This article contains spoilers for the Captain America films and the wider MCU.
At the start of Deadpool 2, Wade Wilson informs us in a cheesy voiceover that the 2018 Marvel sequel is really “a family film.” Captain America: Civil War never explicitly states the same, but it is. There’s so much family history and so many ‘made’ family elements interweaving throughout the movie that this really was a test to see if the Russo brothers – returning to helm another Cap outing after The Winter Soldier – could not only handle bringing so many characters together on screen, but if they could make the audience give a damn about all of them in 147 minutes.
Amazingly, they pulled it off, but there was a compromise – 2016’s Civil War was halfway between being a Captain America movie, and Avengers 2.5. It’s a cinematic audition for the directing team with no real narrative resolution for the Cap trilogy. Bucky is put on ice because no one knows how to handle the situation, Cap goes on the run, and the Avengers break up. If you’ve ever had a family argument where you’ve ended up not talking to someone for years afterwards, it’ll be easy to relate. The answer may be relatively simple to people on the outside looking in – Infinity War brings us a sort of “get over it and call him” ultimatum in the first 20 minutes – but those powerful feelings of anger and betrayal keep burning hard. Family will do that to you.
In the first two Cap films we’re mostly granted a clear-cut case of good vs. bad. Steve fights for what’s right, but grey areas start leaking into his ideology by the end of Winter Soldier, and not only because the people officially in charge of him are no longer the “good guys.” Bucky Barnes has done some horrific things, but if there’s a chance to save his best friend, someone who was like a brother to him, can he let it slip away? The bloody events of Winter Soldier keep running through Civil War like an open wound.
Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely make sure we’re a mile deep in the path of where Cap’s moral compass is taking him, while also tackling the huge endeavor of a clashing Avengers team, by establishing that every character has skin in the game.
Tony dwells on losing his parents in a car crash, and feels a growing responsibility to the people that end up being “collateral damage” in the Avengers’ shenanigans – a barrel of conflicting emotions that implodes when he finds out Bucky is responsible for something he thought was an accident. Scarlet Witch is the newly-adopted daughter who’s yet to be fully embraced by the family. Nat has been part of Clint’s ‘secret’ family before anyone realised he had one, and we now know he’s got more at risk than a bag of arrows. Sam and Bucky become feuding step-brothers forced to spend time together on an unpleasant mini-vacation. T’Challa is in the grips of grief after watching his father die, seeking vengeance to provide at least some closure before returning to deal with the family fallout in Wakanda. Meanwhile, Scott is risking all the good work he’s done to create a safe home for his young daughter Cassie by joining the “wrong” side of the Avengers team.
The big fight between them all is still an absolute spectacle. For an action scene that’s so beige in its aesthetic (imagine what someone like Zack Snyder would have done with it if you like properly styling the set piece out and playing with colors – or don’t, if the idea makes you balk) it still manages to be extraordinarily exciting, even when you know that things will probably turn out okay for the most part. Hawkeye pulls his punches on Black Widow, new family members Spider-Man and Ant-Man make their team-up debut, Scarlet Witch takes out her frustration at being grounded by her new father figure by burying him under an avalanche of cars, and at the center of it all, Tony and Steve stand opposed, the most determined to “win” as Black Panther claws his way to a shred of potential relief.
Pulling the strings on all of this from a measured distance is Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo, one of the MCU’s most tragic villains, and one who’s a world away from his comic book guise. Zemo doesn’t have 2D intentions. His aim isn’t to give the Avengers an offhanded cataclysmic event to deal with like Ultron or Loki or Thanos. His plan is complex, brilliant and upsetting – he wants to destroy a family. Vengeance has consumed him, just as it’s consuming Tony and T’Challa.
As he finally deletes the last voicemail he got from his wife before she was killed in the battle of Sokovia in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Zemo seems resigned to whatever fate may hold for him, and he knows it ain’t gonna be good. But he also knows that his personal mission, much like the one on December 16th, 1991, is complete.
