Holy carp that’s a lot of superhero fighting! But there’s also so much to take in – where did all those powers and gadgets come from, and what is everyone fighting for? Let’s find out! SPOILERS!
WARNING: There will be tons of major spoilers here!
By the way, this post mainly details what is actually seen in Captain America: Civil War and how it all ties to the comics and other Marvel properties. If you’d like an in-depth history of the Superhero Registration Act that inspired the Sokovia Accords and sparked the superhero civil war – read about it all here.
Comic Connections for Captain America: Civil War
Okay, first off, if you’re reading this article, you’ve already watched the movies, so as said, there will be SPOILERS APLENTY and the story will be addressed more-or-less chronologically.
Let’s start with 1991. Thanks to Tony’s holographic BARF technology (gotta love those acronyms), we get to see Howard and Maria Stark right before their untimely deaths (as well as a CGI Teen Tony). Of course, we first learned about their deaths in Iron Man, and Captain America: The Winter Solider intimated that Hydra planned their deaths. Now we see that (SPOILER!) Bucky the Winter Soldier killed them just before their big Bahamas trip and made it look like an accident (while stealing some blue serum from the car?). This all ties in with the comics, as Tony long believed his parents’ deaths were accidental, but later learned the event was planned by part of the Roxxon Corporation (also tenuously connected to Hydra). Also, in the comics, Winter Soldier killed a lot of important people, including the mother of Wolverine’s son.
Of course, it was recently suggested that Howard planned to “die” in a car accident to go into hiding as a member of the immortal scientist organization, The Brotherhood of the Shield. So there’s that.
Then at Hydra fortress in Siberia we see Bucky’s indoctrination using trigger words to activate him in extreme circumstances. We learned in Agents of SHIELD season two that this is Hydra’s Faustus Method, and we learned in Agent Carter season one it was named by Johann Fennhoff (the comic book villain Dr. Faustus). A sign of successful brainwashing is the phrase “ready to comply.” The use of trigger words to activate sleeper agents has long been part of spy fiction, and in Marvel they even have “trigger scents” for characters like (the current) Wolverine. Bucky’s trigger words are kept in a red book (a red ledger?) and include the word “homecoming” – clever Marvel, I see what you did there.
The blue serum is used to create Soviet Super Soldiers, who are each extremely powerful, but mentally unstable. Given the Stark connection, the craziness, and powers, the blue serum is likely related to GH.325, derived from alien Kree blood and used to revive temporarily dead SHIELD agents like Phil Coulson and Daisy “Skye” Johnson. Yeah, that blue stuff is how #CoulsonLives. In the comics, MGH is mutant growth hormone, used to give unstable powers to humans looking for a new kind of high.
By the way, seeing an incongruous Teen Tony is fun, considering that is the most embarrassing part of Tony Stark’s career as Iron Man (and that’s saying a lot considering all of the stupid things Iron Man’s done over the years). Stark showed off the technology as part of his announcement to MIT that he would institute the September Foundation Grant, helping young scientists. Why not call it the Maria Stark Foundation, I wonder? In the comics, the MSF not only funds major humanitarian initiatives, it also pays victims of superhero battles and (usually) funds the Avengers.
Also in the present, we find Helmut Zemo seeking Hydra’s red book. Thanks to Black Widow releasing all of SHIELD’s secrets at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (most of which were heavily encrypted by Daisy Johnson within minutes of the info’s release according to the AoS season one finale). He search led him to an ex-Hydra agent in Cleveland (for some reason, my mind keeps returning to Howard the Duck and Cleve-Land), and we learn he is obsessed with the deaths of (SPOILER!) his father, wife, and son in Sokovia. Now in the comics, Helmut Zemo is a major villain, as was his father Heinrich Zemo before him. As Baron Zemo, he has repeatedly attempted world takeover (never successfully) and the destruction of the Avengers (a few times very successfully). He’s probably been one of the most consistent Avengers baddies over the years, but he’s also one of the most conflicted. Not only does he see himself as the hero of his own story (as many villains do), he’s also spent a long time operating as a hero, sometimes under the guise of Citizen V.
