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Does Captain America: Civil War Have a Required Reading List?

Written by Laura Sheehan

At first glance, Marvel’s Civil War seems too overwhelming to be the subject of only one movie. The story took over the Marvel universe and affected every aspect of it. What’s more, it came from decades of comic history. This begs the question of how Captain America: Civil war will work for a casual audience. Is it possible for something of this scope to be accessible to people who are less familiar with comics? Since secret identities haven’t been a major part of the MCU, it could be tricky to accept the premise of the Superhuman Registration Act. With Batman v Superman premiering last month, it might appear that the two studios are attempting to capitalize on the same idea. How could this appeal to anyone who isn’t already familiar with the comics? The answer is actually fairly simple: the same way any adaptation captures a new audience.

The Civil War story is complicated. Crucial information is spread over different Marvel series. Reading the entire story means tracking down dozens of tie in issues as well as the key issues. The major events involved both well known and obscure characters, which means reading the story requires familiarity with both. However, understanding the essential conflict requires none of those things. The conflict is between two major characters: Captain America and Iron Man, and based on whether or not superheroes should be held accountable by the government. Therefore, the challenge is how the movie incorporates those details.

Adapting a source material, whether it’s a novel or a comic series, requires filmmakers to make changes. The plot will be simplified, and things will be cut for time. In the case of the Civil War arc, a story spanning dozens of characters, settings, and subplots can’t work as one feature length movie without some major changes. An audience needs a story that focuses on a few characters it can become invested in. It also needs plots that are clearly set up, don’t require too much exposition, and pay off in a logical and emotionally satisfying way. As a result, the story that appeared in the comic series will be condensed. We’ve seen this in comic book adaptations before, and Captain America: Civil War will have to make the same adjustments simply to be a coherent movie.

Like all adaptations, this movie will be judged independently of its source material. Fans will, naturally, discuss how well it told the original story or complain about the things it let out. These are important factors to consider, as the movie needs to be recognizable to the fans. However, the ability for casual fans to understand or appreciate this movie depends on its merits as a film. A good adaptation not only relays the original story, but it does so in a way that is accessible for its entire audience. So, the real question is: will Captain America: Civil War be a good movie?

From what we’ve seen, the answer appears to be yes. The story focuses on a small cast of characters, most of whom we have known through several movies. Additionally, the set up for the story differs from the comics. The destruction of several major cities and Buck Barnes’s escape stand in for an explosion that killed hundreds of children and most of the New Warriors. Meanwhile, the movie has kept the same basic conflict between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. Tony chooses to help create government oversight for superheroes, while Steve opposes his efforts. We’ve seen these two characters at odds because of their different philosophies before, which will help audiences find it believable this time. With the same conflict from the comics surrounded by a set up and characters that are easily identified by fans of the movies, it’s more than likely the story will be accessible to casual fans.

While some might point to the inclusion of Spider-Man as a potential source of confusion, that really comes down to how the film uses the character. At this point, most superhero fans are familiar with the character, even if they’ve never read a comic. He needs very little introduction, just a good reason to be in the movie. As one of the most popular characters of all time, he may be a big enough draw that audiences will be excited to see why he’s in this movie, instead of dubious. Given his central role in the original story, he will likely have a similarly important part that will justify his place in the adaptation.

All things considered, Captain America: Civil War promises to work for casual fans. The premise is well established within the movie universe and the original story has been simplified and altered. While the major concept hasn’t changed, the details that wouldn’t be accessible for moviegoers have changed. Therefore, it stands to reason that, as long as this is a good movie, it’ll be accessible for every level of fan.

What do you think? Is this a movie for all levels of fans, or will casuals leave the theater confused? Let us know in the comments, or give us a shout out on Twitter!

About the author

Laura Sheehan