Ever since Captain America: Civil War hit theater screens in 2016, there’s been a heated debate raging among the MCU’s devoted fan base: was Tony Stark or Steve Rogers right about the Sokovia Accords? Bickering and bantering have always been a part of the core Avengers’ dynamic, but never before Civil War had a conflict incited direct violence and a stark ideological divide between our main heroes. In this piece, we’ll give you a refresher on the events leading up to the split, break down each side of the debate, and offer our irrefutable evidence proving, once and for all, that Stark was unambiguously correct. Let’s get into it.
The Sokovia Accords
From the word go in Civil War, it’s abundantly clear that Stark is dealing with some serious guilt after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron—and for good reason: he’s coming hot off the heels of creating a murderous AI entity that leveled a small nation-state. In typical genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist fashion, Stark attempts to soothe his troubled conscience by shelling out millions of dollars to fund the start-up ideas of a large auditorium’s worth of MIT students.
But after his rather ego-stroking presentation, Stark is accosted by the grieving mother of a young man who died during the Avengers’ battle with Ultron in Sokovia. She tells him that the Avengers only fight for themselves and that the blame for her son’s untimely death rests squarely on his shoulders. Meanwhile, Captain America, Wanda Maximoff, Falcon, and Black Widow embark on a covert mission to prevent Cap’s old frenemy Rumlow from setting off a biological weapon in the streets of Lagos, Nigeria.
Cap temporarily subdues Rumlow, but not before he can detonate a bomb he had hidden underneath his armor. To save Cap and dozens of innocent bystanders on the street, Maximoff launches Rumlow into the air, where he proceeds to implode near an office building, killing 26 civilians—some of them Wakandans—in the process. The media and legislative backlash is swift and unrelenting. The public’s love affair with enhanced individuals following the 2012 events of the Chitauri battle in Manhattan is officially over, and many are now calling for Maximoff to face criminal charges.
Amid the height of the public outcry, Secretary of State “Thunderbolt” Ross comes to Avengers HQ to discuss the consequences of the team’s very public mistakes. After playing an exceptionally persuasive slideshow of the gratuitous collateral damage involved with the Avengers’ various super-powered fights, Ross informs our heroes about the Sokovia Accords. Ratified by 117 countries, the Sokovia Accords officially strip the Avengers of their status as a private organization. Instead, they would serve at the discretion of a UN panel—only to be utilized if and when the panel deems their presence necessary.
Following the Secretary’s presentation, the Avengers argue the merits of signing the Accords. Stark and Rhodey staunchly believe the Accords to be a fair measure that keeps the Avengers in check, while Cap and Falcon view them as a draconian punitive action that leaves the immense power of the team ripe for abuse from self-interested government bureaucrats. At this point in the film, the conflict is merely verbal, but this intellectual disagreement will soon fester into something much more destructive.
One brainwashed HYDRA sleeper cell, a tossed antique FDR pen set, and a few “psycho-assassins” later, and the Avengers are fighting all-out war down ideological lines in an evacuated German airport hangar bay. By the time the credits roll on Civil War, it’s fairly clear that the filmmakers view Cap’s Accords position as the morally correct stance. But before we make our full-throated endorsement of Team Iron Man, let’s give the Man out of Time the respect he deserves by steel-manning his position.
Team Cap in a nutshell
If Civil War presents Stark as a man riddled with guilt from his past mistakes, it also depicts Rogers as a former gung-ho company man grappling with a newfound distrust in the institutions he once laid down his life to defend. In the previous Captain America film, Cap uncovers and dismantles the HYDRA contingent hiding in plain sight beneath the ostensibly well-meaning SHIELD organization. After taking down three massive Helicarriers programmed to kill political dissidents en masse months prior, it’s only natural that Cap would find it hard to trust public sector types for a while.
