ROAD TO ENDGAME: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Sebastian Stan, Scarlett Johansson, Chadwick Boseman, Elizabeth Olsen, Daniel Brühl, and Anthony Mackie
Written by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo
“Do you even remember them?”
“I remember all of them.”
I don’t love the comic event series Civil War. Depending on the day you catch me, I might even say I hate it. When the MCU got spinning up in earnest, my go-to goof was “Avengers 3 will probably be Civil War, and I will probably hate it.” Imagine my shock when it was announced that no, it wouldn’t be an Avengers movie. It would be a CAP movie. I panicked. Steve was going to get lost in his own movie! Downey Jr. is going to hog the spotlight! Phase 3 was going to be ruined before it even began! Imagine my further shock when I saw the thing and was greeted by a powerfully resonant tale about responsibility, processing trauma, and grieving. One that would become my personal favorite MCU tale and one of the best precursor tales on the Road to Endgame.
Released in 2016 as the opening salvo to Phase 3, the Russo Brothers, along with now Marvel architect screenwriters Markus and McFeely, were playing with house money as it were. They had just come off of the immensely successful and wonderful The Winter Soldier. It proved they were the team that at least had a pretty good handle on Steve and his stories. The MCU was also changing as well. Phase 2 has proved that the universe was expanding rapidly, telling more larger-scale stories with the heart to match as the hat trick of TWS, Age of Ultron (don’t @ me) and Guardians of the Galaxy proved. Ant-Man was a cooldown, admittedly, but the Russos seemed to have the vision for Steve, so I waited with nervous anticipation.
The idea of new characters Black Panther and the MCU debut of Peter Parker also worried me going in. After The Winter Soldier, I needed just another straight up Steve Rogers movie and was worried that with it being so chocked full of team-ups, the central thread of Steve (and in larger scale Bucky, who was still “missing” in MCU canon) would get lost in the shuffle.
But the movie instantly sets your mind at ease, opening with a stark reminder of the tragedy of the Winter Soldier and Cap’s new “Kooky Quartet” of Avengers he assembled post-Ultron. Though it makes great use of it’s larger cast and debuting heroes, Civil War is still very much a Steve movie. It focuses on his mental state post-Ultron and in the face of the newly introduced Sokovia Accords (the film’s canny adaptation of the comic’s Superhero Registration Act).
Better still, the script doubles down on the loss of Bucky with the loss of Peggy Carter. She’s sent off with a beautiful service that makes amazing use of Ultimate Captain America’s “No, YOU Move” speech to the Ultimate Peter Parker. A lot has been written by now about this moment. To me, it speaks to the overall impressive nature of this adaptation of a flimsy “iconic” comic.
Instead of just a political divide between Steve and Tony, the movie introduces a painfully real feeling as a personal one, centered around their specific losses. Steve with the Bucky he once knew and, for Tony, his parents. Sure there is some lampshading of Tony’s “legacy” with Peter Parker that gets in the way. As well as the overall MCU problem of just assuming casual audiences care about Steve and Bucky’s relationship (which, even as someone who loves these, is kind of underbaked in the movies). But for me, especially as the film goes on, it nails the metaphor.
The theme of processing trauma even extends to the film’s newcomers. Daniel Brühl’s Zemo is a man broken by the loss of his family. Peter Parker is still on the tail end of losing his beloved uncle. Even the coolest motherfucker in the world, T’Challa, is brought low then into the fight by the sudden murder of his father, King T’Chaka. Instead of just some paper conflict about people in masks, we had heroes fighting to process their feelings and for their families. Instead of end-of-the-world stakes, they were fighting for their very souls — all leading them toward a place where they would have to face death and the unfeeling cosmos itself. I honestly know of no better training.
I know Civil War is kind of a divisive favorite. I’ve had many conversations with people telling me it’s “bloated” and “maudlin” and all manner of critiques. But to me, no movie captures the evolving thematic maturity of the MCU better than Captain America: Civil War. Well, maybe Doctor Strange, but that is a whole other column, True Believers. Until then, be seeing you.