Hey y’all, so as you know, I want to be a filmmaker, and so I’ve started a brand new YouTube channel for my more serious work. The old one will still be there for my vlogs and fanvids and such, but now, if you want to view my original, narrative content, you can check out Rainbow’s End Studios, which already has three videos up: Going Down?, a short horror movie; Writing Struggles, a sketch about a writer’s inner monologue; and Losing My Mime, a dark comedy about a girl being stalked by a mime. And coming soon, on May 8th, Take Me Away, a fantasy short film. I hope you all tune in! Thanks! ~TRL
Any Marvel comic fan will tell you that 2016’s Captain America: Civil War isn’t much like its original comic book story arc. As the title would suggest, it’s Cap-centric, whereas the comic arc focused more on the dispute between Cap’s ideology and Tony Stark’s, so their points of view both get a fair share of consideration instead of, you know, unfairly framing one as right and one as unreasonable, irrational, and…very out of character.
Now I want to make something clear right now: I cannot stand Tony Stark. I think he’s a douchebag. Now granted, his ego is less played up in the comics, so he’s more palatable there. Robert Downey Jr.’s iteration, however, is a fuckboy sexist egomaniac…but also a weirdly good dad figure (#SpidersonForever). That being said, I don’t think Tony gets a fair shake in this movie. Because Steve is the protagonist–this is a Captain America movie, not an “Avengers” movie
even though it fucking is–just because you’re missing Thor and Banner doesn’t make this any less of an ensemble movie. So Steve gets to just be right, instead of having this be a nuanced and balanced discussion about gun control.
Oh, did I not mention this movie is about gun control?
Social Commentary Through Allegory
The original “Civil War” arc was more or less a vague metaphor for the sociopolitical dispute on immigration in the U.S. I guess Mark Millar is some sort of psychic because this comic series was published during 2006 and 2007, and it is eerily and uncomfortably parallel to Trump administration policies on immigration in 2018, specifically immigration from Latin American countries.
After some superpowered people cause massive civilian causalities, the U.S. government decides to enact a Superhuman Registration Act (and the TV show Smallville completely rips this storyline off). The Registration Act has the full support of Tony Stark…who builds a sort of prison camp in another dimension for rebel superhumans who don’t want to play by the rules and sign up. Steve Rogers is diametrically opposed to Tony, and leads the “Secret Avengers” against the Registration Act. Steve believes in personal freedom and the right to privacy for superhumans. Basically, “superhumans” = undocumented immigrants, Tony represents the right wing, and Steve represents the left.
I’m not saying all Conservatives want to put immigrants in cages okay it’s a very extreme Trumpian version of Conservatism don’t get your panties twisted-
There is an epic showdown in New York between Cap’s team and Tony’s team, but Cap realizes all this senseless violence is harming the very people he’s fighting to protect, and he orders his Secret Avengers to stand down. He surrenders and is arrested for treason…and is then assassinated. On the bright side, the rest of the rebels are granted amnesty by the government so…yay?
No matter how evil Tony’s point of view may seem on paper, to the comic’s credit, it at least frames both opinions fairly. It’s not simply a “right vs wrong” narrative, but about two men who have conflicting ideologies. The same cannot be said for the movie…we’ll get to that.
The 2016 movie is not an allegory about immigration, but rather, gun control. Except instead of it being about people who have weapons, people are the weapons in this case. Namely Wanda, who is more or less the catalyst for the U.S. government to consider reigning in the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. The government isn’t asking the Avengers to retire–just to accept government oversight. Tony’s reason for siding with the Sokovia Accords is that he…meets a lady while waiting for an elevator and her son was accidentally killed thanks to the Avengers and Ultron. Steve on the other hand argues that the government trying to direct the Avengers will only get in their way. Or as he puts it: “the safest hands are our own.”
