When an international incident compels the world’s governments to wrangle the world’s greatest heroes, they turn their sights against each other in Captain America: Civil War, directors Joe and Anthony Russo’s latest chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The film, which has earned rave reviews, requires the viewer to have a lot of pre-existing knowledge about a lot of superheroes. It’s only been a short year since Avengers: Age of Ultron, but already, a lot has changed. Here’s what you need to know about what each hero has been up to in the last year, and why they make their big decisions in Civil War. Technically there are spoilers, but the movie’s marketing has made each team’s roster very clear from the beginning.
Captain America: Active Avenger
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) of 1944 is now adjusted to the modern world of 2016. A man who was raised in a time of clear good versus evil, he doesn’t like this much more greyscale world, but he deals with it as he can so that he can serve as the leader of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, a position he’s held since the end of Age of Ultron. He blames himself when another disastrous incident goes down Civil War, but he still doesn’t think the Sokovia Accords, which would bring the Avengers under government oversight, is the right way to fix things; no one is harder on Cap than Cap.
Rogers leads a team that opposes the Sokovia Accords.
Iron Man: Retired
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has called it quits from being Iron Man, and being an Avenger. His drastic, paranoid measures to protect the world resulted in its near-annihilation in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and so the billionaire genius found it best to step away. It’s unclear if Stark still bankrolls the team — it’s largely implied — but his status is definitively defunct.
Stark supports the Sokovia Accords, and it’s a decision that will force him to suit up again.
The Falcon: Active Avenger
Joining the team after Avengers: Age of Ultron, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) upgrades his Falcon gear (comic book fans: You’ll recognize a certain Red Wing) and serves as an active Avenger. He had a great guest spot in Ant-Man fighting Scott Lang, and it’s an encounter that will prove fruitful later in Civil War.
His friendship with Cap and his own experience as a soldier compels Wilson to join Captain America’s side against the Sokovia Accords.
Vision: Active Avenger
Created by the Mind Stone, J.a.R.V.I.S., and some neat thunder from Thor’s Mjolnir, Vision (Paul Bettany) has joined the Avengers, helping to fill the vacancies left by the absent Thor, Hulk, and Iron Man. Besides, homie is sporting an Infinity Stone on his head. He shouldn’t be kept so far away.
Vision’s sentient programming, intelligent decision making, and slick wardrobe influences him to join Stark’s pro-registration squad as, in his opinion, it’s only logical.
Wanda/Scarlet Witch: Active Avenger
Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda, who for complex corporate reasons cannot be called Scarlet Witch, signs on as an Avenger — even though the team royally trashed her home in Sokovia. Let bygones be bygones? In the beginning of Civil War, she shows signs of intense surveillance and espionage training even though she’s actually one of the few Avengers with real superpowers.
Despite her budding relationship with Vision, Wanda supports Cap’s side in the fight. It’s kind of weird given, once again, how the unregulated Avengers almost destroyed her home, but she has her reasons.
Black Widow: Active Avenger
Not one to leave her post so easily, Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanov, a.k.a. Black Widow, continues to serve as a utility player and intelligence officer for the Avengers. It’s been two years since she told off the government and made confidential S.H.I.E.L.D. — technically HYDRA — files public. But you’d have to be insane to sort through the maze that were those documents. Unfortunately, there are people just like that who will make their move in Civil War.
Despite her arrogant middle finger to federal governance in The Winter Soldier, Natasha supports Tony Stark and his cause.
The Winter Soldier: Not an Avenger
Bucky Barnes was turned into HYDRA’s ultimate killing machine in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and his name was known to the public following Romanov’s Sony-like file dump. He’s been in hiding since, but the events of Civil War force him out and lets him reunite with his best friend, Steve Rogers.
He fight with his best buddy Steve Rogers but expresses no opinion of the Sokovia Accords.
War Machine: Active Avenger
Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) replaces Stark’s Iron Man as the Avenger wearing the big tin suit. His welfare becomes a major plot point in Civil War.
Rhodey’s high rank in the military leads him to agree with the Accords and align with Stark.
After Age of Ultron, Clint Barton wanted nothing more than to go home to his wife and kids. His home was the top secret safe house kept off the books from S.H.I.E.L.D. files, which was a smart move since HYDRA took over.
Black Panther: Not an Avenger
Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) debuts in the MCU in Captain America: Civil War. How long he’s held Wakanda’s highest honor, the Black Panther, is unknown. But he sides with Tony Stark when the Avengers once again recklessly harm Wakandan citizens (though he mostly just wants to punish the offenders himself).
Ant-Man: Not an Avenger
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) fought one, though! And he won!