Friends or Foes? Team Captain America

I’ve already talked about my opinions of Captain America: Civil War as a film. In that review I refer a lot to how the relationships between the characters are what helps make the film so amazing. In this short essay I am going to look at those relationships and character motives in greater depth and explain essentially why I want to wrap Steve Rogers in a blanket and give him a cuddle.

Civil War is a film about internal conflict between what was previously a very close group of teammates, if not friends, and what happens when sides are asked to be picked. For something like that to work and connect with the audience, you need to have strong relationships that people don’t want to see break up, or that they can see mimicked in their own lives. They have to engage emotionally with the characters and care about them. Ultimately, Civil War become more than just a disagreement over rules and regulations, it becomes a moral dilemma over how far you should go for one person and asks if revenge is ever worth it. We sympathise with this dilemma because we know Steve and Bucky’s backstories, we know how Tony Stark has grown up and we know the twisted and difficult path that Natasha Romanoff has walked.

As we should in real life, Marvel films encourage you to imagine their characters complexly. They are not one dimensional heroes or villains, driven only by the desire either to protect or conquer. They are humans, flawed and subject to their emotions as the rest of us are, except for them, the consequences of their actions are often have a much larger impact than what ours would.

Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are at the centre of this. One driven by the desire to deal with their guilt, the other to protect and bring back their best friend.

In this essay I will focus on Team Captain America. There’s a separate one for Team Iron Man if that’s what floats your boat.

Captain America. Steve Rogers. Of all the superheroes in the Marvel universe, I think that Captain America is the one that is both simultaneously intrinsically linked to his alter-ego and completely separate from him. Before being given the serum Steve was told by Dr. Erskine; “Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.”

It was Steve’s goodness that made him applicable for the serum. He has always stood up for what he believes in, taken a stand against bullies, and done the right thing no matter the cost to him. He has been willing to lay his life down on several occasions to save people, and remains the only character in the Marvel cinematic universe who has told Nick Fury just where he can shove it. Steve isn’t a perfect soldier, he never was and never will be, but he is a good man.

Steve belongs to a different time to the one he is currently living in. He grew up a world that didn’t have computers, where not everyone owned a car and where global conflict was rare. He belonged in a world with Peggy Carter and Howard Stark, dammit he deserved that world! He deserved to hang that shield up and grow old with the woman he loved. But he didn’t get it, he lost his best friend, and gave up his life to save the world, even if he gave up his life in a very different way to the one he planned.

He doesn’t like the world he’s in now very much. Sure, the technology is great and in general lives are better, but he doesn’t like the security of the world. He doesn’t like how his own country tried to create a weapon that would effectively terrorise people into not committing crime. (Which then turned out to be even worse and part of a HYDRA plan.) But this is what Steve does understand; he understands that hard choices have to made, he understands that not everyone can be saved. He understood that in the war, he understands that now. This is one of the major differences between himself and Tony. Tony wants to save everyone and is crippled by the guilt when he doesn’t. Steve wants to save everyone, but when he doesn’t, uses that to be better the next time.

The biggest flaw that Steve Rogers possesses is that he sees the world in black and white. To him, there are no shades of grey, or perhaps he had enough of grey areas during his fighting years in the war. In contrast, Tony Stark lives in a world of grey and this creates a massive rift between them, it always has. Steve is too prim and proper for Tony, Tony too close to the line on many occasions for Steve. Steve doesn’t want to sign the Accords not because he disagrees with their principle, but because he doesn’t believe that people should be used as weapons, as threats and he is scared that that is all The Avengers will become is the Accords are signed.

This in itself probably would have been fine, Steve would have refused to sign the Accords and gone off and done something else with his life. Sam and him would have worked with PTSD suffers, or rescued puppies, or been bin men, but for one thing: Bucky.

Would Steve have picked up that shield and gone after the bomber had he not thought it was his best friend? I don’t think so. He would have watched from home, angry that he wasn’t able to help, but ultimately able to accept the fact this was his decision.

Steve didn’t start a war over the Accords, he started it to protect Bucky Barnes.

The rest of the film revolves around this relationship, everything Steve does is to try and clear Bucky’s name, to help Bucky get his memory back. In the final battle Steve is still trying to protect Bucky, trying to get Tony to understand the difference between Bucky and The Winter Soldier. When Tony refuses to back down Steve nearly kills him. I genuinely thought that Steve was going to cut Tony’s head off. In that moment, it wasn’t Captain America fighting Iron Man, it was Steve Rogers pounding out all the anger he’s ever felt over the years, trying to punch away the losses that he’s suffered, trying to make sure that this one time, he can protect his best friend.

