In 2008, Marvel launched their Cinematic Universe with Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark as the iconic hero. It was a tremendous success, and Iron Man became just the first in a whole swathe of superheroes. But next year, in Captain America: Civil War, Marvel will do the unthinkable. Iron Man and Captain America will wind up on opposite sides of a high-adrenaline battle, their conflict tearing the Avengers in half. Is it possible that Marvel is actually going to turn their highest-profile superhero – into a supervillain? We’ll find clues to the answer by exploring Iron Man’s journey in the Marvel Cinematic Universe…
Iron Man, Phase One
In Iron Man, we meet Tony Stark. He’s a selfish, vain, egotistical genius who inherited his father’s money, and he’s been working as a weapons-smith for years. Stark comes face-to-face with the reality of war when he’s captured by terrorists, and shrapnel embedded in his body is left perilously close to his heart. Against all the odds, Stark constructs a miniature arc reactor to keep himself alive, and uses this to power his tremendous exoskeletal armor. He becomes Iron Man.
And here’s the catch: right from the start of his superhero career, Iron Man displays the same thoughtlessness that has characterized Tony Stark. The Iron Man prototype is left scattered across the desert, just waiting for the Ten Rings to pick it up and hand it over to Obadiah Stane. For all Stark turns over a new leaf in Iron Man, he continues to act without thought of the consequences, and doesn’t think to clean up after himself. His public confession that he is Iron Man is a spur-of-the-moment, what-the-hell decision that will utterly reshape the world around him. And by Iron Man 2, he’s happily telling the US Senate that he’s successfully privatized world peace, not caring for the fact that he’s earning himself some pretty major-league enemies in the US Senate. Justin Hammer’s admittedly cringeworthy-at-points speech contained disturbing elements of truth…
S.H.I.E.L.D.’s assessment of Stark in Iron Man 2 is cutting, but accurate. There is simply no way that Tony Stark is ready to become a member of the Avengers. And then Loki arrives, kicking off The Avengers and forcing Nick Fury’s hand. Iron Man butts heads with Captain America from the get-go, but in the end truly proves himself to be a hero when he takes the nuclear missile into the wormhole. It’s a defining moment for the character – but maybe not how it looks at first glance…
Iron Man Phase Two
In Iron Man 3, we see that Tony Stark is haunted by what he experienced in The Avengers. He’s suffering from post-traumatic stress, making bad judgements, having panic attacks, and generally not dealing with things well at all. Surprisingly, though, Stark’s presence is still felt across the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it’s only his work on the helicarriers that made Hydra’s plan possible, for example. Yet again another unintended consequence – but I suspect that Stark, at least, would have wholeheartedly supported the idea of Project Insight that Nick Fury was sold on.
In The Avengers: Age Of Ultron, we learn that Stark is constantly musing over two things. First of all, he is convinced that the Chitauri will return, and that humans are like ants compared to the cosmic forces arrayed against them. And secondly, he is also persuaded that the Avengers aren’t enough. This, I suspect, is why he would have supported Project Insight; likewise, it was why he originally designed Ultron. He chooses to ignore his colleagues’ concerns, and just plough on and do his own thing, regardless of the risks. And Ultron is the first outcome – with the Vision more of a happy accident that could so easily have gone badly wrong as well.
The Scarlet Witch’s spell just makes Stark’s worst fears take over, and it’s a matter of note that her whammy hits him worse than anybody else. Tony Stark’s fears were nearer the surface, and were already on the verge of taking control in the first place.
But what about Iron Man’s role in Phase Three?
Fast-forward to Captain America: Civil War. For this to truly be a Civil War, it won’t be enough to give Iron Man and Captain America personal issues, such as Cap having captured the Winter Soldier, who assassinated Tony’s father. No, there has to be a truly philosophical aspect to it. I think that registration will be proposed, just as it was in the comics, and that Stark will see in this an opportunity to build an army of metahumans. In a sense, if you have powers, then you are conscripted.
On the face of it, that doesn’t sound like too bad an idea; but Tony Stark’s life is constantly plagued by the law of unintended consequences. Give Tony Stark armor, and he leaves the prototype lying around; give him an arc reactor, and he gets poisoning; give him an Artificial Intelligence, and he unleashes Ultron.
Give him an army – and you have a war.
A Civil War.
But here’s the tantalizing question: in a Captain America film, can the man representing the opposing ideology to Captain America truly remain a hero? Is this the film that will cross the line, transforming Iron Man into a villain for Phase 3?