WARNING: There are spoilers for Captain America: Civil War within, so read at your own peril!
Walking into Captain America: Civil War, I thought I knew what to expect. In the office, I jokingly pitched that we should create a video feature at Movie Pilot that tries to edit together a complete film from the plentiful trailers and TV spots that get released for movies like this. It certainly felt like we had received a heavy dose of footage and knew what roles each character would play, at least in the broadest sense of things.
Much to my delight, mere minutes into my viewing, I discovered that Civil War would defy my expectations by casting Scarlet Witch in the Speedball role from the comics — the inexperienced superhero who messes up, the final spark that finally ignites the government's intervention — and thus giving her one of the most complex arcs of the film.
On a purely popcorn level, the display of her powers was a thrill. Watching her contain Crossbones as he exploded, dissipate falling debris, and launch Captain America through a window was a stunning and clever use of her abilities. On an intellectual level, her deceptively simply story was about a girl still trying to find her place in a world that fears her. It's a classic Marvel mutant storyline without ever saying the word "mutant."
Wanda's mistake, while enormous, was an honest one; she deflected a blast meant for Captain America, very likely saving his life (or at least preventing serious injury), and instead caused serious collateral damage. This horrific moment was critical in demonstrating the strength and maturity of Wanda's character, not to mention Marvel's thoughtful approach to the consequences of destructive superheroics that other superhero films often ignore. She's instantly regretful of her decision; we see her reaction to what she's done, recognizing that she's made a fatal mistake.
The larger global consequences aside, the most telling moment in the film regarding Wanda's circumstance comes a few scenes later in the Avengers compound, where she's watching a news report about the incident. Cap tries to assuage her guilt, saying that it was a team failure, but she suggests he turn on the television and he'll see the media is pretty specific about whose fault it was.
After the Sokovia Accords are in effect, we check in with Wanda under house arrest and essentially being treated like a grounded teenager — how many times do they refer to her as "kid" in this movie? — until Hawkeye helps her break out, but even he can't resists making a joke about her going to high school. Not only that, but she gets lectured about using her powers more than once throughout the movie. Wanda is a woman being treated like a girl and worse, she's not sure that the Avengers are wrong in how they're acting toward her.
That these feelings of guilt, fear and inadequacy are compounded with a complicated attraction to/resentment of Vision just adds to the complexity of Scarlet Witch's story in Civil War. She's left to choose between proving herself or staying out of the way, between helping and hiding, between love and duty, between friends and self-preservation. Out of any character in the film — Cap and Iron Man included — she has the most conflict when it comes to choosing sides.
Cap and Iron Man have a steadfast morality and past experiences that make their respective choices clear; Black Panther is out for vengeance against Winter Soldier (and later Zemo); Hawkeye is hardly present in the debate; characters like War Machine and Falcon are predetermined based on their personal relationships; and new recruits Ant-Man and Spider-Man don't get much of a say in the matter.
Black Widow comes as a close second to the character with the most pros and cons to weigh, but even her path is fairly clear from the beginning. I found myself most concerned with Scarlet Witch throughout the course of the movie and genuinely compelled by the choices she made.
It was a smart move for the film to use Wanda as a sort of pendulum, swinging between both sides of the argument only to be dismissed by one — when she's placed under house arrest — and forced to fight for the other. Wanda was desperate for a place to belong after her world turned inside out during Age of Ultron, and now her new family was rejecting her out of fear. Think of everything she had to deal with here: Accidentally killing innocent people and seeing her family ripped apart as a result, a love interest effectively turning from ally to jailor, and then having to take him down.
I admit I was skeptical when I first heard that Scarlet Witch would be making an appearance in Civil War — especially after her hasty introduction in Age of Ultron — but she wound up being the character I was most invested in, despite Captain America's name being in the title.