There are a number of reasons why I’m the worst person to review Captain America: Civil War. My knowledge of the MCU is tenuous; though, like so many of us, I am engaging in a deep rewatch of the films before Avengers: Infinity Wars next week. For me, these films have never been a source of obsession. Instead, I turn to them when I’m home sick or need a pick-me-up: They’re meant to be fun and stupid and lighthearted, and I want all of the Mark Ruffalo gifs and none of the Phil Coulson baseball card guilt.
Which is why I unequivocally hate Captain America.
He is the antithesis of everything I need from the MCU films. Steve Rogers is a perfect symbol of American imperialism and backward thinking: He is stubborn, self-righteous, loyal, values-driven, too serious and, boringly, good. That’s his whole thing, being the good guy. A red blooded, meat-eating, truck-driving, testosterone-oozing American man.
Yet, here I am, attempting to give Civil War a fair shake. Truth be told, I always want to categorize it as an Avengers film, not one of Captain America’s depressive and terrifyingly buff stories. At its core, Civil War is a story of relationships: the Avengers’ broken trust with the world they protect, their ties with one another, Cap’s loyalty to Bucky Barnes and our heroes’ evolving views of themselves.
Like any good MCU movie, we open on a battle in a nondescript African country and with no reason why we’re fighting it. Only after destroying most of an open-air market do we learn that Crossbones (Brock Rumlow), last seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is after a biological weapon, and — of course — only the Avengers can stop him. Crossbones sets off the bomb in an attempt to take Captain America down with him, but Wanda throws the explosion into the sky and kills several Wakandan humanitarian workers.
These civilian casualties set the backdrop for Civil War, where the U.N. decides they must formally oversee the Avengers to keep them in check. Whether or not to sign sends our heroes into strife, with Cap unsurprisingly coming down on the side of American liberty and refusing to be regulated. This is ultimately the basis for the, ahem, civil war among the Avengers. Matters are only made worse when the U.N. convenes to sign this agreement, the Sokovia Accords, and Helmut Zemo disguised as the Winter Soldier sets off a bomb, killing Wakanda’s King T’Chaka. (That’s right, folks! We meet Black Panther in this one.)
Though I often only remember this film for the silly fight scene with giant Ant-Man, Civil War is surprisingly emotional. Except, of course, for Captain America, who is incapable of introspection.
Villains in this universe often leave me unsatisfied and asking, “But why are they doing this?” at the film’s close. But Zemo, frankly, makes my heart break. Losing everyone he loved in Sokovia, he embarks on an incredibly complicated plan to destroy the Avengers — by having them destroy themselves. And it works! But as Black Panther poetically drops at the film’s denouement, “Vengeance has consumed you. It’s consuming [the Avengers]. I’m done letting it consume me,” over the death of his father.
Civil War is like a goddamn classic Disney movie with how many parents die or have died along this plot line. Along with Zemo’s loss, Black Panther seeks to kill Bucky over the death of his father, and Iron Man learns that the Winter Soldier killed his parents in 1991, setting off the final battle.
Poor Tony. He is wrong about Bucky blowing up the U.N. for the entire film, and once he finally has his “Come to Jesus” moment, he learns Bucky killed his folks — and what’s worse: Cap knew! No fight scene in the entire MCU is harder for me to watch than Iron Man taking on Captain America and Bucky Barnes. Not only do we see two characters I love… and Cap… fighting instead of repairing their damaged relationships, it’s two against one. Iron Man just learned his parents were murdered! Beating him up seems an aggressive choice.
At one point, Steve says, “He’s my friend!” in defense of his siding with Bucky. Tony cuts to the core in his reply: “So was I.” Tony is the camp best friend that gets eclipsed on August 31 for your home best friends.
Absolutely, though, I don’t blame Bucky either. Throughout Civil War, he is just an incredibly buff former super soldier that just wants to buy his plums in peace. If it weren’t for Cap’s incredible loyalty, I don’t think he’d endorse all the strife he’s causing.
Though the film closes with Captain America seeming to emerge the victor, zero other moments throughout Civil War make me root for him. He could have avoided all of this if he were honest with Tony about how his parents died many films ago. Or, you know, they all could have talked this out since they are supposed to be friends that care for one another. He can respond compassionately to Iron Man without devaluing his relationship with Bucky. They could all use a class in conflict de-escalation.
Rich in emotional, internal conflict, Civil War will always top my list of favorite MCU films. It breaks the mold of these traditional stories with a giant plot twist that throws viewers and our heroes off their axes. Not to mention, it features so many of my favorite minor characters in this universe: Ant-Man and sweet baby faced Spider-Man. Spidey gets me every time with his, “You have the right to remain silent,” to Falcon.
I’ve complained a lot about Captain America here, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t close with a positive: The scene where he takes down Bucky’s helicopter with only his arm muscles largely redeems Steve Rogers for me. As I rewatched Civil War this week, I came to this scene, paused and wrote in my notes, “REMEMBER Cap vs. helicopter = ARMS (CGI?),” which I think speaks for itself.