Captain America: Civil War is big. Very big. Even if you’re only familiar with the Marvel movies, and don’t know the lengthy backstory that goes with it, then the cast list alone is intimidating enough. No less than twelve established superheroes or villains are due to appear, plus the addition of three more big hitters into the company’s cinematic universe.
With that in mind, we thought it might be an idea to fill you in on the backstory to Civil War, and then tell you who’s who.
Civil War is nearly ten years old now, debuting in 2006 and running through until early 2007. It brought together hundreds of plot threads Marvel Comics had been sewing through its books for the previous couple of years and in some cases, even longer. Mark Millar, who would go on to create the critically acclaimed Ultimates, and Steve McNiven, who would later draw the popular alternate universe tale “Old Man Logan”, were in charge of the book, and Marvel delayed publication until they were both available. When they were, they crafted a book that tackled issues such as segregation, liberty, government control and freedom of information. It received a mixed response, with some criticising it for an overly simplistic plot, and an abrupt end. It did though draw praise for tackling issues that hadn’t previously arose in Marvel’s comic universe, and its epilogue created headlines all over the world.
The plot centres around the Superhuman Registration Act, where the US Government decides, in response to a number of superhero related incidents, to have the true identities of all costumed heroes on file. Things come to a head when an inexperienced team called the New Warriors are trying to capture the villain Nitro, who can spontaneously combust at will. Their exploits are being filmed for a reality TV show, which makes things worse when their bungled attack sees Nitro detonate himself, killing all but one of the Warriors, and 600 civilians, including 60 children.
The Government responds by implementing the Registration Act, forcing all superheroes to give their names and personal details to the authorities so they can be held accountable for their actions. Iron Man, who had initially opposed the idea, realises it may be in the greater good. With his identity public anyway, he doesn’t see a problem. Neither does Ant-Man (Hank Pym) or Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards), whose personae are both public too. Iron Man campaigns for all heroes to sign, in the name of transparency and openness.
Captain America disagrees. He understands the need to heroes to be accountable, but disagrees that the Government should have access to their private lives. He maintains that the secrecy that protects their identities from the law, also allows them to fight supervillains and large scale threats without fear of reprisals against their families and loved ones. Others, like Luke Cage, compare the Registration Act with slavery, insisting that everyone is named and numbered.
Hostilities ensue, and two factions form: Pro and Anti-Registration. Both score victories but fail to resolve the dispute. The most significant act is Iron Man convincing Spider-Man, who has worked hard to keep his identity as Peter Parker secret, unmasking on live television and joining the Pro-Registration side, having previously been neutral. That consequently puts Parker’s family, and himself, at risk, and after realising that he’s endangered those he loved, joins Captain America’s side to fight against the Act.
Several villains sign up with Iron Man to hunt down their enemies with Government backing, while other bad guys fear for their liberty and throw in with Cap (until The Punisher guns them down). Iron Man’s forces construct a prison in another dimension where they can incarcerate Anti-Registration supporters indefinitely, but the tide of the war turns when the Government construct a clone of Thor (who is missing at this point in Marvel’s continuity). The clone, using a hammer that is scientific rather than magical in nature, murders one of Captain America’s supporters, Goliath, by blasting a hole in his chest in full view of the public.
Gradually, the numbers on the Anti-Registration side grow, and in a climatic battle, Captain America is about to deliver a decisive blow. He then realises the collateral damage caused by their violence has hurt the very people they’re trying to protect, and surrenders. Tony Stark is made Director of SHIELD, the Registration Act is enforced, and Captain America is arrested.
The story has a shocking conclusion, as Captain America, for so long the symbol of incorruptible virtue, is led away from a courthouse in handcuffs, only to be gunned down and seemingly killed by a mystery assailant. It would reach mainstream headlines in a way that Civil War as a whole could never reach, and provided a denouement that many never saw coming.
In some ways, it’s then fitting that the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of the story is within a Captain America movie, as his murder becomes the endgame that generates even more storylines, that will more than likely be mirrored in future movies.
So how will all that work on the big screen? Well, here are the major players, with a brief recap on what they’re up to at the moment.
Captain America: Last seen (SPOILERS AHEAD) discovering an imprisoned Winter Soldier at the end of Ant-Man, Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson’s Falcon discuss “the accords”, opening up the possibility that they’re already at odds with Tony Stark, who is name checked during this post credits sequence. Rogers and Stark had already come to blows in Age of Ultron, where they had fought over Stark’s decision to give the Vision life. Rogers is also in charge of the “new” Avengers, after the old team disbanded at the end of their second adventure. It’s likely that Black Widow and Falcon will be on Captain America’s Anti-Registration side when Civil War kicks off.
Tony Stark: Off doing his own thing at the end of Age of Ultron, Tony Stark hasn’t retired as Iron Man, but he’s no longer part of the team, with the mantle having passed to James Rhodes’ War Machine. Stark was once again the focus of Age of Ultron, and his creation of an artificial intelligence, not once, but twice, caused divisions in the team. Tony doesn’t yet know that Steve’s old friend Bucky Barnes, AKA The Winter Soldier, was responsible for his parents’ deaths (as revealed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier). That’s likely to drive another wedge between Stark and Steve Rogers, and War Machine, even though he’s now an Avenger, is probably going to side with his long term pal.
Spider-Man: With the rights to the character recently re-acquired by Marvel, Peter Parker is coming into the movies with no backstory whatsoever. With a solo movie not happening until after Civil War, there’ll be no established continuity and a secret identity for him to protect. It’s still likely though that the character, played now by Tom Holland, will have a significant role to play in the movie, but so far, it’s under wraps.
As for the other Avengers and Marvel heroes and villains, Ant-Man, The Scarlet Witch and the returning Hawkeye are probably going to end up with Captain America’s rebels, having sided with him before, or having reasons to oppose Tony Stark (or, in Hawkeye’s case the need to protect his family). The Winter Soldier will, if he breaks through his brainwashing, end up with Cap as well.
Joining War Machine in siding with Iron Man, are likely to be The Vision, whom Stark gave life to. General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, who last appeared in 2008’s Incredible Hulk and worked with Stark before (and has a monstrous alter ego as a red version of The Hulk). Also on board will be former SHIELD Agent Sharon Carter, who comic fans will know has a major role at the end of Civil War, and will likely have her connections to Captain America exploited by Stark.
The unknown quantities in all of this are Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk – last seen shooting himself into self-imposed exile at the end of Age of Ultron, but confirmed for Civil War – who has sided with Stark in the past, and Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther. He’s another unknown quantity, who sided with Captain America during the comic event, and is likely to hold some form of grudge against Stark for inventing Ultron – who of course invaded the Panther’s Kingdom of Wakanda during the recent Avengers movie.
Thor won’t appear in the movie, mirroring his absence in the comic event, and with the cinematic rights to The Fantastic Four, The X-Men and Deadpool lying with 20th Century Fox, don’t expect them to appear either.
Rounding off the villain front is Frank Grillo, reprising his role as Brock Rumlow from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Horrifically scarred at the end of that movie, he now goes by his comic alter ego of Crossbones, a masked mercenary who is one of Steve Rogers’ deadliest enemies. There’s also room for Daniel Bruhl’s Baron Helmut Zemo, the son of a Nazi who has connections to Arnim Zola, featured in the first two Captain America movies.
Hopefully that’s given you a bit of an insight into how Civil War will unfold – but however it does, it’s surely going to make Marvel and Disney billions in profits, and keep their Cinematic Universe alive and well for many years to come.