What Will Be the Plot of Captain America: Civil War?

By: Casey Johnston (@DarthHockey)

We are a year-and-a-half away from the release of Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War.  Despite the fact that there are two Marvel films coming out between now and then, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man, it is the Civil War story that seems to be garnering the most attention from fans.  The plot of the film, which we still know little about besides the fact that it will feature the Cap vs. Iron Man storyline, is what’s grabbing everyone’s attention.  What will be the plot of Civil War?  We do not know, but we can have a fun time guessing.

Civil War

If you’re unfamiliar with the plot of the Civil War” event from the comic, let’s start with a brief synopsis.  Following the attack on Manhattan in retaliation for Nick Fury’s Secret War, and Hulk’s rampage in Las Vegas that killed 26 people, there was growing pressure for more accountability of superheroes.  Public debate came to a head when the New Warriors, the focus of a reality TV show, botched a live attempt to capture supervillains.  Nitro used his explosive powers to level a school, killing 60 children in the process.

Out of that tragedy came the Superhuman Registration Act, which was legislation requiring any person in the United States with superhuman abilities to register with the government.  The public face of the act ended up being Tony Stark.  The leader of the anti-registration faction was Steve Rogers.  While the pro-registration side favored more accountability, the anti-registration forces feared the consequences of superheroes revealing their identity.  Other superheroes chose sides, and battles that pitted superhero vs. superhero were fought.

The main story of “Civil War” was told in seven issues with nearly 100 tie-in comics published to supplement the main story.  The outcome of the event continued to have repercussions in Marvel publications for years.

Not a Straight Adaptation

Without a plot for Captain America: Civil War being released, we can already assume that the film will be much different than the books.  For one thing, Marvel Studios does not own the rights to all of the characters in their comic book universe.  The Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and Spider-Man will all be absent from the film (well, maybe not Spider-Man).  Secret identities are also not really an issue in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Everyone knows Iron Man’s identity thanks to Tony Stark’s infamous “I am Iron Man” press conference and his testimonies on Capital Hill, James Rhodes was given a commendation for his work as the Iron Patriot, Steve Rogers has an entire Smithsonian exhibit dedicated to him, and Thor is a god (kind of hard to hide that).  With the story that Marvel Studios is telling, the identities of superheroes is not an issue, so it should not factor into the film.

Where We Are

I am going to go out on a limb and say that the Superhuman Registration Act will not even be a thing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It simply does not fit with the story that is being told.  It’s more likely that the plot of the film will center around superheroes and their place in the world.  Accountability will still be a factor, but the question that needs answered is not whether  superheroes should be allowed to run around anonymously, but whether or not they should be answering to a government agency.

To make sense of this potential plot, let’s revisit where we currently are in the films.  The Avengers started off as a SHIELD initiative.  Phase One of the films told us the origin stories of Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, and Captain America.  We saw Tony Stark being recruited by Nick Fury and Phil Coulson.  We saw Steve Rogers thawed from the ice by SHIELD.  We saw Thor tell Phil Coulson that he was not an enemy of Earth.  Although we did not know it until Avengers, Bruce Banner was being kept safe by SHIELD.  All of these men came together to form a team when Loki and the Chitauri invaded Earth; they already were part of a government agency.

All of this changed with the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  It was revealed that Hydra had infiltrated SHIELD from top-to-bottom, and the agency was left in shambles.  We see in Agents of SHIELD that it has been reduced to a small team led by Phil Coulson.  It is now on the run after having been branded a terrorist organization by the government.  For now, SHIELD is simply a small team trying to fight a larger battle against Earth’s enemies.  So where does this leave the superheroes?

The Plot of Captain America: Civil War

From what little we know about the Avengers post-The Winter Soldier, they seem to be on their own.  Stark Tower has been transformed into Avengers Tower, and some SHIELD agents, like Maria Hill, have been hired by Stark Industries.  Tony Stark appears to be using his massive fortune to fund the Avengers.  We also know that research conducted by Stark and Bruce Banner will lead to the creation of Ultron, the automaton hell-bent on the destruction of the human race.  This unchecked research is the catalyst to the plot for Avengers: Age of Ultron.  The events of that film will lead directly into Civil War.  In the absence of secret identities, and the Superhuman Registration Act, I think that Captain America: Civil War will focus on the role of the Avengers in a world where SHIELD is not monitoring their actions.  Rather than registering superheroes and revealing their identities, the question will be whether or not Earth’s Mightiest Heroes should fall back under the government or should they remain out on their own, fighting the battles that mere powerless humans cannot handle?  Essentially, that was the plot of the comic book, but on film it will focus less on the privacy and personal rights of superheroes and more on their place in a world that is still very much unaccustomed to costumed heroes and aliens invasions.  Rather than pro- or anti-registration, it will be pro- or anti-government oversight.

Long-Shot Chance

When Marvel Studios announced the third Captain America, they did it with this clip (I apologize for the poor quality):

What we see here is Tony Stark defending his research on Ultron, and Steve Rogers cautioning that innocent people die when others try to end a war before it starts.  This is a long-shot, but what if the film featured a role-reversal from the comic book for these two characters?  Is it possible that Steve Rogers would believe so strongly that the Avengers need oversight that he would battle with Tony Stark?  Or would their roles remain the same and Tony Stark’s guilt over Ultron’s damage be the ultimate catalyst for their civil war?  We will slowly start to get answers to these question over the next year-and-a-half.  For now, all we can do is speculate.

Thanks for reading!