This is Part 2 of the three-part Road to Civil War series
Let me get to the point: Tony Stark is not a villain. Take away his being a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist, and take away the suit, and he is a person just like every one of us who is trying to do his best.
Granted, he started out as a billionaire genius whatever. What makes Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, a hero is when he realizes he has caused problems he resolves to fix them, usually with technology. In Iron Man, Stark is captured by terrorists while on a business trip–terrorists that have taken the weapons he designed. His solution is to create an armored suit with which to escape captivity and fight the terrorists, and he resolves to put his technology to better use in the future. In Iron Man 2, Tony Stark is confronted with the dilemma that everyone in the world wants armored suits patterned after his own. But he thwarts the plots of those trying to steal his design and asserts that the suit is rightfully his. Rhodey gets to be War Machine because Tony trusts him, and because Rhodey understands and supports him.
By the end of Iron Man 2, Tony is not approved for the Avengers initiative, but when Loki arrives on the scene in The Avengers, Tony is asked to help–and ends up doing a lot more than he bargained for.
Tony doesn’t tell the other Avengers that his near-death experience affected him, but it did. By Christmas, Tony has full-swing PTSD. And among other things Tony struggles with in Iron Man 3, Tony wonders how much he can give to keep the world safe. I am writing this post partly because I recently rewatched Iron Man 3 and I got a new insight on Tony. One thing I noticed was the scene in the restaurant where he’s talking to Rhodey. He’s practically begging Rhodey to let him help against the Mandarin. In the end, Tony realizes that he can’t stay away when the rest of the world has problems–not when he has the power to do something.
Tony blows up all of his Iron Man suits, but I don’t think he’s completely hands-off helping with global security. We do hear in Captain America: The Winter Soldier that he gave some suggestions for the helicarrier turbines. What if that wasn’t the only thing he had input on? What if Tony Stark made some behind-the-scenes contributions to the Insight program? If he wasn’t going to keep the world safe as Iron Man, then S.H.I.E.L.D. could do it for him through Insight, right?
Well, if that’s the case, he was wrong. Insight turned out to be a conspiracy, and Tony was one of the people on Hydra’s blacklist. He probably wasn’t waiting for Captain America to come to him for help in the fight against Hydra. He was probably already building new Iron Man armor in order to, first and foremost, protect himself.
By the time Age of Ultron rolls around, Tony has figured out that keeping the world safe isn’t a hobby the way he’s done it in the past: it’s a real chore. But according to Tony, this isn’t how the world works. Tony doesn’t just leave problems lying around, he fixes them and moves on. If you remember what he says to Steve Rogers/Cap right before the battle of New York: “We are not soldiers.” And then when they are at Clint’s house, he says, “Isn’t that the ‘why we fight’? so we get to go home?” Tony does not want to commit to a lifetime of saving the world. And a part of him doesn’t quite understand people who would do that–people like Steve Rogers.
What Tony wants is a way to keep the world safe in a hands-off way, something to protect people from the threats on this planet and, most importantly, from outer space. Ultron is the superhero equivalent of a dishwasher or a washing machine: a technology solution to save labor. When Tony gets the scepter in Sokovia and realizes what it can do, he asks himself, why not put it to use? Why not use it to build Ultron? The Iron Legion he created could only do so much: why not make something better? Coming from Tony’s perspective, it was a pretty good idea. It was probably not very well thought-out, but it was worth a try.
The Avengers keep Ultron from destroying the world, but they created an enormous mess in order to do so. And in the process, Tony also strained the relationships he had with his teammates. I don’t think Tony blames himself completely for what happened, but just enough that he feels like he needs to step out of saving the world, at least for a time. He solved the last problem he caused, so now he can go home. But honestly, I have no idea what he could be up to now. It’s not like Tony to just sit back. It is a fair guess, though, that Tony is taking a lot of time to think about what happened.
So why would Tony get himself involved in whatever mess happens in Captain America: Civil War? What would make him side with the likes of Thunderbird Ross and take arms against Captain America? I think what might happen is that Steve Rogers, as leader of the Avengers, does something that Tony Stark, observing from the sidelines, doesn’t like. There might be evidence, in his mind, that the world doesn’t need a full-time superhero force, or if it does then such a force should at least have his input. None of that is really bad, it’s just Tony doing what he thinks needs to be done. It is Tony seeing the issue of superheroes as a problem he needs to fix. And when he realizes he can’t control other superheroes, Tony will believe that Captain America and the people who are close to him need to be stopped, even if it means killing them.
I do not plan on going to the movie theaters next May and seeing Tony Stark as the villain. Hydra will be the real evil at work there, and Iron Man’s opposition will just it harder for Captain America to stop Hydra. Captain America: Civil War is about good versus evil, but Iron Man versus Captain America is about regular people caught in a disagreement–because of misunderstanding and, to an extent, deception–and that is what makes a civil war a tragedy.