Now that the initial shell shock has worn off, it’s time to think about what the news of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man joining Chris Evans’s star-spangled Avenger in Captain America 3 means for that movie and the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Because even though Downey’s presence will elevate the sequel’s box-office intake, it also introduces some major creative challenges, particularly if, as rumored, the film is going to be working from the Civil War comic book arc. Here’s a look at some of the potential hurdles facing the dynamic duo of Cap and Iron Man as the movie gears up for its May 2016 release date.
—Expect Captain America 3 to be a prelude to war rather than an all-out battle.
Orchestrated by Mark Millar, Civil War was a year-long comic book arc that impacted every single Marvel title. The basic gist of the story goes like so: following a particularly destructive hero vs. villain brawl that claimed hundreds of lives, the government decided to impose a superhero registration act that required costumed adventurers to make their secret identities public. (As Badass Digest notes, that wouldn’t necessarily be as big a deal in the movie-verse as everyone’s identity is basically public knowledge.) Tony Stark endorsed the move while Captain America disagreed and the two former colleagues turned against each other, leading separate superhero armies into battle. Given that the movie is called Captain America 3, it’s likely going to remain Cap-centric, with Iron Man being on hand to establish the universe-wide conflict that will drive the next big team-up movie, The Avengers 3. After all, it wouldn’t be fair to reduce Evans to an extra in his own movie, especially if, as has been speculated, this might be his last time wielding Cap’s shield.
—The Avengers aren’t the only heroes that would need to assemble
As The Hollywood Reporter points out, Marvel’s comic book Civil War made room for characters that the film arm doesn’t currently have access to, including Spider-Man, who has a key role in the way events unfold. The good news is that Spidey’s overlords at Sony may be willing to work out a deal for a cameo. The bad news? Don’t expect Fox to strike similar arrangements for the Fantastic Four, which also gets caught up in the conflagration, or members of the X-Men, who also appear. Even within the universe of characters that Marvel owns outright, there are still heroes who need to make a successful first-time appearance to be included in the Civil War ranks. Paul Rudd’s problem-plagued Ant-Man, for instance, is a big question mark and the studio is still looking to cast a Doctor Strange after Joaquin Phoenix opted out. There are also the heroes from the Netflix-based Marvel shows, which debut in 2015, who could also make the leap to the big screen, among them Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. Sure, all the familiar faces will turn up — their lucrative contracts mean they have to — but new blood is going to have be a part of the celluloid Civil War as well.
—What does it all mean for Phase Four?
On the page, Civil War ended with Captain America buried six feet under (and ex-Winter Solider Bucky Barnes taking his place) and Iron Man in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. Evans could still certainly meet his maker at the end of Captain America 3, but thanks to the events of The Winter Soldier, there’s currently no S.H.I.E.L.D. for Tony to take control of. (Although making Downey the new Sam Jackson would be a great way to keep him around without having to pay through the nose for more solo adventures.) And will audiences be ready for this kind of darker turn of events considering how crucial a role humor has played in the success of Marvel’s film franchise, from the first Iron Man to Guardians of the Galaxy? Speaking of the Guardians, they will likely be making it to Earth at some point. Will any of our favorites be left standing to greet them… and maybe join Groot in his happy dance?