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We don’t need Marvel’s “Civil War.”

October 15, 2014

Not yet, anyway.  I say this because news recently broke that Robert Downey Jr. would be reprising his role as Tony Stark in “Captain America 3,” which would serve as the start of the “Civil War” arc in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It’s not quite a done deal, as the report says that he’s on the verge of signing.  Given the hurdles that have been surmounted to get to this point -- the cost of getting Downey Jr. to reprise his role, notorious skinflint and Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter’s initial rejection of such cost -- I’d be extremely surprised if things fell apart at this point.  Then again, I’d also be kind of glad as this isn’t the kind of story that needs to be immortalized in film at this point in Marvel’s cinematic offerings.

In case you’re not familiar with the original story, “Civil War” split the heroes of the Marvel Universe into two warring factions over the Superhero Registration Act.  This piece of legislation called for superpowered individuals to reveal their real names and abilities to the government to help regulate, reduce, and otherwise limit violence related to their actions.  Tony Stark thinks this is a great idea, while Steve Rogers views it as a threat to people’s civil rights.  The schism in their beliefs leads to the rest of the heroes choosing to fall in behind either Iron Man or Captain America as things escalate in violence and drama.

It was written by Mark Millar and illustrated by Steve McNiven and was a huge commercial success when it hit the stands way back in 2006.  The series also set up a number of plot threads -- Spider-Man’s unmasking, “Clone Thor,” “Iron Man:  Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “The Death of Captain America” -- and other stories that played out over the course of several years.  While there’s no denying its impact, the actual story was as on-the-nose as you’d expect from Millar with the added bonus of having a whole lot of characters act way out of character to fit the story he was telling.  McNiven made it look fantastic, but if you’re looking to experience the story in a way that’s actually fun I’d recommend Christopher Bird’s re-scripting of the issues that can be found here.

Essentially “Civil War” was a series that rearranged the status quo of the Marvel Universe for several years using one of the conventions of the superhero genre, secret identities, as a focus point for this act.  It’s a story that works in the confines of a shared superhero universe where the relationships that are being torn apart here have been built up for years and the whole “secret identity” thing still means something.  Does this sound like the kind of story that will play out as effectively for a series of movies that dates all the way back to 2008?  Not to my mind it doesn’t.

It wasn’t until “The Avengers” that we had Iron Man, Cap, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye in a movie together and a good portion of it was spent on seeing how they came together to actually function as a team.  We’ll undoubtedly see that kind of unity tested in the sequel “Age of Ultron,” but if “Cap 3” is really the kickoff to the “Civil War” storyline we’ll likely see the hero-vs-hero fighting play out to its fullest extent in “Avengers 3.”  This is all a few years off -- 2017 at the earliest -- but the idea of tearing down relationships between characters that haven’t had a chance to fully develop doesn’t strike me as a very smart move.  You need to show us how Cap and Iron Man became really good friends in spite of their differences before pitting them and their beliefs against each other can really hold any weight.

Besides, it’s not like the story needs to be told right this very moment.  The idea that “Civil War” will be the basis for these upcoming films comes at a time when “The Avengers,” “Thor:  The Dark World,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” have been setting us up for a big-screen version of “The Infinity Gauntlet.”  With Thanos being talked about as an “end boss” kind of villain, I was under the impression that all of the long-term plotting around the Infinity Gems would climax in a throwdown with the mad titan in “Avengers 3.”  You’d have all the plot threads from the other films wrapped up with the freedom to go and tell a new story from there.  Having everyone bond in an epic cosmic struggle would also prime their relationships to be torn asunder by something like “Civil War.”  I’m not saying that’s something I necessarily want to see, yet it’ll at least make more dramatic sense than trying to do this story with the characters as they are now.

They would have to rejigger the whole registration angle for the film as well.  That’s because there really aren’t any superheroes with secret identities in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it is now.  Tony Star’s “I am Iron Man” admission at the end of the first movie pretty much put paid to that specific convention.  I don’t think it’s that great of a loss, and they’ll probably just focus the story more on the regulation aspect of the act while playing up the whole infringement of civil rights angle as well.  That kind of stuff can still fit pretty well within the context of the films, thanks to “Captain America:  The Winter Soldier” paving the way for it.

Of course, there is the fact that the common wisdom is that right now Marvel can’t fail.  They’ve taken bigger risks in the past with the original “Iron Man” and, more recently, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and come out stronger than before.  If they want to do “Civil War” then their brain trust has likely already considered and/or agonized over all of the issues that I’m bringing up here.  I want to say that their track record defeats my skepticism, but I can’t quite bring myself to do it.  I’ll go see the films when they come out to witness how they’ve addressed my issues.  Getting excited about them right now is not in the cards for me.

However, I can at least take heart in the fact that regardless of who they get to write these films, their dialogue likely won’t be as groan-worthy as the majority of Millar’s was in the original series.  The writer has set a very low bar for the screenwriters to clear here.

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