Zemo’s plan seem to come to fruition with a battle between Crossbones (who was the crooked SHIELD agent Brock Rumlow in CA:TWS) in Lagos, Nigeria. Crossbones is a regular, if low-level, foe of Captain America. He has no designs on being a major villain, but he’s happy to throw his strength behind ex-Nazis like the Red Skull. In the comics, he doesn’t use technology but does have enhanced strength, and more importantly, he was instrumental in the assassination of Captain America following the comic book version of Civil War (Cap got better).
We also see updates on the team, as Falcon now has his own robotic drone bird he named Redwing. In the comics, Falcon can telepathically communicate with all birds (yes, just like Aquaman and fish, but not lame), but has a special bond with his falcon Redwing. Redwing is also a member of the Pet Avengers, a team of … well, of the pets of Avengers members.
After Wanda “The Scarlet Witch” Maximoff has some tea (something she often enjoys in the comics), she and Cap execute a practiced maneuver which, to all comic book fans, is clearly the Fastball Special. Popularized by Wolverine and Colossus, the technique involves one hero throwing a close-combat fighter at the enemy. It is remarkably effective.
The battle goes well for the Avengers at first, as they stop Crossbones’ Hydra agents from releasing some kind of superplague on the populace, but a Scarlet Witch-related incident involving an explosion causes the deaths of several innocents (including 11 Wakandans). In the comic book version of Civil War, it was a fight between 20-something heroes the New Warriors and a group of also-ran villains that ended an explosion killing over a hundred people in Stamford, Connecticut, that kicked off the controversy. Here, it’s a different explosion with a different young hero.
Not long afterwards, Stark meets a woman who tells her about her son, Charlie Spenser, who died while providing humanitarian aid to Sokovia. Similarly, in the comics, it was Miriam Sharpe who lost her son Damian in Stamford that became a strong vocal advocate against unregulated superhumans, and the voice in Stark’s ear.
Afterwards, retired general Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, now US Secretary of State, informs the Avengers that 117 countries have signed the Sokovia Accords requiring the registration of superpowered individuals and UN control over the Avengers. Ross, of course, is the longtime antagonist of the Hulk (and previously appeared in the Incredible Hulk film), and does become an Avenger himself during his Red Hulk days. The Avengers have also fallen in and out of favor with world governments, most often acting under some sort of UN treaty (though in recent years acting on behalf of the American government or as rogue agents). As such, there is often a federal or international liaison assigned to the team.
While several Avengers sign the accord, Cap puts off the decision to attend the funeral of Peggy Carter in London. As we learned in CA:TWS, Peggy had some kind of neurological degeneration in her old age (much as her comic book counterpart), and she has now passed in her sleep. Agent 13 (also from the last movie) reveals herself to be Sharon Carter, Peggy’s niece, surprising Cap. A similar situation happened in the comics, where Sharon was originally revealed to be Peggy’s sister, but eventually revealed to be her niece. Sharon is extremely important in the comics, as Cap has proposed to her a few times. Interestingly, Agent Carter season two revealed that Peggy had at least one brother, but that he was reported dead. Presumably a season three would have revealed how Peggy could still have a niece after all this time, but season three might not happen. Also, we still haven’t learned who Peggy married, as she is only referred to by her maiden name at the funeral.
At the Vienna Conference, for the official ratification of the accords, Black Widow meets King T’Chaka of the reclusive nation of Wakanda, and is son, Prince T’Challa. T’Chaka laments that it was the theft of Vibranium (by Ulysses Klaw in Avengers: The Age of Ultron) that brought the reclusive nation onto the world stage, but adds that Wakanda will become more active to prevent future tragedies. Then a car bomb disrupts the conference, killing T’Chaka and several others. This is… very different from the comics. In most versions of the story, T’Chaka was killed by Klaw on Wakandan soil while T’Challa was still a child. T’Challa immediately avenged his father by maiming Klaw, then spent years dedicating himself to training to be worthy of the Black Panther mantle (which is usually held by the hereditary ruler of Wakanda, but must be earned in ceremonial battle). This change does not greatly alter T’Challa for the purposes of the movie-verse, as in both cases, the death of T’Chaka is an international incident thrusting Wakanda into the international spotlight and pushing T’Challa into leadership, but it does delay T’Challa’s emotional maturity. T’Challa’s comments to Cap later imply that he was already Black Panther before his father’s death, so perhaps in this universe, T’Chaka trained him for the role. Also interesting, T’Challa has some kind of ring from his father in film, and it seems to react strangely to Bucky’s arm (or am I misremembering that?). I’m not sure what that’s about. (Learn more about how bad ass the Black Panther is here!)
