I feel like I’ve been waiting for Captain America: Civil War to come out for most of my adult life, even though it’s only been two years since Winter Soldier. Needless to say, it barely felt real going into the theater on Thursday night. I had no idea what to expect, no idea how high I should allow my hopes for the writing to be, and no idea whether I’d leave the movie emotionally devastated. (Okay, that’s a lie—I knew it was a question of how emotionally devastated I’d be, not whether it would happen at all.) And with the bad taste of Age of Ultron still in my mouth, I was generally worried for the state of the franchise.
I am happy to report that Captain America: Civil War was almost exactly the big-screen, action/adventure, Stucky-focused hurt/comfort fic I was desperately hoping to see. Spoilers after the jump!
When a botched attempt to foil a terrorist attack leaves a slew of civilian casualties, the U.S. government comes to the Avengers with an ultimatum: sign themselves away to the UN and only deploy on missions approved by committee, or be considered vigilantes and prosecuted. Tony, who’s done a character about-face in recent years after coming to terms with both his personal failure in creating Ultron and the massive casualty count the team has racked up, is all for oversight. Rhodey, Vision, and Nat side with him for their own various reasons. Steve, on the other hand, is not so sure. What if they’re sent to fight a battle they don’t agree with? What if they’re refused permission to defend something at risk? He, Wanda, and Sam refuse to sign the so-called Sokovia Accords, and are basically benched until such time as they change their minds. This change is not forthcoming, however; in fact, Steve is even more firmly set in his decision when Peggy passes away. The loss of this connection to his past sets Cap adrift, and the eulogy Sharon gives about something her Aunt Peggy once told her—a paraphrasing of Cap’s famous “no, you move” speech from the comics—feels to him like a message from the beyond.
Secondly, the meeting to sign the Accords is also attacked by a bomber who appears to be Bucky. The high-profile casualties of the explosion include T’Chaka, the king of Wakanda, and his death sends his son T’Challa on a hunt to track down his father’s killer. Cap finds Bucky first and manages to keep T’Challa from killing him, but Bucky is brought into custody. Now the pro-Accords people have the ultimate bargaining chip against Steve: submit, and your BFF will be sent to a psych facility and treated as the traumatized, albeit deadly, POW that he is; don’t, and he’ll be prosecuted to the fullest for, you know, killing at least one world leader just in this movie, plus his whole murder-y backlog.
All is not as it seems; however—it turns out that the whole bombing was orchestrated by a guy named Zemo who’s nursing a vendetta against the Avengers. He infiltrates the high security compound posing as the Terrorism Task Force’s psychiatrist, and then hits Bucky with a string of trigger words designed to wake up his Winter Soldier sleeper programming. Bucky goes full assassin hard mode on the Avengers, and Cap springs into action to interfere and get him out of there. He, Bucky, and the rest of the anti-Accords Avengers bust out of there and regroup. Both sides realize now that it’s going to come to a showdown between them, so they reach out to recruit more people to their sides. Cap springs Wanda out of the Avengers compound, convinces Clint to come out of ‘retirement’, and snags Ant-Man through Sam. Black Panther sides with the pro-Accords squad, and Tony heads off to Queens to recruit a bright-eyed young webslinger to his side.
Meanwhile, Bucky confides in Steve that he thinks he knows what Zemo’s after: a facility in Siberia where four other Winter Soldiers—men and women who were more powerful but also more rebellious and violent than Bucky—are still being kept in cryosleep. They need to get there and stop him, and so the big battle takes place at an airfield as Tony’s side tries to stop Steve and Bucky from acquiring the means to fly out there. They duke it out but are unable to stop the two men from escaping with a quinjet.
After putting all his anti-Accords friends in jail, Tony stumbles on evidence that Steve was right—Bucky was framed for the bombing and Zemo is the real problem. He heads off to Russia after them, stealthily followed by Black Panther. When they arrive Tony apologizes and they discover that Zemo has killed the four other Soldiers—he sees them as abominations—and then Zemo reveals his hand: he plays mission footage of the Winter Soldier taking out none other than Howard and Maria Stark. The revelation that Steve’s best friend killed his parents and that Steve knew and hid it from him sends Tony into a rage, and the three men fly into their most brutal fight yet—one from which Cap emerges only nominally victorious. Meanwhile, T’Challa arrives in time to discover that Zemo is his father’s real murderer, and takes him into custody while the other three fight. After the battle, he spirits Team Cap away to Wakanda to recuperate in secrecy while Tony and the remaining Avengers lick their wounds.
Overall, this was a fantastic movie. My biggest concern before seeing it was that they had such a glut of characters that no one character would be done justice. With this as the first outing of the newer, more diverse Avengers, and as the debut of Black Panther, I was very worried that a poor balance of characters would doom the new cast’s future. Thankfully a combination of tremendous acting from the top billing all the way down and excellent writing on the part of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely meant we dodged that bullet neatly. They did a fantastic job of helping us understand each character’s motivations and helping us relate even to the characters that we disagreed with. In my case as a Team Cap supporter, this meant that I really felt for Tony and could easily understand the character journey that brought him from the first Iron Man through Age of Ultron and to the person he is now, and how that growth as a person has put him on the pro-Accords side.
