I had a number of issues with Avengers: Age of Ultron (AoU) that would take too long to list, but the one most likely to have the most significant impact on the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the decision to make Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, the creator of the evil Ultron.
In the Marvel comics, Ultron was created by Hank Pym, but considering that Pym would only be introduced in Ant-Man, which was released after AoU, another Avenger was chosen, and who else but Tony Stark.
Stark was the perfect choice – he’s brilliant, full of himself and not afraid to rub others the wrong way. However, the Iron Man trilogy was evidence that he had moved past a lot of that and had become more of a team player. The problem with Stark creating Ultron is that it essentially resets him to the opening scenes of Iron Man.
I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Robert Downey Jr. or the Avengers when the first Iron Man film came out. But, as the world knows, Iron Man was an excellent piece of cinema and kick-started a new era for Marvel and superhero films, in general. I loved Iron Man, and then I loved Thor, though Captain America: The First Avenger took a bit of time. The films were exciting, the characters were engaging, and I couldn’t wait for the next instalment. With The Avengers, we were introduced to a completely different, and ambitious, kind of entry to the superhero genre.
The Iron Man trilogy paved the way for the rest of the standalone films. The first film gave us an anti-hero we could love; Iron Man 2 gave us a hero questioning his own morality and legacy. Though Tony was decidedly abrasive in The Avengers, we got a more sober version of him in Iron Man 3, which gave us a hero struggling with PTSD and one who has finally learned to put everything else before himself. It was an amazing arc for the character and Downey Jr. more than did justice to it. It seemed like Marvel couldn’t put a foot wrong with Iron Man. Then AoU happened.
That Tony Stark creates Ultron isn’t problematic in itself. After all, Tony creates Ultron after seeing a vision of the future where the Avengers have failed and the world is destroyed – partly because of his failure to act. That would drive anyone to create a super-robot – it’s not technically his fault that the robot turned out to be crazy. But, Tony is unapologetic even after the devastation caused by Ultron, which is a huge step backwards in his development. And most likely this is a trend that will continue in Civil War.
In the Civil War comics, Iron Man and Captain America go head to head, ideologically, when the Superhero Registration Act is introduced. Iron Man goes from hero to bad guy in the series. If AoU is anything to go by, we can expect a truly awful version of Tony Stark to appear in Cap 3. And that’s what I have an issue with. I don’t want to hate Iron Man. Not now. Maybe after the first Iron Man, but not now.
This is all speculation, of course, but if the comic books are anything to go by, it is most likely that Tony will be the main antagonist, or at least one of the antagonists in Cap 3 (it’s called Captain America 3, after all).
The seven-book Civil War series details how Tony’s doggedness leads to superpowered individuals dividing themselves into two factions. Tony doesn’t set the Registration Act into play, in fact, he initially refutes the idea of it. But, he stands by the statement that by choosing to side with the Act, he’s chosen the lesser of two evils, but he never himself seems perturbed by the evil he’s doing. Cap, on the other hand, is no more than a passive player, in hiding, reactive but remaining true to himself and his beliefs.
And, there are no other words to describe many of Tony’s actions during this series than pure evil. His insistence on sticking to the Act’s deadline, his lethal efforts to capture non-registered heroes, and his diabolical prison (created in the comics with the help of Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards), are not acts of a rational mind, or a heroic one.
The storyline follows many heroes, but front and centre is Tony. But even the narrative doesn’t attempt to support Tony’s decision. Be it the use of Spider-Man (reportedly to be included in the film) as a mouth-piece, or through stories of fallen and devastated heroes, Tony is the one and true villain.
Which begs the question – are we ready to see a hero fall? The reason why The Dark Knight was such an outstanding film, apart from Heath Ledger’s sublime performance as the Joker, was the masterful way that Harvey Dent turned from White Knight to murderous Two-Face. But that was over the course of a single film and that was Dent’s only arc.
As I’ve mentioned, Tony Stark has had five films to develop into a real hero and making him the villain, or even slightly villainous, in Cap 3, will be undoing years of character development. And how are we, the audience, expected to feel? We are emotionally invested in Tony Stark; he’s funny, pretty and practically sacrificed himself to save New York. It was difficult enough watching AoU and realising we disliked Tony experimenting behind his teammates’ backs, but Civil War will entail much more than that – Tony will be wilfully endangering his teammates’ lives, and the lives of other individuals.
Hollywood is no stranger to ruining great characters, especially in sequels. Cyclops and Jean Grey were completely derailed in X-Men: The Last Stand; the second Percy Jackson film made one of the heroes from the first film, Annabeth, into useless set-dressing. These characters mostly suffered from the addition of new characters; someone has to be left out to make place.
Which is another concern with Cap 3. The entire MCU seems to be appearing in this film, which will give no time for character development for any of the characters, least of all Tony, whose trilogy of films is already complete.
Add to that the fact that Tony won’t get a stab at redemption after the film. There’s no Iron Man 4, at least not that we know of, where he can save the world and be the good guy again. If he’s the bad guy in Cap 3, he will stay the bad guy until we see him in the two Infinity Wars films (if at all), where again, there won’t be enough time to undo the damage from Cap 3.
Of course, Marvel could prove me wrong, and make Tony a less awful character than in the comics, or write him as a brilliant villain, ala Loki, but there doesn’t seem to be enough room in a two-hour film for that. If AoU is anything to go by, Tony’s development will be severely curtailed.
However, despite Tony seeming beyond reproach at the end of AoU, we have to ask ourselves, who is responsible for Sokovia? In an ideal world, Tony would be hauled up for his actions. Can the MCU use this as the foundation for tabling the Superhero Registration Act? And are we ready to finally see a hero taken to task for wanton destruction of public property? Maybe Civil War will launch a new phase of superhero films, ones even more grounded in reality and which move away from the “bing, bang, boom” nature of the genre. If Marvel can do this without tearing down years of hard work and by staying faithful to the source material, Civil War might just become a brand new way of filmmaking.