6 Thoughts on Captain America: Civil War

SPOILER ALERT: The parts of the film I want to discuss are spoiler-heavy. So if you haven’t seen Captain America: Civil War yet and don’t want any spoilers, please stop reading.

Captain America: Civil War does so many things well. It takes a tricky concept about a group of super heroes who are friends fighting against each other and manages to dedicate a little time and love to each of them, while simultaneously making film that is funny and thrilling. It also manages to keep the story Cap-centric, by focusing on a single idea: Captain America (Chris Evans) does what he thinks is right.

But there are a lot of additional nuances that make the film a success and I’d like to discuss a few of them. Here are six thoughts on Captain America: Civil War.

1. The Black Panther Narrative Supports the Main Narrative

Captain America: Civil War black panther

There are a lot of characters and a lot of motivations to follow in Captain America: Civil War. Who is on what side and why could get complicated for a less-initiated Marvel viewer to follow. So what to do?

There’s actually a through-line plot with Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) that serves two functions: it simplifies the driving force of the plot, and it also helps set up the upcoming Black Panther movie. It does this through a small, but powerful scene between Black Panther and his Father, King T’Chaka (John Kani). When T’Chaka tells his son, “for a man who disapproves of diplomacy, you are becoming very diplomatic,” not only is it clear they don’t agree on things, we also see that Black Panther loves his Father, respects him, and looks up to him. So when King T’Chaka is killed we get a very clear and understandable revenge plot. We intrinsically understand Black Panther will pursue the Winter Solider and try to kill him no matter what. And we can follow that throughout the story.

This sub-plot underpins the central Civil War conflict because it encapsulates the idea that super powered individuals should be held accountable for their actions.

It’s also clever to make Black Panther the one to decide not to kill Zemo (Daniel Brühl) at the end, because in that moment he is becoming his Father, seeing both sides of conflict, and making the higher moral choice.


2. Including (And Improving) Comic References


The best moment in the Civil War comics is actually in a Spider-Man comic. In the Civil War comics, Spider-Man is originally on Iron Man’s side, but switches to Captain America’s side. When Spidey flips, he asks Cap to explain how he can justify his position when the country is against him. Captain America gives him this speech:

Amazing Spider-Man #537 © Marvel Characters Inc.
Amazing Spider-Man #537 © Marvel Characters Inc.

In movies you can’t have characters drone on and deliver a long speech like this, so they shorten it to the important bits. This not only gives comic book fans a reference they appreciate, but it also takes a great concept and applies it economically. Also, by having the speech as a part of Peggy’s eulogy (his love interest from the first movie) it helps reinforce Cap’s decision not to sign the Accord and roots his choice as a decision from the heart.


3. Characters Have Heart

Captain America: Civil War sarah

When it comes to giving characters heart, Marvel gets it. Despite the fact the film has over a dozen characters, it takes the time to give each character a little attention, and most of them a little heart. Like when Bucky (Sebastian Stan) mentions Steve’s Mother’s name and how he wore newpapers in his shoes. Or how Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) is horrified by the deaths she caused. Or how Cap admits that the mention of Bucky’s name turns him into a 16 year-old boy.

The heart and connection between Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda is perhaps the best executed. The bumbling way Vision tries to comfort Wanda is endearing. “People’s fear of you is just a natural response from their amygdala,” he tells her, then further explains that he’s not afraid of her because his amygdala is synthetic. It makes the scene when Wanda escapes the most tender in the film, because even as Wanda uses her powers to squish, him he is still trying to protect her heart. “If you do this, they won’t stop being afraid of you,” he warns.

These moments help us care what happens to each character as they fight amongst themselves while keeping us engaged in their conflicts and the movie as a whole.


4. Zemo’s Evil Plan is Bad But Doesn’t Feel Inauthentic

Captain America: Civil War climax

Zemo’s whole, “If I can’t take super heroes down I will get them to take down each other” scheme, along with the final conflict between Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bucky doesn’t quite work. Throwing logic at super hero movies is like pulling on a loose thread on a sweater; you risk unravelling the whole thing. However, it’s hard not to think about how much could have gone wrong with Zemo’s elaborate plan. Moreover, Zemo must have known that the Winter Soldier killed Stark’s parents (because his entire plan works towards it), so was it necessary to bring them all to that location to show them a video as proof?

Nevertheless, Cap’s betrayal of Iron Man, Tony’s desire to avenge his Mother, and Cap’s need to protect Buck is more functional than say … “MARTHA!” which has become a joke. Despite being convoluted and a little unbelievable, no one will be making fun of Tony’s desire to avenge his Mother except to compare it to Batman v Superman.


5. Spider-Man’s Re-Imagining is Glorious

Captain America: Civil War underoos

It’s pretty ingenious to make Spider-Man (Tom Holland) young. So much of the character works best that way, like his frenetic and ceaseless banter, and his almost naive dedication to doing the right thing. But the thing I applaud most is the reworking of, “with great power, comes great responsibility.”

In the scene where Stark is asking Peter why he chooses to be a super hero, their back and forth creates a moment that begs for Peter to tell his story about his Uncle and how he learned, “with great power, comes great responsibility.” But that line doesn’t sound natural. When Uncle Ben said it in the first Spider-Man with Tobey McGuire, it felt corny. So what does Peter say in Civil War?

“When you can do the things I can do, and you don’t, then whatever happens, it’s on you.”

This says everything it needs to. It subtly implies he’s already learned the Uncle Ben lesson, it conveys his beliefs, it sounds like something a young man would say, it’s fresh, and it makes us care about him.


5. Team Captain America

Captain America: Civil War team cap

Captain America: Civil War doesn’t work unless you ultimately believe Cap is right. So in a sense, the movie has to service this intent throughout. And I think the scene at the end where Tony reads the letter from Cap solidifies this intent and the film. Despite the fact that Tony and Cap were beating each other into submission, it is clear Tony is touched by Cap’s apology and supportive of his prison break and emergency Cap Phone. It’s symbolic of Tony’s understanding that they need to be better than their disagreements.

Because Cap is like everyone’s Father. We all look up to him. We all want to be him. That’s why he stands so tall, because he represents the pinnacle of our moral ambitions.

It’s about looking within so we can look up. So we can reach to be better. And in that scene Captain America: Civil War achieves the heights it reaches for.

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