I was also impressed at the nuanced job the movie did portraying the issue at the heart of the conflict. Much like Winter Soldier used its conflict to comment on government oversight in terms of privacy and domestic espionage, Civil War asked some hard questions about how free individual entities, in this case the Avengers team, should be to act with impunity in threat situations. It’s hard not to empathize with both sides—Steve is mistrustful of signing away the team’s independence to a committee and given his history since he woke up, I don’t super blame him. The World Security Council would have rather nuked Manhattan than let the Avengers take on the Chitauri, and SHIELD turned out to be a front for Nazis. Meanwhile, Tony is deeply aware of his past mistakes and feels that oversight will keep them from making any more Sokovia-sized holes in the planet. The conflict gives extra weight and relevance to what could have easily just been an enjoyable early-summer blockbuster.
While I had high hopes for Black Panther going into the movie based on what I’d read in interviews, I really didn’t have a clear picture in my head of what the character would be like. T’Challa turned out to be a badass and multidimensional character who tempered his desire for vengeance with compassion and a strong personal sense of justice. The small glimpses of Wakanda and Wakandan culture that we saw in this movie left me incredibly hyped for the Black Panther solo film. On the flip side of this, there’s the other new-to-the-MCU hero with an upcoming solo outing, Spider-Man. I think he had just enough screentime to merit his inclusion in the story without taking away from the bigger picture. And while I am still utterly unexcited about an MCU Spider-Man solo film, especially given the movies being pushed back in the lineup to accommodate it, I have to admit that Tom Holland is probably the best live-action Spider-Man I’ve seen. He looks and acts like a teenager, he’s starstruck by Tony, and even though he seems dramatically out of his depth in the big fight, he’s still as quippy as a Spider-Man ought to be.
Coming back around to Black Panther, though, this has got to be the first movie I’ve ever seen that featured multiple Black superheroes. Not only did we get Sam, Rhodey, and T’Challa at the same time, they all also got to have their own screentime and their own opinions and problems. Unfortunately, though, this movie still falls into the problem of diversity meaning white women and Black men—there were no notable female characters of color in the film, nor were there any non-Black people of color. Furthermore, Rhodey gets shot down in the big fight when Vision, firing on Tony’s command, misses his target. He breaks his spine in several places and we later see him struggling to relearn to walk in physical therapy. I kind of saw this as a failed attempt at fridging—the setup of Rhodey getting hurt was entirely meant to make Tony feel bad and to make us feel bad for Tony. And while it succeeded in making Tony feel bad, and made me feel bad for Rhodey, I didn’t really buy into feeling bad for Tony. He had to know that starting a no-holds-barred superfight between a dozen enhanced people was unavoidably going to lead to some casualties.
As far as the portrayal of Bucky and his mental state, I feel like they strayed a little bit too far into the sunshine-and-daisies side of recovery. Although Bucky is still susceptible to his sleeper programming via the trigger words, being on his own and out of conditioning for so long means that all his memories have returned, both of his missions as the Winter Soldier and of being James Buchanan Barnes. This makes it easy for him to slip back into place alongside Steve as his best friend and doesn’t delve into the more realistic possibility that having his brain zapped so many times over the course of seven decades would leave him with unfixable gaps in his memories. At the end of the movie Bucky decides to go back into cryosleep in Wakanda until a solution for his programming can be found. While this is kind of sad, I’m okay with it for a couple of reasons: first, it was his choice, and for a guy who hasn’t been allowed to even choose what he wants to eat in half a century, letting him act on his own agency is important. Secondly, putting Bucky in cryo now likely means that, at some point in Infinity War, he’s gonna pop up and save Cap’s ass with some kind of “Bet you weren’t expecting me!” quip, and I’m already looking forward to that.
Natasha didn’t get a ton of screentime in this movie, but I was satisfied with what she got. Her characterization was far superior to that of Age of Ultron’s, and her personal conflict between being Steve’s friend and being pro-Accords gave her a nice non-romantic storyline to work with. I was especially glad to see her switch sides and help Steve and Bucky escape at the end of the big throwdown, a twist I’d been hoping for since I saw that she was siding with Team Iron Man in the promotional materials. I was a little more ambivalent about the way the movie handled Sharon Carter—she could certainly hold her own in a fight, but most of her screentime outside of Peggy’s funeral was spent fetching weapons for Steve’s crew and having vague sexual tension with him. (When they finally kissed a guy in my theater yelled, “She’s Peggy’s nephew, ew!” and a herd of people yelled back “Niece!”)
Speaking of romance, much like Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I feel like this movie had a little bit of everything ship-wise. Tony and Rhodey? Check. Steve and Wanda? Wanda and Vision? Steve and Bucky? Tony and Steve? Steve and Sharon? All also check. Unfortunately, however, for all the talk of this movie being essentially a romance between Steve and Bucky, the only actual romantic overtones came to a head with the aforementioned kiss between Sharon and Steve. While the scene itself was hilarious—they kiss in front of Sam and Bucky, and their expressions when Steve turns back to his two best friends are priceless—I’m wondering when, if ever, we’re going to get any sort of queer representation in the MCU.
Overall, however, I really enjoyed this movie. I’m looking forward to seeing it a few more times just to pick up on all the little details. And while it brought a relatively satisfactory end to Cap and Bucky’s story, it was also kind of an Avengers movie, and in that light it was on a different plane of quality than Age of Ultron could ever hope to reach. Seeing how the Russos handled the team this time around leaves me confident that Infinity War, which they’re also helming, is in good hands—especially relieving given the recent accidental slip that Captain Marvel will be showing up in that one. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a whole new world of Stucky fanfiction starting to blossom out there on the internet. I’ll catch you all later.