The Internet hasn’t entirely exploded yet, but it might. The plans for Marvel’s much anticipated ‘Phase 3’ of cinematic universe adventures is beginning to take shape and it all seems to revolve around the competitive side of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. With the news that Robert Downey Jr. is in talks to take a much larger role in Captain America 3, it’s a confirmation that Marvel may unleash a version of its “Civil War” series, based on a 2006 run by Mark Millar. It’s a development that should have the most hardcore fans very excited. For everyone else, let’s explore for a moment how cool this might be.
What is Civil War?
The comic series Civil War is based around an event similar to the Mutant Registration Act line from the first X-Men trilogy. After a pair of low level heroes decimate a small town, intense pressure builds for the government to gain some sort of control over the superheroes of the world. The Superhero Registration Act is born, giving the government the ability to register, track and regulate superhumans, those with access to magic and those with very advanced tech in a way similar to the way it regulates police forces.
The push ultimately pits factions of heroes against each other, with Tony Stark leading the pro side in an attempt to head off more serious legislation and under the idea that giving heroes some training and structure might not be a bad thing. On the other side landed Captain America, advocating for personal privacy and the protection of a superhero’s normal life (and loved ones). From there, things get well out of hand in a battle that pits many a hero against another.
The details of the Civil War comics aren’t quite as important in this case, as they will likely not end up being directly adapted to the big screen. As Marvel is doing with Avengers: Age of Ultron, the big ideas are what matter. Age of Ultron, as Joss Whedon and a number of insiders have pointed out, is not a direct adaptation of the comic series so much as a basic idea lifted with an interesting character. When the movie finally hits theaters, the similarities will likely stop with Ultron, Vision and a few winks and nods. Will this make the movie any less interesting? In Whedon we trust, so no.
The same could be said for the Russo brothers, who delivered the best solo Avenger movie thus far in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. If they are the ones launching this larger storyline for the MCU, we can trust that they will do so in a way that brings levity, gravity and scope, just as they did earlier this year. There is also a rumor being reported by Devin Faraci, known for having a good inside track with Marvel, that the Russos are favorites right now to possibly direct future Avengers movies once Joss Whedon is done with Age of Ultron. As much as seeing Joss take a step in another direction, it’s an eventuality that we’ll have to live with as fans.
What does this mean for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s big picture?
There are a number of big pieces in motion for Marvel, including (we hope) a few fun surprises. Drew McWeeny at Hitfix has already teased the possibility of talks between Sony and Marvel about Spider-Man, something that’s long been a subject of watercooler chats and hushed conversations in dark hallways. That said, Spider-Man plays a massive role in the Civil War comics and bringing him into the fold for a Phase 3 run could benefit both Marvel’s larger story and the plans Sony has to build out Spider-Man’s universe into a “MCU style” situation of its own. And as a big battle with Thanos looms (probably for an Avengers 4), it’s going to take as many heroes as possible.
Beyond the speculative awesomeness of a Spider-Man integration, there’s simple and effective story value in pitting the existing heroes against each other for a Civil War. As Faraci explains in his excellent piece about why this news is so huge, Phase One of Marvel’s plan was intended to set up the characters and bring them together for the first time in The Avengers. Phase Two is showing them dealing with further editions of their own conflicts (which all seem to have little reverberations for everyone else) and coming back together for one big fight, as allies, in Age of Ultron. Phase Three “will have the heroes dealing with the final conflicts of their own stories and then being tested as a group. Their friendships will shatter, the trust will be gone. The good feelings have been established enough to make this shattering of The Avengers carry a lot of weight.”
For Phase Four, it could be all about picking up the pieces and walking the long road back to where everyone has to once again come together for their greatest challenge: a battle with Thanos.
It’s going to take a lot of effort, but Marvel has already shown us a number of reasons why they can make this work. For one, they’ve proven that there’s a plan in place that stretches far beyond anything we’re even talking about at this point. That plan continues to work. Even Guardians of the Galaxy, seemingly disconnected from The Avengers, has moving parts that will eventually come into play with the larger story. As these movies continue to do exceedingly well with audiences (GotG sits only behind The Avengers and Iron Man 3 in domestic box office gross), Marvel is going to get a much brighter green light from Disney to go to darker, weirder and more interesting territory with their Cinematic Universe.
Civil War presents a darker path from a tone standpoint, but it opens up a bunch of interesting options. As these characters – the original Avengers and the actors who play them – get closer to the end of their runs on the big screen, both due to age and contractual obligations, it will be important for Marvel to open up the universe a bit. That goes beyond just making a Doctor Strange movie or doubling down on Guardians of the Galaxy. If the pull it off, they will have executed the most mind-boggling of feats: the building of a cinematic universe that intricately weaves storylines through almost 25 feature films and at least 7, if not more television series. No one else has ever attempted this, let alone succeeded with flying colors.
The ultimate reason to be excited: Marvel’s Cinematic Universe plans continue to work. And with that success, their future plans continue to get even bigger. For everyone – from the casual fan to the hardcore nerd – should be excited about the potential in all of this.
Now, when do we get that announcement about a Captain Marvel movie?