Variety has reportedly scooped the plot of Captain America 3 and the blueprint for Marvel’s Phase 3 slate of movies, post-Avengers: Age of Ultron. The outlet reports that Robert Downey, Jr. has been in ongoing negotiations with Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios to star as Iron Man in Captain America 3.
No other outlets have yet independently confirmed the news, and Marvel itself has not commented on the rumor. If Variety’s report is true, this could have big ramifications on the future of Marvel movies. Spoilers and speculation ahead, folks.
What is Civil War? How does it play into the current movies and Marvel’s other plans? Let’s break this down into an FAQ.
It’s kind of weird that Robert Downey, Jr. is turning Captain America 3 into essentially Iron Man 4, isn’t it?
I mean, I think so, and so does Marvel head Ike Perlmutter. Variety says that the script for Cap 3, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and co-written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, originally featured Iron Man in a small role, requiring only three weeks of filming on RDJs part. They also report that RDJ lobbied for a co-starring role instead, with a payday of $40 mil plus back-end plus box office bonus, enraging Perlmutter, who ordered Iron Man cut from the script entirely. (Perlmutter is also reportedly cancelling the Fantastic Four comic out of spite so that the Fox movie comes out unsupported by Marvel on the shelves.)
In swooped Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige to save the deal and remind Perlmutter that the events of this movie could kick off the Civil War storyline and propel Marvel films for the next five years.
Okay, so what’s this Civil War storyline and why is it so important?
In the comics it was an event storyline that featured the entire Marvel universe and it was a very dramatic and intriguing idea, even if the actual comic was flawed.
Basically, it asks what happens after the world has become accustomed to superheroes and crazy alien invasions and people with superpowers. Once something like a rampaging Hulk becomes normal, and once a team like the Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D. shows every time to stop him, it becomes easy to forget that these are essentially human weapons of mass destruction and that their numbers are increasing by the day.
This cavalier attitude is what kicks off the Civil War event. Some D-list superheroes are basically hunting down a D-list supervillain (for a reality show, to make it even cheaper), forgetting that this D-list supervillain is actually nuclear-powered and that they should maybe be careful about bringing him…uh oh an elementary school and its surrounding neighborhood just got mini-nuked.
Basically, it’s not who is involved that’s important so much as the realization that unregulated superpowered people are dangerous, regardless of villain or hero status in the culture. This leads to a call for people with super abilities to be registered and catalogued by S.H.I.E.L.D., secret identities be damned, and to be militarized to hunt down those who refuse to be registered should the circumstance demand it. It stops becoming “Hulk Levels Shopping Mall” and becomes “Bruce Banner Levels Shopping Mall, Natasha Romanov and Thor Ordered to Take Him Down” complete with prison sentence and civil actions to be taken against the accused.
In essence, it curtails civil liberties in an effort to make heroism practical, which pretty much eliminates heroism itself.
So what do Iron Man and Captain America have to do with this?
In the comics, Iron Man leads the call for Superhero Registration and assumes command of the actual registration efforts being undertaken by S.H.I.E.L.D. Captain America opposes him in reaction, shocked by the violation of personal liberties, and unwilling to watch their friends be registered and treated as threats in the name of security theater. The rift is very public, and superheroes (and villains) essentially line up behind the two of them ideologically.
Okay, but in the Marvel Cinematic Universe S.H.I.E.L.D. is just a small group, Tony quit being Iron Man, and Cap is off somewhere looking for Bucky.
Yeah, Marvel’s Phase 2 isn’t really building up to much, is it? We may think differently after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, which introduces Gifted individuals (i.e. people with powers that don’t have an obvious origin, like Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch) and features an insane, murderous A.I. by the name of Ultron. An A.I. that grows out of Tony building an army of robots (basically Iron Men without the men) that can combat superpowered threats and maintain peace.
As we can easily surmise, that goes wrong and the Ultrons run amok. Tony is basically playing out the Civil War in miniature all by himself.
