Marvel’s Civil War: a comic that should be a movie

Written by Mark Millar, Marvel's Civil War was a fan favourite. Rob looks at how it could translate to the big screen...

NB: there are spoilers ahead for the Civil War comic book series.

First published in 2006, Marvel’s Civil War was and remains an enormously popular comic book cross-over series, and it kicks off in dramatic style.

As the New Warriors – a group of young superheroes at the centre of a reality show – seriously screw up a super villain battle, their battle with Nitro incinerates a whole block, including an elementary school, causes 600 casualties, and rips the Marvel Universe in half.

It’s cinematic stuff, and these events could act as an outstanding opening sequence in a movie adaptation – it’s perfect for the kind of elongated intro that studios seem to love these days.

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Within the make-believe world of comics, the world’s negativity towards superheroes can sometimes seem a bit farfetched, but a blown-up school is a pretty legitimate reason for such distrust, and this opening sequence could provide a way to emotionally engage the audience from the word go.

Following this incident, the government begins to push out the Superhuman Registration Act, a bill which outlaws all superheroes who won’t accept official training and reveal their identities.

Tony Stark, whose identity has been known publically for years, becomes the figurehead for the pro-registration campaign, whereas Steve Rogers (Captain America), all in favour of protecting people’s rights, leads the anti-registration team, supporting the heroes who don’t wish to reveal their identities or expose themselves and their loved ones to all their super-enemies.

If handled right, the battles between the two super teams would surely result in some of the most epic screen fights of all time. With S.H.I.E.L.D. agents supporting the pro-registration team as they hunt down the now illegal heroes, it becomes increasingly difficult to work out who the villains are, which could be a really interesting moral dilemma to depict on screen.

Pitting S.H.I.E.L.D. against such much-loved heroes would also be a fitting climax to the ongoing ‘you can’t trust S.H.I.E.L.D.’ arc established by the Phase 2 weapons project, and the attempted nuclear destruction of Manhattan in Avengers Assemble – a theme which will be built on in Captain America: The Winter Soldier if the trailer is anything to go by.

This isn’t the only time you would question S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Civil War movie, either. In an attempt to defeat, and eventually replace, the outlaw anti-registration heroes, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top scientists experiment with cloning their lost members. This isn’t even too outlandish for the MCU, seeing as Life Model Decoys (LMDs) – carbon copies of characters from the comic book universe – are name-dropped by Tony Stark in Avengers Assemble. It also looks increasingly likely that, in the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, Coulson is a LMD or some kind of clone, which could tie him into the narrative nicely. 

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Back in Civil War, a robot version of Thor is put into action too early and kills Goliath, a friend to many of the heroes. As well as motivating more people to join the anti-registration team, this makes the grey area between the goodies and baddies even harder to spot.

There are several other huge emotional beats in the comic which could add more engaging elements to the film. Notably, Tony Stark convinces Peter Parker to publically unmask, which pretty much ruins his life. Soon after, his beloved Aunt May is shot, putting Spidey on a desperate mission to save her. This involves begging everyone in the universe for help, only to end up deleting his marriage to Mary Jane Watson from history in a deal with the devil (well, Mephisto, which is close enough).

Rights wrangles

Before Spider-Man could even appear in a Civil War movie, Sony and Disney would have to come to a Mephisto-like deal of their own. Indeed, it would be a huge achievement if Marvel Studios managed to obtain the rights to all the characters in the original version of the story. The comic itself contains pretty much every major Marvel character ever, which would mean making deals with Sony for Spider-Man and the X-Men and Fox for the Fantastic Four.

Without these rights, Marvel would have a lot of legwork to do to fill in the gaps. With the absence of the recognisable mutant characters like Wolverine and Storm, Marvel would either need to dedicate an expensive film to introducing The Inhumans, another big group of powerful beings, or find a way to get all the super-powered aliens from the wider MCU stranded on earth. Otherwise, the epic Civil War of the comics could end up more like a beefed-up five-a-side brawl.

Several of the New Warriors were mutants, too, so Marvel would need some fresh characters to fill out the young team who kick the narrative into action. Additionally, it’s worth noting that without Spidey, the MCU, with its current Avengers roster, wouldn’t have any established heroes who actually go to much effort to keep their identity secret.  More new introductions would be needed, or there would be no one on Cap’s team, making it a five-on-one fight instead.

Thankfully, though, since the news broke that Disney have signed a deal with Netflix (not Mephisto) to bring Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and recent rights acquisition Daredevil together in an interweaving live-action adventure, it’s fairly likely that Marvel will be able to take the new online live-action versions of these characters to the big screen – assuming that Marvel haven’t been silly enough to give exclusive rights to Netflix.

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Punisher is another recent re-acquisition for Marvel, and an appearance is likely considering his presence in the comic. We could also expect Falcon, War Machine and any other sidekicks established by this point to be drafted in to bulk out the numbers.

Additionally, between Stark, Banner and the soon-to-be introduced Hank Pym (as well as Fitz and Simmons from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. if it’s really necessary), it’s possible that the lack of Reed Richards’ genius wouldn’t leave too big a hole in the movie, despite Mr Fantastic’s significant role working with S.H.I.E.L.D. in the comic.

Will it ever happen?

As one of the most popular comics of recent years, it seems fairly likely that Marvel Studios will have a Civil War feature planned for Phase 3 or 4.

The recent news of the Netflix Defenders saga could make plans for an epic super-crossover like this even more likely. Luke Cage and Daredevil facing off against the Avengers – who wouldn’t want to put that project into the works? These new-live action heroes are just the boost that the MCU needs in lieu of Spider-Man and the X-Men. With the big screen MCU, the ABC continuity and the Netflix series established, some kind of huge team-up or versus event is surely inevitable. My minimal money is on a release in 2018.

Without the rights to some key characters, though, expect some Age Of Ultron/Mandarin-style rewrites, where Marvel uses the Civil War name and some themes, and produces an edited version of the original material.

Do you think we’ll see a Civil War movie soon? Which other comics do you think would make great movies? Let us know in the comments below…

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