I saw Captain America: Civil War last week (like most of America), and I was duly impressed. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a really fascinating showcase of what a full cinematic universe can do. The plot was very engaging, even the slower moments felt important. I could list the number of underdeveloped characters on one hand, which considering the amount of cast is impressive. The movie didn’t feel crowded, it felt like an event comic, with just enough cameos and bit parts that weaved together the summation of what Marvel has been doing with their franchise. And the fact that they also introduced so many new characters that are so integral to the Marvel universe (Black Panther, Baron Zemo, effing Spiderman, etc.) and it still wasn’t bloated is frankly incredible.
There is, of course, the criticism that it’s not like the comic. And that’s true. The Sokovia Accords are not exactly the SHRA, the entire storyline that Spider-Man had in the comics is gone, and unlike Deadpool, the studio couldn’t even get one X-Man. Though Negasonic Teenage Warhead would probably be Team Cap.
The marketing around the movie was also interesting, having everyone pick a side. People would post #TeamCap or #TeamTony or what have you signaling which side they were on. I didn’t pick a side because I didn’t care enough to, but also because the issue of registration is a complicated one. One that’s actually been explored in several different forms of comics media. And Civil War (in the comics) was very different in that the Pro-Reg side were the heroes.
There’s a reason it was changed in the movie.
In most stories about superhero registration, registration is viewed as a bad thing. It prevents the heroes from doing what they need to do to protect us, and is almost always viewed as a government overreach. The most blatant of these is, of course, Watchmen, where the registration prevents former masked crime fighters to act in their own capacity, forcing Adrien Viedt to fake an alien invasion to prevent the US and USSR from going into a nuclear war. Said faked invasion levels a quarter of NYC.
Kidding, kidding– Veidt’s fake alien was a ploy to unify the world that actually worked, the Security Council just wanted to nuke NYC to stop an actual invasion that was already being taken care of. And it was totally unnecessary other than to give Tony a few more points on the “Incredibly Damaged and In Need of Immediate Intervention” scale. Honestly, though, in Watchmen the characters (for the most part) are more-or-less content to lead normal lives, even if they miss the old days, but the subtext implies that the world has gone to crap because there were no superheroes. The closest thing was Dr. Manhattan, and he was so distanced from humanity he takes a side trip to Mars half-way through the book. The thing about Watchmen, though, is that it is a deconstruction. It necessarily takes apart common tropes of the superhero genre and examines them in a real world context, leaving a story that in any other context would be incredibly different. Fortunately, we have other contexts.
A reconstruction of the genre would definitely be The Incredibles. Now, I’ve already talked about some similarities between The Incredibles and Watchmen, but the idea of a superhero registration is a key plot element that they both share. In fact, I mentioned that “Watchmen is what will happen if Team Iron Man wins Civil War so hard that literally no one is allowed to be a superhero any more.” And that’s kind of what The Incredibles is as well, except instead of a civil war, it’s several civil lawsuits. In The Incredibles, everyone kind of just agrees to stop being public heroes. There is legal action done to make sure that the heroes are no longer heroes, and there is a registration because there had to be some legislation that had to be done to create the government bureau that organizes the heroes and helps them adjust to normal lives (or move you when you throw your boss through several walls). The Incredibles is probably the best case scenario for registration, if only because there don’t seem to be any supervillains of note in that universe. Whatever justice system they have seems to work, at least as much as ours did in the 70’s– the Supers were never really needed in that department in any case, and if you’ve read the other post, you would know that is was because the Supers were the Pixar universe’s equivalent to nukes. (It always seems to come back to that, doesn’t it?) But the thing was, they still kept the heroes’ identities secret, which was what kept them safe from the public and from their enemies. But by the end of the movie, this structure was proven to be flawed, as it allowed Syndrome to systematically take out several key Supers in order to build up an arsenal to be used against the public in order to feed his own ego and further his own agenda. The structure of the system allowed him to work covertly within it, and it ultimately had to go.
The problem with Civil War the comic (that somewhat applies to the movie) is that in order to continue to be a hero, you would have to surrender your secret identity. Everyone with a superpower, Mutant or otherwise, had to sign, as did anyone who fought crime as a superhero that didn’t necessarily have a power. Anyone fighting as a costumed vigilante that was not registered would be punished by law. All registered heroes had to pass through government training, and it would also create a “Super-Draft” of anyone registered, regardless of whether or not they were active heroes. These were the terms of the Superhuman Registration Act, or SHRA. The thing about any legislation, even the fictional kind, is that if you look hard enough you can find some precedent for the issue. In this case, the SHRA is a more expansive version of the Mutant Registration Act, which directly effected those with an X-gene. You can guess who didn’t like that. The X-Men weren’t really involved in the Civil War comic, and obviously weren’t in the movie, but the fact still stands that the Marvel Universe has a history of treating its Mutant and otherwise superpowered inhabitants like utter crap. (In-Universe that is, from a marketing standpoint there’s a reason they pulled out the shoehorn to fit Hugh Jackman in X-Men: Apocalypse.) But there was always a distinction made in society between those who were born with their powers (like the X-Men) and those who received their powers later in life through an accident or something (like the Fantastic Four). I would not trust the Marvel US Government to handle the SHRA the way that it was handled in The Incredibles, or even Watchmen. How do I think it would turn out? Remember the future scenes from Days of Future Past? Yeah, maybe not that bad, but its got the right idea. There’s a reason that Holocaust Survivor Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr is none too keen on Peter Dinklage surviving the movie.
Speaking of Magneto, and going back to the theme of nuclear weapons, Magneto’s daughter, Wanda “Scarlet Witch” Maximoff is described as a “weapon of mass destruction” at one point in Captain America: Civil War. Pretty sure it was Tony saying it too, like he doesn’t build particle accelerators when he’s bored, or strap on an intensely powerful suit of armor when he goes to fight. However, the great thing about the movie is that everyone is contradictory, and everyone gets the chance to be a total jerk. Everyone is wrong (except for Black Panther), but you understand why everyone is wrong. There was some criticism of the original comic that was based on the fact that you were supposed to be on Reed and Tony’s side. (Oh yeah, Reed Richards was Pro-Reg.) The movie benefits from the grey vs gray morality that the comic was trying for, especially considering how long we’ve been with these versions of these characters. We don’t want RDJ’s Iron Man or Chris Evans’ Cap as true villains, which is a real problem in event comics like this movie was based off of. But getting back to the Sokovia Accords, there is a clear reason why all of the heroes take each of their sides. The question you’re left with is why does the UN want these accords. Well, the movie’s Secretary of State is General Ross. For those that skipped the MCU’s Hulk stand-alone (like I did), General Ross is one of the Hulk’s main enemies. In fact, Ross brings up the fact that Bruce has been MIA since Sokovia. In the comics, Ross ultimately becomes the Red Hulk, one of the major Hulk villains. To comic fans, the fact that Ross would be Pro-Reg is completely understandable. To non-comic fans, he’s just the face of the Accords. The story still works either way, mostly because the story isn’t really about the Accords at all. They’re simply the catalyst to get Tony and Steve on opposite sides of a conflict. But the UN has been concerned about the Avengers for a long time.
It’s not hard to see how the MCU got to the Accords. And there are valid arguments on both sides. But taking how the Marvel Universe works into account, I don’t think that the Sokovia Accords, much less the SHRA, are the solution. Our best bet is that this mess gets cleared up before Infinity War, because something big is coming and they’re going to need a few human nukes.