Captain America: Civil War smashed its way onto theater screens May 6, 2016, readers. A resounding first punch for Marvel’s “Phase Three” films, Civil War is a great movie, one of their best.
But people – even those who worked on the movie – seem to have a hard time understanding the character arc of the lead protagonist in this film: Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America.
This is due to the inordinate attention paid to the comic book event which was the basis, at least in part, for the film. People cannot help confusing that story with the one found in the movie. In the comic book event, all superheroes (excluding the continually persecuted X-Men) were required to reveal their secret identities to the world and register with the government – the way that gun owners in Australia were forced to register their names and their firearms in the 1990s, prior to the Australian government confiscating the guns. (How is that working out for them these days, huh?)
At the beginning of the civil war in the comics, Cap refused to register. Iron Man was initially against registration as well. But after an incident where teen heroes starring in a reality TV show engaged a villain who subsequently obliterated half a town and killed sixty school children, Iron Man did a one-eighty degree turn and chose to support registration. (One would think the incident would say more for the stupidity of most reality TV shows than it did for superhero registration, but…. *Author shrugs.*)
Subsequent to these events, a number of superheroes – mostly Avengers and other, solo heroes – refused to register, rallying under Cap’s leadership. Meanwhile, the heroes who supported Registration chose Iron Man as their leader.
This led to a brutal superhero war wherein Captain America and Iron Man’s forces clashed several times. When caught, unregistered heroes were sent to prison with the criminals they had once incarcerated, while Tony Stark actually began recruiting villains to help him bring in Cap and his forces. (This was the start of Tony’s slide into becoming a loathsome villain, completing the Marvel writers’ intent to murder his valiant character.)
The final battle which ended the comic book civil war saw Steve and Tony beat each other bloody, nigh senseless, and almost to death. Concerned EMTs – civilians – finally leapt forward and pulled an irate Captain America off of Tony, since he was about to kill him…
And this is where the movie soars in comparison to the dismal comics. I cannot see Cap becoming so bent and twisted that he would be willing to kill Tony. Cap is too good, too pure of heart, too great a guy to fall into that trap. The ending in the movie, where he instead damages Tony’s suit so the billionaire genius cannot continue to fight, is much more like him than his actions in the comic book civil war.
It was this “fighting for the sake of fighting” that made me abhor the entire Civil War event in the comics. The Marvel writers, in their desire to “update” their heroes to please the academy’s Hegelian/Nietzschean complex, mauled the characters to the point where they were unworthy to be called heroes anymore. If Marvel had wanted to end the “mainstream” universe at any point, that was probably the time to have done it and gotten away with it.
The Captain America: Civil War film does greater credit to Marvel’s characters than the comic book conflict ever did. This is most true in regard to Steve Rogers. Though the directors and the president of Marvel Studios want us to think of Steve now as an “insurgent” who is no longer a “rah-rah company man,” the thing is that, after all these years, they still do not understand how to describe him. Cap was never a “company man.” But he was, is, and always will be “rah-rah America” for as long as he and the nation exist.
You cannot get anymore “rah-rah U.S.A.” than by calling yourself Captain America while dressing in a suit that bears the colors and symbols of the United States’ flag. So, Disbelievers, remember this: Steve Rogers is still “rah-rah America” – and long may he remain so!
Steve is not responsible for the civil war between the heroes in this movie. That inglorious liability can be laid right at Tony Stark’s iron shod feet – again. What happens in Civil War is that the politicians of the world have decided they can no longer tolerate having zero control over the Avengers. Thanks to the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, they think they finally have the ammunition they need to slap leashes and handcuffs on the heroes.
Make no mistake, readers; most politicians want only one thing – power/control, and lots of it. The way to get the most power is to control one’s fellow men. There are two kinds of “absolute” power which humans can exert over each other when they are in the government: the immediate power of life and death, and the power of slavery. The immediate power of life and death I am speaking of here refers to the actions and attitudes of characters such as Thanos, the Red Skull, and Ultron. Their power is the fact that they can kill anyone and everyone who gets in their way as soon as they arrive in these monsters’ paths.
