The following article contains spoilers for ‘Captain America: Civil War’.
After more than a year of light-hearted infighting among Marvel’s massive fanbase, moviegoers finally know who won the highly anticipated Civil War, and…it was the bad guy. Thanks to Zemo’s (Daniel Brühl) machinations, what was once the Avengers is now just a scattered collection of bruised egos, brought down by the larger philosophical battle which propelled the film: Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) oversight versus Captain Americas (Chris Evans) self-determination.
Though fan bias was definitely leaning toward Cap in the months preceding the film, Captain America: Civil War bucked the expectations set forth in its trailers, in favor of sending a clear message: superheroes need some supervision. Period.
We All Want To Be Team Cap
In the MCU, the Avengers’ actions have caused quite a few civilian deaths, and those losses propelled sanctions against the group’s ability to act freely. Of course, when a term like “government oversight” is introduced into a debate, most Americans get a sick feeling in the pit of their stomachs. Like Cap, we’re a country of people who firmly believe that we have the brains and strength to determine our own course in the world.
Even comics creator Stan Lee was rooting for Team Cap! When a fan at 2015’s Edmonton Comic Expo asked him who should win, Lee responded, “Whatever side Captain America was on, because he’s the best, pure-hearted person in the whole world.
That rings true, too, thanks in large part to Chris Evan’s inspired performance as the earnest soldier. It’s hard not to side with the man who doesn’t want to be shackled into serving potentially corrupt interests, especially since he’s seen that concept play out badly before, in earlier films.
Iron Man is Right, Too, Though
You might not necessarily agree with that idea, but Civil War spends a lot of its narrative focus trying to make audiences understand that government oversight is the only way to go.
Early in the film, Cap repeatedly expresses his belief that he can’t allow himself to be governed by others’ emotions or personal interests (hence, he can’t sign on for any oversight). He proclaims his need to remain if not neutral toward, then at least untethered from, the United Nations. In spite of that lofty rhetoric, though, Cap spends most of the film acting in his own self-interest, undercutting his own words time and again. As it turns out, he’s really more interested in protecting his friend than in protecting the Avengers’ independence.
While he does eventually uncover the real villain and move to take him down, Steve Rogers only does this in order to clear the name of his hetero life partner, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Cap may have the concept of “freedom” on his side, but that argument is incidental to him. Even though Bucky repeatedly professes his own feelings of guilt and his own desire to be incarcerated (or just dead), Cap plunges forward, consumed by his mission.
Bucky himself seems down with getting captured in order to avoid further violence, and even though Tony Stark eventually wants to talk things out, but Captain America pursues his mission his way regardless of the fallout, because he is convinced he is right, and that he can’t compromise. His dead former crush’s niece basically tells him so, at the aforementioned crush’s funeral. That kind of solo decision making doesn’t have a place on a world stage populated with super-humans who demonstrate varying levels of control over their powers of mass destruction.
Cap Wasn’t The Only Hero Screwing Up
Steve Rogers’ insistent selfishness isn’t the only narrative indicator that Team Iron Man is the filmmakers’ team of choice. The film is filled with heroes who disregard their self-appointed oaths in favor of human frailty.
Theoretically-impartial living machine Vision (Paul Bettany) takes his eyes off the ball at a crucial point in the film because he’s too concerned about whether or not his not-so-secret crush (Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch) is going to make it. As a result, his comrade War Machine (Don Cheadle) is shot right out of the sky.
Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is rendered so erratic by her conflicting allegiances that she switches teams numerous times throughout the film’s proceedings. While her team-hopping is a great story device, it also makes her, as a hero, appear unreliable and untrustworthy.
Iron Man finds himself face to face with the film’s true villain, only to allow the guy to walk because he’s too concerned with beating the Winter Soldier’s ass in regards to a 20-year-old (admittedly brutal) revelation. Iron Man allows his personal anger to override his good sense simply because he hasn’t quite hit his high water mark in therapy. Keep in mind, he’s technically still recovering from post traumatic stress disorder.
These are all people who need an adult to report to, someone responsible enough — or maybe just detached enough — to guide them towards responsible decision making.
Black Panther, Wakandan Government Agent
Thank god for Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman); without him nothing remotely productive would get accomplished in Avengers 2.5. His whole character arc is an argument for logical governmental oversight. Remember that T’Challa is not an independent, international hero like the Avengers; he’s an agent connected firmly to a foreign state.
Sure, the fact that this ideal is embodied by one man who enacts double duty as both the hero and the government muddies Black Panther’s actions for the majority of the film, but that’s just good storytelling. We’re not really sure what Black Panther is going to do until he does it, because we’re still learning about Wakanda’s place in the world. What’s important is, at the end of the day, Black Panther is the one who stays on mission and brings Zemo in alive, regardless of the fact that T’Challa has plenty of reason to want the guy dead. Black Panther foregoes his own personal leanings in favor of allowing a cooler head to make the call.
It’s telling that it’s the government agent, not the independent Avengers, who ultimately saves the day. While Cap and Iron Man are locked in combat, T’Challa is the one looking at things from the bigger picture.
Don’t Expect Any Official Confirmation
The filmmakers still want fans to believe that the winner of the Avengers conflict is up for debate. Co-director Joe Russo told io9, “We always felt from the beginning that the most compelling story we could tell is if at the end of the film, when you walked out, you were arguing with your friends and family about who was right. It was important to us to honor both points of view.”
That being said, it seems that the MCU is now entering the age of the responsible government baby-sitter, and superheroes are being held accountable for their immense demonstrations of power. Regardless of Cap’s new status as a shield-less renegade, the rest of the world’s superheroes are going to be getting some input from higher-ups in future films, and that seems like the plot twist MCU writers and directors were pushing for all along.