Another set of superheroes is mad at each other. Maybe it’s something in the water. Or the ink. Or maybe people whose lives revolve around physical combat are bound to come to blows themselves at some point. Both Captain America and Iron Man—the two faces of the two side of the conflict in this movie—decided long ago that the best way to resist evil was with their fists, so perhaps it’s only natural that they’d turn their fists toward each other at some point.
Captain America: Civil War would have you think so. To be fair, the series has been seeding this conflict between Steve and Tony for a long time. As Kevin Nye explores in his excellent article on the multi-entry character arcs of each mighty hero, every time they talk, they disagree. It’s only when they’re fighting that they get along. Sort of. Even the first two lines of the preceding Avengers movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron, has them at odds (“Language!”). They need an enemy bigger than each other to get them to see eye to eye.
That enemy in this film is a mysterious man named Zemo who is trying to trigger Steve Rogers’ friend Bucky into going rogue and doing his bidding. Zemo does this by saying a series of unrelated words to Bucky in a specific order. Even the movie’s Big Bad uses words to spark unrest. Steve is convinced Bucky isn’t responsible for his actions and sets off to save him from himself and from the government agents tracking him down. That’s the “Captain America” part of this movie.
The “Civil War” part comes about because following the mass destruction perpetrated by the Avengers in a handful of major world cities, the UN wants to put the mercenary force in check. Haunted by regret, Tony Stark is on board with the accord and tries to convince the other Avengers to go along. Steve bucks for Bucky, and Tony and a few others have to keep Steve and a few other others in check lest they make the situation with the UN worse.
Yeah, there’s a lot of plot in this movie, but to the Russo brothers’ credit, they do a good job keeping all the pieces moving. Captain America: Civil War is terrifically entertaining. Watching the film, I didn’t think it offered much to think about, due primarily to the fact that these characters are relatively static. They are who they need to be to come to blows when the movie begins, and the movie is aimed toward that second-act-ending showdown between the Avengers with a precision that would make Hawkeye proud. Yes, he’s here too—he gets my favorite line in the film about a golf game he recently played—as are a few new superheros, a spry Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, whose forthcoming solo film directed by Ryan Coogler can’t come soon enough) and a millennial Spider-Man (Tom Holland – gee-whiz!) eager to do good and in love with retro tech.
Sorry, I got distracted there for a minute by all the “extra” in this movie. Let’s get back to what this movie gives you to think about.
Then again, maybe my digression is appropriate. As I said, Captain America: Civil War is more interested in fulfilling what’s been promised for the past five years and setting up what is to come for the next three. This Marvel series nods to contemporary issues—security, terrorism, government surveillance, etc. You can make the leap if you want—this movie is full of great leaps; institute an Oscar for stunt work, and give it to Heidi Moneymaker, Scarlett Johansson’s stunt double—but you’re just going to land back within the MCU. It’s really a hermetically sealed universe built to continually refocus your attention back on it. “Spider-Man will return,” the credits tell us. I’m sure he will, and I’ll be there to see him, too.
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