This type of “will to power” is obvious, and so people can recognize it fairly quickly and easily. This makes these villains’ attempts at world domination/destruction hard to fulfill. If it is a choice between rolling over to die and fighting ‘til one’s last breath, most people will fight until they defeat the enemy or die in their tracks. “Give me liberty, or give me death!” as Patrick Henry so rightly said.
The power of slavery, no matter the quality of the velvet glove concealing it, is also the power of life and death. But this power is implemented more subtly than the first; it “looks fair and feels foul.” (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) By using this power – Saruman’s power – the political slave masters get to decide who lives and who dies; as well as when, where, and how these people die. So long as you are useful to those who run the State, you may live, to most appearances happily and freely. But once you are no longer useful due to age or health, no matter how bright or talented, the laws and the agencies that have enacted those laws will inexorably push you to their chosen exit.
Just ask the babies aborted every year around the world, or the elderly who are starved to death when their doctors (like Mengele) deny them the basic nutrition they need, thus dying horribly. They know what slavery is. Or ask those who are said to be “brain dead,” in a coma, or a so called persistent vegetative state, “unable” to recover. In spite of the many verified accounts we have of those who have recovered from these conditions, there are still those who will “pull their plugs,” for no other reason than despots of one stripe or another do not want to be inconvenienced with their care!
J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Orwell’s 1984, the film Soldier, and thousands of other stories repeat this warning to their audiences. You will even find this admonition in The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood if you are paying enough attention, readers!
And you cannot miss it in Captain America: Civil War.
Both these “absolute” powers I just described are faces of totalitarianism. At the head of every tyranny, you will find a small, cowardly bully. And as Cap said in The First Avenger: “I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from.”
So, in Civil War, when Ross and the U.N. try to hold the proverbial gun to Steve’s head and that of the rest of his team, telling them to get on their knees, Cap responds as he has always responded: “Not today.”
Tony, blinded by his remorse over the events in Sokovia during Age of Ultron, does not see the steel fist hidden under the velvet glove. Instead, he sees a way to assuage his guilt. He thinks it is a preventative measure when it is a dog collar synced to an electric fence. I hate to break his soap bubble, but here’s a newsflash, Tony: you are not a dog. Neither are the rest of the Avengers, nor are any other humans on the planet. A dog is a dog. A human is a human. There is no likeness whatsoever between the two species and anyone who says otherwise is selling something – typically poison.
Cap tries to explain this to him, but Tony will not listen. Why? Pain, fear, and guilt. Tony does not like carrying these around in his “man purse” (glare at Sam Wilson, not me!) on a daily basis. Remember what he told Pepper in The Avengers when Coulson showed up in their elevator? “Security breach. That’s on you [Pepper].”
Tony is used to shifting the blame. He is not accustomed to having a conscience, to having a moral sense which pricks him and reminds him of what is right and what is wrong. Up until the first Iron Man film, Tony was a playboy. That is, he was a grown man acting like an irresponsible college kid. He was playing around, living in his own little bubble, and as long as he was happy, the world was a beautiful place filled with rainbows and sunshine.
Cap does not have that problem because he grew up and “put away childish things” a long time ago. Even before his parents died, he was taking care of himself on the streets of Brooklyn. Despite being a short, scrawny, asthmatic, ninety-seven pound weakling, he essentially adhered to this motto: Sic semper tyrannis. That is the State of Virginia’s maxim, and in English it reads: “Thus always (or ever) to tyrants.”
Bullies in the schoolyard, the workplace, or in the home are all minor tyrants. Once they get into the government, they become Major Tyrants. But when these mini dictators tried to oppress Steve in order to bend him to their will, he told them to go shove it up their nose – even if they threw him in a trashcan, or beat him senseless and left him in a doorway afterward. He took care of himself the whole time he was growing up. And once he was on his own, he continued to take care of himself.
