Unlike the other MCU films, the overarching storyline in Captain America: Civil War wasn’t the Avengers finding a way to come together, but rather the Avengers being torn apart. Behind the scenes, the Sokovia Accords were being written, and Secretary Ross was getting ready to confront the Avengers, but for the disassembly of the Avengers to occur, it had to come from within. The two factions were led by Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. Steve needed no outside help to make his stand; it’s what he does. Likewise, Tony is prone towards sacrificing liberty in favor of security, but in prior films, he insisted on being the one in control of that security. Something had to push him over the edge to where he’d be willing to surrender that control to the government that he so routinely dismissed.
Enter Miriam, played by acting veteran Alfre Woodard.
Jump to 0:55 for the scene in question.
Miriam tells the story of her son, Charlie Spencer, who had the city of Novi Grad, Sokovia dropped on him during the events of Age of Ultron. She blamed the Avengers for his death and laid a huge guilt trip on Tony Stark in that scene.
One of my pet peeves about superhero movies is the after saving the world, the unappreciative human race vilifies the heroes because of the collateral damage that occurs, ignoring that, in some cases, without the heroes the entire human race would be killed. That’s certainly a theme in Civil War, and it’s annoying as hell, but in Civil War those arguments were no more than a means to advance a more reasonable position. The United Nations truthfully understood that what the Avengers were doing was right, and that the consequences of those actions were often not the Avengers’ fault. They simply wanted international oversight to minimize those consequences.
But logic isn’t always the best motivator. Even the most stoic among us are emotional creatures. You can’t blame the Avengers for feeling bad about what happened. If a criminal held a gun to a loved-one’s head, and you felt you had to kill the criminal in order to save that person’s life, the world wouldn’t blame you, but you might still find it difficult to deal with having killed another human being. Maybe you could have disarmed the criminal, and if so overpowered him. Tony was facing the same emotional dilemma, and to make matters worse was the creator of the threat, Ultron. Even more, maybe Tony could have zigged when he zagged and saved some more lives.
Miriam appealed to that emotion, and in less than 2 minutes of screen time, set in motion the civil war between the Avengers.
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