'Captain America: Civil War' shows once again how Marvel wins at book to big screen adaptation

Zenia D'Cunha

May,09 2016 10:45:27 IST

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a book adaptation on the big screen in possession of a big studio must be in want of several changes.

These changes are often many, sometimes massive and almost inevitably end up inviting ire of loyal book readers who will always find a comparison to complain about. Just ask fans who are still upset that Harry destroyed the Elder Wand or questioning Peter Jackson about who the hell is Tauriel. (Let’s not even get into DC fans’ feeling towards Zack Snyder or even mention Weiss and Benioff’s killing spree to hardcore George RR Martin’s fanatics.)

Captain America: Civil War. Screen grab from YouTube

Captain America: Civil War. Screen grab from YouTube

But this is where the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) stands out over head and shoulders over contemporary page-to-screen attempts – treading the fine line between faithful translation of source material and contemporary adaptation for visual medium.

From the start of the MCU journey in 2008 with Robert Downey Jr’s in and as Iron Man, who, let’s face it, is practically Tony Stark in Hollywood (a young man who fell into bad habits but redeemed himself later and became a role model) to the latest Avengers: Age of Ultron where they set the foundation for Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther and Wakanda, Civil War (some of the biggest arcs in the comics), the studio has managed to adapt the fantastical world of comics while inserting a sense of realism, striking a balance between both formats.

And they have done this once again with the recently released Captain America: Civil War (CACW), a Marvel comic event that was adapted as a sequel to a solo superhero franchise, a seemingly ambitious stunt, pulled off with style.

(WARNING: Mild spoilers ahead)

Based on Mark Millar’s 2006-07 story arc, the Civil War was one of the most impactful Marvel comic events, setting the tone for an entirely different path for both superheroes and their genre of comics. And in about two hours or so, the film does justice to this magnanimous plot. That it has less than half the superheroes featured in comics would seem like a huge incongruence, but even that area is maneuvered through that with credibility.

I never thought there would come a day where I would say that a storyteller trumps Joss Whedon in the sc-fi/fantasy genre, but with CACW, filmmakers Joe and Anthony Russo have done just that. As the film review on Firstpost said, CACW is the sequel Whedon’s The Avengers deserved; this Captain America is a story far more compelling than Avengers: Age of Ultron(AOU), the actual sequel. The Russo Brothers have captured the dynamic of MCU’s on-screen heroes and blended them with the ethos of Marvel comics’ heroes, while retaining the essence of Mark Millar’s landmark story. No mean feat this!

The fact that it will be this duo (they previously worked on Captain America: The Winter Soldier), who will take over from Whedon for the mega-event that Avengers: Infinity Wars Part I and II will be, is enough to start salivating for the sequel that is years away.

All MCU films for obvious reasons are loosely based on the original comics, and thank Asgardian deities for that. The early superhero characters arcs and costumes in their vintage form would never have worked on screen in the 2000s (imagine the films with Nick Fury or Scarlet Witch’s original outfit on Elizabeth Olsen and shudder).

But with AOU, Whedon and Co took a big leap by making Ultron, the eponymous villain, a Tony Stark creation. In the comics, Ultron is created by Hank Pym, the original Ant Man (played by Michael Douglas in the MCU) and this was a significant change. Stark building Ultron, the murderous robot fused with JARVIS, was part of the long breadcrumbs trail that the studio laid out, starting from World War II (Captain America: The First Avenger) to Civil War, making CACW a point of no return in the MCU.

A word on this deliciously constructed breadcrumb trail – it has been put in place since the very beginning of the MCU — Tony Stark with devil-may-care-if-they-know-my-real-identity-attitude and his blatant disregard for rules in the Iron Man films, Steve Rogers, (Chris Evans) the ideal Boy Scout and his friendship with James ‘Bucky’ Barnes in the first Captain America film back in 2011. That these two heroes would clash, with or without the catalyst of the Superhero Registration Act (SRA) that was the trigger in the comic, was inevitable. The conflict of personalities between the two ‘friends’ has been well established by Whedon in both Avengers films.

But this is the Marvel studio we are talking about, so of course they found a way to tie in the SRA (known as the Solokovia accords in the film, after the AOU climatic disaster) with their contrasting personalities and Steve’s loyalty for Bucky (after whom a whole film was named) into one glorious spectacle.