Now when I say Cap “took care of himself,” I mean that he behaved like the adult he was. He took responsibility for his actions; he lived with what he did right and with his mistakes. He made his choices and accepted their consequences, whether they were good or bad.
Tony is not used to doing that, and somewhere after The Avengers, he became even more afraid of growing up. That made him ripe pickings for Ross and the tyrants in the U.N. (Discounting King T’Chaka, who believed in the Sokovian Accords wholeheartedly. Poor guy must never have heard that, “When seconds count; the police are only minutes away.” The Avengers always beat the police to the problem – even in Nigeria.)
This is where Cap and Tony are so remarkably different. Steve still has no tolerance for bullies, wherever they come from, whatever suit they wear. Tony, on the other hand, had never been bullied because his father, his company, or he had always been the wealthiest and smartest – either with his tech or with his caustic, running mouth – man in the room. He did not know what a bully looked like until that cave in Afghanistan because he has never met one to which he was not a superior.
He never saw Loki as a bully, just as someone who was intellectually too big for his britches. He did not see Ultron as a bully; he saw him as a mistake he created and did not fix in an efficient and timely manner. And he does not see Ross, initially, as the loudmouthed bully the current Secretary of State is.
This explanation of the separate understandings of the two men who make the heart and brain of the Avengers’ team clears up everything prior to their last battle in the HYDRA base. In the case of that battle, it is started after Tony is shown footage of the Winter Soldier – a brainwashed and controlled Bucky Barnes – killing his parents.
We know from previous films that, to his masters, the Winter Soldier – whose modus operandi was “no witnesses” – was a lone wolf “fire and forget” tool that would accomplish any mission given him by the most direct and expeditious means, with the evidence of his work to be found on the world’s various obituary pages. The crash alone should have killed the Starks and allowed Bucky to retrieve HYRDA’s prize. Why, then, would HYDRA have placed cameras at the precise site on the exact deserted road to film this particular event – thus negating all the logistics reliable assassins and snipers are usually left to figure out themselves?
To do this would have meant that HYDRA knew precisely which road the Starks would choose, exactly when the Winter Soldier would strike, all the while employing a team of photographers to film this one operation.
Even for a whacked-out organization like HYDRA, that is too much disbelief to suspend. While I suppose it is plausible that HYDRA filmed all of Bucky’s missions for their records, thus initially explaining the footage, is it not more reasonable to think that Zemo manufactured the film (ala CGI) to achieve his desired effect of Tony’s rage?
This would explain the many different angles and particularly the close-ups we have of the Starks’ deaths. Those would have been added for “dramatic effect” by Zemo. It would not have been possible to get a good look at these “details” from any film if it were real – unless HYDRA dispatched an entire team of people to film the event. (While we are on this subject just where, EXACTLY, did Howard Stark get FIVE packs of a working Super Soldier Serum?!?! I thought they got rid of all the samples of Steve’s blood, the only possible source of a functioning serum!!!)
Seeing their deaths – especially the murder of his mother – presented to him in such a way sends Tony over the top. Watching them die understandably sends him into “rage mode,” closing off his reasoning and logic “circuits.” Because of this, he does not stop to calculate if HYDRA would go to such an extent to film their “ghost warrior” doing his job, and come up with the more plausible notion that Zemo manufactured the film to make him angry. Instead, he goes wild, attacking and trying to kill Bucky for a crime the other was forced to commit.
Cap prevents him from following through. In doing so, he is not just saving Bucky’s life. He is saving Tony’s soul. Whether he would ever admit it or not (and we can be fairly sure he would not), Tony went into full-on revenge mode. He was going to kill Bucky, for no other reason than to vent his feelings. Afterward, he could explain to Steve how he “had” to do it; how he “had” to get “payback” for the loss of his parents, and everything would be all hunky-dory.
