Sorry Iron Man, Captain America is the Best Superhero Trilogy

With over $180 million dollars earned in its opening weekend and $700 million worldwide, Captain America: Civil War blasted its way to the top of the box office. And with a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film has won the respect of critics and fans alike for its complex plot and visually-stunning cinematography.

Marvel is known for its groundbreaking superhero films. The recently released R-rated hit Deadpool shocked audiences in the best way possible for its dry, subversive humor and daring action scenes bursting with violence. The 2014 film Guardians of the Galaxy centered on mercenary Peter Quill and a group of misfits’ quest to keep the infinity stone out of Thanos’ hands. Even though Marvel has consistently produced quality superhero films, the Captain America films are arguably the best within the franchise.

Ever since Captain America: The First Avenger was released in 2011, it was unique from the other stand-alone superhero films—such as Iron Man and Thor—not only for its distinct historical setting, but also because of the titular character’s humble beginnings. He’s not a billionaire or a god. He doesn’t have mommy issues. Plagued by a number of health problems in addition to his size, or lack thereof, Steve Rogers is an underdog through and through. Once given the serum, the good qualities within Steve are amplified, thus giving him the abilities to fight against the bullies of the world and injustice. The First Avenger introduced the star-spangled superhero with the shield, and ended on a note that would become a familiar theme throughout the next two Captain America films—a man from the 1940s struggling to find his place in today’s society.

Unlike the other films, which rely on fantastical villains intent on taking over Earth (hey, Loki), the Captain America films aren’t afraid to dive into more complex and murkier territory. Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, The Winter Soldier (2014) and Civil War (2016) both fearlessly tackle issues relevant to today’s turbulent political climate. In The Winter Soldier, Captain America is firmly opposed to Project Insight, which aims to eliminate potential terrorist targets before they can become an actual threat. In response, Rogers states, “This isn’t freedom, this is fear.” His sentiments echo what many Americans felt upon learning of the government’s surveillance of individuals’ phones and emails thanks to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The Winter Soldier begged the question, “How much of our freedom are we willing to give up in the name of national security?” Given that it was later discovered S.H.I.E.L.D had in fact been compromised by the terrorist group Hydra, Captain America’s belief that his own hands were the safest and most trusted only solidified.

(Warning, spoilers ahead)

This conviction carries over into Civil War where Captain America is dead-set against the Sokovia Accords, which would make the Avengers accountable to the U.N. for their actions. It would also give the U.N. the power to tell where and when the Avengers should go next. Iron Man’s guilt over the sheer number of innocent lives lost in New York and Sokovia pushes him to sign the Accords. Yet, Captain America is unwilling to take part in an institution where agendas always change. The issue is anything but clear-cut, and can be seen throughout the film as Iron Man and Captain America are driven by their opposing views on the Sokovia Accords, and  their tumultuous relationship with one another.

Another component the Captain America films excel at are the character developments of not just the titular character but the other Avengers as well. The Winter Soldier did a fantastic job at cultivating the dynamic between Captain America and Black Widow. The duo make a unique team—a man out of time and a woman always taking up one identity or another to stay undetected. The two play off of each other’s’ strengths, and fall into an easy friendship that makes their team efforts all the more effective. The solid and comfortable relationship between the two on-screen is made all the more convincing given that the two actors, Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson have been friends ever since they first appeared in the film The Perfect Score together in 2004. The fact that the two are on opposite sides in Civil War only emphasizes how strong their friendship is when the two often come to one another’s help throughout the film. Black Widow is there for Captain America during Peggy Carter’s funeral, and again helps him escape with Bucky to find Zemo during the chaos of the battle at the airport.

And at the core of the film is the tumultuous relationship between Captain America, Bucky (a.k.a. The Winter Soldier), and Iron Man. The history between these three goes back decades, more specifically December 16, 1991. Referenced throughout the movie by Zemo, it’s the night where everything changed. The revelation that Steve has known the entire time it was Bucky who had killed his parents is the ultimate betrayal for Tony. The fact that Steve continues to defend Bucky—who is unaware of his actions as The Winter Soldier—is unfathomable to Iron Man. But Captain America’s unwavering loyalty to Bucky is comprehensible. Bucky was there for Steve before he ever became the super-soldier, and is only the one to truly understand him as they are both men out of time. The ending fight scene between Steve and Bucky against Tony is absolutely awe-inspiring. To see the amount of anger and fury unleashed between the three men, the years of history culminating into this one battle is simply an unforgettable moment as Captain America and Iron Man finally go head-to-head. As the Black Panther pointed out, these three are consumed by vengeance, not unlike the villain in Civil War. Zemo doesn’t have grand desires to take over the world or destroy humanity. He is a man who wants to destroy the Avengers from the inside out in revenge for destroying his family. This villain isn’t completely unrelatable. He is a man wrecked by grief and blindsided by hate. Zemo’s motivation for ending the Avengers calls into question once again the legitimacy of the Sokovia Accords.

The Captain America films offer no definitive answer, but that’s what makes them so great. Society today is filled with conflicts that have no right or wrong side. While Captain America and the rest of the Avengers are gifted with skills we can only dream of, these films show the issues and struggles they deal with are very human. The topics in The Winter Soldier and Civil War reflect the world around us, and give us something to think about long after Marvel’s post-credits scenes. And not only are the issues compelling, but the character developments within the films offer insight into individuals not often given enough spotlight in the other Marvel films. So until Black Widow gets her own film, the Captain America trilogy is undoubtedly the best of the Marvel superhero movies.    

And just in case you still had any doubts as to Chris Evans’—oops, I meant Captain America’s—awesomeness, I’ll just leave this here.

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photo courtesy of Marvel

Catherine Lu
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