11 Big Questions Left Unanswered By Captain America: Civil War

By  · Published on May 6th, 2016

A few things that simply don’t make sense.

Even if you don’t love Captain America: Civil War, it’s hard to deny it’s a mostly airtight movie, plot-wise. The Russo Brothers are very careful about plot holes. They recently claimed to work hard to specifically anticipate any jabs that could come from an Honest Trailers beatdown, and tweak accordingly. But the Civil War directors are only human, and they’ve let a few things slide.

Combine those oversights with some vague circumstances and a number of details to be revealed in the future and we’ve got ourselves another list of unanswered questions. Not nearly as many as we had for Batman v Superman, but we managed at least 11, to match the number of states that seceded during the US Civil War. We wanted to side with the Union, of course, but couldn’t come up with that many questions.

As usual, the following is full of SPOILERS. Don’t read further unless you’ve seen Civil War or don’t care.

How exactly is Sharon Carter related to Peggy Carter?

Starting off light, this is a question we’ve all had since Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) made her debut as Agent 13 in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. We learn in Civil War that she grew up knowing Captain America’s true love and S.H.I.E.L.D. co-founder Peggy Carter as “Aunt Peggy.” Given their generational difference, it’s presumable (yet not necessarily the case) that Agent Carter was her great-aunt, but through what lineage?

Peggy had a brother, Michael, who died in World War II, and we’ll just have to speculate that he had at least one kid beforehand, or he didn’t actually die then and had at least one kid later. Sharon is about 30, meaning her mother wouldn’t likely have been born before the war (though it’s not impossible). If Michael did live, he could technically be Sharon’s dad, fathering her in his 60s. It seems there are still more Agent Carter tales we need to see.

Here’s another related question for discussion: why is Cap falling for the niece or great-niece of his original true love? She’s basically family. Never mind that it’s in the comics. Or that it was common in olden days for men to marry their sister-in-law or some other close relative through marriage when their original love died. That kiss still feels a little weird. Inappropriate, even. And unnecessary. Especially so soon after Peggy’s death.

Why has Tony Stark pulled such an idealogical 180?

Remember the Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) of Iron Man, the first installment of the MCU franchise? He was asked to turn over his suit to the government, and he argued that doing so would be like committing to indentured servitude or prostitution. His whole thing was that he was a privatized man-weapon for the good of the world. He was even reluctant to join the Avengers Initiative because it was connected to the government.

Now Stark leads the side of heroes in favor of government registration and the regulation of the Avengers and enhanced individuals in general. How did he flip so hard? Well, it wasn’t exactly sudden, for those of you who may have skipped a few MCU movies here and there. He has been affected by the events of the whole run of the franchise to the point where he feels he needs to be held accountable and put in check.

The following video goes over the whole evolution of the character, addressing his major flaw in always thinking that he’s right:

So the real question is: why does he feel fit to lead others in support of his viewpoint? That is still his flaw, thinking his side is the right side. Also it’s more interesting to have him at the top of that side in opposition to a team led by Captain America, who similarly has 180-flipped since his intro into the MCU. He began as a full-on patriot boy-scout type fighting for the US of A. Then he saw his government corrupted and now he’s the rebellious one.

How did Stark know about Peter Parker?

When Stark shows up at the apartment of Peter and Aunt May Parker (Tom Holland and Marisa Tomei), the young former alter ego of Spider-Man is stunned, and we should be, too. Sure, Stark is one of the world’s greatest minds, but is he also the world’s greatest detective? Better than Batman? Better than another Downey franchise role, Sherlock Holmes? He has certain resources, sure, but to be the only guy to learn the identity of this new hero?

To the rest of the world’s credit, Stark may not be the only one who could figure this out but is probably the only one who was actively seeking the information. However, I would assume others in the government would have been interested, especially given the current heat surrounding enhanced individuals. Speaking of which, the movie could have at least made slight reference to the Netflix characters or the Inhumans of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Did Uncle Ben exist in this universe?

This is something we’ll find out eventually with the new Marvel and Sony collaborative effort Spider-Man movies. Maybe. Perhaps the desire to appease fans by not doing another Spidey origin is so strong that the back story will always remain as vague as it is in Civil War. If that was to be the case, the MCU wouldn’t even need an Uncle Ben, at least no more than is very slightly alluded to in Parker’s statement about responsibility.

Removing Uncle Ben entirely from this canon, however, would make it less strange that May seems so flirty around Stark, when her husband is less than six months dead. It’s not unrealistic that she’d be giddy around a handsome celebrity superhero playboy, because of his fame not because she’s interested in him. Still, we’re about to see a fairly unfamiliar Spidey universe on the big screen, and its new hot, younger May might also be a truly single lady.

When did Tony have time to make the new Spidey suit?

The easiest answer is that he’d already designed a fancy new suit for Spider-Man before he’d even met Parker in person. He probably knew the kid’s measurements, because he knows everything (except who killed his parents, of course). As this development plays in the movie, though, it feels awfully quick for how little time there actually is between when Stark meets Parker and when Spidey shows up in new digs at the Leipzig/Halle Airport.

I don’t want this list to be too filled with Spidey questions, but we ought to run through a few more related to his debut alongside the Avengers: Why would Stark bring a fairly inexperienced kid to such a dangerous battle? Did he make Parker sign the Sokovia Accords? He wouldn’t hypocritically bring along an unregistered super kid, would he? But wouldn’t he need May to co-sign? And spoil Parker’s identity to her and the government?

