War is real. Civil wars (super-interesting article) have broken and built; so many have we loved and lost.
One shouldn’t feel thankful to have lived in the time of such an unfortunate event, yet, Civil War is the only heartbreaking, emotionally confusing, infuriating (I spent a good deal of viewing time chanting “Bucky why”), destructive and STUPENDOUSLY glorious event for which you’d feel grateful to have been alive for.
The first thing I should say is: yes, it does live up to the hype.
Somehow Marvel tiptoes past the landmines in the form of dissatisfying endings, disappointing live-action portrayals and leaving emotions and characters lost in translation, and pulls off a hat-trick in making the third Captain America movie in the franchise a memorable spectacle by way of action, drama and character development. Still feeling like a newbie to the MCU, it throws you off how, without expecting too much, every punch makes you grimace – Joe and Anthony Russo, after Winter Soldier, return to the directorial forefront. If the trailers were any indication, every scene sneakily thrown in doubles in intensity: the conflict between Team Iron Man and Team Cap at Leipzig/Halle Airport thrusts you back into your seat as superheroes crumble to their super-human selves, while what crushes your heart is Cap burying his shield into Iron Man’s suit, crushing the super-powered core and deactivating the suit.
Civil War, like the previous two instalments, does not shy away from critiquing government intervention. It is probably Marvel’s lack of hesitation in portraying bureaucracy, and the need for it stemming from a public lack of faith, that makes the film a portrait of humanity and what it feels to have the ability to constantly doubt yourself and those around you. Tony Stark, ever the philanthropist billionaire, takes it upon himself to try to undo the damages done to Sokovia and Lagos in 2015 while battling Ultron (in Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Brock Rumlow (as Crossbones). What prompts him to push the decision of the Sokovia Accords is probably the little chat he has with Miriam Sharpe, whose son died in Sokovia during the face-off with Ultron. You can almost see his face crumble as he realizes that bestowing scholarships, can also undo so much. What we see of Tony is very different from the comics, where he’s hardly the lovable (debatable) sassy playboy, rather a ruthless douchebag who’s hardly ever sorry. To complete what has started since Iron Man, he undergoes the final change, from “F*** this, I’m Iron Man” to an accountable citizen who has to pull the reins, forcing the Avengers to answer to a higher authority, the government.
Honestly, while it’s reasonable, it’s disheartening to see the team led only by good intention and inspirational morals be restrained by a power that controls even the lesser mortals (no offence). And it’s natural – having seen how bureaucracy can rear its ugly insensitive head, forcing people (in and out of the MCU) to trust more in MCU’s vigilantes and S.H.I.E.L.D. (that has been, since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3, operating from the shadows), and how government-sanctioned bodies mostly tyrannize the youth and breed unrest, and how, as Daredevil has pointed out with Wilson Fisk, what is hailed as panacea by society is rarely the hope for rebirth of a city, or the world. Rogers rallies for the free spirit, and in the quest for putting a stop to Helmut Zemo’s plan for undoing the Avengers from the inside, and character-assassinating Bucky Barnes, unwittingly lays out the trail which Tony follows to lead to the massive fallout, and completing Zemo’s mission. Bucky remains the hunted, wrongly by T’Challa (Black Panther), and unfortunately rightfully by Stark.
Comedic entrances apart – Spiderman and Ant-Man come to mind, but enough has been hyped – what strikes one the most are the recurrent themes of victimisation and the strength of friendships that only prove how ordinary the superheroes are.
Technically, what happened in Lagos in Civil War’s first act is a minimization of the tragedy that would’ve occurred had Rumlow succeeded and detonated the bio-weapon in the crowded market as decided.
In Winter Soldier, it was HYDRA, an influential but criminal, immensely powerful organisation that had released their brainwashed supersoldier and would’ve killed millions if Captain America didn’t take the responsibility of capturing Bucky personally.
Sokovia’s destruction, still, had traces of accountability in Stark and Banner, as they had programmed Ultron after themselves, which became a case of man vs. machine.
