Friends or Foes? Team Iron Man

I’ve already talked about my opinions of Captain America: Civil War as a film. In that review I refer a lot to how the relationships between the characters are what helps make the film so amazing. In this short essay I am going to look at those relationships and character motives in greater depth and explain essentially why I want to wrap Steve Rogers in a blanket and give him a cuddle.

Civil War is a film about internal conflict between what was previously a very close group of teammates, if not friends, and what happens when sides are asked to be picked. For something like that to work and connect with the audience, you need to have strong relationships that people don’t want to see break up, or that they can see mimicked in their own lives. They have to engage emotionally with the characters and care about them. Ultimately, Civil War become more than just a disagreement over rules and regulations, it becomes a moral dilemma over how far you should go for one person and asks if revenge is ever worth it. We sympathise with this dilemma because we know Steve and Bucky’s backstories, we know how Tony Stark has grown up and we know the twisted and difficult path that Natasha Romanoff has walked.

As we should in real life, Marvel films encourage you to imagine their characters complexly. They are not one dimensional heroes or villains, driven only by the desire either to protect or conquer. They are humans, flawed and subject to their emotions as the rest of us are, except for them, the consequences of their actions are often have a much larger impact than what ours would. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are at the centre of this. One driven by the desire to deal with their guilt, the other to protect and bring back their best friend.

In this essay I will focus on Team Iron Man. There’s a separate one for Team Captain America if you want.

Let’s start with Tony Stark, creator of the Iron Man, multibillionaire, orphan, playboy, and egotistical manic. I could probably throw man-child in there too for good measure. Perhaps that is a harsh description of Tony. After all, he has had three solo films to change and grow, stopping Stark Industries from manufacturing weapons, dedicating himself to the safety of the world, and trying to be a better man for the sake of his relationship Pepper Potts.

However, underlying all this is Tony’s main driving motive: guilt. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we first see Tony demonstrating a device he literally spend millions of dollars on in an attempt to deal with the guilt he felt over the death of his parents. He himself admits that he never dealt with his grief, something that is obvious in his behaviour and inability to form meaningful connections with anyone. We also learn through the course of this film that his relationship with Pepper is falling apart, a situation that probably makes him miss his parents even more, as he has no one to turn to for advice on that front.

Tony agrees to the Sokovia Accords for one reason, and one reason alone. His guilt. His actions have caused the death of innocent people, and he has no way of getting rid of that guilt because it was his actions, his decisions that led to those deaths. Tony thinks that by agreeing to the Sokovia Accords he can waylay his guilt with the knowledge that while future actions would be his, the decision would not be, and therefore, he would have no real control over the situation, any innocent deaths are not his fault, but the fault of the people who sent him there. A somewhat naive viewpoint and one which Steve Rogers has many issues with (but more about that another time).

Tony, having decided on what is the best course of action, sets out to make sure everyone else agrees with him and falls into line. With the single-mindedness that is characteristic of him, his desire to make the Avengers sign the Sokovia Accords rips the team apart. Although at the beginning he may have been justified in attempting to bring Captain America and Scarlet Witch into line with the law, his actions and refusal to listen to his friends when the situation changed highlight Tony’s inability to see anyone else’s way of thinking or to entertain the notion that he might actually might have been wrong. It is only when Tony sees first-hand Steve’s fear of superhero control (what happens if they don’t send you where you need to be?) and the damage that this internal conflict is causing that he begins to doubt himself.

In fairness to Tony, he does at this point head off to help Steve as requested, as a friend. Arriving at the Hydra bunker with the Iron Man helmet off, and his admission that he is there off the books shows that. He is willing to follow the lead Captain America and Bucky have discovered that will lead them to Zemo.

Then comes the final plot twist, Zemo’s final bomb in his plan to rip The Avengers apart; the Winter Soldier killed Tony’s parents. And with that, the die is cast. Tony finally has someone to blame for the pain he has suffered all these years and Captain America is standing in the way of him avenging that pain. It is in this release of built up emotion, this final battle, that Tony finally reverts to the man he has always been. Driven by his desire for revenge he doesn’t care who he hurts or what damage he does in his quest. Would Tony have reacted in the same way if he’s dealt with his parents death years before? It’s impossible to tell, but that final battle shows Tony’s unwillingness to listen to reason and how immature and egotistical he is, that even in defeat, he tries to turn it into a victory. His instance that the shield doesn’t belong to Steve shows how little he understands Steve. The shield is not important to Steve Rogers, what it represents is.

