Coming out of Captain America: Civil War, two of the most common questions people asked me were "why was [such and such] on this team?" or "since when did [whosie whatsit] believe this?" Many of my friends and fellow audience members were lost and confused about the motivations of each character in the film; mainly because their backgrounds or character ideals are highlighted in other films. You see, this is one of the problems the MCU is going to face over and over. Because of its long-form storytelling and easter egging, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is slowly becoming more and more convoluted and turning off would-be-fans because they can't quite get into it. Not everyone has watched all 13 movies and few people have the memory space in their brain to remember every little detail. Luckily for you, I don't use my brain for anything besides Buzzfeed quizzes, Game of Thrones plotlines, and MCU characters.
Here's what I'm gonna do for you, oh kind reader, I'm going to break down the motivations of each member of each team so that on your next viewing of Civil War you can have a fuller, greater understanding and appreciation for the movie. This being said, the motivations and character arcs are present in the movie and the directing team did a great job of laying it out, you just have to know what you're looking for.
Also, MAJOR SPOILERS for Civil War beyond this point.
This article is not meant as a review of the past movies, but more as an index for each character and why they were on each side. Watch the movie first, then read my article, then watch the movie again.
I'll start with Team Stark for no particular reason other than I wanted to. Plus, I'm Team Cap all the way. Don't worry though, that won't impair my judgement. I think the creative team behind the movie set up both ideologies incredibly well and I can see how both sides are in the right and the wrong.
Second in Command: Colonel James Rhodes aka War Machine
First up is Tony Stark's right hand man and oldest friend, Rhodey. Rhodes has known Stark since they were young and they have always had each other's backs so that naturally gives him a tendency to side with Stark. Beyond that, Rhodes is a soldier. He has been in the Air Force since he was a young man and has since then made a career as not only a soldier but a loyal, dutiful one. He follows the rules. He follows orders. He has always been a man of order and discipline despite his friendship with Tony and even though he changed physically-- from Terrence Howard to Don Cheadle-- he has maintained his cool, logical demeanor. Even all the way back in Iron Man 2, Rhodes believed in government oversight and in taking responsibility for your actions. If he was willing to fight his best friend to accomplish this, he is definitely willing to fight Team Cap.
The Heavy Lifter: Vision
The Vision is another person who has personal ties to Tony, he owes his exist to the billionaire. Having been with Stark for so many years as the AI J.A.R.V.I.S, Vision is very close to him and knows him the best. But it's not loyalty or kinship that causes Vision to side with Tony, but logic. Vision is bound by logic because he doesn't quite understand emotion-- at least, not yet. Logically it makes sense for superheros to have oversight and have some level of control. He's naive in his thinking and can't fathom that the UN or some form of government agency could be corrupt or manipulative. He simply believes that powerful beings like the Avengers should be kept in check. Its a simple motivation but not a bad one.
The Peacemaker: Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow
The Black Widow's motivations were a little harder to pinpoint than most. She's a very secretive individual and keeps everything close to her chest. She has lived a long and hard fought life; going from the Red Room and the KGB to S.H.I.E.L.D. and now the Avengers. She's a fighter and always has been. Natasha doesn't usually play by the rules and its not like her to jump on board with the government. As we see in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, she grows close to Steve Rogers and even more distrustful of the government and what they can do. She's not overly fond of Stark either and seen the dark side of what an unfettered regime can do, having grown up in the Soviet Union. Despite all this, she joins Tony's side. This is because she believes the most important thing is to stay together and to stay in the good graces of the world. As she says, "We have made some very public mistakes. We have to win the people's trust back." She begs Cap to sign the papers because she knows what it could lead to. Natasha knows that she could lose one of her new teammates-- the only family she really knows. She'll fight for that, not for the government or for freedom, but for her team.
The Solo Artist: T'Challa aka Black Panther
His motivation is laid out and explains pretty easily in the movie, but I didn't want to leave him out. As seen, T'Challa witnesses first hand the brutal murder of his father after suing for peace and oversight at the UN. After the passing of his beloved father, T'Challa vows vengeance on whoever killed him which puts him on a path after The Winter Soldier. He's a regal, powerful man who has never been fond of diplomacy and prefers strength and fortitude. His father T'Chaka was his idol, his mentor, and most importantly his family. He would do anything to avenge him. He doesn't care about The Sokovia Accords, about the Avengers, or about Tony Stark. T'Challa is only using them as a means to get to The Winter Soldier and carry out his justice. He's a force of nature, an animal, a warrior, and a king, and he'll stop at nothing.
