ByAlisha Grauso, writer at Creators.co
Editor-at-large here at Movie Pilot. Nerd out with me on Twitter, comrades: @alishagrauso
Alisha Grauso

With the release of [Captain America: Civil War](tag:994409) this week, and today being Throwback Thursday, we thought we'd rerun this article from September 2014 when our own Alisha correctly predicted that not only was the third Captain America movie going to be based on Civil War, but also that it would include Spider-Man after Marvel got his rights back — months before either were officially announced. How close were the predictions she made almost two years ago? Turns out — pretty close.

~*~*~

If you were to poll the majority of comic book fans about which Marvel storyline they'd most want to see recreated on the big screen, the answer would overwhelmingly be for Marvel's epic Civil War crossover. Unfortunately, it's also been the one storyline that's been a virtual lock for the "never gonna happen" realm for a number of reasons.

Most journalists and fans, since the MCU's inception, have spent their time writing speculation pieces built around the Infinity Gauntlet storyline that Marvel has been threading through Phases One and Two, with Thanos as the Big Baddie behind the scenes pulling strings. Predictions as to what future movie the MCU might hold have focused solely on those films that can somehow fit into the current Thanos storyline, operating with the premise that it's the platform atop which the entire MCU is being built.

But I have grander visions — and I suspect Marvel does, too. In fact, I think Marvel Studios is clearing the way to make room for both the Infinity Gauntlet storyline and Civil War.

Yes, really. Here's why I think it's happening — and how the studio can pull it off.

BUT FIRST, THE BACKGROUND...

Brother against brother.
Brother against brother.

Comic book fans aren't necessarily synonymous with comic book movie fans in 2014, so I'm not going to assume everyone reading this already knows what Marvel's Civil War is. Allow me to give you a quick breakdown of what it's all about. I'm oversimplifying things a bit for the sake of brevity, but it's enough to catch you up to speed.

The main Civil War series itself was limited to only seven issues (written by comic book legend Mark Millar) in 2006–2007, but it spawned numerous crossovers and tie-ins that spanned the entirety of the massive Marvel Universe, with far-reaching repercussions and fallout that reverberated throughout. It's one of the most pivotal stories in all of comics, and its impact is still seen in the Marvel Universe today.

The story is this: Due to some terrible events that led to widespread death and damage at the hands of superheroes, mutants and villains, the public was at a breaking point. So the US government implemented the Superhero Registration Act, requiring all individuals with superhuman powers and abilities to register their identity with the government — mandatory.

This split all superheroes down the middle, with half choosing to support the government and led by Tony Stark/Iron Man, who became the avatar for the pro-registration side. The other half, led by Steve Rogers/Captain America, staunchly opposed the Superhero Registration Act and became the resistance. The two sides settled for trading political punches through propaganda, but eventually it escalated into all-out bloody war between the opposing factions.

Spider-Man was a pivotal character in the war, first siding with Iron Man and choosing to, for the first time in his existence, publicly reveal his identity as Peter Parker to the world in order to lend weight to his support of the Superhero Registration Act. Which is why it resonated even more deeply when he later had a crisis of conscience and ended up switching sides to lay his allegiance at Captain America's feet in what would become one of the most iconic scenes in comic book history.

This is why he's always the leader.
This is why he's always the leader.

HERE'S WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR...

There are two things on the internet that spawn more rumors and speculation than anything else. One is the Hollywood celebrity culture, and the other is comic book movies. Hypotheses abound about everything, from future MCU films to what minor Easter Eggs mean. It's difficult to separate fact from fiction when rumors regularly pop up, are modified, get shot down, and are replaced by another rumor in the span of 24 hours.

Still, there are a few things we know for certain about the future of the MCU and I believe it makes a case for Civil War.

MARVEL IS EXPANDING TO THREE FILMS A YEAR

In an interview from this year's SDCC with Comic Book Resources, Kevin Feige confirmed what we'd all assumed for a while now: Marvel is definitely making room for three movies per year on its release slate. Perhaps not every year from now on, but it will happen:

"Well, I think if you look at some of those dates that we've announced, we're going to three in a few of those years. Again, not because there's a number cruncher telling us to go to three, do more than two pictures a year, but because of the very reason just laid out: It is about managing those franchises, film to film, and when we have a team ready to go, why tell them to go away for four years just because we don't have a slot? We'd rather find a way to keep that going."

