Captain America: Civil War is fast approaching and if it’s anything like Avengers: Age of Ultron, it will have almost nothing to do with the comic from which it borrows its title. We’ve all seen the movies, but if you haven’t read the comics, here’s the story in a nutshell.
While filming a superhero reality television show, a minor group of young superheroes called the New Warriors corner the villain Nitro outside of a school in Stamford, Connecticut. Nitro is a C-list nobody, but he has the ability to create massive explosions from his body–which he promptly does–destroying the school along with over 600 people and most of the New Warriors. In the classic reactionary manner, the government drafts the Superhuman Registration Act (read: Patriot Act), which, among other things, would force all powered individuals and costumed vigilantes to register their secret identities with S.H.I.E.L.D. in exchange for proper training and a government paycheck. “Surrender your liberties and we will provide for you”—this kind of reasoning has never ended in tragedy. Tony Stark, knowing that this could go very poorly for the superhero community, but seeing this step as an inevitability, decides to become part of the registration process in order to manipulate the best possible outcome for both sides. And while Stark joins them, Steve Rogers decides to beat them. He sees the law as flat out un-American fascism and, along with a large group of like-minded supporters, takes a stand against the Superhuman Registration Act. While both parties have valid points, this political struggle quickly becomes a contest of phallic longitude that escalates into destroyed friendships and lost lives when Cap’s people are hunted down like dogs by Stark’s soldiers for refusing to register.
So far, I’ve heard no mention of a Registration Act in the movie, which is understandable given that there are so few super-powered individuals in the cinematic universe and the most powerful ones are already members of the government sanctioned Avengers. S.H.I.E.L.D., which goes after the renegade heroes in the comics, doesn’t really exist as a worldwide power after Hydra’s infiltration in Winter Soldier. The version of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the television show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a shadow of the former organization and wouldn’t have the resources to enforce any kind of effective superhero hunting operation. That show has, however, been exploring Terrigen Mist, which mutates a certain subspecies of humans into powered Inhumans. This could potentially increase the superhuman community exponentially, causing a need for registration, although they have kept the TV plot very compartmentalized. The movies affect the show, but not the other way around. From the information we have about the movie, it seems as though they’re using Bucky as a catalyst for the rift between heroes, but they also mention the massive destruction from the previous movies. This theme parallels not only the comic, but also Batman v Superman in the superhuman accountability department. After fan outcry over the massive destruction in Metropolis during Man of Steel, it would be difficult to ignore the total obliteration of an entire city in Age of Ultron, although they made a huge gesture of telling us that there were no people in Sokovia at the time of its annihilation at the hands of Ultron.
Another key aspect of the comic is the vilification of Tony Stark. The theme of trading freedom for security is a very poignant and divisive issue in America. The story tries to make both sides sympathetic in the beginning, but Stark very quickly escalates the situation from an ideological disagreement into an ends-justify-the-means, anything-goes, all-out war of attrition. Captain America is not without fault, but there is a very clear line in the sand and while Cap may flirt with it, Stark straight up “Cosby’s” it. By the end, Cap is disappointed in himself for allowing things to escalate to such a degree, while Stark is extorting villains into fighting for him with explosive microchips in their skulls, imprisoning his friends in the Negative Zone, indefinitely, without trial or due process, and creating a cyborg murder-clone of Thor who fires a lightening hole through Black Goliath’s chest. Stark is much more concerned about winning than doing what’s right, and that means a LOT of collateral damage. I can’t see the movie going too far down this road with their poster-boy, Robert Downey Jr. The one thing I would bet my long box on is that, parallel to the comic, there will be a major death in the aftermath of this movie, although I doubt it will be the same death as it was in the comic. Previously, Downey had expressed a desire to ween himself away from the Iron Man role, but with the latest news that he will be making an appearance in the Spider-Man stand-alone movie, I doubt Marvel would want to assassinate his character–figuratively or literally.
For those who are interested in the motivation behind the sides chosen, here’s a breakdown of the cast of Avengers we have from previous movies and what part they play in the comic book Civil War.
