Marvel’s ‘Civil War’ is Trouble in Paradise for Steve and Tony…or just Trouble in More Trouble

Blah blah blah, the new Captain America: Civil War trailer is out today and we’re all gonna die, blah blah blah. To be honest, when I found out that the third CA installment would center around Marvel’s Civil War storyline, I was thrilled at the concept of turning one of the greatest Marvel comics stories into a cinematic phenomenon–and subsequently very disappointed at the thought of how different the characterization would inevitably be.

I will be the first to admit I am not one of those die-hard original Marvel Comics fans. Joss Whedon’s 2012 Avengers film, kicking off the crossover Marvel franchise, inducted me into the Marvel universe. In preparation for the release of the film, I brushed up on as much Marvel Cinematic Universe lore as I could, and after seeing the movie proceeded to pore over any Avengers comics I could get my hands on. The films, like they did with so many newer fans, were a gateway drug into an addiction to some of the greatest sci-fi/fantasy storylines of the twentieth century. Mainstream media never seriously recognized the power of comic books and their combination of realism and escapism–up until the early 2000’s when Hollywood realized they could make a buck off of them, of course. As an avid reader and writer, I found a lot to love in Marvel comics.

Specifically, I found a lot to love in Captain America and Iron Man.

Wow. Get a room, guys.

The history between Steve “Captain America” Rogers and Anthony “Iron Man” Stark is vast and complex. I’m not going to explain all of it here, because it spans decades and a ton of really weird storylines and contradictory information as Avengers comics were handed off from one group of writers to another. But to give you an idea, here’s an entire manifesto somebody made on LiveJournal once. There’s a lot. Skim it if you like, or don’t. But it features tangible evidence of how these two have deeply affected each other’s lives–both positively and negatively–over the course of their friendship. In the original comics, it is Iron Man that pulls Cap out of the ice and into the present day. They fight together from then on, working in tandem with Ant-Man and the Wasp to forge the original Avengers. They’re also big fans of swooping in and saving each other, no matter the cost. Each makes the other get stupid sometimes. Kind of cute, right?

What I didn’t realize until I started delving into Cap-centered and Tony-centered comics (“Demon in a Bottle,” “Extremis,” “Avengers Prime” and of course “Civil War”) is that the Marvel Cinematic Universe completely abandons this relationship.

Now, before anyone gets defensive, I’ll say this: there are a lot of aspects of Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America that fit their graphic-novel counterparts perfectly. RDJ’s Tony Stark is practically torn off an Iron Man comicbook page–he’s rash, he’s over-the-top, he’s quick-witted, he’s a genius. Cap is methodical, loyal, sometimes dangerously courageous, and believes in his country to a fault. Overall, I see no issues with the writing of their characters individually. It’s how they interact with each other that perturbs me.

Here’s the thing: conflict between characters is basically essential to the effective pacing and entertainment value of a film. If there’s nothing to aspire to, what’s the point of the film? What motivates the characters? It makes sense to me that Whedon and the Avengers writers made the decision to pit Steve and Tony against each other in the first film for a little while to pique the audience’s interest. They really do come from very different worlds–especially in the cinematic universe in which their origin stories differ slightly from the comics on which they’re based–and it makes sense for them to clash.

But it wasn’t just clashing. It was downright dislike. As an aspiring writer, I think it’d be boring to ensure every Avenger started out and finished the film buddy-buddy, but considering the connection these two characters have (Steve knew and was friends with Tony’s father; Tony practically grew up with the idea of Cap an all he stood for), it’s confusing that the film writers wanted them to be at such deep odds. Even at the end of the film and into Avengers: Age of Ultron, there seemed to be a quiet resignation between them of having to deal with each other.

But, okay. Fine. Maybe Steve and Tony don’t have a bromance in the movies. I can deal with that. Films and comics are very different mediums, after all.

Then I found out Civil War was happening and the disappointment set in. The trailer, if you watch it, sets up what Sebastian Stan (who plays Bucky Barnes) calls “brutal mental annihilation.” Twitter users can hashtag #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan and are forced to pick a side as many of the heroes and heroines in the film must do. Essentially, #CaptainAmericaCivilWar is taking the Marvel fandom by storm, particularly over social media. Dramatic shots abound of Cap and Iron Man staring at each other with contempt, spewing lines about wishing it didn’t have to be this way. And it seems so disingenuous to me.

Because the arc is so much more than an opportunity for a gigantic crossover action film. It’s about the relationships that lie underneath.

In the comics, the Civil War arc is particularly powerful because it pits two best friends against each other. Steve and Tony have taken a decades-long journey together that’s led them to this point. Despite their affection for each other, they stand on opposite sides of an all-out war. And they regret that it’s happened this way. It’s like a bad breakup, but with superheroes and maybe even more feelings.

The comics arc features a number of conversations between Tony and Steve–some ending in bloodshed, others not–about their relationship, about how they forged the greatest superhero team in existence. Their relationship with others is affected–particularly with Spider-Man, who finds his loyalties don’t lie where he thought they might. The wondering where it all went wrong makes sense in the comics, because previously, Cap and Iron Man were almost always aligned. They made each other better. As Cap tells Iron Man, “You gave me a home.” What is it like to face someone on the other side of the war who once knew you better than you know yourself? That’s the tragedy in Civil War.

And the fact that the film is trying to echo these sentiments means that it will fail in doing so.

For a true emotional impact to be felt by the audience, the writers should have set the groundwork for a stronger bond between Steve and Tony. It’s no wonder Captain America: The Winter Soldier did so well–pitting Cap and Bucky, friends in the war and on the streets of Brooklyn since they were children, against each other had an extremely powerful affect on the film’s audience. There is fan discourse galore about Steve and Bucky’s dynamic in the films–because it was effectively built upon. Because their bond was established before their friendship was on the line.

I wish Steve and Tony had been done the same justice. An argument between them this large, now, seems it was inevitable since they never really liked each other to begin with. Where is the heart of their dynamic? The depth? It’s almost as if the writers chose to start Cap and Iron Man out as enemies to save them some time in the writers’ room later. I’m curious to see how this pans out.

Captain America: Civil War will no doubt be an extremely successful film. All I’m saying is–knowing about the original story, about the relationship that was originally forged between characters that balanced each other out so well–I won’t be able to watch this film without a little bit of an ache in my chest for what could’ve been.

I’m gonna go reread my copy of Avengers Prime: Volume 5 and cry into the lovely illustrations…


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