For Cap, handing the world-beating power of the Avengers to a panel of shadowy government officials could result in all manner of disastrous situations. Growing up in the midst of the world’s most morally cut-and-dry military conflict against the Nazis instilled a sense of duty and patriotism in Rogers, but his modern-day tangles with the powers that be have understandably fractured his once-simplistic worldview. As Cap reveals at the end of Civil War, his faith and trust will always lie with individuals over collective institutions and ideals.
If the MCU creative team didn’t make its Team Cap allegiances clear enough by the end of Civil War, the first half of Infinity War cemented its position beyond a shadow of a doubt. When Cap and his world-weary band of anti-Accords heroes come face to face with Secretary Ross in the wake of Iron Man’s apparent abduction at the hands of Ebony Maw, even the once-unflappable Rhodey turns tail against the Accords.
But is it really a smart idea to let a group of individuals with enough collective power to dismantle the infrastructure of almost any nation on Earth in an afternoon operate as a private entity with little to no supervision? Well, Iron Man—and A Little Bit Human—beg to differ.
Why Tony is correct
As we mentioned above, given Cap’s recent less-than-stellar experiences with governmental bodies, it’s understandable that he might be hesitant to allow the UN to oversee the Avengers’ activities. But as a rational and responsible person and enhanced individual, he should understand that supervision is an absolute must for the Avengers at this juncture.
Consider for a moment what transpired in the last Avengers film: Stark and Bruce Banner unilaterally created a hyper-advanced AI with the capability to destroy the entire world. The team got lucky by kneecapping Ultron before he could cause an extinction-level event. One false move in that fight, and the Avengers would have been single-handedly responsible for the end of the human race.
Let’s take that horrific circumstance out of the fantastical confines of comic book films and into the real world for a moment. Can you imagine the consequences someone like Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg would face if their AI creation destroyed an entire country? Even a multi-billion dollar net worth wouldn’t enable them to weasel their way out of swift and severe repercussions from their actions. Stark’s hubris may have fooled him into believing Ultron was a good idea, but in the case of Civil War, it was Cap’s hubris that tricked him into believing the Avengers were an infallible moral enterprise.
Would you really want to live in a world where the world’s richest man, a superpowered CIA asset, and a green rage monster with the power of gods could exact their toll on whoever they wanted, wherever they wanted, at any time? Probably not. In the MCU, the fictional civilians living on Earth are lucky that Stark, Rogers, and Banner happen to be genuinely well-intentioned people with altruistic motives. If the Avengers really existed, the dystopian superhero landscape that Amazon Prime’s The Boys portrays would be much closer to reality than the MCU’s rose-colored alternative.
In your time as an occupant of this planet, how often have you seen those with unfathomable power and wealth act in the interest of the people? If you’re feeling charitable, “very rarely” would be an arguably acceptable answer. More often than not, those who operate the world’s levers of power utilize said power to ensure they retain their exalted and luxurious positions and little else of note. In the real world, a UN panel to govern the Avengers would lie somewhere on the lighter end of potential solutions to put checks and balances on their power.
And after the creation and activation of an Ultron-like AI entity, total disbandment and life imprisonment in a supermax penitentiary would likely be a far more amenable and appropriate world government response to a real-world Avengers team. But if we’re going to be fully charitable to Team Cap diehards, there is one major caveat we’ll need to discuss before we sign off.
Extending an olive branch
While Stark’s perspective in this conflict might make more sense from a real-world lens, the MCU and its Avengers do not exist in the real world. These characters live in a world where purple aliens invade on the regular, and suped-up villains enact mustache-twirling plans for world domination on the regular. As we see in Infinity War, sometimes the Avengers need to react at a moment’s notice to stave off total annihilation. If Stark, Doctor Strange, and Wong had to wait for a notoriously sluggish UN to approve a response to Ebony Maw’s assault on Manhattan, perhaps the civilian death toll would’ve been higher than the film depicted.
While we still believe Stark’s take to be superior from a moral and practical standpoint, Cap’s hesitancy to sign the Avengers’ destiny away to the UN is understandable, given the realities of the world they inhabit.