Next spring Marvel will kick off phase three of their cinematic universe with the third Captain America movie Civil War. Based loosely on the comic book crossover event of the same name, it is going to feature virtually every hero introduced in the movies to date, including fan favorite Iron Man. The comic event had a few flaws that made it a less than stellar story. I want to talk about those flaws in the hope that the movie version avoids them.
When the crossover event was first announced, it was stated that they wanted to tell a story that pitted hero against hero, operated in shades of gray, and did not have an obvious villain. The story revolved around a genuine disagreement about individual freedom versus the safety of society at large. After a disaster resulting from a group of attention seeking superheroes taking on a villain who was more desperate and ruthless than they realized, the government takes steps to register all masked heroes, and regulate their activity.
Iron Man gets on board with the program. Captain America sees it as a violation of everything he has fought to preserve all these years. Captain America and his followers are considered to be criminals when they refuse to come in for registration. Iron Man is put in charge of bringing them in.
Now it's not hard to see the real world events these stories were trying to parallel. And even though Marvel claimed they were not going to take one side or the other in this event, someone in charge of the story obviously felt otherwise. It did not take long before Iron Man became a heavy handed fascist, who went so far as to recruit supervillains to bring in the wayward heroes by any means necessary. He uses a cyborg clone of Thor to subdue his foes, and as a result Goliath is killed. Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic build a prison in the Negative Zone, where dissenting heroes are kept with the villains who declined to sign up. No trials or release dates for these prisoners, and escape would mean being stranded in the Negative Zone.
This had the effect of Making Tony Stark seem a bigger villain than many the Avengers had fought in the past. This seemed like a waste of a beloved character, and it took me a long time before I even wanted to read a comic with Iron Man in it. It would have been far more interesting had they stuck with the original concept of not having good guys and bad guys, but two groups of good guys split along ideological lines. Imagine how much better the story would have been had you wanted to root for both sides, knowing the whole time that one side was destined to lose. Instead they cheapened the story and squandered the good will toward one of their major characters in order to make a political point.
I'm not saying politics have no place in comics. They have often been a place to discuss topics too risky for other media. But if your politics trump your story, you have a major problem. People won't read it if it's not good, and those who do will have a bad taste in their mouth and are less likely to see your point of view.
I think the MCU is less likely to risk alienating half their movie audience by taking such an obvious political stance. I also believe they are not likely to do anything unpleasant with Tony Stark's character, as Robert Downey Jr. is one of the most bankable assets they have. Normally this unwillingness to push the envelope with the story would be seen as a negative. In this case I believe it could actually make for a more interesting story than the source material offered.