Why does this matter beyond us simply getting more superhero movies? Because Marvel's ultimate end game is not just about superheroes.

Marvel Cinematic Universe: Now with more space!
Marvel Cinematic Universe: Now with more space!

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY WAS THE START OF THE MARVEL COSMIC UNIVERSE

Sure, when people think of Marvel, their first thoughts are of Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, maybe the X-Men. Superheroes and mutants are at the forefront of public perception, and that's completely understandable. But what many people forget is that the phrase "Marvel Universe" means exactly that — it's not just a world Marvel has built, but a universe.

Among the capes and spandex on Planet Earth, Marvel has also built up a vast cosmic universe. Space operas, laser beams, aliens, spaceships and intergalactic battles factor into Marvel's comics as much as any Earthbound antics. Crossovers between the two regularly occur, but the sci-fi element of Marvel can stand on its own, and this is something Marvel wanted to make emphatically clear to audiences, and did, with [Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073).

Make no mistake, Guardians wasn't created simply to play second fiddle to Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Marvel absolutely intended it to be a launchpad for the cosmic side of its universe, and its upcoming slate of movies supports this: [Guardians of the Galaxy 2](movie:1081113), [Doctor Strange](movie:559685), [Ms. Marvel](movie:949779), even [The Inhumans](movie:910490), which we know is moving forward into development.

And here's where the three movies a year thing becomes important: That is a hell of a lot of Marvel movies to put on screen in the next few years and Marvel's model is that while each movie can be watched and enjoyed in and of itself, each movie builds in some small way off of or moves toward the larger picture. Right now, that main storyline is the aforementioned Infinity Gauntlet arc, and that story is currently unfolding in the Marvel Cosmic Universe. Think about it: Right now, we know of three Infinity Stones (or Gems) revealed, along with the Gauntlet, and all four pieces are in the Cosmic end of things. The Tesseract, along with the Gauntlet, are secured in Asgard. The Collector has the Aether from [Thor: The Dark World](movie:206462) housed in his collection in Knowhere (we'll assume it wasn't destroyed in the explosion) and the Orb from [Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073) is now in the hands of what's left of the Nova Corp. That means there are three more to find in the MCU, assuming the "One down, five to go" tally by the Collector in the mid-credits scene of Thor 2 is correct. It's all but certain that one of the remaining Stones will be the focus of [Doctor Strange](movie:559685) and that the last two will also be found in space, not Earth.

The Aether in the Collector's possession.
The Aether in the Collector's possession.

As the Infinity Gauntlet storyline is moving from Earth to the Marvel Cosmic Universe, that means another main storyline needs to replace it for our heroes and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents of the (mostly) Earthbound half of the MCU. That story very much appears to be the grittier, far more human story that was central to [Captain America: The Winter Soldier](movie:254973) and is set to continue in [Ant-Man](movie:9048) (and was touched upon in [Iron Man 3](movie:24391)). There are no gods and cosmic entities here, no magical rocks and mystic portals, only the shadowiness of a government that can no longer entirely be trusted and the growing threat of powers that fall into the wrong hands. And less obvious but no less important, two Avengers starting to diverge along very different paths.

On one side, a vulnerable Tony Stark whose unchecked experiments and actions have come back to haunt him in the form of superpowered villains. A paranoid Tony Stark who regularly suffers PTSD flashbacks from the destruction of New York. A more sober Tony Stark who destroys his suits in a decision to spend more time with Pepper — and also because he knows his suits can no longer be trusted not to be exploited.

On the other, a conflicted Steve Rogers who is quickly becoming disillusioned with his government and critical of the ways in which it polices its own people. A moral Steve Rogers who increasingly chafes at the idea of working for a government agency he can no longer trust. An independent Steve Rogers who looks to the measures being taken to protect the American people and sees them only as a source of fear, not freedom.

The seeds of their opposition have been there all along. What we all laughed off as a scene included just to build dramatic tension in the Avengers is actually the first clear evidence of the way in which their ideologies directly clash:

And we've recently learned that divide will only continue to get wider by the end of [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](movie:293035).

