After the announcement following New York Comic-Con this weekend of Robert Downey Jr negotiating another Marvel contract, are we really surprised that Kevin Feige and the team is riding off strong after the recent success of Guardians of the Galaxy and the timidity towards their own product prior to its August release? Indeed this forth-going action has had precedence for awhile, after the gradual build-up towards the over-arching Infinity Gauntlet storyline (first hinted at in Avengers 1 with the post credits appearance of Thanos, and most likely taking place in Avengers 3 after the July announcement of Guardians of the Galaxy 2) it’s been obvious that Marvel now want to play more of their cards due to the success of the ‘Avengers’ phase and the cross-media Hydra attack in-storyline.
The question is, can Marvel successfully pull off a recreation of Civil War on the screen (both film & tv) considering what we already know about their films and currently owned property? Asides the success of almost all their films so far, the massive box office takings and the yearly growing fanbase, is it too early in the pipeline for Civil War to crop up ‘in universe’ when the main focus is the splitting of the core Avengers team (Cap vs IM) and the Super-Human Registration Act. How indeed can you have a Super-Human Registration Act when taking storyline and in-universe into account, there is barely more than 20 or 30 superheroes in the MCU? You may argue there are Asgardians and the Guardians of the Galaxy team, alongside all the ‘Marvel villains’, to make up the numbers; however the Asgardians can return to their realm if they wish (why would Gods allow small earth issues to hinder them, asides Thor and Loki?) and the GOTG don’t appear in Civil War at all. The handfuls of superheroes we know of are hardly consequential to build a large event such as Civil War around (no offence to the current team as good as they are, but a world-shattering event such as Civil War hardly has the same effect featuring just the 6 stars of Avengers 1) so how exactly can Marvel build their MCU now, work the way up to developing Civil War properly and giving it the fan reaction and effect it deserves when it eventually hits in 2-4 years?
The main thing to take into account, is that Civil War hasn’t been announced within itself. Lots of news outlets have pounced on the potential future story due to the comic book advert that was leaked with a ‘2015 and combined that with the news of Downey Jr’s contracting arguments for Captain America 3 (himself fighting with Marvel Entertainment’s Ike Perlmutter over more screen time and a bigger payrate, which then Kevin Feige has seemingly appeased due to his grand-mastering of wanting to create a large interconnecting Marvel Cinematic Universe) and we then supposedly have some build-up to one of the biggest recent comic book storylines. Remember that ‘Civil War’ being involved in the films is all currently conjecture, but this blog post is going to explore the potential of it…
To begin, there are two main problems I see. The first are characters, take a look at the image to the right and try figure out how many in it actually exist in the TV or Film universe. There literally isn’t enough characters floating around to give it the gravitas and weighty effect that the storyline originally gave to the fans when it first appeared back in 2006, the precise reason it was so hard hitting was because it had far reaching effects across all superheroes and a pittance of 6 powers was just a drop in the ocean (compared to it being the current main focus of the MCU). The other issue I see is contract problems, both for the actors and the characters involved, as actors such as Downey Jr are getting licensed back for individual pictures (whilst their long-term picture contracts are quickly running out) whilst certain crucial characters for Civil War aren’t even owned by Marvel or have much of a chance to appear.
Continuing with that, the quickest way they can expand the MCU and at the very least introduce new characters, is by name dropping in the background of other films and tv shows, such as a news announcement in the background of a shot (like the ones at the end of Avengers) with the camera scrolling past talking about 'the new superheroes' appearing around the globe or similar with a newspaper/article being placed on a table during Avengers 2. As an audience we don't need to get a film introducing every single character (such as how a friend pointed out that Captain America 2 introduced The Falcon, I mean that’s great and all, but if we introduce one character per film then we’ll be ready for Civil War come 2060), we just need to know they are there and exist. We’re at a stage where as a mainstream audience it is accepted that Marvel films mix/exist together, they all gel somehow and their in-universe has other events going on, not just the one we’re seeing. Some subtle world-building in the background of Agents of Shield and Age of Ultron/Ant-Man will help introduce a lot of new characters with little effort; they don’t need to be massive stars, just drop in some of the C-Listers and minor heroes with a throwaway line or shot and it’ll be enough for (“god Stark, since you went Mainstream it's pulled everyone out the woodwork").
Potentially there are still two levels of films left before Civil War hits, as you have AOU next year plus AM, followed by Captain America 3 in 2016 and potentially Doctor Strange that year (unless we get the rumored Captain Marvel film, which has a lot more precedence after Downey Jr and Feige’s comments at San Diego Comic Con, and Sony’s rumblings of a Black Cat film in the Spider-verse, of which I can hardly see Marvel allowing Sony to have the only female superhero film released on the current market). In that time you still also have various seasons of Agent Carter & Agents of Shield on TV introducing elements in the background. Shield are already doing that through the cross-use of Hydra and the introduction of Mockingbird (Hawkeye's wife) so there's no reason they can't hit it hard and fast now with more cropping up throughout the series, why not a ‘New Warriors’ episode on this or the next season of Agents of Shield to introduce the team? The same applies for the 4 Netflix shows, Daredevil can introduce more low-level characters and villains, I wouldn’t be surprise if you see Wilson Fisk transition somehow from the Netflix series to a new background role in the film, potentially using his prestige as a businessman to back the Registration Act with Tony Stark or otherwise helping ‘power-up’ villain teams to capture escaping heroes, you can have ‘smaller bads’ amongst the bigger bad villains. It might even be a good Daredevil tv story arc to focus on the ground level heroes of New York amongst Civil War, perhaps an appearance from Moon Knight or the always rumored Frank Castle (after his beating by Captain America during the storyline?)
