13 May 2018

Marvel WARS: Civil to Infinity

That's kind of a big war stretch, isn't it? A Civil War to an Infinity War. Anyway, I got to thinking far too hard about this the other day, but while I dug Infinity War (2018) a lot, in addition to it rubbing away a bit of what THOR: Ragnarok (2017) was about, it certainly steamrolled a lot of the core ideas behind Captain America: CIVIL WAR (2016). Some spoilers I guess here for Infinity War, and those other movies, too. When do we reach a point where we no longer need a spoiler warning? Like ten years?

The best way to do this is to split all the characters up. I want to do an exercise in tracking the ideology of each character in CIVIL WAR and how they change up through Infinity War, which means we won't really bother with Thor or Hulk or Shuri. Let's explore the backgrounds and reasoning each character had for siding the way they did, then what caused them to switch, because everybody switched. Team by team is easiest.

TEAM STARK

Tony Stark

In many ways this whole exercise has been a long drawn out character study over the course of eight movies. Marvel doesn't get enough credit for that. Stark begins as a fiercely privatized individual, who uses government contracts to become wealthy but is moreover a fan of limited intrusion into private property. It's really not until his experience in The Avengers (2012) where he truly realizes that there is a bigger world (and universe) around him and he can't be a lone gunman jackass anymore.

This continues through Iron Man 3 (2013) and Age of Ultron (2015) where he's continually haunted by guilt over mistakes he made out of either assholerly or his own hubris. I've kind of gotten into this before. Somehow eight years ago. This keeps building until by CIVIL WAR he's fully into government supervision and supports the Sokovia Accords. As the original superhero in this world (at least release-date-wise), he's had enough adventures to understand that his actions have consequences. Here's the best essay on that.

As he moves through Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) he also gains this mentor role, and it's fitting that Infinity War separates him from just about everyone he was in contact with during CIVIL WAR. It puts him in this difficult position where he doesn't have too many friends back on earth, but he continues his mentorship of Spider-Man, which leads to some real heart-breaking moments as Parker crumbles into dust. At the same time, he may be the best equipped to come back and defeat Thanos, both intellectually and tactically. This would be the ultimate redemption from his years of guilt and could possibly put a button on all that CIVIL WAR bad blood.

Spider-Man

On the Peter Parker note, Spider-Man is on Tony's side not for any real political reason, but moreover because Stark recruited him, arguably without saying much about what they were even fighting about. This makes his role a little less interesting than the decisive nature of his flip-flopping and tide-turning in the comics, because Peter by his nature tends to be a street-level hero with big-time powers. That's part of what has made Spider-Man so appealing over the years.

His character on its own from what we see in Homecoming would likely more side with Cap if he was a little more mature and knew the stakes. It's clear he believes in his own independent, personal judgment and has issue taking orders from authority. There's a big gap in logic from the fact that Stark would ostensibly require him to sign the Accords, requiring him to submit to government authority while Stark continually tries to limit his involvement and abilities.

By Infinity War not much has changed, and it's notable that out of every character, Parker joins in the fray not because of any personal connection or mandated duty, but because he senses danger and knew it was the right thing to do. This is why we cry at the end, guys. In terms of ideology, he's largely undeveloped, and this makes him a nice character to cheer for.

War Machine

James Rhodes' desire to follow Stark here is a given - they're best buds, but it also makes a lot of sense with his character. He's always been duty-bound and loyal to his government. Perhaps more than any other character he represents the interests of the United States and already was that government agent that Stark refused to be in Iron Man 2 (2010). This...is actually the entire point of Iron Man 2. See how these movies build on each other? Shared universes are not just about throwing in Easter Eggs, it's about building a set of conflicting and interacting ideologies.