The storyline of Captain America: The Civil War is brilliantly put together, and even though 80 percent of the plot was revealed thanks to the several trailers, it stays true to essence of Millar’s comics but adds the much needed, typical MCU formula, that can be best described as the heart of Marvel movies.

This heart is present in every scene of Captain America: Civil War – a combination of breath-taking visuals, with edgy action choreography, gorgeous CGI, gritty acting performances and a dash of humor amid the seriousness to lighten the proceedings. We have seen this formula several times before – in Hulk bashing the ‘Puny God’, in Star Lord’s dance-off to save the universe, in Tony Stark’s best dialogues, in Ant-Man’s every dialogue. Yet it works every single time and Civil War is no different.

With such a foreboding title and the ominous background of the comics, Civil War could have very well gone in the way of the other superhero battle film we saw this year. Yes, we have to mention Snyder's Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Justice here. The source material is dark enough with death and destruction in Millar’s comics. In the fact, the titular war gets dirty real fast and ends with ugly side of the super-powered, but ultimately human, characters laid bare and ends in the death of one of the most cherished heroes in the Marvel universe.

But CACW does one better – it gives you all the angst and horror of the comics without the all-pervading darkness. Take the much-touted airport fight sequence between Team Iron Man and Team Captain America – these squeaky clean guys fight hard and dirty with their friends. Watching Hawkeye and Black Widow punch each other, seeing Tony and Steve at loggerheads or War Machine and Vision injured (all of it seen in the trailers) will hit long-term Marvel fans hard. These people are friends, they shares houses and shawarama, they can’t be aiming to maim each other. Yet, this grim sequence is interspersed with a liberal dose of levity that in no way takes away the gravity of the battle. In fact, Spiderman and Ant-Man’s comic timing is the perfect foil needed to the Iron man/ War Machine vs Captain America/ Winter Soldier battle. (Props to Tom Holland’s Spiderman here, for being the perfect, young, sassy incarnation of Peter Parker straight from the comics and for that Star Wars reference.)

Another important factor that works immensely well for the MCU are the direct callbacks and Easter Eggs from the comics. These references, not overt enough to alienate non-readers, are a delight to loyal comic book geeks. The scene from the trailer where Ant-Man is launched off Hawkeye’s arrow to go attack is straight from an very popular comic book panel.. Several other elements such as  Captain America's iconic 'you move' speech (albeit recited by a different character), Spiderman’s capturing Cap’s shield with the his webbing, Giant Man, King T’Challa’s legacy as as Black Panther, the hint at the deeper relationship between Vision and Scarlet Witch (who are married in the comics), the secret prison for the superpowered, Peter Parker’s prodigy-like equation with Tony Stark, Falcon’s bird are all taken from the comics and executed brilliantly on screen. Bonus: For Community fans, the show that the Russo Brothers directed before joining the big screen, there's another Easter Egg - very similar to that Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Where Danny Pudi aka Abed made a cameo appearance) - watch out for Dean!

But being a quintessential book reader, one can still think of irregularities, if one looks enough. One big let-down for Millar fans was the exclusion of certain heroes who were instrumental in the comics. While Fantastic Four and X-Men may not be ‘right’fully theirs, others could have been there. But then again, one can’t hold this against the studio.

Another major difference is the lack of shocking plot twists that Millar incorporated so startlingly well in the original series. In the shorter seven issue version, each issue ends on a cliffhanger that makes you rush to the next part just to see what impact this new revelation has on the world. And these revelations are huge, like Spiderman revealing the true identity to the media, the reappearance of Thor (yes, yes Chris Hemsworth we hear you), the double agents’ treachery and the actual death in the conclusion.

In the books, the war only ends with surrender and death but the film resolves the conflict with a lot less bloodshed. While this is in no way a bad thing (we saw what Quicksilver’s death in AOU did) it veers very off course from the comics. Several fans anticipated a major character death before the film and the lack of it shows that the Russo Brothers took a relatively less controversial path out. Having said that, the climax still drives a huge wedge in the team that so inspiringly came together to battle Loki in New York. The damage has been done and the Avengers’ dynamic will never be the same. But over to Infinity Wars for that.

So go watch it and be excited for the upcoming spate of Marvel movies because if the glimpses of Doctor Strange are anything to go by, the MCU will continue to use their ‘heart’ which is probably their version of the Stark arc reactor. Dear Kevin Fiege and co, don’t be like Iron Man and let us down.

Updated Date: May 09, 2016 10:51 AM