The Marvel Cinematic Universe is… a lot. There are already 23 feature films in the franchise, and now they’re adding Disney+ original series into the canon. The universe is so sprawling that even huge movies, the biggest movies you’d ever seen at that point in time, get lost in the shuffle! Even just saying “biggest Marvel movie” probably makes you think of Avengers: Endgame, forgetting that Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Age of Ultron were also huge movies. Even 2012’s Avengers was a massive movie moment—and it only had six superheroes in it. Wow, six—how quaint!
That’s why it’s weird that—which was, without a doubt, the most sprawling superhero movie ever at that point in 2016—has been kinda overshadowed. That’s how much Marvel has going on! We forget a movie that has a dozen superheroes in it because the movies after it doubled (or tripled) that number!
But looking at the state of the MCU today, it’s clear that Captain America: Civil War has stealthily become the most important movie in the entire franchise since the first Avengers film.
What do I mean by “important”? After all, the whole point of the MCU is the interconnectivity. Pieces of all of these movies all snap together to form new movies and shows. Take a bit from Ant-Man and the Wasp and Thor: The Dark World and add Captain Marvel with a dash of Avengers: Endgame and suddenly you have the B-story in, of all places. And of course all the Disney+ shows owe a lot to Avengers: Endgame, the movie that set up the entire status quo the shows exist in. But I think that, minute by minute, character by character, Captain America: Civil War has become the most important Marvel movie because it’s become the answer to the question, “Which movie do I need to see before I watch [insert new movie or show here]?”
On the feature film front, Civil War accomplished two absolutely massive feats that expanded Marvel well beyond its core cast of characters: this one movie introduced Black Panther and Spider-Man. They’re the two breakout Marvel characters to be introduced post-2012. Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, and Captain Marvel have all been successful (the latter film grossed over a billion dollars), but none of them are as popular as the king of Wakanda and that kid from Queens. And Black Panther is Marvel Studios’ only Oscar-winning film to date! Civil War’s reach on the feature film side of Marvel is still expanding today. For instance, Black Widow—a film that’s coming out sometime soon, hopefully—is set after the events of Civil War.
And then there’s the TV side of things, which is really where Civil War’s presence is felt. Wanda Maximoff and Vision may have made their Marvel debuts in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but Civil War is where their relationship really solidified. And now, thanks to WandaVision’s soulful flashback to their time in the Avengers compound, all of those domestic scenes in Civil War carry new weight—as does Vision’s betrayal of Wanda’s trust on behalf of Tony Stark.
The connection between Civil War andis even stronger. There’s the obvious: Civil War is where Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes went from enemies to frenemies, with a few quick scenes that really solidified their odd couple dynamic. Civil War is also the last time we saw Sharon Carter onscreen. And beyond that, Civil War , and he’s making a comeback in Falcon and Winter Soldier.
Of the 10 Marvel movies that have come out since Captain America: Civil War, you don’t see the current lineup of Marvel shows pulling as much from Doctor Strange or Thor: Ragnarok or even Avengers: Infinity War. Bits and pieces, no doubt, but Civil War has become a one-stop shop for all things Marvel in 2021. Maybe that’s the byproduct of Civil War being the first of the Marvel movies to feature a cast of that size. Just by numbers alone, odds are new Marvel stuff is gonna pull from the first movie that had, like, everyone in it. But what I think is the most interesting is how the Marvel content of 2021 is reshaping how we look back at character interactions in Civil War. We now know more about Wanda’s grief, Vision’s humanity, Bucky’s trauma, and Sam’s character. This forward-thinking and retroactive character growth is part of the fun of the MCU—so, y’know, maybe it’s time to rewatch this little superhero movie.