Captain America is Evil (Civil War, an author’s perspective)
This article includes spoilers for both the Civil War movie and Comics. You have been warned.
Welcome back. If anyone is still around after my overly long hiatus. I’ve been working hard on some new projects. More about that later
After watching Civil War with some friends, conversation ultimately turned toward Iron Man vs Captain America, who's in the right (This is apparently what the directors were aiming for). Being much more of an Iron Man fan, my instant reaction was to side with Tony Stark.
I stand behind this and would go further to say that Captain America has actually been written as the villain of his own movie. Which, if it’s intentional, is a ballsy move on the writer’s part.
If we look at the main argument over the Sokovia Accords, Tony argument, largely driven by the guilt over the events of Avengers 2, points to the inevitable loss of life every time these larger than life characters clash.
As Vision says:
“Our very strength invites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.” - Vision
Given the constant escalation of these clashes, it’s completely understandable that the world governments would want to have some control or oversight.
I’m not going into the rights and wrongs of oversight. But people have a tendency to be stupid. So we have things like committees, cabinet based governments and juries to mitigate someone having a “stupid moment”.
The more interesting and, to my mind, telling argument comes from Steve (Captain America) Rodgers, which is built around a simple, single idea.
“We may not be perfect, but the safest hands are still our own.” - Steve Rodgers
Steve is saying he knows better than anyone else – than everyone else – what’s best, not just for him, but for the world. How is that not hubris?
More interestingly, this is the starting point for many a dark lord. Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn presents a Dark Lord who only gathered power to hold back a greater evil. What he did, he did because he thought it was right, that it was best for everyone.
In Star Wars, Anakin Skywalker believes he knows better than the Jedi council, and we all know how that one ended.
All the really cool villains start out with good intentions.
… one day he’d turn around and realise he’d been a monster the whole time. - Micheal Dannage (Terra Prime)
Now we know his mindset, let’s look at Steve’s descent into darkness. Repeated actions of defiance and in service of either himself or the world according to him.
Of course, every attack, every soldier hurt, was in service of doing the right thing… for him and Bucky.
He even turns down Stark’s attempt at compromise.
This culminates in the airport fight and Steve’s first kill.
Now, let me explain and put this into some context.
Tony and “Team Iron Man” come with the intent to bring Steve and his team in, ultimately to protect them. Tony begged Secretary Ross to let him bring Steve in, rather than send a team with shoot to kill orders.
Team Cap’ go in, and go in hard, with the objective of getting Bucky and Steve to the plane, at any cost.
This is typified in their fighting styles. Tony and Co. use predominantly “less lethal” and restraint-based weapons and tactics, Spiderman’s web-slinging and War Machine's “Tazer Mace” are prime examples of this, along with the face Steve didn’t take a guided missile to the face right out of the gate. While team Cap’ don’t pull any punches, climaxing in Steve landing a kill shot on Spiderman.
Yes, you heard me right.
When Steve drops the gangway on Spiderman he has no way of knowing if Spiderman can take the weight, for all new knows he’s just crushed a young man to death.
While this has been pointed out as a larger issue in Marvel in general, my point still stands that this was a hard-core move that Steve couldn't have known Peter was going to survive.
Now the climax.
This is where they could have pulled Steve back. But instead, they really doubled down on the whole “Steve is a villain” idea.
Firstly, just to get it out the way, Tony has hulkbuster armour. Why would he go into battle in anything else?
At the end of the Civil War comic series, they do something really interesting. Something which is, in my opinion, an example of a brilliant character development. A moment of clarity in which everything changes.
It’s the final battle between (as far as I can see, every Marvel superhero), Tony is on the ropes, Steve goes in for the final blow, only to be pulled back. As he struggles he looks around at the devastation and finally sees, really sees, what’s happened. He might have started with the best of intentions, he thought he was saving people. But all he brought was death and destruction.
He has this moment of clarity where he turns around and realises he might have started the hero, but now he's the monster. And it breaks him.
He stops right then and there and delivers one of the most poignant lines I’ve heard in a long time.
“Spiderman – We were winning back there.Captain America – Everything except the argument.”
He can see that everything they’re doing is just reinforcing the idea that the super-heroes are dangerous and need to be controlled.
Compare that to Steve in the movie. After smashing the Arc reactor in Tony’s armour (I guess he knew Tony didn’t need that to stay alive anymore), he walks away victorious and still sure of his righteousness. There’s no change of viewpoint, no moment of redemption.
He just turns, and walks away into the darkness…