Who really won in Captain America: Civil War?

A while back, an image surfaced that showed the two teams from Captain America: Civil War. It was titled “If you ever wondered which side REALLY won Captain America: Civil War,” and it proceeded to acrimoniously point out that by the end of the Infinity Saga, Team Cap had done pretty well overall, while nearly all of Team Iron Man had died. The whole thing was good for a few laughs, but it didn’t really prove any points.

However, it got us thinking, who did win Civil War? As one might guess, the question is a sticky, complicated one with points to be made on both sides. So we decided to take the entire Civil War scenario to task, breaking down the lead-up and fallout of the situation and then doing our best to analyze the aftermath in order to see who won the depressing affair. With that said, here’s our take on who really won Captain America: Civil War—and just as a minor spoiler, it doesn’t revolve around who’s currently alive and who isn’t.

The war was a long time a-brewin’

The first thing that needs to be taken into consideration is the fact that the barrel of gunpowder that is Captain America: Civil War didn’t just explode into violence on its own. It’s a deeply complex situation that developed over years of previous movies and storylines. While this includes many different factors and decisions by a ton of different characters, there are three specific events that can be closely tied to the third Captain America movie.

The first is the Battle of New York at the end of The Avengers. While it ends well for the good guys, the scenario was one of the first times a superhero event left a huge—and we mean huge—mess in its wake. The streets of the Big Apple were a smoldering pile of ruins by the time the last Chitauri soldiers were rounded up. The first scene in Spider-Man: Homecoming harkens back to the disaster, as it shows Adrian Toomes (aka Vulture) helping to clean up the mess.

From there, the stakes only get higher. Captain America: Winter Soldier ends with a majorly destructive battle involving three next-generation Helicarriers high in the skies above Washington D.C. After that, Avengers: Age of Ultron has a scene where Hulk and Iron Man recklessly smash through a city before ending with Ultron’s catastrophic destruction of Sokovia. In other words, there was a whole lot of smashing going on before the big airport battle.

The Avengers might need some accountability

With so many horrifying events in the rearview mirror, Captain America: Civil War opens with the straw that breaks the camel’s back. As the Avengers are stopping HYRDA agent Brock Rumlow (aka Crossbones) from stealing a chemical weapon in Nigeria, they inadvertently kill several relief workers from Wakanda, sparking a fresh wave of concern over the group’s uncontrolled actions.

Not long afterward, Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross arrives at the Avengers Headquarters with the bombshell news that due to the events in Africa, the United Nations has decided that the Avengers can no longer operate as a private entity. Instead, they must willingly put themselves under governmental oversight in order to make sure there’s some level of accountability for their actions. They’re given the choice to submit themselves to this new system by signing the “Sokovia Accords” or else resign. The most surprising thing about the entire scenario? Tony Stark is in favor of signing the Accords.

Tony Stark makes a dramatic switch

Tony Stark is often seen as the “brains” of the Avengers, as his organizational skills, logistics, technology, and money are the lifeblood that allows the team to continue functioning. However, for all of the logical, calculated thought that Stark puts into the group, the fact that he would be in favor of the Sokovia Accords is still a bit of a shocker. Anyone familiar with his character’s story arc up to that point knows that he’s hardly one to just fall in line when ordered to do so.

Early in Iron Man II, the man is shown flouting the government as he refuses to give them access to his Iron Man technology. This unwillingness to play with others is on display again in Age of Ultron when Stark pushes to create a “suit of armor around the world” without the consent of the team. That decision also directly (albeit accidentally) leads to the creation of Ultron and all of the resulting damage the automaton leaves in his wake.

However, over time, Tony’s decision-making abilities keep on leading to destructive events, and that begins gnawing at the billionaire’s mind. In the early moments of Civil War, this comes to a head when Stark is confronted by a woman who lost her son in Sokovia. The jarring scene forces him to come to grips with the consequences of his actions, ultimately pushing him to support the Sokovia Accords.

Steve Rogers is scarred from the past

If Tony Stark’s change of heart is understandable, the same thing can be said for Steve Rogers’ response to the Accords, as well. He’s naturally resistant to the idea of the Avengers being answerable to any higher authority, especially a government one. This doesn’t just come from free-spirited independence or a desire to be rebellious, though. It comes from that old saying “the burned hand teaches best.”

At the end of Winter Soldier, Rogers sees the all-mighty S.H.I.E.L.D. fall to pieces after it’s revealed the entire organization has been thoroughly infiltrated by HYDRA. The unsettling situation certainly leaves an impression on the hero, and when he finds himself suddenly being pressured to submit to the control of yet another, even larger government organization, it’s only natural that he would resist. After all, as Cap himself points out, agendas change, and if they submit, they lose the ability to make their own decisions or even choose what cause they’re willing to fight for. And Steve Rogers never wants to find himself accidentally working for a bunch of fascists ever again.

Heart versus mind

If Tony Stark is the brains of the Avengers, there’s little doubt who the heart is. Steve Rogers has always been the moral compass of the group. Usually, that’s been to their advantage, as he’s held them together, given them purpose, and helped them stay focused. However, in Civil War, Rogers’ unwavering commitment to “follow his heart” ends up being the two-edged sword that pushes the group apart. As Stark calculates that the best move is for the Avengers to willingly put themselves in check, Rogers struggles with the feeling that the Accords are the wrong choice.

As he waffles over the decision, he attends Peggy Carter’s funeral, where he’s reminded that one of Agent Carter’s mantras was to compromise where possible and where you can’t, then it’s “your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say, ‘No, you move.'” With that reminder ringing in his ears, he learns not long afterward that Scarlet Witch is already being detained in the Avengers compound, at which point he decides that the right thing to do is to officially take a stand against the Accords and the potential danger they threaten.

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