It's one of the biggest leaps, then, in Infinity War when Rhodes seems to abandon his duty to the Secretary of Defense Thaddeus Ross (when are we going to get a William Hurt-starring Red Hulk movie?). He does seem to side pretty quick with Cap, although that could be in part because his crippling injury in CIVIL WAR came from the friendly fire of Vision. It's possible that he became disillusioned with their petty strife and exhausted with their internal conflict. Generally the Marvel films are set in real time, which means they've had two years of being on the run. It's important to remember that he was a pretty core part of the team by Age of Ultron, and part of the new team by the end of the film. Considering that by Infinity War he's the only one left taking government orders, we can surmise his further disillusion.

I'd also hypothesize that since Vision's mind gem created the beam that crippled him, Rhodes knows firsthand the danger these stones possess. His sense of duty protecting others from having the same fat as him becomes a stronger motivation than his duty of taking government orders.

But anyway - one thing the MCU seems to run with is that an incredible amount of stuff happens in between these films that we don't see. We tend to land plop in the middle of adventures these characters have without much to fill us in in between. Infinity War clearly doesn't have time to jump into Rhodes' ideological shift, but it would be interesting to see a little more. He's also clearly bros with Falcon, and if you were hanging out with this man blonde white boys all day, I don't know how you couldn't be.

VISION

Speaking of not knowing what the hell is happening between films, what the hell, Vision? Him and Scarlet Witch shacking up together has always been a thing in the comics, but it comes off weird here, not only because Paul Bettany is 46 and Elizabeth Olsen is 29, but because we have hardly any indication at all in any previous movies that this was a thing. Also...android! Does he have a dick? Did Ultron build him a dick? Originally the body was built for Ultron to jump into - this means that Ultron built himself a dick. These are not good thoughts.

Vision's position comes from logic. He's always been about working together and ironically, even though he is a feeling-less android, his creation was very much a group effort by Jarvis, Tony, Bruce, Ultron, and Dr. Helen Cho. And Thor, I guess. He seems very deferential, and one who has no reason to doubt that a consortium of powers deciding the fate of the world would be worse than one man's judgment.

His defection between CIVIL WAR and Infinity War isn't really given a clear ideological background. I do think one thing is telling from the point I just made, however. The last shot of him in CIVIL WAR is him looking pensive, and playing with some chess pieces. Alone. Scarlet Witch is locked up. His side has mostly disbanded. He perhaps went through something similar to Rhodes, where he felt bad for his friends, especially with the guilt of his crippling his teammate. This may have landed a little harder if he had hurt, say Falcon or somebody, but it's clear that he did some android-soul searching and set out to find Wanda.

By Infinity War everyone seems to be turned around to Vision. Protecting him is Cap's number one priority and even when his crew defends him and Wanda from the Black Order in London, it's clear that they've been on the run together for a while. It seems as if personal stakes became more important than logical ideology, which again, makes perfect sense for a robot to have.

Black Widow

It's hard to remember that Black Widow actually pre-dates Thor and Captain America in the MCU. 2010, baby! She's been in six movies, somehow none of her own. While she debuted in an Iron Man film, she made her way more into the Captain America cadre. While her background as a shifty government spy who knows firsthand that institutions are not to be trusted, she surprises everyone by siding with Tony Stark. Even Tony is taken aback.

That clip has most of her rationale - but it comes from her background as a shifty, duplicitous spy whose main goal is survival. She sees this less in ideological terms than being realistic to their situation. To Natasha, this isn't a fight they can win and running from the government won't let them do anything. She's more trying to come out of this on top rather than directly siding with Tony's theories or guilt.

This is also why she defects at the end of the film. There's a slight indication that she may have been playing both sides the whole time or was a mole in Tony's side. She actually doesn't do all that much during the airport battle. She has a fun fight with Hawkeye here, is knocked around by Scarlet Witch, then doesn't show up again until she stops Black Panther here. This confirms with her natural renegade ideology, and by Infinity War, its clear she's been on the run with Team Cap since the end of CIVIL WAR.

Black Panther

T'Challa's motivation mostly comes from the fact that the Sokovia Accords helps him in the immediate aftermath of his father's assassination by who he thinks is Bucky Barnes. We'll get to Cap in a second, but as much as Cap is more personally motivated by protecting his friend, T'Challa is more personally motivated by capturing him.

