shake the feeling that the costume wore him, that he was an impostor filling the wrong skin.

The truth about CA: CW?

The only ones going to war are Steve Rogers and Captain America.

One Comment

  1. […] READ: Want our take on a different civil war? Check out our analysis of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR! […]

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