If you're a longtime reader of Marvel's comic books, the announcement of a coming cinematic Civil War might have made you pee a little. You're right to be excited, but you'll want to dial it back a bit: Marvel's movie Civil War will not be the Civil War from the comics.
Reports emerged over the weekend that Robert Downey Jr. will make an appearance in Captain America 3 in 2016, and the initial report held that Marvel would be trying to translate its 2006-2007 Civil War crossover storyline to the big screen.
That storyline saw the Marvel Universe's superhero community split in two by the announcement of a Superhero Registration Act. The Act spun out of a tragedy which saw a group of young heroes' irresponsibility result in the deaths of hundreds.
As a result, Congress required that all superpowered individuals register with the government and join what was essentially a national police force. It had the backing of Tony Stark, who drew a ton of heroes to his side. Captain America, though, resisted and went underground, taking a good group of heroes along with him.
This, of course, resulted in a number of battles and some deaths here and there. Eventually, the rebel heroes actually wound up standing down when Captain America, astounded over the damage the two sides' fighting had caused, surrendered himself to authorities.
It was one of Marvel's better multi-comic crossovers, with more than 100 single comic issues from different series crossing over.
And you're very unlikely to see anything resembling it on screen.
That's because of a couple of reasons. The biggest one is sheer number of heroes involved in the comic version of Civil War. The original brought in Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the New Warriors, the Avengers, Namor, X-Factor, the X-Men, the Young Avengers, the Runaways, the Punisher, and more.
Half of those characters – X-men, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man – Marvel doesn't even have the movie rights for. Many of the others haven't yet been introduced on screen, and Marvel seems unlikely to introduce a vast wave of characters without having the time to explore them.
Who can we expect to see on screen? Marvel already has its Avengers, and Quicksilver, the Vision, and the Scarlet Witch are confirmed for Avengers: Age of Ultron. We could also see Ant-Man and Doctor Strange, as those characters already have their own solo flicks lined up. That makes 11 so far, but rumors abound that we could see the Black Panther or Captain Marvel or both showing up in Age of Ultron.
So we likely won't get any of those 40-hero battle shots during Marvel's Cinematic Civil War that work so well in the comics. In fact, much of the battling from the comics might not make it into Marvel's actual movies. Marvel likes a good beatdown from time to time but if you learned anything from Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it should be that the House of Ideas is a story-first kind of house -- aside from Iron Man 2, that is.
It is definitely possible, though, that we'll see Tony Stark somehow taking on the lead role in S.H.I.E.L.D., as he did at the end of the comic version of Civil War. That would jibe with previous reports that Robert Downey Jr. was looking for a bigger role going forward, even as he wasn't committing to an Iron Man 4.
Another difference: secret identities. They figure largely into the comic Civil War, but they're really not so much of an issue in the movies. Tony Stark revealed that he was Iron Man at the end of the first Iron Man movie, Thor is a god, and Steve Rogers' Captain America has an exhibit dedicated to his masked and unmasked identities at the Smithsonian. It's pretty unlikely that we'll see secret identities being too much of an issue when Civil War comes to the screen.
What else will be different when Civil War finally comes to the big screen? It's hard to tell right now, being that we don't know much about Marvel's plans beyond a few established properties and the aforementioned Strange and Ant-Man.
One thing does seem almost certain, though, it will have to end in a way totally different from the comics. Whereas the comics saw Captain America turning himself in and a new order established in the Marvel Universe, Marvel seems to have mapped out a different plan for its movie universe. With current speculation pointing toward a Guardians of the Galaxy crossover with the Avengers, we're probably likely to see Civil War ending in the way that most big comic crossovers do: the heroes have to put aside differences to fight a world-ending threat – Thanos, the Mad Titan.