Captain America: Civil War is the 13th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has also tacked on an additional nine seasons of television, between four series, with more on the way. If nothing else, it’s an incredible feat to keep producing quality stories, and Civil War may even top everything that came before it.
The movie has considerable moral and philosophical heft, which it accomplishes by asking difficult questions about right and wrong. What makes it unique, especially in the current media landscape, is that it achieves this without turning its protagonists into antiheroes. We’re not asked to accept a series of atrocities in service of the greater good, or weigh the need to tamp down our emotional attachments to do what needs to be done. Simultaneously, we’re not asked to see goodness as simple and self-evident.
Instead, we get a smart, nuanced contest of ideas between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, with a conclusion that’s ultimately ambiguous. Despite the high stakes and increasing violence between their factions, the audience is never asked to see either superhero as corrupt or shortsighted or evil. Neither is brainwashed or deceived or misunderstood. The audience sees both as they see themselves, and as they see each other: as good men who have reached incompatible conclusions about how to do the right thing, who are heartbroken by their conflict.
Spoilers for Captain America: Civil War after the jump!