The movie death of T’Chaka also gives a valid reason for T’Challa’s involvement in the Civil War, as he was actively neutral in the comic book storyline.
The various heroes catch up with Bucky in Bucharest, Romania – you have to wonder if this happened while Fitz-Simmons were in Bucharest a few episodes back in Agents of SHIELD? The fight is pretty intense, as Black Panther is one of the world’s best fighters, and his Vibranium-enhanced suit is intensely powerful. He even leaves long-lasting claw-marks in Cap’s SHIELD here. In the comics, the paint job on Cap’s shield seems as impenetrable as the shield itself, but in the movies, paint is often scratched off (adding to dramatic affect). This is a take on the cover of Ultimate Captain America Annual #1, itself an homage to the cover of Captain America Annual #8.
At one point, Black Widow asks if Bucky remembers her. While Black Widow was involved with CA:TWS, in the comics she also trained alongside Bucky in Soviet Russia as part of the Red Room program (as seen in Avengers: The Age of Ultron and Agent Carter season one). The two even dated and fell in love, something that lasted well beyond Bucky’s brainwashing.
Flipping back to the Scarlet Witch and the Vision, these two are becoming quite adorable. She even calls him “Vizh,” her pet name for him in the comics. While Vision agrees with Tony’s assessment of superhuman registration, and Wanda doesn’t, he is adamant that he will protect her no matter what. To make her feel better, he tries cooking her a traditional Sokovian meal, and admits that just as she doesn’t understand her powers, he doesn’t understand the stone in his forehead that granted her powers and him life. FUTURE SPOILER! The stone is the Mind Gem and will likely be a major part of Thanos’ struggle for universal destruction in Avengers: Infinity War (or whatever it’ll be called). In the comics, Vision believed himself to be an emotionless automaton, but he fell in love with Wanda, and eventually the two married. Despite his artificial nature, her unpredictable powers allowed them to have children – but after that everything went downhill. Eh, comic books are soap operas.
In Berlin, Cap’s team is under arrest and managed by a stuffy official named Everett K. Ross. Comic fans know Ross as a really significant Black Panther supporting character, as he was assigned to manage T’Challa’s visits to the US, and despite his whiney ineffectiveness, he really grew on readers as he provided an everyman’s point of view for Black Panther’s cloak and dagger world.
To prevent further embarrassment, Tony coaxes Steve with pens used by FDR, hoping Cap’s favorite president would be enough to get the accord signed. It falls apart, of course, and things get worse when Zemo’s plans disrupt the base’s security and allow the now-mind-addled Bucky to escape. Tony didn’t bring his Iron Man suit, as he explains to Cap he really did try to retire after the events of Iron Man 3, but he’s addicted to the power of the suit (almost replacing the “Demon in the Bottle” storyline fans have been wondering about), but he is still connected to his artificial intelligence girl FRIDAY and brought a cool repulsor glove. In the comics, Tony designed FRIDAY when he was a young man, and recently reactivated her, and although movie Tony wonders what she looks like, comic book Tony gave her a holographic projector. Readers of the tie-in comics know Tony made the repulsor glove when Cap’s New Avengers fought the giant Ultimo robot, sometime between Avengers: The Age of Ultron and this film.
Cap and Iron Man then go about recruiting their various teams.
In Queens, Tony recruits a star-struck Peter Parker from under his attractive, young Aunt May’s nose. Peter already gained his powers, his uncle has apparently been dead for months (and Pete finds a whole new way of explaining with-great-power and all that jazz), and Stark is impressed by Spider-Man’s inventive web fluid. It seems Spidey’s new suit is a gift from Stark, along with adjustable goggle lenses, and (SPOILER!) as revealed in the end, a cool Spidey symbol light (with a cool Stark Tech user interface).
Okay, one at a time: Aunt May is usually a kindly little old lady, though sometimes she’s more middle aged than elderly, and in at least one version, published in the apocryphal comic Trouble, May and Ben were nearly the same age as Richard and Mary and (SPOILER FOR A COMIC NOBODY WANTS TO HAVE READ) in this reality, “Aunt” May was Pete’s biological mom, but to hide the fact that she got preggers out of wedlock, Mary pretended the child was hers. OUTRAGE!
