Now that Justice has dawned and Batman and Superman have kissed and made up, the superhero cineaste’s eye fixes squarely on “Captain America: Civil War.” Over seven films (not counting a “Hulk” cameo), Iron Man and Captain America have been avenging captures, bromances, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, limo drivers, and cities lifted into the sky. Through it all, Tony Stark and Steve Rogers have sniped at each other’s age, commitment, and values while fighting side-by-side. So why can’t they get along this time? We’ve got seven movies to sift through to get the answers.
Tony Stark, billionaire philanthropist playboy genius and son of Howard Stark, billionaire philanthropist playboy genius, has always thought big. Owner of Stark Industries, a major weapons manufacturer, Tony creates bombs that can level towns and uses a sledgehammer when a tack hammer will do. He’s brash, arrogant, and jam-packed with hubris. In the face of severe odds, his nerves of iron prove serendipitous.
Let’s just say building a suit which not only provides a pathway to escape but also keeps shrapnel from burrowing into his heart while being held captive in a cave is representative of his personality. His answer to the question is always more audacious than expected, and the combination of will, guts, and intellect make him unpredictable and larger than life. Tony smashes big problems with colossal solutions.
Stark has always responded to challengers with force, be it creating the Iron Man suit, challenging his business partner who has him outgunned, attacking Thor after Thor abducts Loki, or even breaking into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s computer systems. He refuses to bow down to authority but is very adaptive for someone who has achieved so much. After realizing that his company creates more problems by making weaponry than it solves, he shifts Stark Industries’ focus toward green energy (although he just can’t quit making Iron Man suits). He – temporarily — suppresses his ginormous ego and lone wolf attitude to join the Avengers team and save New York from a nuclear missile by nearly sacrificing his life.
But Stark also realizes how much power he and the other Avengers possess. He inadvertently creates the villainous robot Ultron, whose sole mission is to protect the Earth, an idea straight from his maker’s mouth. Ultron takes this idea to a perverse conclusion; he must destroy all threats to the planet, including humanity. After saving the world once more by helping defeat Ultron, Tony appears to have shifted his attitude toward the idea that all power should be limited, even that controlled by brilliance.
Comparatively, Steve Rogers’ spoon was more wooden than silver. Raised by the punishing streets of Brooklyn, the scrawny Rogers took beatings borne of a fearless attitude while confronting much larger bullies. Following several rejections, Steve finally gains entrance into the US Army after catching the eye of a scientist who has invented a Super Soldier serum.
Infused with superhuman strength and size but retaining the humility of his more diminutive origins, Captain America is powerful yet ethical, fighting for the greater good without concern for his well-being. He was armed by Howard Stark with a shield that can deflect everything, a critical symbol of someone who battles out of need, not aggression, and is unyielding under any circumstance.
Rogers exudes a moral quality that Stark might call naïve. The object of Steve’s affection is the comely Peggy Carter, but the extent of their relationship is a single kiss and the promise of a dance before Rogers flies a plane into the Arctic ice. Meanwhile, Stark beds almost every woman of note in the Iron Man trilogy. Rogers is also immensely loyal to childhood pal Bucky Barnes, even after a brainwashed Bucky is transformed into the Winter Soldier and tries to kill him. Stark identifies everything and everyone as assets and liabilities that build into a huge ledger, with few friends and few attachments worth risking the larger losses for. These perspectives also are telling about the battles they wage: Rogers fights individuals hand-to-hand while Stark can level entire villages.
Even with all that power, though, Tony remains jealous of Steve. First, Rogers worked with Howard during World War II, and Howard played a part in creating Captain America. All of the legend that surely has made its way to Tony over the years, and the appearance of Howard dedicating more time and interest to Rogers has to have played into Tony’s daddy issues that appear in “Iron Man 2.” All of this begins to foment in “The Avengers” when Tony reels off his accomplishments and Steve replies that he’s known guys that are worth ten of him.
Following the Battle of New York, there are two key events that increase the friction between Stark and Rogers. When S.H.I.E.L.D. is exposed as a Hydra organization, Captain America’s faith in the government is shaken, but not his faith in the people he trusts, which brings us back to Bucky. Bucky is the fulcrum at the heart of “Captain America: Civil War.” Bucky is still being pursued by the government for crimes he committed over the years, but has begun to shake off the mind-control that Hydra used to enslave him.
Cap’s newfound distrust mixed with his unbreakable brotherhood leads him to fight on the side of individual freedom. Tony perceives a vision incepted by Scarlet Witch that forewarns the destruction of the Avengers in “Age of Ultron” as his failure to protect the Earth, even from the Avengers themselves, and has determined that oversight is a necessary check to all of the power at the heroes’ disposal. Presumably, he has agreed to follow orders in the name of security for all.
That’s the set-up for “Civil War.” Stark, former loose cannon, has joined Team Government. Rogers, symbol of the US World War II effort, has lost faith in the system. And all of the “Capsicle” comments and the pointing out of moral shortcomings have been grating and grinding and will come to a head in “Civil War.” Enjoy the fireworks!