Having (finally) watched Captain America: Civil War, I find myself with some pretty mixed feelings.
I should try to put this into some perspective. The Marvel Comics Civil War was a great idea destroyed by horrible execution. Basically, the US Government decided to pass a law demanding that superheroes register and train – if, of course, they wanted to be superheroes. Iron Man supported the SRA; Captain America flatly refused to support it. Both sides had some very good points, all of which were lost in the rush to actual combat. The pro-registration side ran around looking like jackbooted thugs; the anti-registration side acted like gadflies, rather than trying to put together a coherent response.
Part of the problem, of course, was that the writers were never clear on what the SRA actually said. Was it just superheroes who had to register? Or was it all superhumans? And what procedure were the superheroes to follow? As Law and the Multiverse points out, Luke Cage could have asked – quite reasonably – how he was supposed to register? If all superheroes were supposed to register, that’s one thing; if all superhumans, that’s quite another.
In the real world (yes, I know) policemen hate vigilantes. A man who decides to take the law into his own hands may not follow the law. Gaining a conviction of someone Spiderman drops off at the police station or Batman leaves hanging from a drain may be impossible in any reasonable court of law. Policemen are trained to do everything from tackle criminals to gather evidence that proves their guilt. Breaching procedure can cause all sorts of problems for later. Even Sherlock can cause problems for the police.
In short, if the basic idea is to regulate and train superheroes, I support it. Training may make the difference between life and death. But if the basic idea is to register superhumans merely for being superhumans, I am against it.
The movie rests on a rather shaky foundation. Wanda – the Scarlet Witch – accidentally causes a disaster during an attempt to stop a supervillain plot. The various world governments decide to put a collar on the Avengers, insisting that they submit to global oversight. Tony Stark supports it; Steve Rogers does not. At that point, matters become muddied by a bombing apparently carried out by Bucky Barns, aka The Winter Soldier. With a manhunt underway for Barns, Captain America is forced to choose between his friends and the accords. It isn’t a surprise that he chooses his friends.
As a movie, Civil War looks great. But it does have problems. The whole dispute that leads to the first major battle, dragging in almost every MCU hero (Thor and Hulk are the only major exceptions) could have been handled with a proper conversation between Stark and Rogers. And while it’s hard to blame Tony “I have daddy issues” Stark for being pissed at the Winter Soldier, it’s possible the whole tragedy could have been averted if everyone had just taken a breath and calmed down. The villain’s plot rested on correctly predicting how Captain America would react to his friend being framed.
Civil War also introduces two new characters; Spiderman and Black Panther. Spiderman is younger than I expected, but the actor makes the character work. His role in the film is smaller than the comic, for better or worse. I disliked the first set of Spiderman movies, so this is a definite improvement. On the downside, Spiderman doesn’t get as much screen time as I would have liked.
The jury is still out on Black Panther. I freely admit that I loathe the comic character with a passion. Unlike War Machine, Luke Cage (or Green Lantern John Stewart), Black Panther is not a well-rounded character, but a shameless piece of racial pandering that is, in many ways, strikingly racist. And sometimes not always in the way you’d expect. (The less said about the Storm miniseries the better.) The movie version is much better than the comic book version, but – again – we just don’t see enough of Black Panther to make any definite judgements. His flaws are not yet manifest.
People may ask why this is a Captain America movie, rather than Avengers III. I think, at heart, it is because the story revolves around Captain America. Having learned harsh lessons about being a good (and unquestioning) soldier in his previous movie, Cap is less inclined to bow the knee to any sort of government oversight. (And realistically, who would expect the UN, even with the best will in the world, to do a good job.) It is Steve Rogers who decides to resist the accords, then save Bucky even though he knows it will put him on the wrong side of the law.
But the movie also explores Steve’s flaws. Wanda was not under arrest in Stark Tower, merely grounded. What would have happened if Wanda, blamed for the first disaster, was seen on the streets? But Steve decides to break her out without thinking, allowing his emotions to steer his path. Rallying the troops to fight, despite the potential consequences, was a mistake. And then choosing to conceal the truth behind Howard Stark’s death until it was too late.
In this perspective, Iron Man serves as the foil to Captain America. Tony is not as cold and emotionless as his armour suggests, but he has strong reasons to support the Accords. (I don’t think it was mentioned, but Tony is the only one of the Avengers who can genuinely be blamed for causing a problem – Ultron.) Tony is fighting desperately to keep his sole remaining family together, while Captain America is breaking it up. He supports the Accords because he feels that accountability is important, but also because he worries that something worse will be on the way.
And, as in the comics, both sides have a point.
One can easily accuse Tony of crossing the line, well before War Machine’s near-death. I’m not sure how old Spiderman is in the MCU, but I’d put him at somewhere between 15-17 – a child-soldier, by any reasonable definition. And yet, the same could be said for Wanda. She isn’t much older than Peter Parker, with marginally more experience in the field. But she is treated as a front-line Avenger.
The lesser characters get some moments too, although they’re not always to their advantage. Wanda comes across as a petulant teenager at times, smarting under being grounded and unwilling to admit that it’s for her own safety. Vision, who clearly has feelings for Wanda, is making clumsy attempts to court her. Their relationship suffers before it truly begins when they wind up on opposing sides. Ant-Man (and Spiderman) fan-boy over Captain America, Falcon and Black Widow make hard choices (although Widow seems to get away with her decision to betray Iron Man.)
I was surprised to see General Ross return, let alone be the driving force behind the Accords. I thought he was the villain at first. But thinking about it, his attitude makes sense. Ross probably got into deep shit after The Incredible Hulk. He’s not going to be too happy at the Avengers seemingly getting away with far worse.
Overall, there are some great moments in the film. The confrontation between the two sides at the airport looks fantastic, with superpowers used to their best advantage. Anyone who thinks that Tony holds all the cards will be shocked by the battle. But, at the same time, the movie doesn’t make quite as much sense as the comic book.
But that’s just my inner critic. Overall, I liked the movie.