So, Civil War is coming. Maybe. Today Variety reported that Robert Downey Jr. is in talks to play Tony Stark in Captain America 3, which could kick-start a version of the Mark Millar/Steve McNiven superhero-vs-superhero arc that tore the Marvel universe a new one. But what does this mean for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, if true? Here, we address some possibilities, raise some questions and try to throw a few educated guesses at some others…
Be warned: potential MCU spoilers, definite comic-book spoilers and wild speculation abound. So tread lightly.
What is Civil War?
It was a sprawling crossover event that ran from 2006-2007. The storyline took in virtually every comic book in the Marvel canon, spreading across over 70 individual comics, but was centred around the monthly mini-series by Millar and McNiven. The plot, which revolved around the introduction of a Superhuman Registration Act and the restriction on costumed liberties that came with it, essentially divided the Marvel universe into two. On one side, Tony Stark, the poster child for registration and restriction. On the other, Steve Rogers, who believes that superheroes should be allowed to live their lives in the same way as everyone else. In the middle, virtually every major and minor Marvel hero and villain, with the likes of Spider-Man becoming a key player in the conflict. Much property is damaged, many relationships are destroyed, and there are major repercussions for the Marvel universe.
What will the movie be?
Well, one thing it won’t be is a straight-up adaptation of the comic book. Not even Marvel and Disney have enough money to make that happen, and Marvel have really shied away from direct adaptation of comic book arcs thus far. Nor will they have Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four or the X-Men - all of whom take key roles in the events of the comic arc.
Much of the Civil War run was based around superheroes refusing to give up their secret identities, and that’s something that won’t really work in the MCU. All the Avengers are ‘out’, so to speak. Only Ant-Man’s Scott Lang has a secret identity, per se, but chances are he won’t feature in Captain America 3, having just been introduced in his own movie.
What it will boil down to is Steve v Tony, Rogers v Stark, the increasingly jaded but always-principled icon of justice vs the poster child of capitalism and his newly-grown conscience. They went at it for a bit in The Avengers, and would seem to be perfect opponents: ideological opposites, of course, while both represent the pinnacle of humanity in different ways. Stark has his tech and his big brain, of course, while Rogers has the heart and the never-say-die spirit. Together, they'd make quite the GQ cover star.
Instead, even if this winds up being called Captain America: Civil War, it could well be the first salvo in a multi-movie arc that will see the real civil war play out. This is just the opening battle, as suggested by Variety’s report that Robert Downey Jr. was initially penciled in for a mere three-week stint as Tony Stark on the movie. Apparently, he balked at that, and is now a fledgling co-lead in the movie. But Civil War is such a huge, complex event that it’s going to be hard to instigate it and wrap it up in one movie. Speaking of which…
Where will this come from?
Well, we don’t want to go into heavy spoilers for Avengers: Age Of Ultron, but let’s assume the events of that movie are so huge, so destructive and so impactful that it’ll have serious repercussions for the MCU. In the comics, Tony Stark is a more serious and intense figure, and so was a natural fit to be the figurehead of the SRA movement. In the movies, Downey’s Stark has had his dark moments, but the character has always been devil-may-care and anti-authoritarian, so it would have to take a momentous event for his personality and attitude to change. A genocidal robot that Stark (accidentally) created causing death and destruction on a global scale should just about do it…
With strong rumours suggesting that a new Avengers team, led by Steve Rogers, will be formed in Age Of Ultron, that sets up the scene nicely for confrontation.
Can Tony Stark work as a bad guy?
Mark Millar tried to write Civil War as a blank slate, giving Rogers and Stark equal weight for their motives. But it’s fairly clear that Stark is the quote-unquote villain in that series, making major decisions/mistakes that eat away at his conscience. It also seems clear that he’ll be an antagonistic force in Captain America 3. We don’t expect Tony Stark to suddenly start twirling that beautifully sculpted goatee, and we imagine he’ll be conflicted as he hunts down his old teammates, but flipping Stark into a position where audiences will actively root against him is a genius move. After all, the guy’s a bit of a dick.
The news that Downey, whose current deal with Marvel extends to Avengers 2 and one more Avengers film, is reupping to play Tony Stark again comes just days after The Judge opened to a disappointing $13 million at the US box office. It may seem at first glance that the actor, stung by relative failure, is retreating to the safety of a guaranteed payday, but there are two things to consider here. One, negotiations for Downey to join Cap 3 have been going on for some time (and, according to Variety, became quite fraught at one point). Two, there hasn’t been an official announcement from Marvel yet. They likely aren’t going to confirm anything until everything is signed, sealed and delivered, which probably would have been way after The Judge finished its run in cinemas.