CAPTAIN AMERICA WILL BE FORMING HIS OWN TEAM

Marvel is making a bold statement with Age of Ultron. Not only will the stakes be higher than ever before, but Captain America will be forming his own new team of Avengers. It won't be a major part of the movie, but one of Marvel's trademark post-credits scenes, which makes complete sense to set it up and tease audiences for what is sure to be an important plot point for both [Captain America 3](movie:994409) and [The Avengers 3](movie:738027).

We don't know yet why Steve Rogers will form the new team, but there are two possible reasons: One is that Steve will be one of the few (if not only) original Avengers to survive the events of Age of Ultron. And while it's possible that one or two of the Avengers might die, it's improbable that enough of the Avengers will be permanently wiped out to the point that a completely new team will need to be rebuilt. It would alienate the audience and it just doesn't make any sense from either a continuity standpoint or a marketing one.

The other more plausible reason is that the divide between Iron Man and Captain America will become even greater during Age of Ultron, with the widespread destruction and its effects sowing complete discord among the current Avengers. So Steve, whether from necessity or a sense of duty, forms a new team to fight alongside him.

We also don't know which team Captain America will be assembling, or even if they'll keep the Avengers namesake at all. Cap has been affiliated with more than a dozen teams in his long life, and it's also possible that Marvel will create a completely new team for Steve to lead, one that doesn't already exist in the comic books.

His greatest power is to inspire those around him.
His greatest power is to inspire those around him.

Still, my money's on that offshoot being the New Avengers, a team that could easily evolve into Captain America's Secret Avengers, depending on subsequent events. Considering the stories that have transpired on screen already, it's reasonable to think that it might not just be Cap who disagrees with the decisions being made by those in power. Steve Rogers has a way of inspiring unwavering loyalty in those who follow him, and it's not a stretch to imagine characters like Falcon and Bucky Barnes remaining staunchly loyal to him after the events of [Captain America: The Winter Soldier](movie:254973). And as we saw in that movie, Steve and his allies would have no trouble going underground to avoid detection if need be.

What's more, while it's not absolutely necessary to launch a New Avengers team on screen, it's worth noting that Marvel not only has the rights to, but is also planning projects featuring most of the superheroes that were part of the New Avengers by the end of the first volume: Captain America (Bucky Barnes version), Mockingbird (appearing in Season 2 of [Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.](series:722469)) , Luke Cage (Netflix series in development), Ms. Marvel (movie on the way), Spider-Man (property of Sony), Spider-Woman (recent comic series reboot and rumors of a movie), Wolverine (owned by Fox) and Ronin.

A quick streamlining in which you remove Wolverine, keep Bucky Barnes (but in the guise of the Winter Soldier, not Captain America), with Steve Rogers as the team leader instead of Ronin, and it's easily doable, especially since so many of these characters will already have been introduced to us by the time Avengers 3 hits screens. You could even throw Falcon, firmly on Cap's side in the Civil War arc, and Black Widow into the mix if you wanted. The beauty of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that while it remains true to the spirit of the comic books, it ultimately doesn't have to depend upon them. It's malleable and can be (and often is) changed to suit the needs of building a universe in the medium of film rather than ink and paper.

But there's one major wall-crawling character that almost certainly jumped out to people familiar with the Civil War story and if you thought that was an oversight on my part, it wasn't. I haven't yet addressed the most obvious hurdle as to why we will never see Civil War played out on screen, or at least any time soon.

MARVEL DOESN'T OWN THE RIGHTS TO ALL THE KEY PLAYERS

Which of these things is not like the others?
Which of these things is not like the others?

The shutdown answer for whether we'll see Civil War on the big screen in the next few years has always begun and ended with the fact that it's an impossibility considering the fact that Marvel Studios doesn't even own the movie rights to some of the major characters in the story. Open and shut, case closed, there's no way Marvel could make it happen without certain characters that belong to other studios.

Except... that it could. And here's why.

