In 2006, Marvel Comics released a seven issue limited series that changed the comic landscape forever. Civil War, the brainchild of writer Mark Millar, centered on the idea of the government creating a Superhuman Registration Act. On the idea, Millar said:
“I opted instead for making the superhero dilemma something a little different. People thought they were dangerous, but they did not want a ban. What they wanted was superheroes paid by the federal government like cops and open to the same kind of scrutiny. It was the perfect solution and nobody, as far as I’m aware, has done this before.”
Millar was onto something. Civil War felt new and refreshing. It also led to countless debates both inside the realm of the comic universe and between readers. Iron Man was on the side of pro-registration while Captain America took the side of anti-registration. Superheroes and supervillains took sides eventually leading to a clash. Few storylines since have come close to matching this level of storytelling (something even the pseudo-sequel Civil War II failed to accomplish).
Ten years later, the Marvel Cinematic Universe loosely adapted the storyline for Captain America: Civil War. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely streamlined the story and used the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron as a catalyst for the MCU’s version of the Superhuman Registration Act: The Sokovia Accords. However, Marvel Studios also had to make Civil War feel like a continuation of Cap’s story from The Winter Soldier.
Civil War is often referred to as Avengers 2.5 by fans, and they’re not wrong. Age of Ultron left Captain America as the leader of the New Avengers, so any Cap sequel that ignored this development would feel strange and out of place. Civil War begins with the New Avengers in Lagos stopping Crossbones (Frank Grillo) from stealing a biological weapon. Crossbones and Cap duke it out one-on-one, but when Crossbones knows he is defeated he starts blabbing about “Bucky this, Bucky that” taking Cap out of the moment. This allows Crossbones to detonate a bomb strapped to him; however, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) uses her magic powers to contain the blast just around Crossbones. She sends him up into the air and it explodes taking out an entire floor of a nearby building containing Wakandan humanitarian workers.
This incident, coupled with the Battle of New York (Marvel’s The Avengers), the Battle at the Triskelion (The Winter Soldier), and the Sokovia Incident (Age of Ultron) leads newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt; side note: The Incredible Hulk is made relevant again in the MCU) to visit the Avengers compound and drop some heavy exposition on the Sokovia Accords. Basically, the only options are to sign it or retire.
Immediately, tension flare up and sides are already taken. Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and War Machine (Don Cheadle) are bickering over the Accords while Vision notes that since Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) became Iron Man the number of catastrophic events has risen. This scene starts to show the alliances forming between the two factions. However, before this debate can continue, Cap (Chris Evans) is interrupted with a text revealing that Peggy Carter has passed away. Avengers 2.5 screeches to a halt so that Cap 3 can begin chugging along.
Peggy’s funeral reveals that Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) is her niece which only makes her kiss with Cap later in the film slightly weird (but okay, because it gave us that awesome Sam & Bucky nodding their heads in approval gif). Sharon’s speech at the funeral also seems to confirm Cap’s belief that the Sokovia Accords are wrong, opting not to go to Vienna to sign them at the United Nations.
The move in scenery to Vienna kickstarts Avengers 2.5 again as we are introduced to T’Chaka (John Kani) and his son T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) of Wakanda. Although, then a bomb goes off killing T’Chaka and making T’Challa swear vengeance on the bomber. Now who is the first suspect of the bombing? Cap’s old friend Bucky/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).
This is where Avengers 2.5 and Cap 3 merge to tell one satisfying story. The government wants the Sokovia Accords even more now that an enhanced individual like the Winter Soldier is going around bombing the U.N. and killing innocent lives. This leads Cap on his own personal mission to hunt down Bucky eventually finding him holed up in a dingy apartment in Bucharest.
However, the authorities are not far behind him and we get an awesome stairway fight scene that transitions into one heck of a chase scene involving Bucky, Black Panther, Cap, and Falcon. It is seriously entertaining, yet there are two better fight scenes later in the film. I will note that some highlights worth pointing out include Bucky single-handily grabbing and hopping on a motorcycle, Cap checking his side mirror and seeing Black Panther in it, and just the overall last few seconds where everyone comes crashing together before War Machine stops them.
Black Panther, Falcon, Bucky, and Cap are taken into custody by Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), a member of the CIA’s Joint Counter Terrorism Center. Bucky is put in a cell and is evaluated by a psychiatrist (spoiler, not really) while Cap and Stark argue over the Accords (and sort-of-kind-of Howard Stark?). The cracks in this friendship are beginning to show. However —BAM— the psychiatrist has set Bucky free and into full-on Winter Soldier mode. We get some decent choreographed fight scenes involving the Winter Soldier against Stark, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Sharon Carter, and Black Panther. The real kicker is that this scene leads us to the main highlight of the Civil War: The Airport Fight Scene.
Cap and Falcon are hiding out with Bucky’s metal arm trapped under a press. Bucky reveals what the psychiatrist wanted (more on this “psychiatrist’s” plan later) and where the have to go to stop them. Cap and Falcon muse over what to do next before Falcon suggests that he knows a guy who could be of some help. Cut to Tony and Natasha talking about how to find Cap and Bucky with both having ideas of recruits. Natasha’s is down in the lobby (i.e., Black Panther), but Stark’s is in Queens. Queens? As in the home of…
…hot Aunt May! Okay, and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Tobey Maguire will always be my Spider-Man, but Holland does a damn fine job in the role. The decision to actually make Aunt May the proper age to realistically be Peter’s Aunt was a great decision and helps differentiate her from past live-action incarnations. I was also ready for an Aunt May/Tony Stark flirtationship which the MCU squashed before it had even begun.
