After arming myself with a substantial amount of caffeine, last night I went to a late night showing of Captain America: Civil War. Captain America is my favorite Marvel superhero, and I was eager to compare the new movie to the Civil War comics.
Now I can say that both the comics and the movie are amazing, but they handle the angle of the story quite differently. A lot of this comes down to which characters are most important in the conflict, and the sides that they choose.
What makes the Civil War story so interesting is that it involves a lot of players and has a strong emotional core, so I’d like to explore that here. SPOILERS TO FOLLOW!
The Civil War Story
First, let’s break down the Civil War story, if you don’t already know it. The idea is that superheroes — specifically their powers — are dangerous. The best way to keep the world safe is to have anyone with powers register themselves via the Superhuman Registration Act. This would also be making their identities known to the public. In the movie, instead of this act we get the Sokovia Accords, which would have the Avengers take action under the authority and discretion of the United Nations.
Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man) is all for it. He’s seen the horrors that can happen at the hands of those with superpowers. He’s already gone public with his abilities anyway, and he puts people’s safety first. The film really focuses on his guilt at the innocents who have been killed.
But Captain America is against it. With his identity already known to the public, the lives of his loved ones have been put in danger. Many of the people who would have to abide by the Registration Act aren’t even the Marvel superheroes we know from the films (who are already public figures) — they’re superhuman people, or mutants. The movie emphasizes that the U.N. will have their own agenda, and the Avengers need the freedom to go where they’re really needed — not where someone else wants them to go for political reasons, for example. So Captain America values freedom above government control.
The rest of the heroes fall behind one or the other in an epic conflict. Captain America and those who agree with him are basically on the run from the government for not complying.
The arresting part of the story are each character’s personal, emotional motivations. Sure, it’s a sweeping tale about a major conflict involving things like the government and superpowers. But it’s also very intimate, as these heroes who were once friends are now pitted against each other over this issue — an issue that tugs at their beliefs about heroism and their guilt over the consequences of past actions.
Here are a few pivotal characters who really bring home the heart behind this story, but the comics and movie handle things a little differently.
My strongest memory of Captain America’s Civil War comics is that his story is told from the perspective of Sharon Carter, a.k.a. Agent 13, who is having to speak with S.H.I.E.L.D. after she obviously did something she shouldn’t have.
Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter have a much longer history together by that point in the comics. Because she works for S.H.I.E.L.D., Sharon feels torn about having to capture Captain America to comply with the Registration Act. She meets him in secret to try to convince him to come in on his own, and puts S.H.I.E.L.D. off his scent to give him a second chance. While she may be accustomed to military life and putting duty before love, her feelings for Steve have left her scrambled. It’s interfering with her job.
On a side note, Steve and Sharon have an interesting conversation about the Registration Act at one point. (Well, many points, really.) I enjoy listening to Cap talk about how breaking laws can actually be a quintessentially American thing to do. That’s exactly why he’s holding his ground here, even if it is illegal.
I really love this emotional layer to Captain America’s Civil War story. Agent 13 is one of my favorite Marvel characters in the comics, and I appreciate that she is more developed in this film. There’s not the same drama as when she’s in love with Cap and ordered to take him in, but hey, she even gets to kick ass in one brief scene, which is a nice hint at her abilities as an agent. In the comics, she’s always fighting alongside Cap on his missions, so it’s cool the films are at least tipping their hats to that.
However, in the movie, Steve and Sharon share their first kiss and are clearly still getting to know (and trust?) each other. One interesting thing the film did with Sharon is give her part of one of my favorite Captain America speeches, but I’ll get into that in a moment…
Spidey is beloved in part because while he is an awesome superhero who does amazing good deeds (you know, the usual saving lives and fighting bad guys), he’s also extremely elusive. People don’t know his real identity. The fact that underneath the Spidey suit, he’s just a teenaged kid with the wisdom and restraint not to brag about his heroism — that’s really cool.
The Civil War comics make Spider-Man’s privacy a key focus, as Tony Stark tries to convince Peter Parker to take off the mask in public and register. This unveiling would be huge. In Spider-Man now, we see a conflicted kid trying to make the right decision in an ethical conflict that’s big enough to divide the Avengers.
This also leads to what is probably my favorite Marvel moment ever: Captain America visiting Spider-Man and delivering a chill-inducing speech about why he is opposed to the Registration Act, and how questioning authority in this way is the right thing to do. As an American, he waves a banner for liberty, and he’s not afraid to stand up to the government if it’s threatening that. This speech persuades Spidey to join his cause. It’s an amazing moment that I really wanted to see in the Civil War movie.
However, in the movie, this entire part of the plot is skipped over. Instead, Tony Stark tracks down Peter, goes to his house, charms his Aunt May, and convinces Peter to join the fight in bringing in Captain America. And that’s it.