NOT ALL THOSE 'KEY' PLAYERS ARE KEY

Marvel owns the rights to the majority of the characters that are featured in the main Civil War story, and while the tie-in series are great and help to flesh out the universe, they're not absolutely necessary to tell the main story on screen. They're not vital. When you get down to brass tacks, the only absolutely indispensable superheroes of the Civl War story are Captain America and Iron Man. The rest are negotiable, could be swapped out for other characters, or add a layer of support to the story rather than being a key element.

The X-Men and the rest of the mutants don't affect the events of Civil War, as Emma Frost tells Iron Man that the X-Men won't sign the Superhero Registration Act, but neither will they side with Steve Rogers' anti-registration resistance, remaining neutral and effectively sidelining themselves. Wolverine does become involved, but only as a side story, and Professor Xavier isn't even on Earth at the time of the war. Likewise, while Mr. Fantastic is a staunch supporter of the act and Tony Stark's right-hand man on the pro-registration side in the comics, his character doesn't need to exist in the movie universe for the story to work.

So that just leaves one last superhero that might be the only other indispensable character besides Cap and Iron Man: That aforementioned wall-crawler, Spider-Man. But — his rights belong to Sony, and Sony isn't relinquishing them any time soon. So it's impossible for Spidey to be a part of the MCU, right? Maybe not, actually.

SPIDER-MAN COULD APPEAR IN THE MCU

Pivotal.
Pivotal.

Spidey plays a crucial role in Civil War and was the superhero whose impact was felt on both sides of the battle. While you can make a case for leaving out the rest of the secondary characters and retcon the story if you had to, leaving Spider-Man out of the Civil War story would make it... not the Civil War story. So Spider-Man has to appear in an MCU crossover at some point if this is going to happen, and while that idea seems hopeless, it's actually not as far-fetched as it appears on the surface. Why?

SONY AND MARVEL HAVE A FRIENDLY RELATIONSHIP

Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox are not about to play nice with each other, at least, not any time soon. For various reasons, Marvel has been moving its branding away from the X-Men and mutants in general, not least of which because Fox declared it legal grounds for litigation against Marvel if they ever used the word "mutant(s)" in any live-action Marvel films. So Marvel has responded in kind. It's a brilliant business strategy, really, but it means neither Fox nor Marvel appear to be willing to work together in the near future.

Sony Pictures Entertainment and Marvel Studios, however, have a good working relationship with one another and while they are competitors in a sense, they recognize the mutually beneficial nature of working together. In fact, Sony Pictures Imageworks was a crucial part of the VFX postproduction team on Marvel's [Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073), a collaboration that worked out well for both parties, with SPI VFX Supervisor Pete Travers indicating it wouldn't be the last time the two worked together:

"Our work on Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy was probably the quickest we've ever turned anything around for any of our clients—it was also some of the most artistically satisfying, because of our continuing collaboration with both Marvel and MPC, which deepens with every project. I also think this is one of Marvel's boldest projects, and it was really fun to work on."

Those are the words of a man whose parent company has plans to get very, very cozy with Marvel Studios over the next few years. And that's a savvy move on their part considering Sony's current situation.

OK, so it wasn't always a smooth relationship.
OK, so it wasn't always a smooth relationship.

SONY PICTURES NEEDS FINANCIAL HELP RIGHT NOW

While everything seems rosy from the outside, the reality is that Sony is struggling right now. Viable blockbuster franchises are what keep major studios afloat in the landscape of Hollywood and Sony has been slower than all the other studios at launching flagship franchises. The reality is that the only franchise Sony has going for it right now is The Amazing Spider-Man (the James Bond franchise simply doesn't churn out movies quickly enough or with enough tie-in opportunities). And while [The Amazing Spider-Man 2](movie:508593) made solid box office returns, it was the least well-received of all the major superhero movies released this year. The affable Andrew Garfield does a great job as Spider-Man and has become a fan favorite, but the overall feeling fans seem to have for the movies themselves is: "OK, but not great." In a climate where studios have to continually produce solid to great blockbusters in order to make money, that spells trouble for Sony.

Last year was a disappointing one for Sony, with blockbusters like [After Earth](movie:319176) and [White House Down](movie:387390) completely bombing at the box office. So bad was the bleeding that Sony posted an $181 million operating loss for its second quarter. 2014 hasn't been much better, with [RoboCop](movie:23537) flaming out and upcoming [The Equalizer](movie:4448) still a major question mark until it hits theaters. And while Sony has announced plans to expand the Spider-Man Universe, with [Venom](movie:372411) and [Sinister Six](movie:1274281) movies in the works, the thus-far lukewarm fan reaction to the rebooted Spider-Man franchise doesn't fill one with confidence that either movie has the ability to launch another solid franchise for Sony.

