Why Captain America 3 won’t work

The choice of storyline for the superhero sequel is a big mistake, says Huw Fullerton

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Along with the news that Robert Downey Jr may be returning to his role as Iron Man for the Captain America sequel (alongside Chris Evans as Cap himself) key details have been released as to the superhero film’s plot, which will be based on a comic series called Civil War. Unfortunately.

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Running from 2006 to 2007, Civil War was a seven-issue miniseries that began with the drafting of a registration act to license superheroes and make sure rank amateurs wouldn’t carry on bumbling around and messing things up.

Armoured superhero Iron Man agreed with the Act, while super-soldier Captain America did not – leading to all-out war between their two camps of supporters that left some dead, Iron Man reviled and Captain America in extremely dire straits when the run ended.

It was a momentous series that was high profile and cinematic in scope, so it makes perfect sense to me that it would be adapted for a movie. But I also honestly believe it’s a bad idea – and here’s why…

There aren’t enough heroes to make it work

Civil War wasn’t that great a comic series, but what made it different was the sheer scale, with hundreds of characters (heroes and villains) involved in the conflict across dozens of different comic book series. 

At the moment, Marvel’s cinematic universe has at best about ten superheroes, so any clash would be more like a scuffle in a pub car park than the actual war that the comics delivered.

In original plans, apparently even Iron Man wasn’t to have a significant role (Downey insisted on more time), so it’s definitely going to be a very watered-down and unconvincing version of what wasn’t exactly a gem of creativity anyway (“What if the goodies fought each other instead of the baddies?”)

There’s no build-up

As well as more characters, the comics also have decades of backstory that made the eventual clash between Cap and Iron Man more striking. They’d fought side by side in countless battles since the 1960s (Marvel fudges the ageing issue in the comics), whereas their film counterparts will have spent the equivalent of a few work trips together.

We just haven’t had enough time with the characters to get the same effect from them turning on one another, and they’re not iconic enough for the sheer fact of their fighting to be interesting (see Batman v Superman, below). It wasn’t even that long ago that they were last battling anyway (2012’s Avengers Assemble, to be precise) – why would we care now?

It doesn’t fit Iron Man’s character

Iron Man in the comics is a lot more serious-minded than Iron Man in the films (there’s a lot of actor Robert Downey Jr in his portrayal), and a major plot point of Iron Man 2 and Avengers Assemble is his distrust of the government and its agencies, so it’s hard to imagine that his version of the character would be ready to team up with the Establishment to cut back civil liberties as he does in the comics.

They’re basically ripping off Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

The response to a lot of my criticism would probably be that the film will be a loose adaptation of the Civil War series, taking its broader themes and ideas for use on a more streamlined but effective plot (as Marvel Studios did for Captain America: The Winter Soldier earlier this year, itself based on a recent comic book).

Sure, fine (although that’s a bit of a cop-out) – but without the larger cast of heroes, the context and the characterization, all that’s left of Civil War’s plot is an excuse for Iron Man and Captain America to duke it out.

Why would that be an aim? Well, maybe because another billionaire vigilante and all-American hero will be going twelve rounds a few months earlier in 2016.

The buzz around rival company DC Comics’ Batman V Superman film (directed by Zack Snyder and starring Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck) appears to have spooked Marvel (long the king of the multiplex), to the extent that they seem to be trying to shoehorn in their own superhero tussle at the expense of telling a story that makes sense.

There are so many great tales from the last fifty years of comics that Marvel Studios could draw on, yet they’re picking one of the least imaginative, one that won’t translate well to screen and one that doesn’t make sense within the world they’ve worked so hard to build. 

Fundamentally it seems like a cheap and obvious choice, and it’s disappointing from a company that’s made such good decisions so far.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron will be released in summer 2015