But if Civil War really informs Marvel’s Phase 3 movies then why does it seem to be contained in Avengers 2?
Well, we don’t know how Avengers 2 ends yet. Maybe they succeed in eliminating Ultron, but At Great Cost. Maybe Ultron becomes an ongoing issue past the film. Whatever happens, it seems likely that Tony fucks up big time and becomes obsessive about making sure there’s a system in place to stop him from doing that again. And maybe that system is registration.
So that becomes the plot of Captain America 3?
Probably. It could open with Tony trying to convince Cap to come onboard with the idea, then with Cap bailing and going on the run.
Hey, just like Bucky!
Maybe that’s how they meet up again, who knows.
Then what happens?
Well, the Superhero Registration plotline could easily be a background part of everything Marvel puts on the screen between 2015 and their film and TV slate through 2019.
For instance, how does Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. react? They’re already kind of doing registration and enforcement work, but Coulson is a big believer in letting heroes form naturally. Do they fall in line with Tony or remain independent?
How do the Netflix series play into this? Is Daredevil a superpowered individual or just really good at dealing with being blind? And what do you do when revealing his civilian identity would endanger his life? What about someone like Jessica Jones, who has powers but doesn’t use them for anything besides the occasional rough scrape she gets into as a P.I.? Getting registered interferes with her livelihood, puts her on a database. “You live within 5 miles of a Gifted individual” kind of thing. Now her landlord won’t renew her lease and she can’t get an office job and police hassle her. All because some genius billionaire playboy philanthropist she’s never met fucked up something that never had anything to do with her.
Doctor Strange? Why does he care about superhero registration when numerous demonic dimensions threaten our world? Thor? Well, he’ll register and mollify Tony because that guy’s got nothing to hide but seriously he’s gotta go back to Asgard and deal with this Loki thing, okay? Okay, bye. Guardians of the Galaxy? Well, they probably don’t have to worry about this so much, which will be nice. We’ll need a Groot-happy break now and then.
So is this why Marvel has been so late announcing their Phase 3?
Probably. If they can’t lock RDJ down then they’d have to scrap the entire plan for the phase.
What’s this jim-jam about Spider-Man being in the Civil War and Marvel trying to get Sony to let them use him?
Oh, yeah that. In the comics Tony convinces Peter to reveal his identity as Spider-Man in support of registration and it’s a great shocker of a moment that totally doesn’t work out for Peter and eventually gets retconned. Secret identities are a big deal in the Civil War comics storyline.
But pretty much nobody in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a secret identity…
Yeah, but that’s just one aspect of the storyline. The tension that propels the story is still present even if you don’t have the question over secret identities.
Oh wait, I’m starting to remember this now…WAIT A MINUTE. This doesn’t end well for Cap!
Yeah, he loses the Civil War. Hard. Then he gets assassinated in a way that looks like it’s related but actually isn’t and Bucky becomes Captain America.
P.S. – Chris Evan’s contract with Marvel is finished after Avengers 3, but Sebastian “Bucky” Stan’s isn’t. So you can probably guess what Avengers 3 will be about and how it might end.
Wait, isn’t Avengers 3 supposed to be about Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet/Stones/etc.?
That was the assumption, but Thanos can happen at any time, really. It would also make more sense to have the Infinity Gauntlet stuff happen after the Civil War storyline concludes. One of the great things about it is that the story is SO vast and insane that it serves as a good thematic capper to the Civil War stuff. In essence, stop fighting each other and LOOK UP. Here is a mad space god who must be stopped at all costs, and only heroes can do it. Not registered super-cops but real heroes, allowed to work their weird ways through the worlds, find the little things that might allow them to defeat Thanos, and then assemble when the time is right.
It would also be one hell of a double feature to pull off. Imagine getting Avengers 3 in 2018, then The Infinity Gauntlet featuring the entire MCU in 2019!
Chris Lough writes about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on Tor.com and expects a lot of “I’m With Cap” and “Team Tony” merch to pop up if the above actually happens.