In Captain America: Civil War, Zemo's overall plan is to

make Captain and Stark fight over Bucky.

There are a lot of conflicts and a lot of seemingly random events that easily could have derailed it along the way. I am trying to figure out if Zemo was a clockwork mastermind who calculated how every single event would transpire from the start, or a manager who was prepared to steer them, whoever won each individual conflict.

This is a question about how the character operates more than looking for holes in his plan. I, therefore, would accept an explanation based on his personality in other media if pertinent.

  • 3
    He had the might of the plot on his side... Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 18:40
  • This is my problem with most big-budget action / comic book / sci-fi films these days. The films are full of intricate plans by villains that rely in a crucial way on chance. Take Lex Luthor's plan to get Batman and Superman to hate each other and fight. It seemed that Batman might have had enough of his own reasons to fight Superman, and the film would have been better without most of the Lex parts of the plot. Zemo's plan is similarly contingent upon chance.
    – Praxis
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 19:00
  • Relevant - youtu.be/BZ3VQkK6Upo?t=2m50s
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 19:07
  • 6
    I think the main point is that there was a lot of flexibility built in. For example, he probably had no idea that the whole Avengers civil war would happen, nor was it necessary to his plan. He only cared about Cap, Bucky, and Iron Man. As long he could frame Bucky for something, and put Cap in a position where he needed to defend him, he was good to go. Similarly, being able to lure Cap, Iron Man and Bucky to the base was convenient, but Iron Man hadn’t come, he might just have emailed him the video.
    – Adamant
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 22:05
  • 5
    Even the Sokovia Accords were quite unnecessary (though he could probably have anticipated them from the political climate following Sokovia). All he needed was any large and important event against which he could perpetrate an act of terrorism and blame it on Bucky. The Sokovia Accords were a great opportunity, and one that he might have seen coming, but they weren’t necessary.
    – Adamant
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 22:09

2 Answers 2


Helmut Zemo offers some interesting comments about his own modus operandi during the movie.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: You killed innocent people in Vienna just to bring us here?

ZEMO: I've thought about nothing else for over a year. I studied you, followed you, and now that you are standing here, I just realized that there is a bit of green in the blue of your eyes. How nice to find a flaw.

Zemo has devoted an enormous amount of time and research to constructing a viable plan to revenge himself on the Avengers. He maximised his understanding of his quarries, so that he could predit their actions and manipulate them with a degree of surety.

ZEMO: Most of it was encrypted. Not easy to decipher. But I have experience and patience. A man can do anything if he has those.

Zemo's attitude is that given sufficient time and application, he can achieve even quite outlandish goals. His patience and application are his greatest weapons.

To take a real world example, while one might thwart casual criminals with security devices, someone who is absolutely determined to break into your house will almost inevitably succeed in the end.

In summary, Zemo's greatest weapons are patience and application/persistence. He relies on his analytical skills to manipulate others, steering events through preparation and understanding - a 'softer' skillset than the 'clockwork genius' that you posit. Zemo steers events, but does not control them.

  • 1
    To be clear, clockwork genius is a term that means "I know that if I do A, target B will do C causing X". He knows every move in the chain reaction before it starts. It sounded like that was what you were describing until the very end. The managing mastermind, in contrast, is prepared so: "he does A, target B can do C, D, or E. He has countermeasures C', D', and E' prepared so no matter what B does he eventually ends up at X." These are very different kinds of villans. (The managing one is sometimes described like he is playing chess.)
    – kaine
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 20:19

I would say he was well prepared but even more determined. Helmut Zemo is described as being "obsessed with defeating and destroying the Avengers". He is a member of a death squad of the Sokovian Armed Forces. He "became consumed with so much anger and hatred that he became a vengeful psychopath".

Zemo intended to kill himself after avenging his family, as he had little else to live for, and only T'Challa's timely intervention stopped him from shooting himself.

Although he did not instigate all that happened he was determined to get his revenge and he would stop at nothing to do so. Once he had finished his task he didn't care for anything. No matter what events happened in his favour or not he was going to see his task finished.

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