Tony’s lack of empathy and unwillingness to compromise contribute to tearing The Avengers apart. One can see where he comes from. To have a large group of unregulated super-people running around is bound to cause collateral damage. Perhaps it would be best if the decision making was taken out of their hands, and put in the hands of the elected politicians. After all, no one chose to have The Avengers keep them safe, The Avengers just decided it themselves. And with S.H.I.E.L.D gone, there is literally no one for them to report to, they’re just doing what they think is best.

Did Tony make the right decision to sign the Sokovia Accords? Perhaps. Did he go about trying to get the other Avengers to side with him in the right way? Probably not.

The other large player on Team Iron Man is Natasha Romanoff, or Black Widow. For me, Natasha’s decision to sign the Accords is probably the most interesting one. Natasha has a historical relationship with both Steve and Tony, with Steve’s undeniably being the better one. She and Tony frequently disagree, whereas she and Steve are a cohesive fighting unit. If one were to decide to stick by their friends regardless of what they believe, Natasha should be on Team Captain America.  But she wasn’t. She choose Team Iron Man. The question is did she do what she believed was right, or did she do what she always does? That is; what she needs to survive.

There are several hints that this might indeed be what Natasha did. Firstly, she is the only member of the team who asks what would happen if they refuse to sign the Accords. Later however, in Tony’s apartment during the discussion of what they should all do, she says she is “reading the terrain.” So she is looking at the path, seeing what most people want. Is she deciding solely according to that? Past these short scenes, we don’t really get much more of an insight into Natasha’s thought process into her signing decision.

Frustratingly due to the lack of a solo Black Widow film, we don’t know the full details of how Natasha came to work for the American government. We know she was at one point a Soviet agent. We know she had a tortuous training. We know Hawkeye was sent to take her out but he made a different call and we know something went down in Budapest. Past this, the facts are hazy and as a fandom, we have created a lot of meta to make up for it. As shown in The Avengers, Natasha has a strong opinions about feeling like she owes people, (“I have red in my ledger”). It is my personal view that Natasha feels like she owes the American Government. They took her in and employed her despite her shady past and for her to repay that with siding with Captain America would be unthinkable. Perhaps she does actually believe in the Accords too. After all, it is only when Steve explains to her that something more is going on that Natasha lets him and Bucky escape. I don’t for one second think that she wasn’t capable of taking on Cap and Bucky, especially with Black Panther just seconds away.

So what happens to Natasha at the end of the film? It’s left very ambiguous. Tony callously calls her out on her change of heart, and she makes it very clear she is not worried. I’m pretty sure that if they wanted it, Natasha would have been in that under-the-sea jail along with Falcon and the others. Plus, she did sign the Accords and she wasn’t the only one at the airport pulling her punches. No one on either team wanted to cause the other side any serious harm. Black Widow is an amazing assassin, the government knows what an asset she is, or what a loose cannon she could be. I think they want to keep her on their side, so hopefully she won’t be punished for following her heart briefly for once in her life.

Despite all of this, I still feel like we don’t know where Natasha truly stands with regards to the Accords. Ultimately does it matter? He’s already shown her friendship with Steve wins when it really counts. Perhaps she is okay with following the Accords most of the time, but skipping the rules a little when it matters. That sounds a lot like the Black Widow I know.

Next up is Rhodes, aka War Machine. Firstly, did Rhodes even get a choice in this? He works for the government, surely he has to do what they say? The end of the film proves this to be a moot point though, as he comforts Tony (srsly dude’s just lost the use of his lower limbs and is comforting someone else) by telling him that he believed in what they did, and every time he put on the suit he was aware that he might not take it off again. To a soldier, the idea of being accountable to others, to go where you are told and fight when you are told to fight is not a revolutionary one. It is the first lesson you are taught at basic training. I don’t think it even entered Rhodes mind that he could have sided with Captain America if he wanted to. Despite that, his loyalty to Tony can’t be faulted. Tony is a handful, the fact that Rhodes has stuck with him all these years shows how great of a friend he is, and it would have taken something major for Rhodes to go up against Tony in a battle.