Peter is a genius, and invented most of his own gadgets – including his famous webshooters – but a few of his devices were invented by others. Spider-Man’s clone created “impact webbing” for example, and Iron Man helped develop the Iron Spider suit that included advanced goggles and robotic arms, and when Doctor Octopus was active as the Superior Spider-Man (long story) he created adjustable goggles that (perhaps unintentionally) gave the effect of squinting. Prior to this, all times Spidey was shown squinting or wide-eyed, it was a matter of artistic license.
Finally, there’s the Spider Signal. That’s long been a staple of Spidey’s gear, but he mainly uses it to freak out criminals.
In the comic Civil War, Peter was recruited by Tony and convinced to reveal his identity to the world as a show of support for registration. Later Tony felt bad about what he did, and with the help of Dr. Strange, erased knowledge of Spider-Man’s identity from the world.
Clint “Hawkeye” Barton was apparently retired at the start of the film, but came out of retirement when Cap called on his help. He tried, reasonably well at first, to take out Vision, but ultimately Wanda did that herself. Hawkeye was temporarily dead at the time of Civil War in the comics, but it is the kind of thing he would usually get involved in. In recent comics, he betrayed SHIELD to help some of his then-rogue Avengers teammates, and ended up arrested for his troubles. As another comic parallel, Hawkeye has a lot more one-liners in this film, helping approximate his more carefree comic book attitude.
Black Widow recruits T’Challa, but she is almost interrupted by a bald woman acting as his bodyguard. That is one of the Dora Milaje. See, as king of Wakanda, T’Challa has to keep the peace between very disparate tribes, and the solution is for him to “marry” the warrior maiden princesses of each nation. He never actually does anything with his “brides,” but they serve as his protectors unto death. In theory at least.
Falcon recruits Ant-Man, as the two fought each other briefly in Ant-Man’s film. In the original Civil War story, Scott Lang wasn’t Ant-Man, and instead, a shapeshifting alien Skrull masquerading as Hank Pym was using the identity of Yellowjacket. Comics everybody!
War Machine’s received some upgrades since we last saw him, as he now seems to have a riot-control stick similar to that of the “TRAITOR!”-yelling Stormtrooper from Force Awakens, but it doesn’t do him much good against Cap. Rhodey also has small stamps on his chestplate, presumably marking each Hydra agent or base he’s taken out.
During the Battle of Leipzig (or “Fiasco in Leipzig” as Ross calls it), Spidey makes himself known and constantly quips and jokes while fighting (finally, a real Peter Parker!), even noting that Cap’s shield does not obey the laws of physics. Falcon, despite his stated disdain for talking, banters with Bucky a bit to, claiming to hate him. In the comics, heroes talk while fighting all the time – although Deadpool may talk more than Spidey – and Falcon and Bucky have a similarly friendly rivalry, in that they respect each other, but acknowledge that they were Steve’s fighting-partner at different times in Cap’s career.
Ant-Man, who has almost as many great lines-per-scenes as Spidey, does a cool riding-Hawkeye’s-arrow bit, climbs inside Iron Man’s armor, then surprises everybody (who didn’t see the toys or tie-in materials) by becoming Giant-Man!
Alright, piece by piece: Riding “Arrow Guy’s” arrow is a classic part of the tiny-hero-archer-hero team-up.
Ant-Man crawling inside a high-tech body and being fought off by the body’s interior defense systems is a classic, and somewhat calls back to Avengers #93, when Hank Pym had to climb inside Vision to save his life during the Kree-Skrull War. With any luck, this scene will be more faithfully recreated in Avengers: Infinity War.
The tide is turned as Ant-Man goes giant, though he points out that he can only maintain that size for a short while. He also seems to act a bit loopier than normal, and moves at a slower pace. So Pym Particles allow Ant-Men to shrink while maintain strength (while becoming much lighter) and to increase size while enhancing strength. How does it work? Science! Okay, so not really, but the particles do pull extra mass from a dimension called Kosmos. Don’t think about it too hard. While growing does tend to slow perceptions slightly, the larger one grows, the harder it is to maintain psychological stability.
