One of the biggest blockbusters of 2016, Captain America: Civil War took inspiration from Mark Millar’s 2006-2007 Marvel Comics crossover series that gave it its title, telling the story of a superhero community torn apart by philosophical differences. But it wasn’t always so. There was once an alternate version of the MCU’s third Captain America movie that originally 3 focused much more on Bucky Barnes and his journey coming out of the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Screenwriter Christopher Markus recently explained,
There were outlines where we had the Zemo plotline based around Bucky. We had that whole structure. But it wasn't so much about pitting Steve and Tony together. When Civil War rose to the surface, it fit in really nicely into that.
Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier certainly plays a significant part in Captain America: Civil War, but according to a recent Hollywood Reporter interview with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely he originally had an even bigger role in the narrative. Because Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark wasn’t always a guaranteed part of the film, there was initially no conflict between him and Steve Rogers to set up, so in the absence of that storyline Bucky took center stage.
According to Markus, the plotline that existed in older outlines with Bucky still had Daniel Brühl’s Zemo has a key player, so it doesn’t sound like his story was drastically different in the development of Captain America 3. That being said, there probably were some key alterations made, such as the significance of the brainwashed super soldier killing Tony Stark's parents.
Ultimately the option of creating a big screen version of Civil War came along. The writers were able to work that iconic comics storyline in and make everything in the established Marvel Cinematic Universe fit and function as a cohesive story. Being able to do Civil War also apparently proved fortuitous for the writers, because apparently the Bucky and Zemo material wasn’t strong enough to carry the film, as screenwriter Stephen McFeely explained:
It wasn't a great enough A-plot. It became an excellent B-plot.
According to Stephen McFeely, having the focus of the film be Bucky Barnes and the story of Zemo controlling him wasn’t all that great. By shifting that story from the main focus to the B-plot was much more effective. It actually complemented the story of the conflict between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark too, by having their disagreement about the Sokovia Accords give way to a more personal dispute over what Bucky’s fate should be.
It’s hard to disagree with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely given how well Captain America: Civil War turned out. It now stands as one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most beloved films, and one of the most important given how the ramifications of it reverberate throughout many of the movies that followed it. The conflict between Tony and Steve ultimately carries throughout the rest of the Phase 3 films all the way until Avengers: Endgame, proving to make Zemo one of the franchise's most successful villains.
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