The line in the sand is drawn early between the two most dynamic characters in the MCU, namely Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. The two have always made for fantastic foils to each other, and pitting them against each other for the soul of The Avengers was only natural and perhaps necessary. Stark continues to be the most interesting character in the MCU, remaining the pragmatic harbinger in a much more direct sense than he secretly was in Age of Ultron. Meanwhile, Rogers is still the prototypical hero, more concerned with what’s right above all else. Unlike many other super hero movies, there’s no side taken by the movie itself. The evidence is presented, and it’s ultimately up to the audience to decide how they feel. Even though this is Cap’s movie, it’s hard to call him the protagonist and Stark the antagonist. Not too surprisingly, the remaining Avengers are stuck in the same boat as the audience, unsure of how they should handle the sanctions levied on them. Battle lines are ultimately drawn by personal loyalties moreso than ideals, tactics used liberally by both Stark and Rogers to fill out their respective lineup cards. Natasha winds up being the closest thing we see to an audience voice here, taking a realistic view of the world and proving to be the most heroic Avenger of the whole group.
Despite the high-minded goals of our two main characters, the running theme throughout Civil War is the premium humans place on personal vengeance over the greater good. Several characters are out for #1 here, some in a very overt manner (Black Panther, who is a welcome MCU addition). However, in the end, we all revert to our basest emotional responses. This is best represented in the main villain of the movie, Zemo. Zemo deserves a spot in the pantheon of great villains, understanding his own limitations and those of his enemies. Not to spoil anything, but his payoff is one of the best in recent memory.
While I think it’s fair to say that Civil War reaches a logical and fair endpoint, it is tough to call it “conclusive.” This was major table setting, putting The Avengers in a place they’ve never been before at the end of their journey. The MCU is starting to travel a path similar to, of all things, Harry Potter, now being more concerned with the endpoint now more than ever. I’m very curious to see how MCU Phase III plays out, and Civil War will be judged best once we see it play out.