Introductory note: I reviewed Captain America: Civil War last month. This following article is a more detailed analysis of Captain America: Civil War and as such does give away some important parts of the plot.
The latest movie in the Captain America series Captain America: Civil War is aptly named. Beyond the visible division between members of the Avengers team as peace, alliances, and friendships crack, divisions in goals and ideals also emerge. Even as I think about the problems the movie presents, addresses, and leaves unfinished, I find myself divided in my opinions about the story, characters, and message. The story is more realistic (for a superhero movie), yet less satisfying, for the questions the movie poses are not simple ones to answer.
As usual, Tony Stark is the spark of trouble, but Steve Rogers (Captain America), instead of being a peacemaker, is uncharacteristically at the other end of the conflict. Stark feels responsible for the civilian casualties he and the Avengers have left behind, and he argues that the Avengers team needs oversight and restrictions. In Stark’s opinion, the Hero Registration Act which the United Nations proposes is the best answer to the problems the Avengers are facing. The plan places the Avengers under an international authority, giving the Avengers the accountability they need, and Stark thinks the Avengers should take advantage of this compromise before nations begin taking more forceful actions against the Avengers. According to many nations, the superhero team has become unpredictable and dangerous, even towards those they seek to protect, and Stark thinks the criticism is accurate.
On the other end of the dispute, Steve Rogers has some valid arguments. Rogers doesn’t discount Stark’s concern about civilian casualties; in fact, Rogers has a discussion with Wanda (Scarlet Witch) early in the movie, reminding her, “This job…we try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes that doesn’t mean everybody. But if we can’t find a way to live with that, next time…maybe nobody gets saved” (“Quotes”). Rogers understands that civilian casualties are an almost inevitable part of conflict, but he accepts that risk. Recalling S.H.I.E.L.D.’s corruption, Rogers also does not trust any organization to oversee the Avengers, for Rogers fears that such oversight will cause the Avengers to help the wrong agendas and will hinder the team from saving people. Interestingly, in The Winter Soldier, Rogers initially wanted to be a soldier and just obey orders. Now, in the aftermath of S.H.I.E.L.D., Rogers seems to have swung to the opposite extreme, not wanting to obey any authority but his own conscience.
In addition to the interesting questions the movie poses about oversight and limitations of power, there are several other problems and themes that the story covers. During one of the credit scenes, Black Panther claims Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) is a “victim.” While this is partly true, it does not acquit Barnes of the crimes he committed while under others’ control. Barnes deserves to be tried for his crimes for the sake of those whom he killed. In a just trial, the judge and jury would account for Barnes’s lack of control over his actions and would reduce his charges and sentencing. Hiding Barnes only delays the problem of facing what he has done, the consequences of his actions, and his own guilt.
Another thought-provoking theme is about compromise and principles. Partway through the movie, a character quotes Steve Rogers’ friend Peggy Carter as having said, “Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say, ‘No, you move.’” This advice is quite solid. Nevertheless, Rogers does not appear to have been listening to the first part of the speech; all he remembers is “No, you move,” and he fails to realize that he can compromise, if he and Tony Stark will only take the time to stop arguing and listen to each other.
Captain America: Civil War has some good themes, but also some twisted interpretations of them. Peggy Carter’s speech appears to be a call to Captain America to stick to his uncompromising choices and seems to ennoble him in his decision. Also, even though Tony Stark is on the right road in wanting oversight for the Avengers, his ballistic behavior turns the audience and Steve Rogers against him, making the Hero Registration Act and anything like it seem to be a bad idea. Tony Stark aims for a good end, but uses the wrong means because he acts out of guilt, a desire to hand over responsibility for his actions to other people, and fear that the world will turn against the Avengers, and him. Several times in Civil War, the story touches on Stark’s background and reveals he is a miserable, lonely person who is full of regret and guilt and whose most common answer to problems is to ignore them or get angry. Sadly, Steve Rogers is too focused on saving one friend and defeating villains to realize he is losing other friends who need him too, like Tony Stark. What disappoints me most, though, is that the entire Avengers team allows their division and anger to get out of hand so that friend is fighting friend. Even the severe injury of one of the Avengers is not enough to bring the superheroes to their senses; it is only fuel for more anger and a sharp reminder of how dangerous and destructive their war is.
In spite of all the damage the Avengers team has suffered, though, some hope remains for reconciliation. When Captain America explains why he did the many things for which Stark may never forgive him, Cap ends by promising that he and the rogue Avengers will come if Stark ever calls for them. Stark most likely does not accept Rogers’ reasoning as right, and I would probably agree with him, but I still hope that Stark will eventually swallow his pride and be able to forgive those who have hurt him and acknowledge some of his own mistakes as well. What Captain America, Tony Stark, and the entire Avengers team needs now is not superpowers, but a lot of humility and forgiveness.
“Captain America: Civil War (2016) Quotes.” IMDb.com. 2016. Internet Movie Database. 20 Aug. 2016 <www.imdb.com/title/tt3498820/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu>.