Why Iron Man Is Not the Villain of Captain America: Civil War

Iron Man as Villain in Captain America: Civil War

Going by what we've seen of the headlining characters of Captain America: Civil War over the course of eight years since the Marvel Cinematic Universe began with 2008's Iron Man, and what's been showcased so far in the marketing materials for the movie, it's easy to look at Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) as the "bad guy."

He's the man who profited from making deadly weapons, after all. He's the guy who created Ultron which nearly annihilated the world, let alone the Eastern European nation of Sokovia in Avengers: Age of Ultron. And now, after all that, he's the guy trying to put boy scout Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) in check? C'mon. Who do you think you are, Iron Man? Don't let that fool you though - Iron Man is not the villain of Captain America: Civil War.

He may be the antagonist, and as you'll learn from our conversations from the cast and crew of Captain America 3, there's a reason Stark is doing what he's doing. Something personal and tragic has happened and he believes the Avengers - himself included - need to be held accountable. It's quite a change of heart for the man in the armored suit and while directors Anthony and Joe Russo admit the screen time and marketing will favor Captain America and his team, the story is told in a way where audiences will be split down the middle in who they may side with. And at the very least, everyone will understand each side's motivations.

Captain America: Civil War HD Wallpaper

We traveled to Pinewood Atlanta Studios last June to visit the Captain America: Civil War set and asked producer Nate More, the directors, and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, about this very question - about the idea of portraying Iron Man (the poster boy of the MCU) as somewhat of a "villain," or at least, the antagonist to our protagonist.

Nate Moore: That I think was the hardest question. When we decided to do Civil War, you read the books again and you realize, he really is the villain.  He makes a series of decisions that all of us would go, well that’s questionable, if not evil to do X,Y, and Z. So we wanted to kind of take those off the table, he’s not cloning Thor, those kinds of ideas that are really fun when you read them on the page, but I think in publishing, it took me a couple years before I was cool with Tony Stark again.

In the film I think the big focus for us in breaking the story was making Tony’s argument so compelling that you go, “he’s kinda right.” And then making Cap so compelling that you go, “he’s kinda right.” For very different reasons. And they’re both motivated by two very different things. That was the most important thing: Giving Tony a reason that not only he can buy into and you can buy into, but other heroes who end up on his side don’t feel like chumps for going along. If Tony goes off the reservation and says something crazy, and other people end up on his team you don’t want the whole team to feel like dupes. You want to go, “they have a really good reason. I may or may not agree with that, but it’s logical, and it tracks.”

So, that was a big challenge — not making him feel like a megalomaniac who sells out all of his friends for something that you and I would go “that’s crazy.” It’s “Holy shit, Tony’s got a point. “ I argue that Tony sometimes does go off the reservation in the Avengers movies, and you go, “what’s he doing?” In this movie he’s almost the most reasonable he’s ever been, and that’s what’s scary. When he and Cap take opposite ideas of this issue, you go, “I can see where this is going, because they’re both right, and they’re both so dug in that the only way this is going to be solved is in them colliding.”

The highlight here is that Tony's "the most reasonable he's ever been," which speaks volumes to his role now among the Avengers and how Tony has evolved through the course of six movies. But as we discussed in our analysis of the second Captain America: Civil War trailer, Tony Stark was semi-retired (again) at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron. What brings him back into the fold?

Nate Moore: There’s a very specific incident that happens to Tony in the first Act of the film that brings him back. That he says I can no longer, unfortunately he wasn’t retired that long, but I can no longer be retired, I have to once again take an active role. And it’s something that builds through the film so it’s not like something happens and the suits back on. It’s something happens and all of a sudden I’m a step closer to the Avengers. I’m a step closer until ultimately he does have to put the suit on. But it’s very much motivated by an experience he has within the film.

Captain America: Civil War "Face Off" Poster

After a conflict like this, how do you keep these two characters (Cap and Iron Man) viable to come back for another Avengers? We aske this to Mackus and McFeely who address the challenges of making #TeamCap and #TeamIronMan both right in their own ways so audiences can still sort of side with each, enough to put it aside and have them team-up if need be come time for Avengers: Infinity War.