That said, T'Challa is a government entity, being the King of Wakanda (technically at this stage still the Prince, since he didn't have any waterfall fights yet), and judging from Black Panther (2018), clearly relies on governmental systems to make the right decision. This of course also leads to one of the more difficult themes of Black Panther with Killmonger - where that system of tradition fails according to Wakanda's place in the world, when trust between the government and its people breaks down, and even questioning succession when the wrong King succeeds. T'Challa in CIVIL WAR is pre-all of this, and it makes a lot of sense he sides with Tony, even if it's more out of convenience than any personal affiliation.

By the end his personal vengeance subsides in part because he sees how much it had consumed Zemo, and how much it is currently consuming both Cap and Tony. His political ideology still aligns with Stark, but he extends an olive branch to other men that he sees have suffered. It's perhaps the biggest stretch that he takes in Bucky and Cap, more out of story convenience than anything else, because that tie is a vital link in Infinity War.

TEAM CAP

Captain America

As Tony basically switched from being pro-individual, he was drawn in to the government mostly because of his increased role as an influencer in this new age of superheros, Cap went in the other direction. It's important to note that most of the basis for his anti-government stance here comes from The Winter Soldier (2014), where it was revealed that the organization he had trusted and worked for, S.H.I.E.L.D., was in actuality covertly run by his greatest enemy, HYDRA. This makes him cautious to thrown down his independence and work for another organization again, even if it's the United Nations.

Could the United Nations secretly be a HYDRA organization? Well, this is comic books, so anything is possible. This core belief that his personal judgment is best, as arrogant as it might be (he's called out for this), is something that the film also ends up aligning with. In a cinematic sense, not only is this Cap's movie, but he's a guy we can use as a proxy for ourselves, meaning that we'd like to think that our own judgment in his situation would also be crystal clear. It's an ego movie on the part of the audience. It's what made me personally align with Cap, although there are many out there who aligned with Stark. It's clear that by Infinity War, most, if not every character has ideologically moved towards Cap's side (not like Stark went to get approval from the UN before engaging Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian), and it seems like only Stark won't admit he was wrong for personal reasons, but everyone else seems tired of taking UN orders and defects.

It's notable that Cap isn't actually entirely unreasonable. He comes very close to signing the Accords until he learns that Wanda is basically being kept prisoner as a human weapon of mass destruction. This is the final straw, the line that he can't cross. By the film's end when Cap's team is captured because the law has now deemed them criminals, it's clear that the strain of an outside force arbitrarily deciding who the bad guys are has taken its toll, and may explain why most of Tony's side ends up defecting.

Bucky

Bucky is the crux of this film, and Cap's allegiance to him serves as a specific example of where the Accords fail. That it's an extremely personal reason for Cap only makes the story juicier. Bucky's position isn't based totally on ideology - he's almost more a MacGuffin, forced into this role from everyone else trying to capture him, used as a scapegoat for the Accords than anything else.

You've got to think that his personal ideology would align with his buddy Steve Rogers, though. He has every right to be distrustful of governments and agendas, as he was a popsicle tool for Moscow for the better part of seventy years. Even if he can't quite trust his own judgment yet, it's clear he'd be in favor of making his own decisions again.

This doesn't really change at all by the time Infinity War rolls around. He stands out as hanging out in Wakanda this whole time recuperating rather than parading around the world doing who knows what with Cap's team.

Falcon

Sam Wilson, like the other black friend, James Rhodes, is really just going along with his white buddy's side. Like Rhodes, he's an army guy who you'd think would have more trust in the government and support the Accords. He went through the same crap as the rest of the Cap gang in Winter Soldier, though, and grew that same distrust of authority figures with shady agendas.

