In 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, directors Anthony and Joe Russo, and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, brought a first-rate political thriller into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The same directing/writing team is back to kick off Phase Three of the MCU with Captain America: Civil War, and they don’t disappoint.
The film is set about one year after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and opens with a subset of the Avengers – Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) – on a mission in Africa to stop a band of terrorists, and it doesn’t end well. Separately, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) has a guilt trip (not undeserved!) laid on him by the grieving mother of an American caught in the crossfire during Ultron‘s climactic Battle of Sokovia.
Stark brings in one-time Hulk pursuer General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt), now the US Secretary of State, to the Avengers headquarters’ to inform his cohorts about the impending “Sokovia Accords”, which will turn over regulation and control of “enhanced” individuals to a United Nations committee. As if the United Nations (in our own real world knowledge) has ever shown itself capable of anything productive.
The sides quickly firm up with the most unrestrained, Stark, leading the charge to have the Avengers put under international control. He’s immediately joined by protégé James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) and the Vision (Paul Bettany), who’s largely a Stark creation too. In the one clip from the film I’ll include, Captain America makes the case for why he can’t, and they shouldn’t, give up their autonomy:
Rogers: “We may not be perfect, but the safest hands are still our own.”
Stark: “If we don’t do this now [submit to the accords], it will be done to us later.”
Gee, how many times have we heard Stark’s argument when it comes to expanding government in our own lives? Yield a little, so you don’t give up a lot – except the yielding never turns out to be little. Captain America is adamant that he won’t sign on, and The Falcon and Scarlet Witch stick with him, the latter winding up on effective house arrest in the Avengers’ headquarters.
As the Sokovia Accords are about to be ratified during a UN session in Vienna, Austria, a bomb detonates killing many at the conference including King T’Chaka of Wakanda who was the primary international booster of the Accords (Wakanda is the nation which is the sole source of the fictional “vibranium”, of which Cap’s shield is made). The attack is blamed on the Winter Soldier, aka Steve Rogers’ friend James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Cap takes it on himself to capture his friend, which opens up the conflict between the Stark faction and the Cap faction.
As the fight between our heroes unfolds, we also get the introductions of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), as well as the returns of Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).
Unfortunately, I can’t really give much more detail without spoilers. Suffice to say that the story arcs presupposed from watching the trailers aren’t exactly correct, so there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot to keep everyone interested. Civil War is the longest MCU film to date (2:26), but it never drags.
Winter Soldier‘s themes of absolute power corrupting absolutely and some distrust of authority can be healthy are continued by Civil War, and adds in the rights of the individual to make choices for themselves being superior to the needs of authority to control those choices. One character mentions, “Compromise where you can, but where you can’t: don’t.”
That’s a sentiment many of us will be considering in our politics as we head towards November’s election. Civil War earns its place among libertarian-leaning cultural offerings that “our side” would be well to use in bringing people towards a limited government/limited authority viewpoint. A government with the power to protect you absolutely is also powerful enough to deprive you of everything that makes life worth living.
And it’s a film like CA:CW which shows how conservatives and libertarians regularly fail cultural tests. I can envision conservatives of several different stripes discarding the film simply because it has a character named “Black Panther” (“Oh! This must be a racial justice effort!”), and that’s a total shame. As in our own lives, politics, and cultural interactions, lines do get blurred in the movie, but in the end, inalienable truths on life and liberty turn out to be, well, inalienable. There will be folks who don’t like the message the film delivers, particularly those who think picking the lesser of two evils is a continued path to success.
Ultimately, all of us have choices to make, and we can break down Election 2016 to, “Are you ‘Team Cap’, or are you ‘Team Iron Man’?” Are you for each of us as individuals, or for authority? It will come as no surprise that I’m on Team Cap, yesterday, today, and forever.
On Ed Morrissey’s Hot Air movie rating scale,
- 5 – Full price ticket
- 4 – Matinee only
- 3 – Wait for Blu-Ray/DVD/PPV rental or purchase
- 2 – Watch it when it hits Netflix/cable
- 1 – Avoid at all costs
Captain America: Civil War is a solid 5. In the MCU canon, I’ll rank it a slight notch below The Winter Soldier for total quality, but in the top three or four of the Marvel films thus far. It’s a great kickoff to the summer movie season, and a fantastic start to Phase 3 of the MCU.
I saw CA:CW in XD 3D. When I go to see it again, it will be a 2D showing, mainly because my eyes found some of the more hectic action sequences a little hard to keep track of with the 3D effects. As far as taking the kids, if they’ve seen any of the other MCU films, there’s nothing in this one they haven’t seen content-wise. If you haven’t seen the full Captain America MCU story-arc, you’ll be a little lost on some plot elements, and without having seen Ant-Man, the character’s appearance here will have lack of context as there’s no backstory given.
Captain America: Civil War is rated PG-13 “for extended sequences of violence, action, and mayhem” – which pretty much means it’s a superhero movie.