The bottom line is, while it's not being made public, Sony desperately needs all the help it can get, from a financial standpoint. Teaming up with Marvel to share the rights to Spider-Man is something that would benefit Sony far more than Marvel; say Sony loans out the Spider-Man character to Marvel in order for him to appear in the MCU. Maybe Sony receives some kickback from any Marvel Studios-produced film in which Spider-Man appears, while still retaining the ability to continue with its own Amazing Spider-Man franchise. Or perhaps the deal is that Marvel helps finance [The Amazing Spider-Man 3](movie:671279) on the condition that Sony lends out the character to Marvel for use in one of its upcoming films. In either scenario, Sony receives financial support from Marvel and gets the added bump of its Spider-Man now being firmly associated in audience's minds with the magic of Marvel. Marvel regains the ability to showcase its most iconic character in its movies again and receives its own bump in brand cohesiveness. And fans are happy with both studios because they found a way to give audiences exactly what they want. Everyone wins.

Two minor but interesting things to note here are that Andrew Garfield would absolutely be down to appear in an Avengers movie. And there was also the time that this happened:

While the Chronicle writer might be somewhat of a loose cannon in the industry, he's still very well-connected and it's worth noting that those tweets were quickly deleted, though this one remained:

Normally, a "furious" response to revealing or leaking something in the entertainment industry only happens when the leak happens to be true, or contains at least the seed of truth. This was also just after [The Amazing Spider-Man 2](movie:508593) was released in theaters but had been in theaters long enough for Sony to read the writing on the wall. The existence of certain conversations — or at least their outcomes — were resting on how TASM2 did in theaters. And rest assured those conversations did happen at some point. Those sorts of conversations always happen. And nothing truly stays secret in the industry; people talk. It's not a stretch to think Sony might have been in quiet conversation with Marvel at that time and word got out.

WE WON'T SEE SPIDER-MAN AGAIN ON SCREEN UNTIL 2018

After The Amazing Spider-Man 2 did OK-but-not-great at the box office, Sony suddenly made the decision to bump [The Amazing Spider-Man 3](movie:671279) back from May 27, 2016, all the way to 2018 and replace it with [Sinister Six](movie:1274281) as its movie for 2016 with a release date of November 16.

All of which means it will be four full years between Amazing Spider-Man movies, and that is death for a character's brand recognition, even if he is as popular as Spider-Man. And this shouldn't be a problem, considering Spider-Man's main nemeses will be showing up in 2016 with Spidey presumably battling his villains. Except... he might not be. Really. In a recent interview with The Toronto Sun, Garfield indicated that Spider-Man wouldn't really be a crucial piece of the villain puzzle:

"I know more than I’m allowed to say right now.

"I can say I’m really excited about Drew Goddard, who’s going to be writing and directing The Sinister Six movie. And whether I’m involved in that or not is kind of immaterial."

Which is a really odd thing for him to say, honestly. If he means it in the sense that a script for a Sinister Six movie could be written and made viable as a villain standalone without Spider-Man, then yes, possibly that could be true, depending on the strength of the script. But Spider-Man not being involved in the Spider-Man Universe for four whole years is very much not immaterial. Garfield hanging up the Spider suit for that long is madness. It's death from a marketing perspective, and Sony knows this.

So if we work with the assumption he will not appear in a Sony movie for the next few years (and I realize I'm making a leap here), but it's imperative that Spider-Man appears on screen at some point in those four years to keep the brand recognition going — where does that leave him?

It leaves him plenty of time to film scenes for Marvel, that's where. [Captain America 3](movie:994409) is going to be bonkers and, as directors Joe and Anthony Russo have indicated, they already have a title for the movie that's been kept heavily under wraps as savvy fans will immediately know what storyline its following the minute they learn the title. There aren't many titles in the Marvel pantheon that are iconic enough to have that immediate recognition, so it narrows down the contenders. The events of the third Captain America movie will of course be a direct reaction to the events of Age of Ultron. It's set to hit theaters on May 6, 2016.