And at the very end, he still looses him. That’s why I want to wrap Steve in a blanket and give him a huge cuddle. In Civil War Steve looses everything closest to him. He looses Peggy, he looses The Avengers, he looses his identity of Captain America, he looses his best friend (again). Steve does everything right, and yet he still doesn’t get what he deserves.

Captain America stands not for what America is, but what America should be. I think Steve truly understand this, and that’s why it’s so easy for him to give it up. He won’t be used as a political tool, a bargaining chip, a way to get other people to comply. That’s not his job. His job is to protect the little guy and jump into enemy territory against orders because it’s the right thing to do. There’s a reason Captain America has a shield. He’s a defender. When you’re asking Captain America not to defend, you’re asking him not to be Captain America. That’s why Steve couldn’t sign the Accords. That’s why he went to war with Tony. More importantly, that’s why he dropped the shield when Tony told him he didn’t deserve it. Not because he doesn’t, but because it doesn’t deserve him.

Not being able to save everyone is a lesson that Scarlet Witch learns right at the start of the film. I’m not sure what age Wanda is supposed to be, but by the fact that Steve keeps referring to her as a kid, I’m gonna guess early 20s. She’s seen her country torn apart by war and volunteered to experiments to keep it safe. She and Steve have a lot in common. Is that why she sides with him? Because Steve has been a mentor to her? Because he trusted her when no one else would? Maybe, but Wanda also spends most of the film in Tony’s compound. She’s being blamed for the death of lots of people by the world, a world that sees her as a threat, as a weapon. They don’t see her as an individual, as a young lady trying to work herself out, her powers. They don’t see that her fear is as great, if not more, than theirs. They don’t see the pain she suffers every day because her brother is dead (I loved the little P neckless she wore).

Wanda joins Cap because she’s been used as a weapon before. She realises that the Accords will not keep her safe, they will not get the people on her side, the Accords will only make the world fear her more. “I cannot control their fear, only my own.”

By stepping out beside Cap, Wanda is making the choice to be free, to be her own person, something the government would never let her be.

Hawkeye help Wanda realise this, and Wanda is also the reason Hawkeye come back. Like he said to Natasha, he’s retired. He doesn’t have to sign anything. Yet he left his children and risked prison (and actually got sent there) for the sake of what he believes in. Clint is alive to make that decision because of Quicksilver, it’s that debt he refers to.

I also think he genuinely wants to help Cap too. He doesn’t leave after he busts Wanda out. He gets Ant-Man and stays to fight. Clint has something no one else in The Avengers does. He has children. He wants them to grow up in a world where they will be safe, and even though he used to work for S.H.I.E.L.D he clearly thinks the government can’t be trusted with a team of superheroes. Perhaps, like Natasha, his faith was shaken when HYDRA revealed themselves, or perhaps he believes in Steve more than anyone else.

Near the end of the film Tony asks Clint why he choose the loosing side. What Tony doesn’t see is that Clint did what he did because he believed it was right. Clint would rather be in jail knowing he fought for what he believed in, than with his children knowing he just let it happen. Again, Tony shows his lack of empathy and Clint doesn’t even bother to explain it. If Tony doesn’t understand by now, he ever will.

Ant-Man is a bit of a surprise, or at least he was to me. Like Hawkeye, he is a father. He spent most of his own film trying to get a job so he could see his daughter. With this in mind, the Accords would surely give him a way to go straight with his abilities. He would always have his child support cheque in on time, he would never have to worry about not seeing his little girl again. Then again, Hank Pym hates the Starks so it’s also understandable that Scott wouldn’t side with Tony. Scott never really showed himself to be self-serving, even as a thief he was fairly selfless, so perhaps his principle dislike of Tony Stark was enough to side him with Cap. Or perhaps Hawkeye just showed up at his house and said “hey, Captain America is getting a team together to fight Iron Man so we can stop a bunch of superpowered assassins.” and Scott goes “sure!”

Maybe we will get more of an explanation in the next Ant-Man instalment, hopefully with a very mad Wasp, but I’m not holding my breath.

Falcon is quite possibly my favourite Avenger. He’s certainly his own. Self-sure and loyal, he’s doing what he said he does at the end of Cap 2: Everything Cap does, just slower. There was never any question that Sam was going to side with Cap, he is only back in the game because of him. It’s important to note that Sam doesn’t just follow Steve blindly either. There is literally a scene where he makes sure that Steve has covered all his options. He’s spent the last two years helping Steve look for Bucky, and now, he wants to make sure that what they’re doing is the right thing. When they do eventually find Bucky, Sam isn’t quite as quick to trust him as Steve is, and that mistrust lingers over the rest of film (resulting in some of the most hilarious moments). Understandable, considering his history with The Winter Soldier.

