On May 5, a group of friends and I decided, at 7:00pm, to try and catch a 7:20pm advance screening of Captain America: Civil War, one day before the official release. Against the odds, there were enough tickets still available. Against even further odds, we only missed two previews by the time we got there. Finally, against basically all the odds, we managed to get seats that, surprisingly, weren’t terrible.
Compared to the previous team-up movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Civil War brings us the biggest scope to-date. Before, the missions and action had been mostly confined to singular locations. Now, with countries around the world demanding the Avengers be placed under UN oversight because of their previous actions, the conflict, mission and characters take on a much more global feel as the group draws battle lines over whether to agree to oversight or not:
Those in favour, led by Tony Stark (Iron Man): Prince T’Challa (Black Panther), Vision, Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), James Rhodes (War Machine) and Peter Parker (Spiderman)
Those against, led by Steve Rogers (Captain America): Sam Wilson (Falcon), Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch), Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier), Clint Barton (Hawkeye) and Scott Lang (Ant Man)
With the group divided on this issue, the stage is set for conflict. Surprisingly, the actual ‘civil war’, where both sides face off in a German airport, is a fairly small slice of the movie’s two-and-a-half hour runtime. The interesting conflict, the one-one-one and small group fights that drive the story, comes primarily from the divided allegiances, differing ideologies and feelings of revenge and betrayal between characters.
In the midst of all this, I noticed some interesting dynamics as the characters interacted together. There were those who encouraged and who held those close to them accountable. Others had opportunities to mentor and invest in a younger or more inexperienced member of their team. And in the lives of a few, we saw the power of generational influence. This gave me some pause for thought about how we too need an encouraging figure in our lives, someone to invest in, and a guide to feel complete.
Everyone needs an encourager
Throughout the movie, I saw that with most of the characters, there wasn’t necessarily one individual who was leading the group. Most of what I saw was a group of peers who came together, who held one another accountable and encouraged each other when they needed it. Two such examples of this were Capt. America/Bucky and Hawkeye/Scarlet Witch.
In the previous Winter Soldier movie, Capt. America discovered his friend, James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, he thought had died in WWII had actually survived and been turned into the Soviets’ Winter Soldier. Even as he and Falcon are trying to bring down the SHIELD helicarriers, Capt. America keeps trying to break through the Winter Soldier programming to get to his friend, encouraging him to keep fighting as Bucky had once done for him when he was a scrawny kid from Brooklyn. His persistence eventually results in Bucky coming back to a realization of who he is. In Civil War, when Bucky is framed for bombing the UN building, Capt. America goes to find and protect him, at the expense of pitting himself against Iron Man and his allies. Through the movie, as Bucky feels the pull to revert to his assassin programming, Capt. America is there protecting him from that, doing everything he can to prevent his descent back to the Winter Soldier. Even at the cost of his relationship with Iron Man, Capt. America stands by his friend, who had stood by him before, encouraging and supporting him to be the man he once was.
For Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch, which carried over from Age of Ultron, theirs is also an example of the need for an encourager. In the final city battle with Ultron, Scarlet Witch was scared, unsure of herself and hiding away from the mission at hand. Hawkeye found her and encouraged her, telling her she was needed and vital to their success. In Civil War, when Vision was keeping her under house arrest and she no longer felt trustworthy or valued, Hawkeye came out of retirement to break her out, giving him a chance to encourage her to stay involved in the mission and to hold her accountable to the decision she made to protect people, even though she felt she had failed and shouldn’t keep going.
Everyone needs someone to invest in
The obvious choice for this was the first interaction between Tony and Peter. After carefully considering his options, Tony sought Peter out to enlist his help as Spiderman, much like a disciplemaker prayerfully considering a new disciple in whom God is already at work. During their first meeting together, it becomes evident there’s a number of similarities between Tony and Peter: they both lost their parents, they’re both technically-gifted and both have a desire to make the world a safer place for everyone. As Tony realizes all this, and the good work Peter is already doing as Spiderman, he decides to bring Peter into the fold of heroes by challenging him to use his gifts and talents to serve a greater purpose, rather than being a lone wolf. In this example, as in discipleship, Tony didn’t try to make Peter exactly like him. Rather, he addressed Peter’s need of a new suit in order to make him more effective in the work he was already doing. Tony saw this as an opportunity not only to recruit another hero to his side, but also to invest in Peter’s life by using his experience and knowledge to help Peter more fully become the hero he was trying to be.
Everyone needs a guide
In the relationship between the Wakandan King T’Chaka and his son Prince T’Challa, I saw the power of generational influence and discipleship. As T’Challa and Natasha interacted at the Sokovia Accords meeting, which would place the Avengers under UN oversight, we saw T’Challa as a thoughtful and diplomatic leader, much like his father, who used the accidental deaths of Wakandan relief workers earlier in the film as an opportunity for reconciliation with the Avengers. It’s clear T’Chaka has passed on to T’Challa the values and qualities he will need as a ruler once he becomes king, which happens much sooner than either of them expect when a bomb goes off at the UN building, killing T’Chaka.
Up until the end of the movie, T’Challa is consumed by his desire for revenge against Bucky, who he believes was responsible for killing his father. As Black Panther, his thoughtful demeanor takes a backseat to his single-minded mission of vengeance. Later, when he finds out it was not Bucky who killed his father but ratehr a mercenary named Helmut Zemo, he is presented with the opportunity to kill Zemo. In that moment, King T’Challa decides he won’t allow vengeance to consume him any longer. This decision to favour justice over vengeance, and his subsequent reconciliation with Bucky by offering him sanctuary, parallels almost exactly the decision T’Chaka made to seek reconciliation with the Avengers after the deaths of the aid workers. After T’Chaka died, the time he had spent investing in T’Challa produced a leader who could correctly handle the responsibilities and values that were passed on to him.
Through these instances in Captain America: Civil War, we see many truths of discipleship being acted out. Mature disciples invest in one another, encouraging and supporting one another to grow deeper in their faith and God-given talents. Disciples look to the needs of their fellow disciples and others to help them become more effective at what they are already doing. When a disciple makes a mistake or seems to fail, other disciples around them encourage them to keep going. We also see the effect of generational discipleship, how the values and experiences we pass on to others have the potential to ripple out and affect more people than we ever could as individuals.