The airport fight scene is certainly the most ambitious and entertaining piece of cinema Marvel Studios has ever released. This is the definition of playing with all the toys in the sandbox. In twenty minutes, Civil War crams in so many nerdgasms that you lose count. The introduction of Spider-Man into the MCU leads to Falcon quipping, “Everyone has a gimmick these days,” and Spider-Man calling Winter Soldier’s metal arm “so cool.” Hawkeye quips about shooting 18 on 18 holes of golf while Scarlet Witch rains cars down on Iron Man. Spider-Man and Captain America have a one-on-one with Cap remarking on Spidey having heart, smiling when he finds out they’re both New York. Iron Man and War Machine uppercutting Giant-Man together. There is so much goodness to go around. However, none of this tops the simple few moments of both sides walking towards each other, then breaking into a run, and then there is literally only a few seconds of this gorgeous shot of everyone fighting each other. Infinity War might have 76 characters interacting with each other, but Civil War proved that large ensembles could work in the MCU.
Alright, so if the Airport Fight is the best action scene in Civil War and the Bucharest chase is #3 then what is second? For that answer, we finally talk about Siberia and the fake psychiatrist: Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl).
Flashbacks to 1991 are spliced throughout Civil War detailing a mission the Winter Soldier went on to retrieve a briefcase of goods. Over the course of the movie, more and more of this mission is shown. We find out that Bucky was not the only Winter Solider and that there are others in cryo-sleep in Siberia where he was kept. Originally, we are led to believe Zemo wants to use these super-soliders to enact global terrorism. However, a more simple and personal agenda is in play. Captain America, Winter Solider, and Iron Man all arrive at the Siberia compound around the same time. Iron Man (having been given information clearing Bucky of the Vienna bombing) is now trying to apologize by helping Cap. The three come across Zemo (hidden behind a blast proof wall) who has killed the remaining super-soldiers.
Zemo then plays a tape, a recording of the 1991 flashbacks we have been seeing throughout the movie. Stark immediately recognizes the date, car, everything. The case containing the super-soldier serum the Winter Soldier was sent to retrieve belonged to Howard Stark (John Slattery). The Winter Solider revealed to Cap and Natasha that HYDRA was responsible for Stark’s parents’ deaths, but now we realize that it was Bucky that carried out the hit.
This has been Zemo’s plan all along, to tear the Avengers apart from the inside. Iron Man, Cap, and Bucky engage in a three-way fight (there is your #2) as Iron Man does not care what relation Bucky is to Cap, all he knows is that Bucky killed his mom. A lot of people have talked about how Zemo’s plan is faulty, how everything would have to go to plan for it to work. However, watching it again, I realized that Zemo leaves in precautions to prevent his plan from failing. He knows that Cap and Bucky will head to Siberia to follow him, but to get Iron Man there he makes sure the corpse of the real psychiatrist and a mask resembling Bucky is found throwing doubt into the Vienna bombing. Sure, there were still numerous ways for it to go wrong, but for what is shown on screen it is not entirely implausible.
Zemo’s family was killed during the Sokovia Incident. That alone is enough to drive a man to revenge. As he revealed to Black Panther:
“My father lived outside the city, and I thought we would be safe there. My son was excited. He could see the Iron Man from the car window. I told my wife, “Don’t worry. They’re fighting in the city. We’re miles from harm.” And the dust cleared, and the screaming stopped. It took me two days until I found their bodies. My father still holding my wife and son in his arms… And the Avengers? They went home. I knew I couldn’t kill them. More powerful men than me have tried. But if I could get them to kill each other…”
This speech, along with “An empire toppled by its enemies can rise again. But one which crumbles from within? That’s dead. Forever.” not only humanize Zemo but presents a strong case about why he is one of the better MCU villains. He does not have a superpower or is tied to any villainous organization like HYDRA or the Ten Rings, Zemo is a victim of the Avengers destruction. It does not matter that Zemo was captured by the Black Panther or locked up at the end. He won. The Avengers tore themselves apart. I mean, I remember seeing the end of Civil War in theaters and watching Cap slam his shield again-and-again into Stark’s suit’s reactor. For a second, the thought of “Oh my god, is Stark going to die at Cap’s hands?” flickered across my mind. It was heartbreakingly brutal to watch. The “But he’s my friend”/”So was I” line was also a stab to the heart. The look on Stark’s face just hit home that this friendship was broken.
Civil War closes on a more optimistic note with Stark helping Rhodes walk again (after his War Machine suit went dead stick; seriously, would we have cared if he had died?) and Cap breaking out his faction from the Raft. Cap reaches out to Stark leaving him a cellphone that he can use to contact him if need be. It sets the stage for Infinity War but still leaves these characters separated and not exactly on speaking terms.
The Captain America trilogy is easily the MCU’s finest work. Iron Man and Thor each have one or two installments that do not sit well with the majority of fans, but Captain America can hold his head high knowing he has one of the best superhero trilogies ever made. Civil War is one of my favorite movies. It’s a well crafted story with some great dialogue and scenes. There is so much to love about this film from the quips to the heart to the idea of believing what you are fighting for is right, that people have agendas and agendas change. I’ll stop talking about Civil War now because I could do this all day.