How 'Captain America: Civil War' May Improve on the Original Marvel Comic Book

Putting Bucky at the center of the story only makes things better.
Courtesy of Marvel

Marvel's original Civil War — a 2006 self-proclaimed comic book "event" — remains one of the company's most successful storylines, taking the trope of heroes fighting heroes to a whole new level. How does Marvel Studios' Captain America: Civil War plan to build on that? Judging by the trailer released Tuesday, by making things personal.

Fans might bristle at the description, but the first trailer for CA:CW turns the bare bones of the source comic book into a love story of sorts, with Cap torn between his ex — Bucky, one-time wartime comrade and now deprogrammed cyborg assassin the Winter Soldier — and his current relationship, personified by Iron Man.

There are moments in the trailer where this is all but made explicit: "You know I wouldn't do this if I had any choice — but he's my friend," Cap (Chris Evans) says at one point, before we cut to an appropriately pained Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), inside the Iron Man armor. "So was I," he says. Earlier, Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow tells Cap, "I know how much Bucky means to you," before warning him to stay away from his ex. "Please," she continues. "You'll only make this worse." It's relationship drama writ large, subtext threatening to overwhelm the actual story.

The thing is, it works. The conceit of the original comic book Civil War — that authorities seek to create a government database of superheroes, with those that refuse to sign up branded as criminals — gets a nod in the trailer, when William Hurt's General Thunderbolt Ross shows up to say that some people call Captain America a vigilante, operating "with no oversight," but it's an argument that actually makes no sense in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In the MCU, the heroes have all been operating under S.H.I.E.L.D.'s jurisdiction the entire time, with Avengers: Age of Ultron ending with the creation of another S.H.I.E.L.D.-like organization in the wake of that organization's collapse two movies earlier. These superheroes have always worked under supervision, and Cap more than any of them would understand the need for that: he was, after all, an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. up through its collapse, and one of the founders of the new Avengers organization, which — judging from the end of Age of Ultron — trains new superheroes to use their powers responsibly. Why would that guy go rogue when someone suggests making that arrangement official?

Well, because of Bucky.

It's a remove from the original comic book that only strengthens the narrative. Instead of the original comic book's inciting incident being the result of teenage superheroes that few others were familiar with, the movie places Cap's former partner — and the person he's been looking for, and trying to help, since the end of 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier — as the responsible party (or, at least, the one seen as responsible; there's a villain in the movie, after all, in the shape of Daniel Bruhl's Baron Zemo, likely pulling strings behind the scenes). With Bucky's future at stake, it fills in all kinds of gaps in Cap's motivation for going A.W.O.L. Of course he'd risk everything for his best friend; it's what a man we've been told is endlessly, flawlessly moral would do, and a decision that makes more sense than the comic book Cap standing against the idea of governmental oversight just because.

(This doesn't explain why Tony Stark, who's consistently been portrayed as a smart-ass and maverick in the movies to date, would suddenly side with the authorities against Cap, but that's always been a flaw in the Civil War set-up, a moment of counterintuitive decision making that's best left ignored for the sake of ease.)

Placing Bucky at the center of Captain America: Civil War doesn't just wrap up plot threads that have continued throughout each of the Cap movies to date; it provides believable motivation for Cap to turn on his new friends and set out on his own, and in doing so, makes the very idea of a superhero civil war one that's an easier sell to the audience, and provides what might otherwise be somewhat ridiculous scenes of heroes punching each other — admit it, that Bucky and Cap versus Iron Man fight glimpsed at the end looks downright silly, right? — with some much-needed heart.

Captain America: Civil War is released May 6, 2016, meaning that you have to work out which side you're on.

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