Several years ago, writer Mark Millar and artist Steve McNiven kicked Marvel's line-wide event cycle into high gear with the release of Civil War. The crossover miniseries, which saw Iron Man and Captain America battling each other over the US government's Superhuman Registration Act, reverberated through every single Marvel title with ramifications that would linger for years.
There was just one major problem—it wasn't a very good story.
So when Marvel Studios announced that the third Captain America film would be titled Captain America: Civil War, there were people like myself who cringed. But as information came to light and the trailers appeared, it became clear that the Russo Brothers were taking a very loose inspiration from the comic.
And having just seen the movie, I can say this with absolute certainty: the movie is far better than the comic.
The comic opens with the New Warriors, a team of young superheroes, blundering a mission against a group of supervillains. This leads to an explosion that kills several children and many of the New Warriors themselves. Miriam Sharpe, the mother of one of the children, holds Tony Stark personally responsible. Because he's a superhero and an Avenger and as such, Stark is to blame for the actions of every single superhero on the planet.
Stark takes this attack personally so when the United States government trots out the Superhuman Registration Act, he backs it fully. The SRA would force all superhumans to register their identities with the government and receive training. Captain America oppose this because of concerns over civil liberties.
While some of this makes a kind of sense, the way it fell apart is in the portrayal of the characters. Steve has a position that's understandable, but he tries to prove he's in the right by beating the crap out of everyone who disagrees with him. Steve in this comic is far more akin to Millar's interpretation of the character from the Ultimate Marvel Universe—an alpha male thug who uses brute force to solve all his problems.
But Stark is far more problematic. He pursues the SRA with manic intensity. Supposedly, he's doing this because it will happen anyway and he can stop things from getting out of hand. Except he and Reed Richards create an interdimensional prison in the Negative Zone in order to indefinitely detain anyone who violates the SRA, he uses science to create a psychotic robot/clone of Thor, and he trots out an army of supervillains to pursue his supposed friends. In short, Stark acts just as bad as supervillains like Magneto or Doctor Doom.
The rest of the characters who appear in the comic seem to be present just because Millar flipped through a copy of The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe, wrote down names on slips of paper, and drew them from a hat to see who ends up where. No reason is ever given why certain characters support Iron Man or Cap.
Spider-Man is a pivotal character in the miniseries. Leading up to the event, he and Stark have been getting pretty chummy. So when Tony needs Spidey's support, he gives it and publicly reveals to the world that he's really Peter Parker.
Nevermind the fact that this goes completely against Spider-Man's entire reason for existing. The crux of Spidey's character is with great power comes great responsibility. That means not only responsibility to use his powers for good, but it also extends to protecting his loved ones. Peter knows firsthand what his enemies would do if they know his identity—he's seen it happen when characters like the Green Goblin and Venom have discovered who he is—and yet he abdicates his responsibility and reveals his identity in a press conference.
And sure enough, following the crossover, the villains go after his loved ones. Which a supposed futurist like Stark should have seen coming. Which Peter should have known would happen based on his own personal history.
There's also a gratuitous death scene. You see, because you apparently can't have an event that means anything without someone dying. So who is killed in the comic? Captain America? Iron Man? Spider-Man? Haha, no, of course not. The character who is killed is Black Goliath.
Yes, Black Goliath. A character who hasn't been seen or heard from in literally decades is sacrificed in order to give this event meaning.
(NOTE: Yes, I realize Steve Rogers was killed after he turned himself in. But that occurred outside the event in his own title and his death was only tangentially related to the crossover.)
Now look at Marvel's latest film, Captain America: Civil War. Much like Avengers: Age of Ultron, the movie really only takes the title from the comics and then builds up its own story.
In Captain America: Civil War, the world is concerned about the actions of the Avengers, citing the battles in New York, Washington, Sokovia, and Lagos (which opens this film). The UN wants the Avengers to agree to the Sokovia Accords, which would subject the Avengers to oversight.
Stark, after being confronted by a member of the US State Department whose son was killed in Sokovia, feels that they need this oversight. Steve, however, worries that if they sign the Accords, politics will interfere with their mission.
The motivations of each character who appears in this movie is handled beautifully. Everyone has a reason to side with either Cap or Iron Man. These reasons are clearly thought out and they fit with each character's personality and development.
There also are no senseless, gratuitous deaths thrown into the movie just for the sake of shock value. Although many assumed War Machine would die based on the trailers, he survives. Others have thought Steve would die by the end of the film, paving the way for Bucky to pick up the shield. Again, this doesn't happen.
Another important aspect of the story is the involvement of Helmut Zemo. In the comics, Baron Zemo did play a role in a crossover tie-in. In Fabian Nicieza's excellent Thunderbolts comic, Zemo makes a deal with Stark and it's how Stark gets his supervillain army.
In the movie, however, Zemo is a former Sokovian soldier whose family was killed during Age of Ultron. He's using the Winter Soldier as a way to manipulate the Avengers against each other, and he does so masterfully.
The Russos clearly constructed this movie around the actions of the characters. They looked at the movies that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe and they built up a very believable and coherent narrative. They found motivations to the characters that actually make sense for those characters.
In the Civil War comic, motivations were chosen in advance and then the characters forced to fit those motivations. That's not the case here. Millar slammed characters into roles he wanted without considering if the pieces fit, like a square peg in a round hole. The Russos looked at the larger picture and the story comes from the characters.
Captain America: Civil War is by far the greatest Marvel Studios' film to date. It's not only a visual spectacular, but it's also a very character-driven movie. In the run-up to the movie, people tweeted #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan to indicate which Avenger they support. But when you're actually sitting in the theater and watching the movie play out, it becomes a lot harder to choose a side.