Unfortunately, Vision had a distinct lack of screen time in this film. Despite that, we got a lot of insight into his character. At the moment he is a machine trying to figure himself out, essentially, he is going through his 20s. We’ve all been there Vision. It’s useless to say that Vision is led by anything apart from his programmed logic. According to his calculations, signing the Accords may help reduce the amount of super-incidents that are happening so it’s the logical course to take. When you look at it like that it’s hard to disagree, but so many other human things have to be taken into effect. This is not a clear cut maths question, it is a complicated moral dilemma. One has to wonder how Vision can make an informed choice when there is so much about human nature he doesn’t know.

He will learn though. All the scenes with him were clearly written around him starting a journey of emotional discovery, with his comic book relationship with Wanda being hinted at. Indeed, Vision’s first emotional decision (to stay with Wanda instead of flying off with Tony) results in a very bad accident, almost resulting in the death of one of his team mates. It’s interesting that the only real physical damage to either team was caused by friendly-fire and I’m sure it’s an action that will be more fully explored in the Avenger films still to come.

So the internet just about exploded when Black Panther was announced for the Civil War cast. Not the franchise’s first black superhero, but their first one with a solo film attached to their appearance. There was a lot riding on this character and I think they did wonderfully. Not only does Black Panther steal pretty much any scene he is in, he is also the only character that seems to fully grasp that it is revenge pulling all these people part, and chooses forgiveness because of that. A beautiful revelation considering Black Panther spent most of the film tracking down and trying to kill The Winter Soldier because he thought he was responsible for his father’s death.

It is this quest more than anything that leads him to join Team Iron Man. Clearly he believes in the Accords, he says as much before Zemo’s bomb tears the building apart. However, at the first chance, he breaks the Accords himself by not waiting for the order, but going after Bucky himself. This decision adds so much weight to his change of heart at the end of the film. Up until then, Black Panther was pretty much the only person aiming to kill, but when it came down to it, he choose not to kill the defenceless Zemo, or even let Zemo kill himself. He choose to let the law deal with him, the whole point of the Accords.

Even more than that, we see at the end of the film T’Challa offer the hand of friendship to Steve, by taking Bucky in and promising to keep him safe. Perhaps seeing Zemo’s true plan changed his mind, or perhaps he feels that Bucky is not as guilty as he is made out to be by the American government. Regardless, it’s an interesting move, leaving T’Challa with a foot in both camps. I think for now, with his quest for revenge aborted, he is happy to leave the Accords to do their work, but doesn’t believe in the guilt of Team Captain America enough to hand them over. It will be very interesting to see what part Bucky plays (if any) in the first Black Panther film. Personally, I can’t wait to see how T’Challa grows and comes to join The Avengers.

Finally we come to Spider-man. I discussed Spider-man briefly in my review but didn’t focus so much on his characterisation or motives for joining Team Iron Man. Firstly, come on Tony! You drag a teenager into your fight? What’s wrong with you?

It was awesome to have Spider-man in that huge airport fight scene. He’s funny, he’s quirky and he’s enthusiastic, all the points that we (I) love about Spider-man. Plus, he works out how to take down Ant-man in giant mode. However, his presence there is kinna suspect. He’s been operating outside the law for the last six months, would he agree with the Accords? From what I can see, Spider-man is there because Tony Stark pretty much bribed him with a cool super suit. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that being the only reason Peter went with him. After all, he’s just a teenager, he feels guilty over the death of his Uncle and now some super rich guy comes along offering him the chance to be a part of a team that he can relax in, be mentored in and maybe feel a little less isolated about being super-powered. I’m sure we can all relate to that on some level. Spider-man is new in this world, perhaps the weight of being Spider-man is too great a burden to bear and the idea of being regulated by the government sounded like it would lessen the load. How this fits in with a solo Spider-man film, I have no idea. Personally, I am hoping that we follow a storyline similar to the comics in which Spider-man changes sides after seeing the conditions super-powered people who refused to sign the register are kept in. Regardless, I’m sure the film will be an interesting journey and I hope it pushes new ground for Spider-man.

Looking back over this analysis, Team Iron Man doesn’t seem that tight-knit. When you break it all down, they mostly seem to have different motivations for fighting alongside Iron Man. Any good leader will tell you that that does not make a strong team. At the end of the film, what is Tony left with? Not much. It feels very much like he lost a battle he thought he had won. How will Team Iron Man react in the wake of Civil War? Will any change their minds or does their resolve only strengthen? This film has changed the map of the cinematic universe and it’s not going back any time soon.

With so many promising characters introduced as part of Tony’s team it looks like Marvel is set for several more super-powered, super-emotional films to come over the next few years.


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