But the fact that negotiations with Downey have been going on for some time is interesting. Some people have been speculating that the addition of Iron Man to Captain America 3 is a relatively late-in-the-day development, but that’s not Marvel’s style. Kevin Feige is not averse to rolling with the punches, but it’s also well-known that he takes a very long-term view of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A development like this will have been in the works for some time, certainly since before Age Of Ultron even began filming.
In fact, Marvel’s confidence over planting a flag on the March 6, 2016 release date could stem from knowing that Captain America 3 would have Iron Man in it. Not only did the studio refuse to blink when Warner Bros. also chose that date to debut Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice; they won the staring contest, with Zack Snyder’s movie pushing back by a couple of weeks. A few years ago, the idea of a movie combining two of the most iconic superheroes of all time for the first time on the big screen giving way to a movie featuring Iron Man and Captain America would have been laughable. But there’s a good chance that Avengers: Age Of Ultron could become only the second film to break the $2 billion barrier at the box office in its first run. By that point, the appetite (or, if you will, Cappetite) for more Stark/Rogers should be huge.
Is Cap 3 even Cap 3 anymore?
Devin Faraci over at Badass Digest thinks it will be, and will be subtitled either Civil War or Fallen Son. He also thinks it’ll be a team movie, pitting Iron Man against Cap and his new Avengers. But with Downey fully on board now, however, Stark and Iron Man will be front and centre in all the marketing. Will a name change be in the offing as well? It would seem unusual for Marvel not to plump for a title with Iron Man somewhere in it. Maybe it will be in a really small font.
What does this mean for the MCU going forward?
It means, as has been hinted by the likes of Faraci, that the MCU isn’t necessarily going where we think it’s going. The assumption was, with Phase 1 leading to The Avengers and Phase 2 building up to Age Of Ultron, that Phase 3 would culminate in the third Avengers movie, probably in May 2018, featuring the usual gang punching and kicking Josh Brolin’s Thanos right in his purple kisser. That movie, in turn, would be the swansong for Evans as Steve Rogers and Chris Hemsworth as Thor, assuming they don’t renew their six-film contracts with the studio.
Not so fast, Assumption Man!
We still expect The Avengers to go up against Thanos, most likely with the assistance of the Guardians Of The Galaxy, but not right away. It now seems that Avengers 3 will feature a new team, with none of the Big Four (Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Hawkeye Captain America) present. Those four could bide their time for inclusion in another movie – perhaps Avengers 4, perhaps something else – down the line in 2018 or 2019.
This Rafa Benitez-like squad rotation will give Marvel some time to bed in their new signings, including the likes of Ant-Man (due July 2015), Doctor Strange (due July 2016) and possibly Black Panther and Ms Marvel, to get them up to the level of the original Thor and Captain America movies, while the Guardians of the Galaxy will get another chance to step up in July 2017.
Story-wise, it makes sense too. As we said, Marvel and Kevin Feige are playing the long game here. It may need the events of Avengers 3 to trigger a rapprochement between Rogers and Stark. This is a schism that won’t be patched up neatly in just one brief coda at the end of a film. And we’re just speculating here, but imagine if Avengers 3 sees Thanos show up on Earth to face a second-string team. Something that one-sided would be big enough to bury the hatchet between Captain America and Iron Man…
That’s if Captain America is still alive by that point
OK, cards on the table time. If you’ve read Civil War, you’ll know that its big shock comes at the end as Captain America, now in custody, is assassinated by a sniper. Of course, this being a comic, he turns out not to be dead, but he is no longer Captain America, with that mantle passing to Bucky Barnes and, more recently, to Sam Wilson aka The Falcon (admittedly, Rogers reclaimed it inbetween those two). It’s long been presumed that something similar will happen in the MCU, but as shown by this development, Marvel like to swerve left when everyone expects them to go right. Certainly, Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie are being groomed for bigger things within the MCU, but have they made enough of an impression with audiences in their brief screen time to take on Rogers / Evans’ shield? Perhaps the shock will be that Cap survives this Civil War; maybe it will be Stark who takes a bullet instead. Or maybe they all become friends again, and Avengers 4 is one big long super-pool party at Tony's pad.