Movie: Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo
Inciting Event: Secretary of State Ross introduces the Sokovian Accords to the Avengers: which demands they submit themselves to U.N. leadership. The team is torn, with Cap resisting the idea, believing it will subject them to arbitrary agendas, and Tony pushing for submission, as much to assuage his own guilt over collateral damage as anything else.
Even though the opening sequence in Lagos sets up the issue here, this is the moment when the main conflict is actually introduced in a way that touches the main characters.
First Plot Point: The meeting of the U.N. in Vienna, to sign the Accords, is bombed (the Key Event), killing the King of Wakanda. Cap’s old pal Bucky is blamed. Cap refuses to let Bucky be killed and goes after him himself (the First Plot Point).
The conflict introduced in the Inciting Event was relatively theoretical. Now, it’s for real. Now, the characters have crossed a plane of no return, by making choices they cannot turn back from. Cap is irrevocably embroiled in the conflict.
First Pinch Point: The CIA’s extraction of Bucky goes wrong when Bucky runs and Cap and Sam (the Falcon) try to protect him. T’Challa, the new prince of Wakanda (and the Black Panther), pursues Bucky on his own account, holding him responsible for his father’s death. After a car crash, they are all arrested and taken into CIA custody.
There are many layers of conflict and antagonism in this story, all of which are emphasized in this segment. But the primary conflict is between Cap and those who wish to make him submit to their authority. The plot turns when the CIA arrests him and Sam, impounds his equipment, and locks Bucky up for interrogation.
Midpoint: After the psych evaluation officer sent to interrogate Bucky turns out to be an imposter, who shuts down the power in the CIA facility, and uses the Soviet code to access Bucky’s brainswashing and revert him to his Winter Soldier mindset—Bucky escapes. Cap stops him, saves him, and takes him to safety—where he and Sam learn from Bucky that his false interrogator—Baron Zemo—is in pursuit of the other Winter Soldiers, an “elite death squad” hibernating in Siberia.
This new information, along with Cap’s irrefutable new status as a fugitive, turns the plot. Cap goes from reacting to the threats posed by the Accords and begins formulating a plan and taking action to stop Zemo. He and Sam assemble a team (as does Tony).
Second Pinch Point: Tony and his team show up at the airport to stop Cap from going after Zemo. A battle ensues—Avengers against Avengers.
Third Plot Point: The pinch point battle ends with most of Cap’s team sacrificing themselves to allow Cap and Bucky to escape. Vision is distracted in trying to take out Sam and shoots Tony’s best friend Rhodes instead. Rhodes crashes his War Machine suit and is crippled.
The low point here belongs more to Tony than to Cap. Indeed, Tony essentially becomes the protagonist in the Third Act, in the sense that he’s the aggressor with the goals and the personal decisions to make. In general, this a structural decision that shouldn’t work; it’s acceptable here only because Tony is an established character within the overall series storyline, which means that even though this isn’t, strictly, his story, audiences are still able to accept him as the catalytic character in this section. (It’s also obvious why Tony has to be the aggressor in this section, since Cap, as the “good guy,” needed to remain defensive in his battle against a friend.)
Climax: Tony learns about the Winter Soldier squad and decides to help Cap stop them. But when he arrives in Siberia, they discover the squad has been executed and that Baron Zemo’s plan, all along, was to lure Cap and Tony to Siberia and pit them against each other. Zemo shows them a video of a brainwashed Bucky murdering Tony’s parents. Tony goes berserk, determined to kill Bucky, and Cap intervenes.
Climactic Moment: Cap destroys Tony’s suit, rendering him defenseless, but doesn’t kill him. He walks away with Bucky, leaving his shield when Tony insists it belongs to his father, Howard Stark, who made it.
Resolution: Back at the Avenger facility, Tony receives a letter with an explanation and an apology from Cap. Cap rescues the rest of his team from their imprisonment. T’Challa provides Bucky a safe haven, where he can cryosleep, until his brainwashing can be erased.
Notes: Other than the (arguably necessary) choice to move the catalytic force of the conflict from Steve to Tony in the Third Act, the structure here is perfect. It’s a lovely contrast to the messy structure in Age of Ultron, which is one of the chief reasons Civil War is so much better a movie experience.