When it was first announced that the plot for Captain America's third solo movie would partially adapt the comic Civil War, fans were dubious about whether this was the right choice for the film. There were concerns about whether the filmmakers would pull focus from Steve Rogers' story, how the Superhero Registration (turned Sokovia Accords) would be handled, and whether there were actually enough characters for there to be a real showdown.
Boy, were the naysayers wrong. The Russo brothers really knocked it out of the park with this one, creating one of, if not the best Marvel movie yet.
And, despite the last minute plot change, Civil War really was the perfect conclusion to the Captain America trilogy.
In many ways Captain America: Civil War feels like The Avengers 2.5. This is, after all, a team-up movie, and the plot concerns the consequences of the destruction of Sokovia in Age of Ultron. And yet, the focus is still on Steve, on his journey, following up on Bucky's role as the Winter Soldier and picking up the narrative threads that run through the entire Captain America trilogy. This is expressed really neatly, both in the structure of the plot and in little pieces of cinematography.
For example, Bucky's fall from the train in The First Avenger is mirrored in The Winter Soldier as Steve falls from the Helicarrier. We do get another parallel in this moment in Civil War, as both Steve and Bucky fall from the helipad, Bucky in the helicopter, triggered by Zemo's conditioning, and Steve desperately trying to save his friend.
Of course, Steve acting to save Bucky is another narrative parallel between all three of the Captain America films. Bucky is always Steve's breaking point: Steve will follow orders, negotiate, and toe the line until Bucky Barnes is in danger. As soon as that happens, there isn't a force in the world that could stop Steve from taking action.
In The First Avenger that meant charging into enemy territory to rescue the 107th Infantry Regiment. In The Winter Soldier, when Steve discovers that Hydra brainwashed Bucky, that's the point when he decides "it all goes": rather than telling the authorities and conducting an investigation about Hydra's infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D, Steve takes immediate action against them. And in Civil War, as soon as Bucky's freedom is compromised, that's when Steve acts in defiance of the Accords.
But it's not just neat parallels that establish Civil War as such a fantastic conclusion to the Cap trilogy. There are plenty of other elements we see resolved in this film: both Howard Stark and Peggy Carter's stories end in a tragic yet satisfying fashion, which is fitting as these characters debuted in The First Avenger.
Although there are a lot of other things going on narratively, Civil War returns full circle to The First Avenger. After his time as the Winter Soldier, Bucky and Steve finally find themselves reliving the good old days at the end of Civil War, as they embark on a covert mission. We've even got a visual parallel, as Bucky stands as a sniper behind Steve again.
The final battle of Civil War riffs off The First Avenger in a very interesting way too: as Steve and Bucky fight Iron Man, this is a neat inversion of the alley scene in the first film, right down to Steve's dialogue.
"I could do this all day."
And of course there's the beautiful, heart-wrenching irony of Bucky's final choice: Bucky decides to return to stasis until he can be sure that he's no longer a threat, unaware that this parallels Steve's decision to go down with the airship in The First Avenger, encasing himself in ice. But even above the narrative parallels, it's Steve's journey that makes Civil War the perfect conclusion to the trilogy.
From Hero To Insurgent
Captain America is a tricky character to get right. Classically portrayed as the upstanding patriot, Cap is known to be stalwart of truth, valuing freedom above all else.
In many portrayals of the character, this can come off as preachy and rigid (Steve in The Avengers is a perfect example of this interpretation). And yet, the version of the character in The First Avenger, The Winter Soldier, and now Civil War is far more complex than that. Instead of upholding and defending the established status quo, Steve is something of a revolutionary.
We saw this in The Winter Soldier when he decided to dismantle S.H.I.E.L.D, and in Civil War he goes full blown insurgent, defying the Sokovia Accords and, in consequence, the US government. By the end of the film Cap has gone from golden boy to fugitive, on the run from the law with the rest of Team Cap (and Natasha, wherever she is).
This may seem like a re-envisioning of the character, but Steve has always been this way. Yes, he wanted to be a soldier in The First Avenger, and willingly became a symbol of patriotism, but Steve "I don't like bullies" Rogers ultimately just wants to fight for the little guy. His has always been a story of revolution, fighting against an oppressive force, whether that means battling Nazis, secret Hydra agents, or US government legislation.
Although pretty much everyone has a tragic end in Civil War, Cap's story is somewhat triumphant. He might be a fugitive, but in a lot of ways this is the perfect completion of his character arc. Steve has always struggled between taking orders and defying them, and assuring the freedom of others while compromising his own. Now, he's finally done both.