The Alternate: Peter Parker aka Spiderling... I mean, Spiderman
As a poor boy who is interesting in technology and recently comes into superpowers, Peter Parker's ultimate idol has got to be Tony Stark. He's everything he wants to be. He's rich, he's popular, he's a worldwide superhero. That his dream. He watches these heros on the news and is envious that they can do this with their lives while he has to hide his secret and stay in his home. What better opportunity can there to be for a young boy who wants to be Tony Stark than to have the man himself over him a chance to go on an adventure with him. There's absolutely no way he would turn that down. Also, Parker believes that when you have a power you have to use it for good. Helping Tony Stark stop some "bad guys who think they're good"? There's no better reason. Not to mention, how do you say no to RDJ?
Team Captain: Tony Stark aka Iron Man
A prince, practically, who grew up with everything he could ever want except for the love and attention of his father, that's the sad childhood of Tony Stark. He was naturally gifted at everything. He was a genius, very socially adept, and had endless resources. But he never had his father's acceptance. Howard Stark was always going on about this perfect man-- Steve Rogers-- who was everything everyone wanted to be, leading Tony to ask himself, "Am I as good as Captain America?" From a young age he had a natural bias against Cap, disliking just the idea of this "perfect man". When Tony's parents died he never got the chance to reconcile with them and pay them back for all the years of his insolence. Instead he turned to alcohol, extreme living, and carelessness. This came to a head when he was kidnapped, beaten, and forced to build weapons for terrorists. Tony promised that he would never let his weapons get into the wrong hands again and thus was the rebirth of the man and the beginning of the Iron Man.
It hasn't been easy for Tony. He continues to build his own demons. He gave his former friend and surrogate father the means to build the Iron Monger. He fueled Justin Hammer to turn to a terrorist for a leg up in business. He pushed Aldrich Killian into becoming a mass murdering psychopath. Finally fed up with all his mistakes, he build something that would protect the world only to have it turn into his biggest mistake ever: Ultron. Because of his brash decision making and irresponsibility, he built a tyrannical robot that laid waste to an entire city, killing hundreds and crippling even more. At this point Tony knows what happens when powerful individuals act without any kind of control or jurisdiction. He has seen the horrors and atrocities one man can do when never checked or balanced. Enough is enough.
My team, just sayin'. Red white and blue, my heart bleed for you.
The Wild Card: Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch
As the newest and youngest member of the team, Wanda hasn't quite felt the heat and pressure of being a superhero yet. She has been through a lot, sure, but she hasn't quite been the crime fighter that the rest of them have. Wanda has had a troubled life though. At the age of 10, a mortar shell crashed into her house, exploding her parents. A second shell flew in but didn't go off. Wanda and her brother watched the shell for two days, waiting for it to go off and kill them both. Etched on the side were the words "Stark Industries". If that wasn't enough to give her a hatred towards Tony, the army of death bots created by Tony that killed her brother might be. Already, she has a natural distance from Tony but it that's not what pushed her to Team Cap. The fact that Tony caged her like some wild animal, treating her like a bomb that might go off, is what really forced Wanda to jump ship. She was already afraid of her powers and instead of being helped and encouraged, she was interned and isolated. In order not to be afraid of who she was, she had to embrace who she was and take responsibility for her actions, not shift the blame to some agency.
The Veteran: Clint Barton aka Hawkeye
The spy with an eye in the sky, Clint Barton has always been a good operative and a better marksman but the one thing he puts above all else seems to be his family. Why would Clint leave behind his wife and kids just to join in a team squabble that he retired from? Well, it's not for Cap. It's definitely not for "freedom" or the "great good". Clint says why himself, "I owed a debt." You see, it was his rousing speech and encouragement that gave Wanda the strength to be a hero and to become an Avenger. If it wasn't for him, Pietro and Wanda would never have joined the team and by extension, Pietro would still be alive. Because he was so directly responsible for the death of her brother and the initiation of Wanda in the Avengers, he feels a certain stewardship over her and her safety. He lost her brother, he wouldn't lose her. He couldn't sit idly by as she berated on the news, tormented by her mistake, and eventually detained by Stark and Vision. He forced her to come into the team, he owes her. He helps Cap because he know Cap wants what's best for Wanda.
The Righthand Wingman: Sam Wilson aka Falcon
While serving in Iraq, Sam Wilson lost his close friend and practical brother Riley. Because of this tragedy, he became disillusioned with the Army and when he shipped home, he decided against a military career. He wanted to give back, to help those who went through traumatic experiences just as he did, but most importantly, he wanted to have no more people giving him orders. He is no longer a soldier, no longer someone who marches in line, he likes to be a free bird (pun intended) and go off of his own moral compass. When he befriended Steve, he found an instant connection and became an extremely loyal friend and compatriot. Wherever Captain America went, you can bet he was right behind him. "I do what he does, just slower." It wasn't just his loyalty that lead him to Team Cap though. He saw what a corrupted government could do.In Winter Soldier he saw first hand what a government funded and supporting agency could do, what Hydra could do. Sam could never let another agency have control like that again, especially over him and his friends.
