Come 2016, two of the biggest, most iconic characters in the history of the superhero movie genre will be pitted against one another, and so will Batman and Superman. Variety’s Marc Graser has posted one bombshell of an article, reporting that Robert Downey, Jr. is in talks with Marvel Studios to join Chris Evans in CAPTAIN AMERICA 3. For the first time ever, though, audiences may find it a little difficult to like Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, when he plays the role of antagonist to Captain America in an adaptation of Marvel’s famed CIVIL WAR storyline from the comics. 

Suddenly, all of Downey’s vague teasing during interviews for THE JUDGE makes sense. There are, as Downey said, no plans for IRON MAN 4 at the moment, but he is negotiating with Marvel on some (very) big things the studio has planned. The IRON MAN star is already signed on for AVENGERS 3 after next summer’s AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, so this is indeed a new deal that suggests Downey is ready and willing to suit up as often as he is needed, provided the ink on the script and contract pages looks right. Financial issues are for Marvel Studios and Downey’s reps to worry about. For fans, this is a huge win and, when you think about it, a bit of a mystery.

For the benefit of those who’ve not yet read the massive Marvel event, CIVIL WAR was a series that found Iron Man and Captain America on opposite sides of a heated political debate over the Superhero Registration Act. The contentious piece of legislation required anyone with superpowers to register with the federal government, which included divulging one’s secret identity. Tony Stark was for the SRA, which became law, while Steve Rogers (Captain America) was so adamant in his opposition that, per the new law, he became a criminal and a fugitive.

Some of the biggest names in the Marvel Universe were compelled to choose sides and join Stark or Rogers in the fight. After all, those in favor of the SRA were charged by their new government bosses with the task of hunting down and arresting the noncompliants.

The mystery in the cinematic iteration of this storyline is twofold. First, will the SRA create the line that divides Iron Man and Captain America? The heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have, in effect, already worked for the government by joining forces with S.H.I.E.L.D. Also, secret identities can’t be much of an issue since no current superhero in the MCU has one. Everyone knows who Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America are. Matt Murdock may actually be the first to keep his costumed identity a secret when DAREDEVIL lands on Netflix next year.

The second mysterious element is which other characters will be included in CAPTAIN AMERICA 3 and any other films in which this storyline could continue. Spider-Man was a central piece of the CIVIL WAR puzzle in the comics, so one has to wonder if there is any truth to the rumor of Marvel and Sony, the latter of which holds the film rights to the Web-Slinger, looking to make a deal that would bring Spidey to the MCU. Ant-Man and Doctor Strange are both scheduled to have their own movies in the next two years and were part of the CIVIL WAR arc on the page, so they could be on screen as well.

The vague, obvious solution to these mysteries is adaptation. The SRA could be modified or an entirely different issue can be used to divide Iron Man and Cap. The public shaming of S.H.I.E.L.D. could lead to pressure on superheroes to work for a seemingly more transparent branch of the government. Perhaps their will be hard feelings over this or another matter at the end of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON.

If Spider-Man isn’t available, other characters can be used to fill any necessary roles in the movie version. Certainly, Marvel does not plan on doing a literal and direct replication of CIVIL WAR from page to screen. The company is, however, already at work building up the CIVIL WAR brand with a tweet today hinting at the reintroduction and perhaps even reignition of the modern classic in 2015.

As we eagerly await an official announcement from Marvel and then focus on figuring out how all of this will come together, it is important to take a moment and just enjoy this massive news. This is the stuff comic book and movie fan dreams are made of. Just stop and think about some of the movies we’ll all be enjoying between May 1, 2015 and May 6, 2016:

  • AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
  • JURASSIC WORLD
  • ANT-MAN
  • BOND 24
  • THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2
  • STAR WARS: EPISODE VII
  • DEADPOOL
  • BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
  • CAPTAIN AMERICA 3 (CIVIL WAR)

That’s one incredible 12-month span. If those weren’t enough, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE joins that illustrious list on May 27, 2016. Every time we think we’re in the golden age of geekdom, we’re reminded, as we were today, that it’s only just begun.