Tony Stark's Role & Conflict in Captain America: Civil War Explained

Captain America: Civil War Red Logo

The marketing campaign for Captain America: Civil War, the first chapter in Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has officially begun. Up until last week, details on the third Captain America feature film have come only from unofficial set photos, leaked promotional art, and teases from the many actors involved, but since the Civil War teaser trailer debut, Disney is pulling back the veil of secrecy.

In the past few days, we've been able to delve deep into story of Captain America: Civil War and how the MCU will adapt and modernize the story and Superhero Registration Act legislation from the Civil War Marvel Comics crossover event from 2006-07. We've also taken a close look at Black Panther, the new superhero who's central to the film's conflict. Today, it's time to find out more about Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man and how the poster boy of the franchise fits into the conclusion of the Captain America trilogy.

EW visited the set of Captain America: Civil War and observed a scene that we saw glimpses of in the trailer so we can now put into context. In our trailer analysis discussion, we noted a brief shot of Martin Freeman's new character - a government official of sorts - with an entourage who take away Cap's vibranium shield and Falcon's flight suit. They're being punished. See, the Avengers are now required by law to only conduct missions approved by the governments of the world via the Sokovia Accords - new legislation that came into effect after the governments got sick of the series of catastrophic events involving Avengers and other enhanced individuals (more on that here).

The Conflict Begins

Captain America: Civil War Trailer 1 - Martin Freeman

This sequence takes place in the "the op-center" of what we assume is Avengers HQ as seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers have returned from a personal mission in Romania where something went wrong and they're entering the room with T'Challa/Black Panther, joined by Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Martin Freeman's character. The pair are to be reprimanded and Romanoff isn't impressed.

We're unsure if this Wilson-Rogers side mission was host to the other "international incident" the film's official synopsis refers to that helps bring the Sokovia Accords into play or if it's some other off the books adventure Wilson and Rogers conducted in their hunt for Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). The group enters and Tony Stark is there on his phone chatting with Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) who is no longer a General, but now the U.S. Secretary of State. Ross has moved up the ranks since the events of The Incredible Hulk. Stark can be overheard telling Ross that the Rogers/Wilson Romania mission "was not sanctioned by the accords" and they discuss consequences. Hence, the shield and flight suit being stripped away from them. Stark is working with the government here and punishing Rogers.

Relationships Redefined

Captain America: Civil War - Official One-Sheet Poster
First official poster for Captain America: Civil War

This seems to be the beginning of the film's central conflict. Rogers and his loyal teammates are doing whatever they want wherever they want, even if it's with good intentions, but they aren't obeying international laws nor taking responsibility when there's collateral damage. Worse, Steve and Sam are doing this for Bucky who is responsible for countless deaths as an assassin. Stark tells Rogers he had to give Ross and the government "something" as a consequence for their actions and Stark quips that it's "warmer than jail!"

This scene exemplifies the updated roles of key Avengers characters in the MCU. Stark is not primarily a field unit anymore, but as we saw at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, is instead a CEO of sorts of The Avengers with Rogers serving as its field team leader. Despite Romanoff's loyalty to Rogers, she's pro-accords too for unknown reasons, but we can certainly see why she holds no loyalty towards Bucky Barnes after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

In chatting with EW, Robert Downey Jr. expresses his love for this scene and explains that there's a sort of jealousy happening with Stark. Stark doesn't have that same loyal buddy relationship with Rogers like Sam Wilson does. The same can be said for Rogers' loyalty towards Bucky which will really set Stark off later. Stark and Rogers have their own methods of doing things, as depicted in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Stark - at a moment in his life where he's reflecting on who he was, who his family was, and who he should be - needs approval from Rogers.

“He’s really trying everything from great earnestness to outright manipulation, emotional manipulation to try to get Cap to just make this, to swing the vote."

But it ain't that easy.

Tony Stark Is An Antagonist

Captain America Civil War Black Panther EW Cover

He may not be the "villain" of the third Captain America movie but Tony Stark absolutely serves as an antagonist. Despite the ensemble cast and Robert Downey Jr.'s key role, this is a Captain America story after all, the end of the trilogy, and - as RDJ put it himself - is not Iron Man 4.

“It didn’t bother me at all. I’ve always thought of it in some ways that Tony is the antagonist to himself in his own story, so this isn’t a problem. This guy understands problems ‘cause he is a problem. And he tends to create problems.”

Stark will be opposing Steve Rogers and his allies over the concept of the Sokovia Accords but as Evans put it, there's "no clear bad guy." For the film to be successful, according to the writers and directors, audiences should be split on who they side with or at the very least, each character's motivations and decisions must be understandable. And the writers must have succeeded in that respect, because RDJ fully agrees with Tony Stark on this one.

“I’m not having to patter around what I think the worldview is. I wholeheartedly agree with what he does in this... Which is, by the way, more than I could say for some of the other movies.”

That last shot sounds like this Tony Stark may be deliver the kind of character RDJ really gets behind.

Your Guide To Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War trailer launching with Star Wars: The Force Awakens

For more on what's been shared so far on Captain America: Civil War, here's a handy list of key articles and features on the film and Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Share your thoughts, theories, and questions in the comments and we'll do our best to answer!


The movie stars Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Emily VanCamp, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Frank Grillo, Tom Holland, with William Hurt and Daniel Brühl. Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War” is directed by Anthony & Joe Russo and produced by Kevin Feige. Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Victoria Alonso, Patricia Whitcher, Nate Moore and Stan Lee serve as executive producers and the screenplay is by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely.

Captain America: Civil War will release on May 6, 2016, followed by Doctor Strange - November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 - May 5, 2017; Spider-Man - July 28, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok - November 3, 2017; Black Panther - February 16, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 - May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp - July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel - March 8, 2019; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; Inhumans – July 12, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on May 1, July 10 and November 6, 2020.

Source: EW

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