Not only is the film’s roster bigger than previous Avengers outings at the time, but it also pits Chris Evans’ Captain America against Robert Downey Jr.‘s Iron Man. Add the fact that it was both Black Panther and Spider-Man’s debut MCU movie, and it’s almost hard to believe the concept worked in the first place.
However, there was a time when the Captain America project didn’t have Iron Man or Spider-Man; there was no fracturing of the superhero community. Instead, it would be centered on a very different plot device.
Captain America Avoids the Madbomb
In an interview with The Town podcast, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever producer Nate Moore talked about the development of the third Captain America film and how it was almost something very different from Civil War.
Moore revealed that originally, the team had been developing a version of Captain America 3 which would have been built around “the Madbomb… [which is a device that] goes off and causes normal people to start fighting each other:”
“… So we were developing Captain America 3 and we were [doing] really good. Winter Soldier worked, people were back in, they’re interested, and we were talking about a movie, and we knew we had to resolve, obviously, the Winter Soldier storyline. We wanted Cap and Bucky to ultimately reunite. And the plot that we… And we knew we wanted to use Zemo. What a great character. You know, he’s obviously a classic Cap villain. And we were building the movie around a MacGuffin around the Madbomb, which, the Madbomb goes off and causes normal people to start fighting each other. It’s honestly a little similar to what I think they did in Kingsman.”
The Madbomb was first introduced in 1975’s Captain America #193 and was a device that came in different sizes that, when activated, would make everyone in a given area give in to a supernaturally induced rage fit.
While Moore and the team thought it was going well, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige thought this Madbomb story wasn't "big enough," and thus paved a new path for the movie:
“And it was cool, and it was grounded, and it was political, and whatever, and [Feige] was like, ‘That’s not a big enough idea, guys.’ And we’re like, ‘Let us write a draft, we’ll prove it to you.’ [Feige:] ‘Okay, prove it to me.’ As we’re getting done with it… he pulls me into his office and he said, ‘You know, I think we should try to do Civil War.’ And I was like, ‘Kevin, we don’t have half the stuff that’s in Civil War. We don’t have the New Warriors, we don’t have… Here’s all the reasons why we can’t do it.’ And he’s like, ‘Go home, read it, let’s talk about it.’ So I went home that night, read it… I re-read it, ’cause I had read it before and I was like, ‘Yeah, look we don’t have the Negative Zone prison…’ There were so many things that we didn’t have.”
Despite not having the many elements listed by Moore, Feige was still very confident in adapting Civil War—something he made clear when he told the writer’s room, “stop with the Madbomb, you guys are doing Civil War:”
“And he’s like, ‘Okay, okay.’ And so I went to the writer’s room with Markus, McFeely, and Joe, and Anthony, and Kevin peeked his head in and he goes, ‘So, stop with the Madbomb, you guys are doing Civil War.’ And I was like, ‘Ah, fuck.’ And Joe was like, ‘Yes! Civil War? Awesome!’ And then we had to figure out how to do Civil War. But he was like, ’There wasn’t a big enough idea that would get audiences excited and we did it. Look, It was scary and when you’re throwing out a whole thing and starting new, it’s always a bit weird, but he was right. He was right. We were still able to pay off the Bucky storyline. We still figured out how to use Zemo. But the central conceit of the movie was something that audiences would gravitate towards and they did.”
In a previous interview with Entertainment Weekly, directing duo The Russo Brothers spoke in more detail about the alternate version of the third Captain America film that could have been.
Anthony Russo revealed that “the charm of the Madbomb” is how it “turn[s] hordes of people into berserkers:”
“The charm of the Madbomb is that you turn hordes of people into berserkers… that was the physical challenge that Cap and company would have had to face.”
Had this version of the film gone forward, Baron Zemo would have still ended up as the antagonist. In fact, he would have been the one setting off the Madbomb. This would have left Cap having to destroy it and reverse its effects on the unnaturally angry mob of people attacking the hero.
According to Joe Russo, a key focal point of the story would have been the “moral conundrums” associated with Cap having to “fight civilians:”
“The notion of the Madbomb would have been Cap having to fight civilians and how he would he handle that… We were always trying to put him into these interesting moral conundrums because of his nature. That would have made a compelling third act because if civilians are the antagonists, how could he stop them without killing them?”
It wouldn’t just be regular civilians being affected by the Madbomb’s powers—even some of his allies would have succumbed to its influence. So characters such as Sam Wilson, Agent 13, or Natasha Romanoff could have been pitted against the lead hero.
Anthony stated how fighting his allies would have remained an “emotional component” of that version of the film:
“Somebody you know has turned into a zombie and now you have to fight them… and there would have been the emotional component of that.”
Did Marvel Truly Avoid the Madbomb?
It’s probably a safe assumption that many fans are quite happy with how everything worked out, especially over the original Madbomb direction.
Feige’s mindset of the anger bomb not being big enough to entice a large audience was certainly the right move. Compared to what Civil War gave fans, the original concept of the threequel seems minuscule in comparison.
However, seeing as plenty of development time went into fleshing out a Madbomb storyline, could Captain America: New World Order pick up some of those pieces? The device could easily be something that Tim Blake Nelson’s Leader might tinker with.
It could also very easily be tied to a potential Red Hulk storyline. Maybe the device can be used to trigger a transformation of Thunderbolt Ross into his angry red form whenever the Leader wants—with an additional side effect being that it influences everyone else around him as well.
Captain America: New World Order hits theaters on May 3, 2024.