Spidey helps bring Ant-Man down by reenacting a scene from that really old movie, The Empire Strikes Back. Hey, aside from referencing another Disney megafranchise, did you know Marvel published the Empire comic adaptation back in the 80s?
When Cap and Bucky are escaping (thanks to SPOILER a last-minute change of heart from Black Widow), Iron Man calls on Vision for some surface-to-air support. As Vizh is a little distracted by Wanda (something that surprised even him), he accidentally blasts War Machine, causing spinal damage and partial paralysis. As harsh as that is, it could have been worse. In the comic Civil War, Iron Man calls on a cyborg-clone of Thor (long story) to attack, and it’s Cap’s giant-sized ally Goliath who is killed in the blast. It is only a last-minute change of heart by the Invisible Woman that allows Cap, Falcon and the others to escape.
There’s another big departure from the comics here, and this helps humanize Stark a lot. In the comics, Iron Man is very much the bad guy of Civil War, with him planning much of the war before it even began, creating a prison to hole anti-Registration forces, and generally being a jerk. But in the film version, Iron Man and his comrades apologize to Cap’s loyalists even as they arrest them (and vice versa, to an extent). And while there are certainly hard feelings when the heroes share a level of the water-bound prison the Raft, Tony doesn’t seem to be responsible for their incarceration, nor was the prison designed with them in mind. In the comics, Tony built the other-dimensional Prison 42 specifically for anti-Reg superhumans, but the Raft was a previously built (and destroyed) facility designed to house superhuman prisoners away from normal human prison populations.
Note that Hawkeye taunts Stark by calling him “The Futurist.” In the comics, Stark called himself a futurist when he predicted the events of Civil War before they happened. He knew some major incident was going to cause innocent deaths and that laws would be put forth controlling heroes, so he wanted to preemptively create laws that would benefit heroes. Of course, he then preceded to cause much of the Civil War, either directly or indirectly, but whatever. He’s a futurist.
After saying Cap was “off the reservation” (and unfortunate choice of words and timing), Tony learns that Zemo – posing as Herr Mueller – murdered Theo Brousaer, the psychologist that had been hired to interrogate Bucky, and had framed Bucky in the first place. Now realizing Cap was right (as he usually is), Iron Man goes off alone to find Cap and Bucky and make amends. He’s followed by T’Challa in a Wakandan jet so stealthy, even Iron Man’s sensors can’t detect him. In the comics, T’Challa was the original designer of Avengers Quinjets, and Wakandan technology is the most advanced in the world, with only some shared with the outside world.
Once at the Siberian Hydra base, the heroes learn Zemo intended to be caught just to watch them kill each other, something made more possible by revealing Bucky’s involvement in the death of Stark’s parents. Iron Man blasts Bucky’s arm off, Cap knocks Iron Man’s helmet to pieces, there’s that iconic shield-blasting moment, and then it’s over.
Although defeated in battle (even if he technically “won” the war), Tony demands Cap turn over the shield Howard Stark designed, so Cap does, apparently giving up the title of Captain America in the process. Of course, Steve has given up the title and the shield more than once, and usually it comes down to a disagreement or distrust of those in power.
Outside the base, Zemo confesses to the Black Panther, expected to be killed or to commit suicide, even telling Black Panther to tell his gripes “to the dead,” but T’Challa decides to let justice prevail and stops Zemo from killing himself. Interestingly, T’Challa could tell the dead stuff in comics. He’s not only king of Wakanda, he also recently became King of the Dead. Useful.
After all is said and done, Rhodey takes advantage of the latest Stark tech to learn to walk again, and he says he has no regrets about the choices he made. In the comics, Rhodey has received a lot worse setbacks than just being paralyzed, but he’s always gotten better eventually. It’s good to have rich friends in high tech places.
Steve, no longer Captain America, breaks his friends out of jail (even if Zemo set them up, they still broke the law), but drops Bucky off in Wakanda to be put in suspended animation until they find a way to purge him of all brainwashing. Wakanda does have excellent cryogenic technology (along with all other technology, really) as T’Challa even kept a future version of himself on ice, pending cure for a terminal injury. Interestingly enough, however, after decades of manipulation, Bucky was eventually rendered immune to mental manipulation (of course, it’s just a matter of time still someone overcomes that immunity, but still).
So, where will this all lead next? Time will tell – but here’s looking forward to the future solo outings of Spider-Man and Black Panther!