By the time DC released the first installment of their cinematic shared universe with Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, Marvel had already released the 6 films that would make up it's Phase 1. 6 superhero victories by blowing a hole in the sky over Los Angeles (Iron Man), in Banner's words "Broke Harlem" (The Incredible Hulk), Blew up the New York's World's Fare (Iron Man 2), decimated a town in New Mexico (Thor) and by proxy reduced much of Manhattan to rubble (Avengers). Yet it wasn't until the climax of Man of Steel when people really started to take stock of the devastation amassed by Superhero Smackdowns. Yes, by the third act streets of Metropolis are crushed by the Kryptonian World Engine and an alien ship crashed into it's financial district. If that wasn't enough, Superman and Zod go toe-to-toe. They punch, throw and dissect buildings with laser-vision. However, surely the dollar value on the construction costs from Marvel's victories must be enough to cripple Stark Industries and Wayne Enterprises together! There's a very strange irony about the dizzying culmination of our super-powered movies, whereby the audience's demand for superhero movies ultimately wracks up more devastation. Yet we rarely consider the impact and longer effects on the citizens where they take place.
Captain America: Civil War addresses the concern for anyone that's spent time to consider it. While the fuse is lit when Captain America's New Avengers kill a whole office floor of Wakandan Diplomats, it's not until General Ross addresses the Avengers of the compound and shows a street-level view of their victories; including Age of Ultron and Captain America: Winter Soldier. He also puts their misadventures in a global political perspective, "What would you call a group of U.S.-based, enhanced individuals, who routinely ignores sovereign borders and inflict their will wherever they choose and who, frankly, seem unconcerned about what they leave behind them?" It's a sobering thought that works effectively on it's characters, particularly Tony and Wanda. Yet when it's time to thrill the audience, you may feel like the conflict any characters feel is quickly discarded. While the attack on the UN is carried out by the antagonist and pushes the story along, the Airport knock-down-drag out is executed without prejudice. Airplanes and gantries are crashed into, torn apart and blown to bits, while Air Traffic Control towers are sheared in half just to stop escaping comrades. Seems like "Thunderbolt" Ross was right! That being said, the Russo Bros took the watershed improvements on Captain America: The Winter Soldier and upped the ante. While it's fun to play with nearly every character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe toy box, they're still careful to continue the special ops execution of the missions...at least to start with.
While the inclusion of the rest of the MCU characters could have Cap's third installment stall, a la Age of Ultron, the Russo's manage to keep events hurtling along to the conclusion. Even if plot points are lost in the melee, there's still plenty to keep you entertained. Some of the more enjoyable scrapes may go on for longer than they need, but they're still an absolute blast. Whenever you watch your hero go up against a villain there's almost always the inevitable feeling that they'll beat the bad guy. Yet seeing brother against brother (and sister!) is bitter/sweet. You know what each are capable of making it a photo-real top trumps, but you won't feel good about either emerging victorious. The consequences of defeat are a little too high.
Thankfully, amidst the Avengers affray, we still stop to consider Captain America - his name is on the title after all! Not only that, but if you do have time to stop and think amongst the set-pieces, the threads from Cap's journey are picked up and examined. Although her name isn't mentioned, the text message to inform Steve of Peggy's death is a heartbreaking realisation that he only has one person left from his old life. While this only serves to reinforce the Steve's self destructive compulsion to protect Bucky, there's still a peak under the bonnet of his true blue nature:
"I don't mean to make things difficult." Steve says earnestly to Tony
"I know. Because you're a very polite person."
"If I see a situation pointed south, I can't ignore it. Sometimes I wish I could."
"No, you don't."
"No, I don't." Steve confesses.
It's not that one of the powers bestowed from the Super Soldier Serum is being contrary, but it does speak to the cost of integrity being compromise. As stoic and inspiring "planting yourself like a tree" may be, is it worth it when the result isn't heroic sacrifice but in fact the suffering of others and loss of true friendship? The exchange also suggests a true understanding between the two. They may never be explicit about it, but it's a deep running compassion that only a deep friendship can grant. Why else would Tony put himself on the line to bring Cap in after he escapes with The Winter Soldier?
It's with this in mind that makes the personal price infinitely more crushing.
Captain America: He's my friend.
Iron Man: So was I.
4* - Saving Private Barnes
Others in the series:
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
The Guardians of the Galaxy
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Avengers: Age of Ultron