That would have gone over like a lead balloon because it would have been a lie. Killing Bucky would not bring back Tony’s parents. It would not erase the evil HYDRA did to Tony through Bucky, or the wrong HYDRA did to Barnes. To be one hundred percent plain:
Killing Bucky Barnes would be murder. It would make Tony a murderer and no better than Zemo – and thus an easier pawn for Ross to manipulate as he pleased.
And Cap knew it. He also knew that Tony, carried off by his blind rage and pain, would not quit. He had to stop Tony to protect both his friends.
This is the reason why he disabled Tony’s arc reactor. Tony thought Steve was actually going to kill him, when the idea never even crossed his friend’s mind. Steve did not want to kill either of his friends, he wanted to save them both from the evil HYDRA and Zemo had done to them.
The only way to save them was to cut off the power to Tony’s suit and end the fight. So Cap did it. The suit still had enough power to allow Tony to move and walk around, but not the power to carry on a battle.
Then Tony acted truly immature, saying Steve was not worthy to carry and use the shield the senior Stark had made for him. That is a child’s behavior, which is unworthy of any adult. And some part of Tony recognized that.
If he recognized it, then Steve knew it ahead of him. That is why he left the shield behind, essentially saying with the gesture, “You want it? Here, take it. When you grow up, you can give it back. I can get along just fine without it. Because the shield doesn’t make me who I am; I make the shield what it is. When you figure that out, let me know.”
Steve is NOT renouncing the Avengers, his nation, his patriotism, his nature, his honor, or his friendship with Tony. He IS Captain America, with or without that shield. Tony – and a lot of other people, including the Russos and some of the actors in the film – have not figured that out yet. Or if they have, they have not said it for fear of losing future work in Hollywood. This is very sensible of them, considering the fact that they live and work within the confines of Looneyville, Left Coast, U.S.A.
This ending is why Captain America: Civil War is so superior to the comic book conflict of the same name, in my opinion. Cap remains Cap in this film; he never loses his moral center or compromises with the bad guys. He fights for his freedom and the freedom of his friends. Not just their physical, or bodily, freedom. He fought to save Tony’s soul, and he fought to save Bucky’s mind. And he won. Cap is the quintessential best friend. He will never abandon a buddy, even when that pal thinks he has been forsaken.
Only time and the films will show us if Tony will ever grow up to understand what Cap did for him. By the end of Civil War, it seems he is headed in that direction. After all, he did not tear up Cap’s letter. He did not break the phone. He did put Ross on hold. If Tony could see through Loki’s murderous control of Hawkeye’s arrows, as well as overlook the hundreds of people Black Widow killed while she was a Soviet agent, then he should be able to realize that Bucky was in the same boat. Barnes was just used for a longer time and to kill more people – including Tony’s parents. All three were victims that night, and the sooner Tony figures that out, the better.
Until then, Cap is going to keep doing what he has always done. Whether T’Challa gives him a new shield to use until Tony returns the original or not, Steve Rogers is going to remain Cap. And every time the forces of evil move forward to claim territory, they will find Steve standing in the way, saying, “Now just where do you think you’re going?”
And when Tony finally calls, he will barely get past the words, “Cap, I need you…” before Steve is at the door asking, “What’s the situation?”
Captain America: Civil War is NOT the end of their friendship. Their friendship is NOT broken. It is strained, but the strain is on Tony’s end, not Steve’s. The minute Tony needs him, Steve will be there, and it will be business as usual again. Because Steve has already started the process of healing the rift Tony opened in their team by sending him the letter and the phone. When it is time for the Avengers to “reassemble” for Infinity War, the team will have fewer bugs to work out with each other – all thanks to Steve Rogers.
Can the comic book Civil War claim THAT, readers?
Frankly, I do not think it can. And neither can the writers at Marvel Comics. So, Marvel writers, you had better get up off your fannies and pay attention to the guys writing the film scripts. They actually know what they are doing!
Sic semper tyrannis!
The Mithril Guardian