No date has yet been set for [The Avengers 3](movie:738027), but it's safe to assume it will follow the Marvel model and hit theaters in 2018, just as The Amazing Spider-Man 3 is set to do. That leaves Garfield with a wide-open schedule to film both, theoretically assuming he doesn't accept any outside projects with extensive filming — Martin Scorsese's [Silence](movie:30149) is the only movie on his upcoming schedule and it's already set to shoot this year. So in theory, a shooting schedule could be worked out that would enable him to appear in both Marvel movies while completing the third film in his own franchise with Sony.

The pieces are all in place for Civil War to work in the MCU. It's simply a matter of Sony and Marvel finding a way to work together on it. Considering Sony's current situation and its history of collaboration, stretching that partnership to include a major crossover between the two studios suddenly becomes something that seems like the next logical step rather than a pipe dream.

HOW IT MIGHT UNFOLD...

In the comic book universe, the public outcry for the Superhero Registration Act arose after a string of events that caused a high death toll and mass destruction, including a Hulk rampage across Las Vegas that killed 26 people (and let's not forget that Iron Man will break out his Hulkbuster armor in Age of Ultron) and an attack on Manhattan that was a direct retaliation for Nick Fury's covert ops mission in the Secret War series.

But the match that finally lit the fuse was when the young and reckless New Warriors, a relatively inexperienced superhero team that was also the focus of a reality show, decided to take on a group of supervillains in an attempt to bump ratings. The plan went awry and the villain Nitro blew up multiple city blocks — including an elementary school that was at the center of the blast. More than 600 civilians died, with 60 of those being children. Of the superheroes, only Nitro himself and the Warrior Speedball survivied.

The image of superheroes completely plummeted after that, with public perception at a low point and outrage building. Thus the introduction and passing of the Superhero Registration Act legislation.

As I mentioned before, the beauty of what Marvel is doing on screen is that it owes its foundation to the comic books without having to be beholden to them. The actual events that cause the rift between superheroes and the public don't have to be the exact ones that started the war in the comic book world. There have been more than enough moments of widespread destruction in the MCU to achieve the same end result, first and foremost being the complete devastation of Manhattan at the hands of Loki in The Avengers, swaths of Washington, D.C. being destroyed in , and the US President being kidnapped and almost assassinated in [Iron Man 3](movie:24391). From what we know of the danger Ultron will pose for the Avengers, the death toll and fallout will dwarf in scope even that of the Battle of Manhattan.

There is no conceivable way the Avengers — or the world — will walk away from the events of Age of Ultron unscathed, no way they will not have to answer for what happened. The government will no longer be able to allow those with superpowers and abilities to run around completely unchecked after that.

So perhaps the government drafts this bill and goes to Tony Stark with it to ask him, as the rockstar face of the Avengers, to support it. Stark, tired of the PTSD and the destruction, agrees and honestly believes it's for the best. And the government then goes to Steve Rogers, Captain America himself, and asks the same. Rogers, tired of feeling shackled by the government and understanding the only way superheroes can stop a threat is if they are truly free, refuses. Perhaps the government officials tell him that his buddy Iron Man supports the bill. Or perhaps Tony goes to him himself and tries to persuade him to see reason and back the legislation.

But Captain America takes an inventory of his soul and realizes that in his heart he can never support the Superhero Registration Act, while Iron Man knows he can no longer sit by and let these events keep happening without trying to regulate the destruction somehow, even if it's not the most ideal solution.

And maybe later Peter Parker, still reeling from the death of Gwen Stacy, decides to join Iron Man's side because he idealistically believes it will help to stop villains like Green Goblin and Electro from harming innocent people.

Whatever the case, the end result is that a clear line in the sand gets drawn. Some will stay with Iron Man. Some will side with Captain America and be part of his new team of Avengers. The conflict escalates in Captain America 3, and the Avengers 3 finally brings us to all-out war (though I am completely aware that the timeline might need to be lengthened a little bit).

If done right, it might be one of the most incredible stories we've ever seen played out on the big screen.

And if not done at all, it would be a tragedy.


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