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Civil War: The Comic vs. The Film

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The ‘Civil War’ event in Marvel Comics was essentially my gateway drug into the Marvel Universe. It just did everything right. It took the most valuable properties that the company had, and successfully set them against each other with a chain of events that meant that at the time, it seemed like the Marvel Comic Book Universe would never be the same again. It was compelling. It was believable. It was quite simply the best crossover event that Marvel have done to date.

And now they’re turning it into a movie. I, for one, am excited. I truly believe that in the Russo Brothers, Marvel has picked the best men for the job. ‘Winter Soldier’ remains hands-down the most perfect comic book movie in the Marvel stable. But the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Comic Universe are very different environments, governed by differing events and rules. Because of what’s gone before, the Civil War movie will have to work damned hard to meet the reputation of the source material.

Can it? Yes. But not easily…

Here are what I believe to be the key features that made the comic book run such a success, and also why it’ll be such a challenge to translate those to screen.

5. Scale and Size

The MCU is going to have to work damned hard to try and approach the sheer scale of the comic version. The books involved the FF, X-Men, Avengers, Thunderbolts and a whole host of other teams, culminating in an epic battle at the end. Marvel Studios can clearly do ‘Epic’, as the Avengers movies have demonstrated, but it’s already clear that the movie won’t have involvement from Hulk, Thor, the FF or X-Men. So how will Marvel match the absence of players such as Wolverine and She-Hulk? Well, we know that Ant-Man and Wasp are now in. We also have Black Panther coming to the party, and the newly arrived Scarlet Witch. The role of Bucky will be interesting to see as well, being as he is an observer to the events in the comics.  I’d love to see the Punisher and Daredevil bought into the film to cameo, as both are integral to the comic book run, but unless it’s Marvel’s best kept secret, it won’t be happening. So we do have new additions to the Marvel Film Roster to compensate, but they’re going to have to work hard to compensate for no Hulk and Thor, as well as the other superhero teams we’ve mentioned. The likelihood is everything will be scaled down somewhat, so the film may have to find other ways to ramp up the spectacle of what’s taking place.

4. Role Of The Younger Heroes

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Youth is a key feature of the source material. It’s a team of naïve and young heroes that cause the Stamford tragedy, with Speedball acting as the reader’s template for what is taking place. The whole conflict revolves around the older characters trying to deal with the fallout from, and atone for the actions of the younger generation. We have Tony’s battle with Prodigy at the outset of the Registration Act, and the arrest and detention of the Young Avengers, with the next generation repeatedly attacked and harried by the existing heroes.  Being as we won’t have that younger generation in the film, and whatever form the initial tragedy takes will be perpetrated by established MCU characters, it will be hard for the film to utilize the sense of youthful misdirection and mistake. We’ll also finally be seeing Spiderman (a very young version of Peter Parker given the casting choice) in the MCU. He is also key to the comics, as the battle between Tony and Cap for his support is very much the heart and soul of the bigger conflict, with Peter representative of most of the ideals and concepts at play. Will the film build Spidey up to be a key feature? Or will it be little more than a glorified cameo? It remains to be seen.

3. Irreversible Deaths

In the books, death and the resultant fallout from it is an ever present feature. The readers are repeatedly forced to engage with and confront the sheer number of deaths at Stamford. The introduction of the character of Mrs. Sharpe, the mother of one of the children, acts as Tony’s main motivation, and moral compass. She is the reason he comes out in favor of the Registration Act, so it’ll be interesting to see how the film handles this.

A further representation of death is the killing of Goliath. All too often, in comic and film, it proves impossible to actually kill superheroes. They can bounce off walls, survive gunshots or explosions, and resurrect in the most unlikely of ways. But a lightning bolt disintegrating his internal organs puts paid to the seemingly indestructible Goliath, and serves as a pivotal moment in the comics, causing the readers to question the morality of Reed, Hank and Tony’s actions, and making Spidey go over to Cap’s side. Suggestions are that the film will involve the death of the Wakandan King (Black Panther’s father), and Peggy Carter, but who knows which of the good guys may end up biting the proverbial bullet to provide the necessary emotional engagement from the audience.

2. Bad Guys

If the MCU has one weakness, it’s the use of bad guys. As I’ve discussed in previous articles, with the exception of Loki, Marvel have paraded an endless queue of famous actors portraying two-dimensional villains who no-one really cares for or buys into. In the comics, the bad guys play a key role, as they genuinely provide questions to the morality of both Cap and Tony. Tony, who thinks he’s doing everything for the right reasons, is more than happy to employ an army of villains to railroad the Registration Act through. Cap, by comparison, is prepared to meet with and discuss terms with the remaining villains, but is then immediately bought into conflict with his own people.

The MCU has to date failed to build any real recurring bad-guy roster into its material, so we’re unlikely to see much other than Crossbones in this film. And being as he’s believed to be the cause of the disaster at the start of the story, he’ll potentially be removed quite quickly, leaving it as a ‘good guys only’ affair. Which is a shame, as it’s robbing the narrative of genuine ethical debate.

1. SHIELD

Now this is an interesting one, given the ongoing issues between the Marvel film and TV properties. Cap 2 essentially removed SHIELD from the narrative, as it was a puppet of HYDRA, and was rendered untrustworthy. The TV show initially started to resurrect it, then created further divisions and conflicts in the remnants of the dying organization. To date, Marvel’s film and TV houses have had an uneasy relationship, so who knows what state SHIELD will be in, if any, as the Civil War movie approaches. Which brings a direct conflict with the books. In them, Tony will become the head of SHIELD, which is integral to the enforcement of the Registration Act. And the character of Maria Hill is another key component. It is she that directly confronts and sets Cap on the path of opposition, and that portrayal of Maria Hill is a million miles away from the Coby Smoulders version we’re used to seeing in the MCU.

So again, it comes to scale. We’re not likely to see an army of SHIELD agents supporting Tony (Just like, I suppose, we’re not likely to see an army of Atlanteans supporting Cap), but it will be interesting to see if perhaps some form of Agents of SHIELD cameo may occur, given the need for the film franchise to up the scale for this production.

So what do you think, Marvel Minions? Can the Cinematic Universe pay appropriate homage to what went before? Sound off in the comment section below!

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