As any Marvel’s Avengers appreciator can tell you, a staple focus of each story is on team dynamics. What does it take for a group of people with different agendas and backgrounds to effectively work together for good? How does a team find common ground, and account for each others’ strengths and weaknesses?
As anyone who’s lived in Christian community (or worked in social justice) knows, these ideas come up as much in everyday life as they do when taking down a supervillain. But what Marvel hasn’t looked at is the other side of intentional community — what happens when a team can’t work.
The latest Marvel release, Captain America: Civil War, digs into these important questions: What does it take to break up a team? And what does the fallout look like?
Civil War ’s conflict begins when Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), a.k.a Iron Man, puts his support behind The Sokovia Accords, a document created in response to the destruction at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The accords would place the Avengers under the jurisdiction of the United Nations, putting them in combat only when the U.N. deems it necessary. The Avengers who sign on will continue as part of the team. The ones who don’t will be forced into retirement.
Predictably, some of the Avengers agree with Stark, believing the team’s actions shouldn’t be allowed to go unchecked. Others believe that this compromise is the only way they’ll be able to continue doing meaningful work. But a few, particularly Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a.k.a Captain America, refuse to sign, believing the best way to do their job is by putting faith in each other, not institutions.
Matters get complicated when a bomb goes off at the official signing of the accords, killing several people. Blame for the incident falls on Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Cap’s former best friend, who’s recovering from his stint as the brainwashed human weapon, Winter Soldier. Already on Stark’s bad side, Captain America and his allies battle with Stark and the other Avengers to protect Bucky, who they believe is innocent.
Fortunately, Civil War is not the same painful, nihilistic slog that this spring’s other superhero smackdown, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was. Unlike Zack Snyder’s debacle, Civil War directors Joe and Anthony Russo understand how to successfully portray the difference of beliefs that lead to the film’s big fight. We know why Iron Man and Captain America each feel the way they do — and, crucially, the film never positions either of them as clearly right or wrong.
Of course, Civil War is also really fun. It includes incredible action sequences, and its stars have natural chemistry. The addition of two new heroes to the ranks (Chadwick Boseman’s great Black Panther and Tom Holland’s adorably dorky Spider-Man) is exciting, as is the return of Paul Rudd as the smart-mouthed, scrappy Ant-Man.
But it’s the balance of conflict at its core, and the film’s willingness to expose and explore the deep-rooted feelings of its characters that makes Captain America: Civil War such a success. Just like us, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes disagree and get their feelings hurt sometimes. But, like any relationship worth saving, we know they’ll be reconciled. Whether you’re battling mass incarceration or alien invaders, fighting for the common good also means caring about the people fighting by your side.