Beyond the visceral excitement of the new Captain America: Civil War trailer, there’s a lot of subtext embedded within that might not be immediately obvious. In this gallery of images, we’ll try to explain some of the backstory of what’s happening, while also decoding some of its stranger and more unsettling moments.
The Captain America: Civil War trailer begins just where the post-credit scene of last Marvel Studios movie, Ant-Man, left off — with a scene showing Anthony Mackie’s Falcon and Chris Evans’ Cap confronting the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who was once the true-blue hero’s best friend. Or is he still?
With his cybernetic arm clamped in that industrial vice, Barnes (the Winter Soldier, whoever he is) strikes a pathetic figure. He begins talking about Steve Rogers back before he was Captain America. Just a pipsqueak from Brooklyn. He talks about Steve’s mother. The brainwashed assassin we know as the Winter Soldier seems to be gone. But from what Cap says, Barnes stands accused of a horrific crime. In the next shot, we get a glimpse of what that may be…
It’s a United Nations-looking assembly hall, but before we get a very good look at it, the glass and steel structure is blown apart. What was destroyed? The trailer doesn’t give it away, but there’s a very good chance that the body of world leaders trying to settle on the Sokovia Accords has just been decimated. So what are the Sokovia Accords …?
“The Sokovia Accords: Framework for the Registration and Deployment of Enhanced Individuals.” It’s a superhero registration, placing them under the control of a global organization. The name refers to the city-state that Ultron ripped from the Earth in the last Avengers movie. Basically, if you want to be a good-guy, this group of world leaders expects you to register and play by their rules. Cap has experience with something like this. It was called S.H.I.E.L.D. and it proved to be a sinister organization operating under the guise of doing the right thing.
The last time we saw this guy, he was Gen. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, and he was trying to keep The Incredible Hulk away from his daughter. At the end of that 2008 movie, which starred Edward Norton as Hulk, we saw Ross meeting with Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark to discuss the Avengers initiative. A few years later, and he has turned in the uniform for a job as U.S. Secretary of State. He’s a big believer in the Sokovia Accords … and not such a believer in the good that “enhanced individuals” can do.
In this shot, Cap and his buddy Falcon meet at the headquarters of the intelligence task force that oversees implementation of the Sokovia Accords. The vibranium shield and Falcon’s wings have been surrendered and are being carried away from them while they’re in the facility. From EW’s set visit to the movie, we can tell you: those guys are worried they’re not going to get that gear back.
In this same shot, you can spot two other charaters: the mysterious bureaucratic attaché played by Martin Freeman (Marvel has asked to keep his name hush-hush for now) and Agent 13, first seen in The Winter Soldier, played by Emily VanCamp. Good… not so good? Their exact roles aren’t clear. But Cap and Falcon feel this is an icy welcome at best.
We don’t see a lot of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow in this trailer, but she’s somebody who knows that you must be honest to live outside the law (to paraphrase an oldie, but a goodie). Having worked hard to clear her moral ledger of red ink, she begs Cap not to get between the authorities and Bucky. It’s a curious position for Natasha Romanov to take. Clearly she was once on the villainous side of things, yet she has been allowed a redemption. Funny how those who have experienced forgiveness can sometimes be unable to bestow it on others…
“Sometimes I want to punch you in your perfect teeth …”
Here we meet our bad guy. Or … the word “antagonist” is the one Downey uses. Never before have we seen Iron Man in such a creepy shot: just glowing eyes in the shadows as he pries open a metal door. At this point in the trailer, it’s easy to feel unsure about the behavior of our old friend Tony Stark. He seems to be indulging his dark side.
What’s clear is, Iron Man and Captain America are not seeing eye-to-eye on these accords. Cap believes he knows best how to use the abilities with which he has been blessed/cursed. Iron Man wants him to fall into line and prove that true good guys follow the rules. Somebody has already had a pretty serious disagreement with Stark, as you can tell from the black eye. It’s obvious that a big part of Cap’s resistance to the accords is the fact that he thinks his friend Bucky is being set up, and he intends to protect him at all costs.
He’s right. They are perfect little teeth.
Stark and Don Cheadle’s War Machine size up the competition in a throw-down that takes place at the Liepzig/Halle Airport in Germany. This is where we see where some of the characters we know and love show how little they love each other. Clearly, these two are Team Iron Man.
Trouble from the skies…
But Captain America has his own wingman. Here we get a look at the new design for Anthony Mackie’s Falcon wings, which owe a debt to the colorful red and white plummage of the Sam Wilson character in the Marvel comic books.
Team Cap: Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier, and (not pictured) Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Mackie’s Falcon.
Finally, a glimpse of Black Panther — Chadwick Boseman’s long-awaited, big-screen version of the first black Marvel superhero. The Wakandan warrior’s allegiance is a key battleground in this film, and although he doesn’t necessarily have a quarrel with Captain America…
…Black Panther definitely has a problem with the Winter Soldier. Something tells me he lost someone in the blast Bucky Barnes is accused of orchestrating.
That’s the smoldering airport in the background, so we’re getting a pretty major spoiler here. It’s not clear that either side really won this battle, but it’s clear War Machine lost. So… is he dead? Doubtful. Marvel would never reveal such a thing in the first trailer for a film. But they probably want you to think that. At the very least, the stakes are high. And it looks like James “Rhodey” Rhodes is going to need to borrow something new from Tony’s mechanical wardrobe.
Given what happened to War Machine, it seems like the Winter Soldier may be trying to rip out the ARC reactor on Iron Man’s chest in a similar fashion. So far, it’s easy to sympathize with Captain America in this trailer, and the film is clearly told from his perspective. But the end of this brief glimpse manages to turn the tables a little, making his actions seem a lot more questionable…
“You know I wouldn’t do this if I had any other choice,” Cap says. “But he’s my friend.” Iron Man cuts him down with three words: “So was I.” Directors Joe and Anthony Russo give us a quiet moment between the two foes that reveals just how deep the wounds of this conflict will go. Then this happens…
We see Cap and Winter Soldier ganging up on a solitary Iron Man, who has no team around him this time. It’s two guys on one, hardly a fair fight, given that they’re all “enhanced individuals.” This has been brewing for a long time; Cap and Iron Man never liked each other very much. But they did become friends. Still, old friends make the worst enemies.