* * * B
When I was a kid, Cap was one of my least favorite super heroes. He didn’t have a cool power, and he was very aligned with the goals of the state, the wisdom of which, even in my youth, I found questionable. On the other hand, I loved Iron Man. He was a scientist, like my Father, and I loved his entrepreneurial spirit. And yet somehow, in Civil War, all this is turned on its head. Though I haven’t read this arc in print, I have read the later arc “X-Men: Civil War”, where Iron Man becomes a nearly absolute villain.
I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but there will be some from here on in.
Essentially, “the people” are pissed that, despite the fact that the Avengers have saved their asses from certain doom time and time again, there has been some “collateral damage”. The people of the world are of course represented by the Secretary of State of the USA, well played by William Hurt. If this is some sort of commentary on Hillary Clinton, I’m not sure what the message is, since the character is thoroughly loathsome. Draw your own conclusions.
This premise and others like it are the reason I couldn’t give this film the four stars that so many others have lavished upon it. The cord suspending my disbelief was severed not by the unbelievable powers of the Red Witch and the Vision, but by the fact that someone as brilliant as Tony Stark would be so thoroughly bamboozled by the state. After all, Hurt’s character, SOS Ross, is non other than the Hulk’s nemesis, General “Thunderbolt” Ross.
Somehow, it comes down to a choice. Each avenger (Thor and the Hulk are notably absent) must either sign up as a servant of the new world order, or take early retirement. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) believes it’s necessary, evangelizing the “accord” with unreasoning fervor. Cap (Chris Evans) can’t stomach the deal, and is joined by his side kick Falcon (Anthony Mackie). Black Widow (Scarlett Johansen) goes along with Stark halfheartedly, Rohdie (Don Cheadle) with unreasoning obedience (in the words of Bruce Cambell: siiidekick!).
Meanwhile, the Vision (Paul Bettany) imprisons the Red Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) “for her own protection”. He plays the heartless tin man to Stark’s brainless scarecrow, pointing out a correlation between the rise of the Avengers and an increase in attacks that they are singularly capable of defending the world against. Though he’s careful to deny that he’s saying that there’s causality, the implication is there. Meanwhile, the only Avenger who has arguably caused any of the problems the Avenger’s have solved, Thor, is conveniently absent. This entire argument is grating, considering that the Avenger’s were never the instigators of the conflicts they were involved in, and without them, many more lives would have been lost. Vision comes off as morally vacuous, while Stark, who ordered Red Witch’s imprisonment, is truly immoral.
When Cap’s childhood friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), is framed for a terrorist attack against the UN at the signing of the very accord the enslaves Stark and Black Widow to do the bidding of the new world order, the genius’s in charge immediately issue “shoot to kill” orders. Meanwhile, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), whose father T’Chaka, King of the mythical African nation of Wakanda, was killed in the attack, swears vengeance on Bucky. Cap and Falcon come to Bucky’s aid, and in the end, they are arrested, along with Bucky and T’Challa.
After the arrest, the real baddy actives Barnes’s Hydra programming. When Cap and Falcon finally capture him, Bucky tells him what the real baddy is after: five more super soldiers with Hydra programming. The three wanted “criminals” set off to save the undeserving world that is now wants to throw them all in prison, because they’re just that good (and Bucky wants revenge on the baddy).
A massive battle royale ensues between Cap, Falcon, Bucky, Red Witch, Hawkeye and Ant Man and the Cuckvengers, Tony, Rohdie, Black Widow, Vision, T’Challa, and the MCU’s newest “hero”, Spiderman. Black Widow realizes her mistake and allows Cap and Buckeye to escape. Tony (finally in suit) tries to stop them, Falcon gets in his way, and Tony orders Vision to kill Falcon. Vision misses, instead hitting Rohdie. Meanwhile, T’Challa manages to stow away in the plane Cap has stolen.
Tony has his friends thrown in jail, but then finds out Cap was right about Buckey and sets off to help them stop the real baddy. Once they’ve all arrived, they discover the 5 super soldiers were dead, and the bad guy reveals to Tony that Bucky, under the control of Hydra, was responsible for the death of his parents. Tony loses it and almost kills Cap, despite the fact that Bucky was brainwashed. T’Challa on the other hand, captures the real villain.
One of the high points of the film for me is the ending, where in a letter to Tony, Cap tells him that he will never swear allegiance to the state, and that he only cares about individual people. Despite all of the horrible things Tony has done (confining the Red Witch, trying to kill Falcon, almost killing Rohdie, betraying his friends to prison, almost killing Cap), he promises that if Tony needs him, he will be there for him.
Despite the good writing, fine acting, and an excellent message (loyal individualism is better than obedient collectivism), the ridiculous premise of the film hurt it. Otherwise, this could have been one of the best avengers films yet. It’s unfortunate, because the last Captain America film almost achieved greatness as well, but stumbled on the believability of its science fiction elements.