Civil War, as a Comic Event, was something of a spectacular failure. I haven’t been good at doing video posts on my blog the past few weeks (something I’ll try to fix shortly), but this past week I did a video post on YouTube about Civil War, the comics, event, and how that could have been fixed.
The film version of Civil War has none of those problems. Instead, it’s one of the top films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. There will be some minor spoilers in this review (below the cut if you’re reading this on my blog).
The film is set at an unspecified time after Age of Ultron & Ant-Man, with Cap’s roster of Avengers – Cap (Chris Evans), Vision (Paul Bettany), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) – continuing to work to take on various elements of HYDRA. When an attempt to take down Brock Rumlow/Crossbones (Frank Grillo), leads to significant civilian casualties in Lagos, a UN Committee spearheaded by US Secretary of State Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross and Wakandan King T’Chaka pushes for the Sokovia Accords.
The accords would put the Avengers under the oversight of a UN committee, and this possibility leads to dispute among team members of the Avengers. When the meeting for the signing of the accords in Vienna is disrupted by a terrorist bombing that appears to be caused by Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), things become even more complicated, as Cap suspects a frame-up and goes off without orders to clear Bucky’s name, while the Avengers are sent to stop Cap and Bucky, and T’Chaka’s son and heir, T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is looking to kill Bucky to avenge his father’s death.
And through all of this moves Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), a man with plans of his own.
It is to this film’s great credit that this is a movie that, while it has many great action sequences, is willing to have a great deal of talking about the issues at hand. The characters aren’t just trying to hash out their disagreements with fisticuffs, this is a battle of ideas, and they’re not trying to win a fight, they’re trying to prove their point. When the action sequences come up, they come up in contexts where the characters, either through their actions or the objectives they are trying to complete once an obstacle has been overcome, will help prove their point. Cap ends up fighting the police to save Bucky, because he can’t prove Bucky’s innocence if he’s dead. Team Cap goes outside the law because the system won’t let them prove Bucky’s innocence, indeed from the perspective of the forces controlling Iron Man’s team, Bucky is guilty and should be killed without trial.
However, before the major fights start, we get a wonderful debate between the two sides in the Avengers base, where Cap lays out his case for not signing, while the other members make the arguments for signing: Wanda Maximoff is a human being and should be treated as such, while the people running the Avengers Committee may not choose to treat her that way if she refuses to stand down; they have their own agendas and priorities, and they may choose to sit idle and not intervene to help people, even if Cap and company want to help, and considering the particular incidents that are being pointed out against them – Sokovia, New York, and the destruction of the Triskelion in Washington DC – if they were limited by the actions permitted by an authority figure, they would have been saddled with feet of clay when fast action was required.
By comparison, Tony Stark and Secretary Ross see a pattern of oversights on the part of The Avengers – particularly related to collateral damage. They worked to contain the situation in New York, and evacuate civilians in Sokovia, but even then, they didn’t consider the people in the outskirts who were still collateral damage. Scarlet Witch’s actions in Lagos may have saved a larger number of people, but there were still civilian casualties.
It makes for a situation that is definitely complex, and neither side is 100% in the right – but neither side is villainous either, and definitely does not engage in overtly villainous actions. The state that the Avengers are in by the conclusion of this film makes sense, in terms of the characters, and creates a new status quo that works for the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, creating potential for plenty of new stories to come, and I can’t wait to watch them.