Iron Man – The face of the Superhuman Registration Act. Directs S.H.I.E.L.D. efforts to hunt down and incarcerate those who choose to resist registration.
Captain America – The leader of the resistance. Trains a group of underground superheroes to fight against the totalitarian actions of S.H.I.E.L.D. Forms the Secret Avengers.
Thor – Presumed dead, following one of several Ragnarok events. Plays no part in Civil War.
Hulk – Fired into space for destroying Las Vegas. He is participating in Planet Hulk at this time.
Hawkeye – Dead, following the events of Avengers: Disassembled.
Black Widow – Pro-Registration. Works as a high ranking member of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Falcon – Loyal to Captain America and the resistance.
Winter Soldier – Anti-Registration, but doesn’t play a major role.
War Machine – Remains a military operative, fighting for Stark.
Vision – With the Young Avengers at the time, who are allied with Cap.
Scarlet Witch – In hiding following House of M, during which she depowered most of the planet’s mutant population. She plays no role in Civil War.
Quicksilver – Accompanying his sister in her seclusion.
Ant-Man – Hank Pym is a prominent leader of Pro-Registration efforts with Stark. Scott Lang is dead due to Avengers: Disassembled.
Wasp – Janet van Dyne is with Hank Pym on the Pro-Registration side. Hope van Dyne from the movie Ant-Man does not exist in the main Marvel Universe.
Daredevil – Appears to be with Cap, but is later revealed to have had nothing to do with Civil War.
Elektra – Plays no part in Civil War. She is the leader of The Hand at this point.
Jessica Jones – Doesn’t fight but remains loyal to Luke Cage and supports Cap ideologically.
Luke Cage – Compares the registration act to slavery. One of the most vocal against Stark.
Black Panther – Remains neutral for most of the war, but joins Cap toward the end.
Doctor Strange – He meditates and fasts for the duration, but supports any outcome that saves lives.
Carol Danvers – The future Captain Marvel. She’s military and supports Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D.
Iron Fist – Fights on Captain America’s side posing as Daredevil for the entirety of the war.
Spider-Man – One of the most important figures in Civil War. Starts out with Stark, even revealing his identity on national television to show his support. Peter switches sides when he finds out about Stark’s questionable methods. The revelation of Parker’s identity ultimately results in the shooting of Aunt May by one of Kingpin’s assassins.
And of course there are many other players in Civil War that can’t be a part of the movie due to 20th Century Fox’s ownership of a large chunk of characters from the Marvel Universe…
Fantastic Four – Reed Richards is an integral player on Stark’s side. He constructs “Project 42,” a prison in the Negative Zone to hold super-powered dissenters of the registration act. This results in Sue leaving him and her and Johnny joining Cap’s forces. Ben fights with Reed at first, then becomes neutral, moving to Paris, France.
X-Men – Following House of M, there are only 198 mutants left. Most of them have gathered at the X-Men’s grounds to regroup and decide how to move forward. Cyclops has declared the X-Men officially neutral, citing the superhuman community’s non-involvement during the Mutant Registration Act only a few years earlier. This serves only to fuel the fire of hatred and fear from the American people. Wolverine, Cable, and a few others side with Cap. Deadpool fights on Stark’s side for the paycheck.
Now, obviously we can look at the IMDb page and find out who is in this film and we can get a good idea of the sides chosen by watching the trailers. They’ve taken some liberties from the source material, which was inevitable, but there are moments in the trailer directly from the comics and, so far, the reviews have been mostly positive. Marvel also has a second Civil War crossover event hitting the comic stands this summer, so it’s possible that the movie will take some plot points from future books. If you’re excited about Civil War, go find the trade paperback by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven. It’s a quick read—only seven issues—and you can find it on Amazon or digitally for pretty cheap. I have high hopes for this movie after the disappointment of Batman v Superman, but as long as they don’t mess up Spider-Man or Black Panther, I’m on board for the ride. Luckily, we don’t have long to wait!