There’s no shortage of films about fatherhood in Hollywood, perhaps in part because the industry is still largely dominated by men exploring elements of their own lived experiences on the big screen. But just because it’s an oversaturated theme in the industry doesn’t mean it’s not fun to re-contextualize certain films that aren’t usually watched for deeper, more nuanced examinations of the human condition. One film, in particular, has just hit the six-year milestone since its premiere, and it seems like the time has come to unpack how Captain America: Civil War is a film about fathers and sons.
If you remove the high-flying action and superhero dramas from Captain America: Civil War you end up with a movie that contains three extremely gripping stories about fathers and sons. The first is the story that launches the film: the assassination of Howard Stark (John Slatery), which shapes and informs the choices that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) does throughout the film. The second is the relationship between King T’Chaka (John Kani) and his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) which serves as a central launching point for T’Challa and ties into the third story. Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) The actions are fueled by the loss of not only his own son, but also his father, making him the tool that brings down the Avengers. The three stories are intrinsically linked to each other, underscoring how fundamentally they are tied to themes of fatherhood. Civil war is.
Howard Stark and Tony Stark
Civil war opens with the murder of Howard Stark, which is the inciting incident that propels the entire film. A few short scenes later, we see Tony reliving those precious hours leading up to that life-changing moment. Though revealed to the public through a glitzy Stark-esque tech show, it’s tinged with the guilt Tony lives with. He had unfinished business with his father, and now that he’s older, he can look back on that last goodbye and imagine how he would do it differently. For all his bravado, this footage reveals a wound Tony carries that will never be healed.
Shortly after the conference, Tony is confronted by Charles Spencer’s mother, who was building sustainable homes in Sokovia in 2015 when the Avengers leveled the country. Although it’s an example of motherly love – something that’s missing in both superhero franchises – it’s meant to remind her of parental love. It’s designed to reopen his own wound and ultimately become the motivation for his decision to side with the government in regulating superheroes.
Ultimately, it is Howard Stark’s death that drives the final and most fatal rift between Tony and Steve. It doesn’t matter that Bucky was brainwashed and manipulated into becoming a killer, Tony sees him as the man who murdered his parents and that’s all that matters to him. He doesn’t see Steve protecting his friend, he sees Steve protecting his parents’ murderer. It’s this revelation that leads Tony, Steve and Bucky to the iconic showdown, and it triggers the beginning of the end for the Avengers. They can get together and work together, but it’s never the same from now on.
King T’Chaka and T’Challa
The Wakandans have a very different view of death than most, as T’Challa explains to Natasha after her father’s death: “Death is not the end, it is a starting point. ” But in the wake of his father’s untimely death, T’Challa isn’t ready to accept the idea. Like Tony and Zemo, T’Challa wants to avenge his father’s death. Unlike Tony and Howard Stark, T’Challa and King T’Chaka had a healthy relationship, seemingly built on mutual respect and love. It’s not before Black Panther as we delve deeper into this relationship and how T’Challa is affected by the truths he learns about his late father.
In the context of Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa is forced to grow up after his father’s death, and it’s a struggle for him throughout the film. There’s only one major scene between this father-son couple, but it lays the groundwork for who T’Challa is as a person and the kind of man he’ll one day become as Black Panther. . The new responsibilities placed on his shoulders after T’Chaka’s death are at odds with his need to make his father’s murderer pay. This conflict drives his motives – both to drive out the man he believes killed his father and to spare the man who actually orchestrated his death.
Helmut Zemo and Carl Zemo
Zemo weapons the loss of Howard Stark, using Tony’s grief to dismantle not only the Avengers as a whole, but also the fatherly authority Tony held over the group as a figurehead. The Avengers have encountered many opinions throughout their action, but none of them have been a direct reaction to their inaction. That’s what makes him such a fascinating anti-hero because his actions make sense: who wouldn’t want to avenge their family after the “good guys” let them get killed? Let your whole country be destroyed.
There are several short scenes from Zemo that were cut from the theatrical release, which are important to the thesis of this article. In the movie, we see Zemo listening to voicemails he recorded from his wife, Heike, but there’s one in particular that’s available to watch on Disney+ that really drives the point home. In one of the voicemails, Heike mentions that Carl’s birthday is coming up and that Zemo had promised him a new Xbox. Although we don’t know exactly when this voicemail was left, it can be assumed that it was sent before the tragedy in Sokovia. Implying either Carl’s birthday had just happened before he died or those plans for a new year were cut short by the Avengers. This further compounds the pain caused by the Avenger’s neglect, and there’s a reason Zemo repeatedly reopens this wound for himself. These voicemails – the lost moments with her son that they symbolize – are her motivation.
The voicemails are revisited in the film’s final act, once the dust settles and the Avengers are in shambles, Zemo resigns himself to wallowing in his victory. Because, sweet as victory is, destroying the Avengers can’t bring back his family. He deletes Heike’s voicemails as he no longer needs them for motivation and plans his own demise. As Zemo cocks the weapon, T’Challa gets closer to the revenge he also sought in the wake of his own father’s death.
In this scene, an exchange occurs, both verbally and ideologically. Basically, both T’Challa and Zemo were driven by the same singular motivation: a relationship between a father and son. Zemo is driven by the promise he made to his son Carl and his father’s sacrifice, while T’Challa seeks revenge for his father’s death. They both acknowledge their losses, and in Zemo’s case, he takes responsibility for his part in King T’Chaka’s death. Through the exchange of dialogue and shared tragedy, T’Challa sees a path beyond revenge and recognizes that he was on the same path Zemo had already taken.
T’Challa is then given the opportunity to allow the man who took his father’s life to kill himself, but he stops Zemo from killing himself. This action stems not only from being a hero, but also from seeing part of your own journey through Civil war reflected in the depths of Zemo’s own grief. It is a recognizable desperation that is intrinsically linked to the relationship between a father and his son that he understands.
Marvel has no shortage of complex father and son relationships, and most of them define elements of their tragic histories and flawed personalities. After all, Star-Lord wouldn’t be Star-Lord without the relationship between Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and me (Kurt Russell) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) may not be so emotionally broken if Odin (Anthony Hopkins) had actually raised him as his son and not as a pawn. Captain America: Civil War Team Cap and Team Iron Man may be remembered, but the far more compelling story – and heart of the film – is the struggle between the sons escaping the heartache of losing their father.