The other main two problems Marvel are facing here bringing Civil War to the screen are contract problems, both with the actors and the property themselves. Downey Jr and Evans both have 1 more contracted film to their name after what they're currently shooting, that contract would ideally guide them into shooting a last film for their character which was both going to be Avengers 3, however Downey Jr just signed on for another individual contract especially for Captain America 3. This is where all the furor over Civil War was originally spawned from, after the outbreak of the Variety article (and this whole post is still conjecture, there is no confirmation of a movie Civil War, just an announcement Downey Jr will appear in Captain America 3 in a larger role) due to Downey’s newly signed contract and expanded role. Despite
this, when they started out as these characters the actors signed an extended agreement for a certain amount of pictures, that contract is now almost up as they've only got one left to star in, obviously they can re-sign on for more films but it makes you question the ramification of the films if they do follow the Civil War route and kill Captain America, nicely tying up Evans' contract, or if they just kill both Captain America AND Iron Man off which diverts from the storyline and the ultimate effect of it in the first place.
The other side to that argument is the obvious issues from property contracts, with Spider-Man/X-Men/FF4 still owned by other companies. There may be the chance of X-Men doing a brief appearance, due to the timeline rewrite in Days of Future Past (at the end of the film everything is happy/ect with Logan back in the future, that's now a completely new timeline from everything else. The old X-Men 1-3 doesn’t exist now in that timeline, so the new ‘happy’ timeline could be retroactively written to tie-in with the current MCU. Imagine the events of First Class happening and then for 40 years mutants live peacefully hiding away whilst the public know about them, but like all shiny new toys they are eventually forgotten or just accepted as a part of regular life. The mutants aren’t mentioned in the films as they’re ‘just another’ part of life, tenuous argument at best… and then superheroes appear into the world! Marvel and 21st Century Fox can just lever the x-men into the storyline slightly by saying they've been hiding (somehow)) but this is depending if 21st Century Fox would agree to an appearance of their characters, as they already have a strong franchise with two more films lined up focused on the X-Men to shoot in the future. The best benefit for them would be a money deal, not taking into account the difficulties of tying the universe together but there IS scope for it to happen.
Sony on the other hand are struggling with Spider-Man. Their ideas change every few months (as the S-M3 film has been pushed back, Venom is now dropped and they've stopped talking about a Sinister 6 movie; whereas back in July this was their 'ultimate future plan'. Cold feet much?) and Sony admitted at Comic-con there's a chance they will sell or temporarily lease the character rights back to Marvel for one or two films... how does this tie in via the storyline? Well in Civil War Spider-Man is one of the biggest characters involved, bringing the relatable audience element through Peter Parker exposing his secret identity to the public; which is a direct emotional clash of his character as he's always tried to stay hidden (the expose of his character through the Mutant Registration Act showing how much faith he has in Stark to go against his morals). How would Spider-Man exactly tie into the MCU taking into account his current movies…? Well in Avengers there was a lot of damage; Cap, Thor and Iron man went off the grid afterwards, and in Spider-Man 1 there were a lot of cranes repairing New York from “something” (how else do you explain the journey to that ending fight?), so it could be tied in that Spider-Man gained his powers after Avengers 1 when the superheroes had all disappeared, whilst nobody wanted to aid Spider-Man due to having their own films/problems to sort out and the police in the city were now more wary towards powers due to the attack on New York.
And this isn't even taking into account how 21stC are floundering with Fantastic Four, with set reports drastically changing every month and the film being pushed back, Marvel themselves cutting the FF4 comics in an attempt to hide the characters and make them seemingly worthless to make the film bomb from a lack of audience and hopefully regain or rebuy the film rights...
Taking all of this into account, is it possible for Civil War to happen?
Yes, very much so in the current comic-book film landscape, with tons of new properties coming out before Cap 3 and the constant changing game of the 3 externally owned properties. Perhaps the announcement (or behind the scenes deals) of Civil War/Downey’s involvement in Cap 3 might spur Sony and 21stC to get in on the action and temporarily sell the rights back for a certain amount of film usage as they’ll want 'in' on the mass of money/hype it'll generate. Perhaps there have already been deals behind the scenes as mentioned above, with Sony and 21st Century Fox to see if there’s a chance to include the characters in future films, there wouldn’t be a public announcement of this scale unless Marvel had already privately pursued and investigated every opportunity beforehand. We’re more likely to get several films/tv episodes focused around Civil War (much like the Hydra event with The Winter Soldier and Agents of Shield) than a stand-alone product, so there’s no reason there can’t be an introduction in Captain America 3 through some small form, much likely hinted at by Downey Jr’s contract signing, followed by some post-credits in Doctor Strange and more of a ‘beginning’ build-up in Avengers 3, perhaps with the film ending part-way through the storyline and the following 6-film Phase following the expansion of Civil War with Avengers 4 culminating in an ending/final fight? Phase 4 would provide plenty of time for new superhero films then, such as Captain Marvel, at the same time as tying them into Civil War and showing how that storyline affects them whilst also creating an origin story/film for that character.
The best advice is that time will tell, however it's more likely that FF4 will be sold back within 2-3 years, Spider-Man will get leased back temporarily, you're unlikely to see the X-Men involved and Civil War itself will need some serious build-up in at least two separate properties with a lot of external hype created through the TV series' and films introducing new characters/ect in the background of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.