The Brother in Arms: James "Bucky" Barnes aka The Winter Soldier
His surface level motivation is simple, he doesn't want to die. The governments of the world are after him not to mention a man-sized panther and all he really wants to do is get his memories back and live out the remainder of his life. Steve Rogers is his oldest and closest friend, he would do anything for him, but he really wants no part of this fight. He doesn't fight for ideologies, he doesn't fight for countries, Bucky is just fighting to stay alive. He's more a pawn in the world's schemes than a player in the game. Sorry, Buck. Short and sweet.
The Playmaker: Sharon Carter aka Agent 13
Sharon grew up in a very dutiful, patriotic household. She was the niece of a war hero and always wanted to be like her. She strived to be like Peggy Carter and to always do what's right. "The right thing" seemed to be to join S.H.I.E.L.D. and help protect the world but little did she know that the people she thought were protecting the world were actually hoping to destroy it. She followed what she knew to be right and helped stop Hydra from taking over. But once one battle was won, she moved onto the next one, joining up with the CIA. Despite being heavily involved in politics and the establishment, she has seen the dark side of governmental corruption and believes in Captain America's morality and code. It doesn't hurt that she's attracted to him-- and c'mon, who isn't? She believes you must "Compromise where you can. But where you can't, don't. Plant yourself like a tree," and that's what she sticks to.
The Bonus Player: Scott Lang aka Antman
As a master thief turned superhero, Scott is just trying to find his spot in the world. He really just wants to be home with his daughter or helping the Pyms. Scott has been dragged into a world and a fight he knows little to nothing about but he's willing to join in it for a few reasons. One, he kind of feels like he owes Falcon for jumping him and attacking the base. Two, he would do anything for Captain America. Here's a man he idolizes and wants to be in good graces with. He's not out for blood, he's just doing a favor for a man he hopes is his friend. Thirdly, and most importantly, he wants to be a real hero; not only in his own eyes but in the eyes of his daughter. He wants to prove himself to all the other enhanced individuals out there as a force to reckoned with but when it comes down to it, he just wants his little girl to be proud to be his daughter. He wants to make a difference, to be the man she thinks he is. Plus, when Cap comes a callin', you don't say no.
THE Captain: Steve Rogers aka Captain America
Growing up poor and lonely was second nature to Rogers. His parents passed away when he was young, he wasn't very popular at school, and with the girls he had little to no luck. The only person he ever had was Bucky, his idol, his friend. He wanted to be like Bucky, to be strong and tall, to be in the military and to be popular. Steve was always the sidekick to wherever Sergeant Barnes wanted to go but he didn't mind, Bucky was his everything. All he had was his morals and Bucky. After his surgery and turn as Captain America, Steve finally had the skills to do what he always wanted, help others and find the honor of a soldier. In WWII he saw the horrors the world can deal out. He saw what corrupt governments could do and he saw what amoral regimes could accomplish. It horrified him. It was a long ordeal and in the end he lost his closest friend but he won the war. When Rogers woke up in the 21st century, everything he had ever known was gone. The woman he had loved-- the first woman to ever really care for him-- he thought was gone. All of his friends, his home, his world, was all gone.
In the present day, all he could do was carry on. He joined S.H.I.E.L.D., he fought for the people, and he continued to live by his code. When he discovered Hydra was behind nearly everything, Rogers stopped at nothing to bring them down. This gave him a new insight. The evil that he had fought to stop so many decades ago was now back. What he thought was the enemy-- the Germans-- he now discovered was his homeland, that his people were the ones behind this new Hydra. He knew that any kind of agencies with agendas, with selfish people in charge, couldn't be trusted again. He could only trust himself, his code, and his friends. When he discovered that Bucky was still alive-- his end all be all and only remnant of his past life-- Steve knew he couldn't let him slip away again. Not only is Bucky his best friend, he's symbolic of everything his old life used to be and how it changed. What he thought was good and pure-- America, the government, Bucky-- was now twisted, warped, and evil. He couldn't compromise his freedom for that.
There you go folks, my breakdown on each character and their motivations/background. Sorry if it got a bit lengthy. As you can see I'm rather passionate about these stories and, depending on who you ask, I might know a little too much about a fictional universe. Dont even get me started on Harry Potter or Star Wars. I hope you enjoyed this! If you see things a different way or wanted to add something I forgot, go ahead and leave it in the comments below.
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'Til next time!