But prosecution held only the Avengers guilty, because every public trial requires a scapegoat. Even if they’re powered beings trying to keep the world safe from otherworldly invasions by power-hungry demigods (Avengers, Thor, Thor 2: The Dark World) or their own creations gone on a righteous worldwide makeover spree, the Avengers find themselves treated like criminals, imprisoned on the Raft like Falcon, Ant-Man, Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye, or on the run, like Black Widow. It is a subtle reminder of what outside interference can do to even a “super-secret boy band” (remember those days? Sniff).
There’s the prospective of two separate teams of Avengers – Iron Man’s officially-sanctioned Mighty Avengers, aligned with the Fifty States initiative, and Captain America’s New Avengers, anti-registration, and who won’t abide by the Sokovia Accords, but operate on the down-low. This would probably include Cap’s Civil War companions, and as Stark’s last words to Natasha go, she has no option but to go solo or switch sides and join the New Avengers, and work from the shadows – already her forte. These two sides may not rejoin VISIBLY before Avengers: Infinity War, but there’s a chance that their influences are felt directly or indirectly in Spiderman: Homecoming (with Stark financing Peter Parker) or Black Panther (as the first post-credit scene goes, T’Challa lends his Wakandan technology to store Bucky in a cryogenic facility, under Cap’s supervision, till they can invent a way to reprogram him completely).
What separates the extraordinary beings is something very ordinary, and again, very human: revenge. What was refreshing was Marvel abandoning the supervillain trope in Civil War, choosing a normal person, a destroyed father no less, and hitting closer to home. There are men like Tony Stark who owe nothing to the world, but to their parents. It’s hard to see how, with a father we see as emotionally distant in the Iron Man trilogy but as a shrewd businessman and steadfast friend in Agent Carter, yet, Marvel chose a father, who lost his family in the Sokovian tragedy, to take revenge by targeting a son who lost his own, and turning the bureaucratic mess into a personal vendetta. What started off as a difference in ideology zeroes down to just three men: Stark against Bucky and Steve. Bucky, as HYDRA’s former assailant, is commissioned to steal supersoldier serum from an unnamed car on 16th December, 1991, and kill off its occupants. Since Howard Stark was one of the engineers developing the supersoldiers, it isn’t a mere coincidence that Bucky kills Tony’s parents. Zemo, being one of the most capable Sokovian soldiers, is able to find this out through Bucky’s former HYDRA supervisor and by brainwashing him in the Berlin facility, and procures the tapes that bring the final revelation to Tony. Revenge is transferred. Zemo sets the gears in motion for the three to break the Avengers from the inside.
Tony’s vengeance against Steve is real, too: not only did he know of this, but he also sides with one Tony regards a traitor. But Steve’s morality is his super-strength – one of the reasons why Captain America is among the few fully-successful supersoldier experiments. This is one of the reasons why he also refuses to sign the Accords, because his moral strength has remained undisputed, making him a natural leader for a group that continues the good fight, and handing over the reins to his conscience to a highly controllable, easily swayed government is not something Steve is accustomed or can get used to. He throws down the shield, finally, and relieves himself of the Captain America title. What we see is Steve choosing the past over his reputation, or more frankly, responsibility. This does not mean being stuck in the past, because Steve’s guidance could lead to Bucky freedom from HYDRA’s, for lack of a better word, bullshit – as discussed, Steve’s level-headed sway over T’Challa means that Bucky won’t be alone or unassisted during the remainder of his recovery, unlike his stay in Romania. We can be assured that his moral compass remains undeviating, and it doesn’t seem irresponsible if we consider that had Steve not been sentimental over losing the one friend he had – back when he still stuffed newspapers into his shoes – we wouldn’t have had Winter Soldier, and HYDRA would have still possessed a supersoldier that could have entirely changed the main and subsidiary plotlines.
Civil War could have simply been an altercation between two factions resolved by the end, to counter a supervillain, like the previous Avengers films. It could have taken sides, given that it is a Captain America film and could have focused on a particular point of view. But the thing is, it is a representation of a world getting its first hint of renewal, in the form of upheaval of order by shaking one of the firm foundations of the MCU, and questioning the strength of relationships, testing the waters before an ultimate showdown. In the meantime, the microcosm deals with their own crisis, and what remains to be seen is whether this particular outcome affects S.H.I.E.L.D. in the long run. Till then, we pray to Father Feige for a crossover sometime in the distant, living future.
Written by: Sananda Gopalakrishnan