Stephen McFeely: That's our hope, is to not take the first half of your question. We want people walking out of this movie going, Tony's right. And half the other people going, Steve's right. That would be a dream if we got 49-51 split. Because the question is a legitimate one. Do they need oversight or not? And as soon as you imply oversight… Steve at one point says in the movie, what if these people send us somewhere we don't think we should go? What if there's a place we need to go, and they wont send us? Right? It's an excellent argument. And yet, things have happened that you can't deny.

Christopher Markus: Part of the challenge in not making Tony clearly wrong as he seems to me to be in the comic book, where you're like, you built an inter-dimensional prison… is to give him his own personal reason, the same we've given Steve a personal, you know sort of illustration of this, give Tony his own one, so that he's coming from a place where you understand why he would make this decision.

Stephen McFeely: And we did the same thing on Winter Soldier. We took the stuff that was most helpful to us and most interesting to us and tried to make a different, or another story. And we'll do the same thing with Civil War, we'll take all the best, juiciest parts but it's going to be nearly an exact retelling of that comic

Christopher Markus: In a way for both of these guys, the situation they're in, it sometimes strikes me, is they're like a designated driver. They’re not getting drunk with everybody else and they have to make the decisions where the rest of the people are going to go like, 'Ugh, Jesus, this guy.' But he's going to make sure everybody's alive at the end. So if you have to hold somebody down and take their keys, because they're an idiot, you have to do it and tomorrow they might understand why you did it, but today everyone's going to hate you for it. And I think at different times they're both in that position.

Captain America: Civil War Spider-Man Costume Eyes (Official)
Spider-Man is on Team Stark, balancing the teams to 6 vs 6 for the film's "Splash Page" IMAX action sequence

When it came to chat with the Russos, we asked what side of the conflict they would side with, especially since it's not meant to be a good guys versus bad guy scenario.

Joe Russo: Depends who is on set. Is it Downey or Evans?

Anthony Russo: Because of what you said you know it's like, we are constantly working hard to balance it because that's the story we want to do. We want to be torn between these two guys, we don't want to play safe with either guy by any means. We want to be torn between them. I think we really do live in a space of fluctuation between the two and we're constantly pushing one. Like Joe mentioned before, you push one guy further than you can push the other you have to rebalance by pushing the other guy further.

Joe Russo: It's all storytelling metrics, and you have to really think hard about those metrics. I'll say this, obviously it will be easier for the audience to get behind Cap because it's his movie, it's his point of view and he has the most screen time; however, Tony has the most emotional motivation in the film. The most human motivation. Cap's is philosophical, we did that as a metric. It's natural instinct for an audience member to want to get behind the person that has more screen time and somebody as likable and rootable as Cap so you have to work really hard to make sure that this is not a protagonist/antagonist movie. Hopefully by the time we're done it's a very complex film where you walk out of the film having a fight with your buddy or your boyfriend/girlfriend about who was right in the film.

Like Joe Russo says, it's certainly a Captain America movie and story, but just because the marketing pits him against Iron Man as the titular conflict, Stark is not the "bad guy" - he's got the most motivation out of all the Avengers. We just don't know what event triggers his quest yet, and thankfully, the marketing has held that back like it has the third act of the film and the "real" villain who's played by Daniel Bruhl.

He's playing a version of Marvel Comics villain Baron Zemo but he hasn't been shown in any leaked art, photos, or the trailers and footage so far. Hopefully, Disney keeps it that way. They have plenty to market with having more Avengers than any other Marvel movie to date.

So, does this change your opinion on whether you're #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan?

More: Exclusive Captain America: Civil War Set Visit Report

Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War finds Steve Rogers leading the newly formed team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. But after another incident involving the Avengers results  in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by a governing body to oversee and direct the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps—one led by Steve Rogers and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Tony Stark’s surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability.

Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War 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 and Frank Grillo, with William Hurt and Daniel Brühl.

Anthony & Joe Russo are directing with Kevin Feige producing. Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Victoria Alonso, Patricia Whitcher, Nate Moore and Stan Lee are the executive producers. The screenplay is by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. Get ready to pick a side and join the nonstop action playing out on two fronts when Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War opens in U.S. theaters on May 6, 2016.

Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man – July 7, 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.

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