Obviously this is a positive carnival of spoilers for Captain America: Civil War. Back off right now if you haven't seen the film yet.
Team Cap or Team Iron Man? Freedom or responsibility? Cool shields or cool robots? It’s all a matter of opinion of course, and Civil War does a decent job of presenting both sides of the argument. In truth, I’m personally more ‘Team You Both Have Valid Concerns So Let’s Not Do Anything Rash’. Though watching Civil War, I couldn’t help noticing that as the film progresses, Captain America’s increasingly belligerent refusal to play ball with the authorities does lead to a rather awkward snowballing of problems.
His standpoint certainly becomes easier to understand once his motivation switches from politics to a personal need to protect his best friend, but the more I think about it, the more Cap is the primary architect his own troubles. And those of everyone else. He might not kickstart the grief, but he certainly gets in the way of fixing it. A lot.
I get his initial reservations about signing up for UN oversight, of course. He’s been through a lot since the ‘40s. He’s put his trust in a great many figures of authority and supposed good-guy organisations, only to suffer a fair bit of fallout when things went wrong. He’s still reeling from the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. His idealistic naivety has taken a kicking. I understand the path he started down, but imagine if he hadn’t. Imagine if he’d taken a more measured, ‘try it and see’ approach and worked alongside Tony from the start as a globally-approved, UN-backed superhero. Imagine how Civil War would have worked out then. I have, and I can’t help feeling that it might have gone a bit like this.
Bucky would no longer be a fugitive
Here’s the thing: If Cap had sided with the authorities early on, and helped them recapture Bucky after he was reactivated by Zemo rather than busting him out and going on the run, everything would have turned out just fine. Bucky remains detained, safe and sound, while the mystery is thoroughly investigated (and probably solved even faster) by global security agencies – rather than, say, just Cap, a friend, and his moonlighting sort-of girlfriend. Tony still discovers that Bucky wasn’t responsible for the Vienna bombing – and probably double-quick on account of not having to waste a day hunting down Cap and crew in Germany, not that it takes him long as it is - and ol’ tin arm is officially exonerated by an organisation of 193 countries.
As for the rest of Bucky’s crimes? Cap could easily get a lot more people on the ‘Not his fault’ bus by playing nice. He’d naturally gain much more sympathy to the cause by the simple matter of not beating several hundred cops unconscious, but beyond that, it would be super-easy to clear things up if he just stop running. Consider Tony’s magic memory machine, which is conspicuously shown off at the beginning of the film and seems like it’s going to be a major plot MacGuffin right up until the point that it never comes back again. Okay, we’re told that it’s not strictly replaying Stark’s memories, but rather a modified version depicting what he wishes had happened - and the science behind it isn’t clear - but if it can access original memories to build those simulations, it might just be a great way of finding out what Bucky was actually responsible for. If, er, Tony and Cap were still speaking. Either way, by the end of the film a lot more information is available. If Cap had just sat tight, things might have rapidly improved for his bestie.
And besides that, this is the UN we’re talking about. Not the CIA. Not S.H.I.E.L.D. Not Hydra. Not Hitler or Loki. Its entire purpose is to promote global co-operation and uphold justice and human rights while avoiding conflict. Yes, Steve has personal reasons to be distrustful after the Hydra infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D., but there’s no evidence in the film that anything untoward is actually going on here.
And speaking of Bucky’s Hydra programming…
Bucky wouldn’t be in stasis, either
Yup, not only would Bucky’s legal situation be a hell of a lot more enjoyable, he’d actually be awake to enjoy it. At the end of the film – past the end, in fact, during the mid-credits sting – Bucky decides to freeze himself on the grounds that, although currently lucid, he can’t trust himself to remain that way. Fair enough. Very responsible. But you know who could probably help with that?
Psychological conditioning is an unpleasant and powerful thing. There’s no denying that after 70 years as a Hydra meat-puppet, Bucky’s mind is in a bad way. But the flipside of that time-scale is 70 years of progress in the field of psychological research since Bucky’s capture. Between the work done in mainstream healthcare, the military, and, hell, every walk of life from business to advertising to video game design, our understanding of the human mind has developed immensely since the early ‘40s. With the combined might and resources of the UN available, it’s inconceivable that the cure Bucky so sadly pines for at the end of the film wouldn’t be a quick phonecall away if Cap hadn’t alienated literally everyone else in the world.
Catching Zemo would have been a hell of a lot easier
Who’s going to be the most efficient mystery-solving, bad guy-catching force? A couple of super-powered fugitives, or a co-operative of almost every known super in the current Marvel Universe, backed by most of the world’s governments? Zemo would be fucked. In no time at all. He probably wouldn’t even make it back to the Siberian Hydra base to instigate the final part of his Machiavellian, team-splitting plan. Not that the team would be so easily split if they were all on the same side anyway.
In fact, political, military, and intelligence support aside, the simple fact that every cape would be working on the same side – rather than burning valuable investigation time having a punch-up in a German airport – would probably see things wrapped up by dinner. With everyone working together, and no-one out on injury - or arrested - after that plane-wrecking, building-caving scuffle, one human guy with a grudge would be going nowhere. As it is, it does takes a while before anyone in authority starts looking for Zemo rather than Bucky, but with the good guys united and working with shared information, that might have happened a fair bit faster. And staying on the matter of in-fighting for a moment…
Rhodey would still be able to walk
Yeah, He used to love doing that.
Walking was great.
Wanda would have the redemption she needs (rather than the opposite)
No-one feels the pain of Civil War’s early civilian deaths more than Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch. The disaster in Lagos - which comes about as she fails in an attempt to shift an in-progress explosion safely into the sky - kickstarts the whole plot of the movie, but personally it hits her hardest of all. Before long she’s broken down, wracked with guilt and doubt, and in dire need of reassurance.
The kind of reassurance, in fact, that global, signed-and-sealed approval might give. The kind of reassurance that comes with the knowledge that her future actions will be condoned by the world, and that a world-wide relief agency will be primed and ready to deal with any fallout before she even goes to work.
After Cap rejects all that though, and recruits her for his team, she half-cripples Vision and runs off to become a vilified fugitive. Hey, that could work too.
Jesus, Steve, it’s almost like you want House of M to happen.
Those other Winter Soldiers wouldn’t be dead
If Zemo was caught quicker, he wouldn’t have murdered them all in their sleep. And they could be rehabilitated like Bucky. Maybe eventually, after a few years' rehab, they could even be worthy of joining the side of good. Okay, it’s a long-shot, steered by a fair bit of rose-tinted thinking, but they’d certainly have a better chance of some kind of redemption if they were still alive.
Hawkeye’s kids would still have their dad around
‘Sorry kids, there’s a good chance daddy’s never coming home. One of his friends started a fight about something your father isn’t even involved in any more, and now he’s the subject of a world-wide manhunt. Look, I’ll take you out for pizza tonight, okay?’
Cap could still avenge properly
Civil War tries to soften its downer ending with an enigmatic letter from Steve. ‘No hard feelings about very nearly caving in your skull, Tony’, he says. ‘And I’m still here if the world needs me’. But what use is he right now? Good luck taking down those gun-toting mobs with magical trickshots when your only melee weapon is a Competition Pro Frisbee.
And as for armour repair, upgrades, transport and miscellaneous tech, well, he’s about to find out that life is a lot easier when Iron Man is bankrolling your hobbies. Surely it’s not going to take too long before T’Challa feels he’s paid off the debt incurred by nearly but not killing Bucky.
Better hope that here’s a huge, cosmic threat on the way to dwarf all of these disagreements and get the team back together. If only there were any hints that such a thing might be incoming…