After the airport battle, Sam was almost clear free, but when Vision accidentally shoots Rhodes out of the sky, Sam immediately goes after him. Sam shows that his loyalty to Cap doesn’t extend so far as to turn his back when a friend is falling from the sky. He gets a blaster to the chest and a cell in an underwater jail for his troubles. Sam must have known the instant he turned after Rhodes how it was going to end, but he did it anyway. That right there is the measure of Sam Wilson, to turn his back on certain freedom, to help a friend in need that he had only moments before been fighting.

Finally, we are left with Bucky. James Buchanan Barnes. Steve Rogers’ best friend since childhood and wingman in the war. Or is he The Winter Solider, HYDRA super-assassin with multiple confirmed kills to his name? Civil War was extremely good at drawing the line between the two, even if Bucky himself was having difficulty with it. There’s no doubt about the fact that Bucky was the point around this film revolved. I’ve already talked about how without Bucky I don’t think this war would have started so I’ll not repeat myself here. What I would like to say is that I feel Bucky is less “Team Captain America” and more “Team Let Me Live My Life and Stop Trying to Capture and/or Kill Me”

What seems to get forgotten about a lot when talking about Bucky is that he is a natural protector. Steve has the shield, but who was rescuing Steve from fights in back alleys before the war? Bucky was. Who always had his back in the war with a sniper rifle? Bucky did. Who literally sacrificed his life to save Steve on the train during the mission to capture Zola? Bucky did.

Throughout this film, Bucky is still clinging to this role. He tries time and time again to pretend he doesn’t know Steve, to protect Steve from the fight that is coming. Right at the end, in the final battle with no arm and huge physical trauma he sees Tony about to kick Steve’s head in and does the only thing he can, grabs Tony’s foot. This brief respite allows Steve to gain the upper hand. Despite the fact Bucky cannot fully remember who he is, in amongst the nightmare memories, there is some part of him that is still protecting his best friend.

I don’t think anyone can fail to feel for Bucky in this film. He’s been brainwashed to do terrible things, and just when he is beginning to think he is getting back to himself, some manic comes along and triggers The Winter Soldier again. Is it any wonder he wants to keep Steve out of it? Like Tony, Bucky is wracked by guilt. For things he couldn’t control, but still did. You can’t help but think that his journey to confront Zemo, to fight the other HYDRA super-assassins is a sort of penance journey for him. He probably expected to die in that fight, maybe he even would have welcomed it. But at least he would have done it of his own choice, trying to make amends for what he had done.

In the end, Bucky doesn’t get the redemptive fight he was expecting. He gets a brutal attack from the child of one of his victims. Although he knows he mentally wasn’t in control at the time, he still feels the guilt. “I remember all of them.” Because of this, his first desire is to run, or rather, he doesn’t argue when Steve tells him to. It’s only when he is backed into a corner that his actions change from defensive to aggressive. The crux of the fight belongs to Steve and Tony, yet Bucky and Steve take punches for each other in equal measure. Bucky once again, sacrifices himself for Steve, this time in the form of his arm. There’s symbolic measure to this too, the arm is a physical reminder of The Winter Soldier. With it gone and the ease of his excellent teamwork with Steve shows more than anything else his return to his Bucky Barnes identity.

Finally, to cement this, Bucky chooses himself to go back under the ice. For once, he gets to make his own decision and although it’s worse for him, it’s better for others in the long run. Bucky wouldn’t be happy, not being able to trust himself and so he makes the decision to keep others safe. How much must that decision have cost him? To have regained his identity and best friend, only to give them all up again? We know this isn’t the last time we see Bucky, hopefully when they next wake him up, it’s because they’ve remember that Scarlet Witch can also control peoples minds… But seriously, I really want to see Bucky’s recovery developed fully, either in his own film or as a supporting character to someone else, I don’t really mind.

Team Captain America isn’t quite as complicated as Team Iron Man. The one overarching factor for all of these superheroes is Steve Rogers. All of them are there because in one capacity or other, they trust Captain America, and trust him to do the right thing. Maybe they disagree with the Accords, but that was simply the spark that started a much bigger flame. In the wave of this war it will interesting to see how this team reconciles to the other in the face of a bigger danger we all know is coming. Who will call who first? And how fast will the others answer the call?

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