Does this argument sound familiar? Imagine this was a dispute about gun control. Tony would be saying, “We need more government regulation on the dangerous thing.” To which Steve is replying, “I can handle the dangerous thing just fine. Just because Wanda made a mistake, why should I be punished? I’m responsible with the dangerous thing! This is my second amendment right!”
To be fair, Steve makes a good point. If the Avengers were, say, firefighters, and they had to wait for the okay from the U.N. every time they went out to fight a fire, it would be a waste of precious time they could be spending saving lives. I think that’s the point–they’re both making good arguments. Neither one is really right or wrong.
But who’s the actual protagonist of this story? Who’s the one we’re meant to agree with? I’ll give you a hint: his name is in the title.
Of course, the movie changes gears one-third of the way in. And therein lies the problem.
What’s The Conflict Again?
During the Sokovia Accords signing, there’s a bombing, and Bucky Barnes, still on the run and hiding out in Budapest, is implicated to be the one who is responsible. Except we know he’s innocent and that it was actually Zemo. So this debate about whether or not the Avengers are too dangerous to be given total autonomy is put on hold and the rest of the movie becomes about Steve defending Bucky. Now that the conflict is changed, and character motivations have changed, we have to examine Steve and Tony anew. We know Bucky is innocent of bombing the Accords, so of course the audience is going to side with Steve.
Tony eventually learns that Bucky is innocent too, and flies out to the Hydra base to help him and Steve stop the rest of Hydra’s super soldiers. And then we come to the most poignant scene in the film: Tony learning that Bucky was the one who murdered his parents. Then, all bets are off–especially when Tony finds out that Steve knew and never told him. Before, Tony’s point of view was reasonable because he was certain that Bucky was an active urban terrorist. But now he’s out for blood on a man who was brainwashed and under the thrall of a secret Nazi cult. Obviously, the Starks’ death can’t be blamed on Bucky, which again puts Tony in the wrong for wanting to kill him and Steve in the right for wanting to protect him.
We’ve had three different conflicts in the course of this movie, and the last two don’t even come close to resembling the original comic book plot. Which isn’t that big of a problem. “Civil War” the comic arc took seven issues to resolve, and it ended with Steve giving up on his crusade for human rights and getting murdered. Civil War the film had to be watered down a bit, and hey, audiences react better to character-driven narratives rather than philosophical debates that don’t really get resolved, so why not make the movie more about Steve protecting his boyfriend than what is essentially gun control? We’ll get more publicity on Tumblr that way anyway.
No, the real problem is-
Instead of allowing people to take sides in a debate with very strong political and ethical undertones, the movie tells you who to root for by painting Steve as a guy who’s just standing up for his innocent friend, and Tony as an irrational ball of emotion who wants revenge for his dead parents and was easily swayed by some random lady he met waiting for the elevator. Even if you like Tony better as a character, agreeing with him is kind of stupid because of the way the narrative frames his point of view. When Steve says to Tony, “it wasn’t [Bucky’s] fault”, Tony’s response is “I don’t care. He killed my mom.” Right there is an admission of a lack of logical, rational thinking.
This isn’t really a story about gun control, or big government, or Steve being in love with Bucky (just kidding, yes it is): this is a story about vengeance, and the way it strips us of our reason and our compassion. Zemo wants revenge for the death of his family. T’Challa wants revenge for the death of his father. And Tony wants revenge for his parents. In the end, all three characters, while sympathetic, are determined to be wrong. Or as T’Challa sagely says: “I am done letting [vengeance] consume me.”
The original title for this article, when I thought about writing it a year and a half ago, was “Is Captain America Anti Gun Control?” And I’m glad I changed my mind about writing it. Because being pro or anti gun control wasn’t the point of this movie in the end. This movie has nothing interesting to say about such a loaded topic (pun unintended), which is why the movie drops that theme after the first half hour. Civil War continues to be one of my favorite Marvel movies, but not because of its take on ethics or important topical commentary. I love it because it’s a 147 minute Stucky shipfest…and also Tony Stark gets punched in his smug face. ~TRL