It’s all connected: Captain America: Civil War was a huge test for the audience – this was really the first MCU film that would properly confuse you if you were going in cold, but here are just some of the wider connections to note…
Age of Ultron’s Sokovia-destroying final battle has led to some big oversight issues between the Avengers and the government, which Tony, Rhodey and Vision feel are well-founded. Rhodey later puts the final nail in the coffin of the Accords when the rogue Avengers roll up during Infinity War.
Crossbones returns to create trouble for Steve after revealing his allegiance was with Hydra in Winter Soldier.
Vision and Scarlet Witch are clearly in the first stages of a romance that will be confirmed in Avengers: Infinity War.
Sam and Scott’s fight in Ant-Man gets resolved, as Falcon brings him into the fold immediately when the chips are down in Civil War.
Agent 13 is revealed to be Sharon Carter, Peggy’s niece. To say this didn’t go down well with fans, especially after she makes out with Steve later in the film, is an understatement. We’ve not seen her pop up in the MCU since, and you can probably count the people who are sad about that on one hand. The two had a notable (and much better received) relationship in the comics.
Cap states “I can do this all day” when fighting Iron Man, a phrase he delivered in his first solo film when he was seen fighting a bully in a back alley. In that scene, he attempted to pick up a shield in the form of a metal bin lid to protect himself. Cap’s shield then becomes a point of contention during the final scrap between him and Tony, with Tony saying that it doesn’t belong to Steve. Cap then ditches the iconic shield next to a battered Tony at the end of their face-off, complete with Black Panther damage. He still hasn’t got it back, but Avengers: Endgame does tease a potential reunion.
This was the first appearance of Giant Man, the oversized Ant-Man we would see again in Peyton Reed’s second Scott Lang offering, Ant-Man & The Wasp. The Raft is also introduced as a megaprison where the US government keeps “the worst of the worst” causing more trouble for Scott later on in Ant-Man & The Wasp.Late Marvel legend Stan Lee’s cameo finds him calling Iron Man “Tony Stank” as he drops off a FedEx package.
The CIA’s finest, Everett Ross, makes his debut in Civil War. Martin Freeman would reprise the role in Black Panther. Meanwhile, General Ross (William Hurt) has become the Secretary of State, and somehow an even bigger git.
Tony’s BARF invention is teased, memory recreation tech which is rumored to have a key role in saving the day in Avengers: Endgame.
Howard Stark’s death has been referenced in the first two Iron Man films, and we know that he was instrumental in the creation of Steve Rogers as a super soldier during WWII. We get to witness his ultimate demise in 1991 at the hands of Bucky Barnes here, but it turns out that Cap has known about that for a while, possibly even since Natasha handed him a secret file on Barnes at the end of The Winter Soldier.
First appearances: We get a preview of what this incarnation of Spider-Man will be capable of in future MCU films, as well as getting to meet the new Aunt May, Marisa Tomei. Black Panther makes his grand entrance in Civil War, too. Don’t delete that footage!
So long, farewell: Wakanda ruler King T’Chaka is killed when a bomb goes off as he’s giving a speech to the United Nations during the ratification of the Sokovia Accords, but we’ll see him again briefly in Ryan Coogler’s standalone Black Panther movie.
An elderly Peggy Carter finally pops her clogs, and Steve is understandably devastated. It would also be an emotional funeral scene for fans of the character during any subsequent re-watch, as her ABC TV series, Agent Carter, was about to be cancelled in its prime shortly after the release of Civil War.
Frank Grillo’s heavily scarred villain Crossbones goes out by suicide bomb as we join the Avengers on their latest mission, starting a chain of events that will lead to the beginning of the end for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in their current line-up.
Credit check: In the mid-credits scene, Bucky Barnes, now missing his powerful robotic arm, is put into cryogenic stasis in Wakanda, hoping that a cure for his brainwashing triggers can be found at some later date.
In the post-credits scene, it’s time to get excited about Spider-Man: Homecoming. The MCU’s own attempt at a standalone film for Peter Parker would set him up with some fresh Stark tech, seen here for the first time.
What are your thoughts on Captain America: Civil War? Have we missed your favorite moment or reference? Let us know in the comments below…