“Identification - that’s how it starts, and it ends with being rounded up, experimented on, eliminated.”
-Erik Lehnsherr, alias “Magneto,” X-Men: First Class
The Effects of Registration on Enhanced Individuals in Compliance with the Sokovia Accords
To effectively criticize Captain America: Civil War [shortened to CA:CW for brevity in this essay], one needs to have a clear definition concerning the central debate of the film before any arguments start, as it is impossible to accurately comment on a film one does not understand. While the love of characters such as Iron Man or Captain America was used for marketing the “sides” of the issue, the actual argument of CA:CW is the concept and execution of the Sokovia Accords, a set of regulations concerning “enhanced individuals” and their actions.
Among those regulations are the following:
In Marvel, there are three major subcategories of humans with enhanced abilities [Mutants, Mutates, and Inhumans], all of which either stem from or result in changes to a hero’s genetic code, something which, short of experimentation, leaves them unable to revert back to a “normal” state. Under the Accords, these people, whether or not they choose to partake in superhero-type activities, would all be forced to register something they [for the most part] had no choice in; in the Marvel Multiverse, being born a Mutant is something one has no control over, similar to eye or hair color, and to force them to register simply for the mistake of being born different is something history is all-too-familiar with -- and it has never ended well.
Local heroes risk their lives for their communities; in doing so, many must keep their identity secret to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Unlike the Avengers, who solve issues on a worldwide scale, these heroes and vigilantes work where they live; the criminal they help bring to justice might be someone they have a connection with, who, without the anonymity of a mask, might already know their name and family. If a character such as Vulture or Doc Ock could simply google “Spider-Man'' and find out his name [and, by extension, his family, friends, address, etc.], his entire life would be at risk. The same issues apply to the rest of the local-type heroes such as Daredevil, Hawkeye [both of the Clint Barton and Kate Bishop varieties, at least within the comics], and many more. These people cannot risk their identities becoming public knowledge because, simply put, they do not have the resources to keep their loved ones safe.
In the event that these local heroes are known to the public, they could be brought to court and face legal action for any number of issues ranging from property damage [webs not disintegrating/leaving stains, bullet holes in walls, etc.], to bodily harm [even criminals can press charges on bodily harm if deemed overkill as punishment for their crimes]. While in some cases, such as in the event of mistaken identity, would certainly justify legal action, this ability to prosecute heroes and vigilantes opens the door for one of the specific regulations listed in the Accords, the concept of imprisonment without trial. This concept, also known as indefinite detention, not only goes against basic human decency, but against human rights laws as well. To have multiple countries, many of whom have outright denied the implementation of indefinite detention, suddenly “agree” to the process as the result of a few incidents is a major oversight by Marvel Studios who, up until the terrorist attack in Lagos [an event where, while trying to stop said terrorists, the Avengers caused the deaths of twenty-six people, eleven of which were Wakandan relief workers], portray the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a world that is at the least, accepting of its’ superpowered heroes and, at the most, enabling said heroes to continue their work.
Oddly enough, a list of those with abilities had already been created within the Marvel Universe not once, but twice, and led to disastrous consequences in both instances. Within the television show “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” a list known as the Index is kept by the S.H.I.E.L.D. agency that details known humans and objects with “powers,” and assessments of their psychological state and gives them a “threat level.” If an individual is deemed too high of a threat, they are “crossed off” through a targeted killing. When the Accords are put in place, S.H.I.E.L.D. accepted their legality, transferring their registration information over, and this information was used in turn to murder seventeen registered Inhumans during a worldwide blackout. Had the Index never existed, all of those dead would still be alive, and even though some of the individuals were criminals, it is not just for them to be murdered simply for their abilities. Meanwhile, within the X-Men comic “Days of Future Past,” it is revealed that the passing of the Mutant Control Act, which, when the Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional, led to the revival of the Sentinel Program in an effort to police the Mutant race. This effort spiraled when the Sentinels took over the government and persecuted all Mutants, leading to the deaths of countless Mutants, as well as those humans who stood between them.
The film itself, though, never truly does a good job of explaining these concepts to the audience; instead, it is full of flashy CGI action sequences and endless angst concerning character-specific issues that don’t apply to the population at large. Nothing in the film seems consequential because it is never explained well enough for the general audience to know the impact that implementing the Accords would have. Instead, the film chooses to rely on a character-based loyalty system that, when all of the characters make it out alive, loses all meaning to the audience.
If Marvel Studios had wanted to give CA:CW the impact it had in the comics, it should have been the “Infinity War/Endgame” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Having CA:CW as the two-part, serious finale sending off the original Avengers would have given the studio time to create content furthering the world it built. Spider-Man, a significant player in the comic run of Civil War, would have been introduced on his own, as Peter Parker, not as a miniature Tony Stark mixed with the personality of Miles Morales, and the audience could have seen what it was like for him to have to hide his identity, not for fun, but to keep him and his family safe. Considering that Spider-Man’s change of team from Captain America to Iron Man in comics is known as the turning point of the entire conflict, it would make sense for him to have an established character before the movie itself, giving more weight to his actions and decisions in later appearances. To go further, if given the time, money, and studio rights, Marvel could have struck a deal akin to the Sony/Spider-Man contract, with its Netflix and Fox X-Men characters, allowing for more local heroes such as Daredevil to appear in movies, as well as Mutant characters born with abilities, showing the general audience what it is like for those who need to hide their identities as a contrast to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which, up until this point, was mainly starring heroes whose powers were a result of their own choices [for the most part], and whose identities were already known to the public by the time of CA:CW. Similarly, it would have given the writers time to flesh out the conflict and write it into the film as more than a simple “register or not”-type issue that appears to have no consequences to the world at large.
All in all, Captain America: Civil War is a movie that, in an attempt to make a statement without having the courage to actually make it, says nothing. While the comic run of Civil War dealt with the inherent moral differences that heroes of different classes would face, the issue of individual freedom when abilities are involved, and the conflicting ideals of authoritarianism versus libertarianism, the movie shows nothing more than a stitched-together quilt of flashy action sequences, witty catchphrases, and character-specific angst that, altogether, fails to deal with the Accords in any measure of substance, turning one of the most impactful events in comic book history into an utterly mediocre film that only serves to separate the Avengers in preparation for future films in the series.