Why the hell would Hawkeye join Team Cap?

This has nothing to do with my criticisms with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) as a character, as lame as he is in the MCU (and I loved him in the comics growing up, even if mostly because I, too, am a Barton). This has to do with Clint retiring from the Avengers at the end of Age of Ultron to spend more time with his wife and kids, including a new baby boy, and then abandoning them to join Team Cap as an outlaw who winds up in the Raft prison.

“He’s the one who called,” Renner said during a post-screening panel on the decision to join Cap, “Retirement was quite boring.” What a good dad! At the same event, co-director Joe Russo added that Hawkeye had a debt to Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) because her brother died saving him. Fine, so go break her out of the Avengers headquarters then return home. Don’t go off and join a fight that’ll likely keep you from ever returning home.

How does Iron Man arrive in Siberia right after Cap and Winter Soldier?

Here’s another question about Stark’s super speed in this movie. And it’s much more unsettling than his time management with Spidey. So the battle at the airport ends with Cap and Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) heading off to Siberia in a jet. As they travel, Iron Man returns to America, watches the critically injured Rhodey (Don Cheadle) get an MRI, learns of Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), pays a visit to the floating prison in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, where Team Cap leftovers are already locked up, and then still manages to get to the Siberian bunker immediately after the other two.

Let’s even assume that he never was back in the US. The scene where he chats with Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) sure looks like it’s at the new Avengers HQ but it could also just be a hospital in Germany. And the Raft prison might not be too far off the European coast, though Stark does only take a helicopter to get there. Even if he then flies Iron Man style, which would be much faster than Cap’s jet, he still gets off to a pretty slow start. Maybe Stark secretly invented time travel so he can be everywhere at once.

Why did Zemo count on so many unpredictables for his scheme to work?

Zemo is being praised for being a simple villain with impeccable skill at pulling all the right strings to make the Avengers fight in a seemingly plausible manner. But his scheme is actually pretty weak when you look at how convoluted it is for something dependent on so many possible variables. And the weird thing is he doesn’t even cause the initial strife between the heroes, whom he later reveals he’s set on turning against each other.

Zemo does not influence what happens in Lagos, as far as we know, nor is he responsible for the Sokovia Accords, which come at a perfectly coincidental time for him, nor does he know the Avengers enough to know why it’ll break them apart, ideologically. He couldn’t be sure Winter Soldier wouldn’t be killed in Bucharest, which would leave him without his major chess piece. He couldn’t even be sure Iron Man would show up in Siberia.

He trusted in a lot of things happening for his idea of busting the Avengers from within to work out. Only the stuff with his impersonating the doctor was really precisely planned. But it’s unclear what all he knew ahead of time and whether he was resourcefully changing his plan as he went along depending on what occurred. He’s not even sure just how much his scheme is or isn’t working at the end when he decides to blow his brains out.

How does Cap know Winter Soldier killed Tony’s parents?

It’s an interesting reveal that Winter Soldier was the one who murdered Howard and Maria Stark (John Slattery and Hope Davis) but it was an even bigger deal that Cap confesses to knowing about it. But how did he know? Well, that’s not exactly certain, but the fans are going with the idea that he learned through the Arnim Zola computer exposition in The Winter Soldier. The one that hinted HYDRA was responsible for the Starks’ deaths.

Well, Winter Soldier is seen in some images cut into the montage with the Starks death news clippings – by the way, I’m still wondering, as I asked back when Winter Soldier was released, why the papers showed young Dominic Cooper version Howard rather than Slattery’s ‘60s through ‘90s look – but I don’t accept this was obviously a confirmation that Bucky was responsible. Maybe Cap just realizes here that he sort of learned it there.

Why can’t Stark just realize and accept that he’s being used?

He’s one of the smartest men on the planet, and he can’t understand that he’s being manipulated by a simple Sokovian terrorist bent on revenge. Well, he can understand it, but it doesn’t matter because Winter Soldier killed his parents and apparently now he’s more Batman than Batman (see his detective skills), and anything to do with his mother’s death in particular is a very sensitive matter. He must kill the guy who killed her.

Too bad neither Bucky nor Cap’s moms were also named Maria (Winifred and Sarah instead, respectively) – now that we think about it, maybe Stark likes Parker so much because his mom’s name was close enough: Mary.

But jokes aside, Stark ought to have gotten his anger out of his system quickly enough and come to the understanding that it wasn’t Bucky who killed his parents anymore than it was Hawkeye doing so much damage while under the influence in the first Avengers or anymore than he himself should be jailed, let alone executed, for the deaths of so many at the hands of Ultron, his AI creation in his own image that turned evil. Let it go, Stark!

What is that Spidey-Signal we see in the post-credits scene?

If you stayed long enough during the credits and didn’t attend one of the earlier pre-release screenings, you were treated to a bonus scene starring the new Spidey. He’s back from Germany and telling May that his black eye is from some guy named Steve from Brooklyn (true!). And as he’s fidgeting with his new suit, a projection of his mask suddenly lights up on his ceiling. That’s not something we’ve seen in the movies before. What the heck is it?

Obviously it’s something Stark included in the suit, which is probably bugged and tagged up the wahoo to keep tabs on the boy hero (I guess Parker didn’t need to sign the Accords if he’s easily tracked anyway). Specifically, it seems to be the Spider-Signal, a flashlight that is also used as a system for warning bad guys that Spidey is near. Another throwback to old-school Spider-Man, who had a similar version in the 1967 cartoon series.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.