The cool thing is that I did get to hear a little of that famous speech. The words — at least some of them — are given to Sharon Carter, who is actually quoting her aunt Peggy at her funeral. Although I obviously prefer hearing this from Cap, I appreciated that the film incorporated at least part of the speech. The fact that they used Peggy (who has a special place in Steve’s heart) and Sharon (his new love interest) in this moment is a nice touch, too.
As for Spidey, Tom Holland totally steals the movie. I have always been a fan of Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and never thought I could enjoy anyone else’s performance because of that, but Holland is incredible. In his hands, Peter is smart — even quite nerdy — but with a high energy that makes him hilarious onscreen. He’s a nervous talker and easily distracted by the superstars he’s fighting with. As Falcon tells him in the middle of an epic battle scene, “I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a fight before, but there’s usually not this much talking.”
Spidey is so charming in this film, the only sad thing to me is that he sticks with Iron Man the whole time — there’s no character development here the way there is in the comics. I still think his addition to the story is great though, and I’m excited to see future Spider-Man movies with this actor.
Bucky is important in both the comics and the films as a central figure in Steve Rogers life. Steve’s best friend from long before he became Captain America, Bucky is brainwashed and turned into a super-soldier with a metal arm who can’t remember any of his past exploits as the Winter Soldier, as his memory is always wiped after a mission. It’s a sad way to live, and there’s a pretty harrowing scene in the Civil War movie when, after regaining his old memories as Bucky and remembering his friend Steve, he realizes he’s being brainwashed again and smashes his way out of a containment cell to try to stop it from happening.
Bucky is important in this story for being suspected of bombing the the building where diplomats and Avengers are signing the Sokovia Accords. Cap is the only one who believes he’s innocent.
In the Civil War movie, you see him in action as both the Winter Soldier of the past and the Bucky Barnes of the present. He fights against and alongside Captain America at different moments, depending on who he thinks he is at that time. It makes for some pretty intense battle scene.
However, the biggest emotional point for him here is when Tony Stark discovers that Bucky is the one who killed his parents, way back when he was the Winter Soldier. Obviously, Bucky doesn’t even remember that, but they see a video recording of it happening, and Iron Man goes nuts. This — not the Sokovia Accords — is what leads to the dramatic battle between Captain America and Iron Man.
Though I don’t remember her role in the Civil War comics, Scarlet Witch takes a pivotal role in the emotional storytelling of the movie. In the film’s opening action scenes, Wanda Maximoff uses her power — the ability to manipulate matter — to save Captain America but accidentally sends a blast of fire through a building, killing many inside. You can see that she’s horrified at what she’s just done.
Later, Steve talks to her about it and says that she has to let it go — that they can’t save everybody. I found this whole conversation to be a little unconvincing. Scarlet Witch’s powers just went out of control and killed innocents. She can’t seem to get over that, but she does end up siding with Captain America rather than Iron Man.
Despite her allegiance, Wanda’s story is important in showing the dangers of superheroes’ powers and the potential need to moderate them. Scarlet Witch is a great character in the movies for being jittery and upset about things, which helps you see how deeply she holds herself accountable.
In a way, it’s a point in favor of the Sokovia Accords.
Iron Man leads the supporters of the Sokovia Accords. In the comics, I found him annoying — even a bit of a jerk at times. But this is where I think the movie really shines. It does a fantastic job of showing Stark’s background and making him out to be a truly good guy. It starts with him providing grant money to science students, which a woman tells him could be compensating for guilt. She then tells him she had a child who was accidentally killed in one of the Avengers’ fights, and she blames Stark.
When the Sokovia Accords are presented to the Avengers, Stark remains close-mouthed for a long time while they debate. He looks world-weary. When finally confronted about what he thinks, he points out that the Avengers have hurt innocent people before, and it’s time for them to be kept in check. It’s like Stark wants Iron Man to be shackled, because of the guilt he feels over past disasters.
In the comics, Captain America is a very strong character during these debates, and you really root for his side. (At least I did.) But in the movies, enough time is spent on Stark that you feel for him. He won me over again, I guess. While I missed some of the comics’ conversations about government control and privacy, I like the different balance that the movie struck here.
James Rhodes (a.k.a. War Machine) is kind of like Tony Stark’s best friend, and he almost dies in this movie during one of the epic final battles. This moment seems to change Stark, as he realizes he could have lost his friend in this fight that is also, really, between friends.
Though this part of the story plays out in just a few small moments towards the end of the movie, I believe Rhodes’ near-death is critical in helping Stark see the danger not just of superpowers, but of the civil war that has ensued over trying to contain them. That’s not to say that things end entirely amicably, but Stark seems ready to have Cap’s back again.
Overall I really enjoyed Captain America: Civil War. I’m already excited to see it again, and while I still prefer the storyline in Winter Soldier, this one packs in all the characters, action, and drama of the epic Civil War story in an intimate, cinematic way.