Now, I say all that, but Black Widow was there for Winter Soldier, too. I think Sam above everything else is loyal to Cap and ends up having this partnership with Bucky as well. Anthony Mackie has said that it's more about Sam being a blue collar guy who admires Cap's worth ethic more than Tony's billions.

That is the more accurate thoroughfare to Cap's team - they tend to be the more down to earth, gritty street-level heroes without extravagant powers. They're blue collar guys who think they know best and don't want no government telling them what to do. By Infinity War the Falcon's attitude hasn't changed and he's happy to continue doing his part alongside the remnants of Cap's team.

Hawkeye

In that same article that quoted Anthony Mackie, Jeremy Renner said that Clint didn't really care and sided with Cap because he was the first to call and wanted to get home to his family quick. This doesn't really make any sense - Tony's side is clearly the safer side to be on and would have more family security. Tony even says so directly to Clint when he's behind bars at the end.

Instead, when Clint first sees the rest of the gang after rescuing Wanda from the compound, he implies that Cap is "doing him a favor," possibly meaning that he's sick of sitting on his ass watching is dumbass, bad-aiming kids grow up. He also says he owes a debt to Wanda, meaning he still wants to pay her back for her brother's sacrifice to save his life in Age of Ultron. Thus, secretly, Wanda is a crucial component for both Cap and Hawkeye's involvement in this fight.

Going back to the blue collar street tough part of the crew - Clint has always been on the edge, despite being a seemingly loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. He's not really around much (like...in ALL OF Infinity War), but he's a character who's a little cutthroat but also loyal. We can learn the most about his stance as he chides Tony from a prison cell, angry that "the Futurist" acts like he knows what's best for everyone. It's clear Clint also trusts his personal independent judgment, especially for the sake of his family, and plays the spy game of mistrust and intrigue perhaps better than anyone.

Scarlet Witch

It actually took me until writing this to realize how pivotal a role Wanda has in this movie. She's far from just another solider. Her role stopping Crossbones' bomb from erupting on the street, but still detonating in the upper floors of a building sets the movie in motion, and perhaps more than any of the "street level" fighter heroes, her position as a being of immense power who is still learning how to use it, drives the Sokovia Accords. Her status as a dangerous immigrant also drives Hawkeye and Cap to distrust the government's interment of her. Finally, it's clear that by Infinity War she has also convinced Vision to give up a posh chess-playing compound life to tap dat ass.

Wanda's ideology, like Bucky, is therefore created more out of necessity than choice. She doesn't have the luxury to sit around and discuss what powerful government agencies will do with her. There's also a bit of hypocrisy in Vision when he basically says that the Avengers would act independently and protect her the same way Cap soon goes to protect Bucky. Her back is against the wall this whole movie.

In Infinity War she shines even more, proving herself in combat and characters even comment that she's underused. Like most of Cap's side, her ideology, especially as someone on the run and being hunted, is more drawn out rather than solved. But it's always hard to remember that she has power over the mind stone in part because she was created by the mind stone, being used by Baron Strucker in Age of Ultron. Damn that's an at-the-time unimportant footnote.

Ant-Man

Finally, Scott Lang. Here we need to recall that he was recruited based on the Falcon's recommendation to take down the Russian HYDRA super soldiers in Siberia, not actually to join in the fight. See, it's always tough to remember the actual supervillain plot going on in CIVIL WAR, in part because that whole plot is actually a ruse to enable the real plot - Cap and Iron Man duking it out. Lang doesn't really have a dog in this fight, you can tell from how awkward he is and how he is just meeting everyone for the first time.

Still, you definitely need to think he'd be anti-government supervision considering that he's a career criminal who would rather duck from authority than submit to it. He is the other Avengers family man, though, and like Hawkeye gets a convenient excuse to sit out Infinity War.

What do you think? Did I get most of these right? Do you think Infinity War paving over most of the conflict in CIVIL WAR is kind of malarkey? Also, re-watching CIVIL WAR, damn this movie is sweet. There are many many subtle beats in keeping track of each character that totally reward thoughtful viewings.

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