Ever since Captain America: Civil War was announced, the internet has been ablaze with speculation and theories regarding how the famed story arc from the comics will be brought into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Kevin Feige himself stated that, because secret identities don't necessarily exist in the MCU, the film will deal more with how the government would respond to a world in which superheroes exist and, following the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D., lack any sort of oversight or organizational structure. We also know that the film will pit Tony Stark and Steve Rogers against each other, owing to a growing rift between the two as a result of widely different world views. Thus, I thought it might be prudent to take a look back through three Iron Man films, two Captain America films, and one Avengers film to understand the mindset of these two men as we enter Age Of Ultron and later [Captain America: Civil War](movie:994409).
TONY STARK: MAN ON A MISSION
In the first Iron Man film, Tony Stark's character arc revolves around his eye-opening experience in the Middle East, witnessing his weapons being used for terror. He is forced to confront his lack of accountability and embraces his new role as a man on a mission: to do what governments can't or won't and take down anyone who seeks to harm others. As Tony so eloquently puts it "There is nothing except this. There's no art opening, no charity, nothing to sign. There's the next mission, and nothing else." At the beginning of his journey, Tony's vision is very singular and personal. He wants to do whatever he can to keep people from harm and protect those around him. That said, he wants to do it as a lone wolf, on his terms without regard for government oversight.
This is highlighted during his senate hearing in Iron Man 2 in which he refuses to relinquish his armor, believing that he is the only person qualified to protect the world and that his technology and tenacity are enough to keep the peace. This notion of being the sole protector is only further reinforced when Tony is able to circumvent his own impending death and returns to the fight better than ever.
STEVE ROGERS: SELFLESS SERVANT
In Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve is presented to us as the quintessential soldier: selfless and obedient to a fault. All he wants to do is serve his country in whatever way he can and it is this quality, coupled with his compassion and good heart that make him the ideal candidate for the Super Soldier program. Steve uses his newfound power only to better serve his country. He remains humble and obedient to his superiors and thrives in a structured environment with a clear hierarchy. Unfortunately, the modern world in which he wakes up is a much messier, cryptic place when it comes to the organizations responsible for global protection. From the beginning, Steve has always supported freedom and individual liberties, but personally prefers to be a part of a more transparent, organized entity such as the U.S. military circa World War II.
TONY & STEVE: A FRACTURED HOUSE
Tony carries his distaste for authority and competition into [The Avengers](movie:9040), in which he frequently butts heads with Steve over their differing world views, as well as Nick Fury regarding S.H.I.E.L.D.'s habit of harboring dark secrets. In this film, we see Tony and Steve's respective mindsets begin to change, as Tony pushes Steve to question authority and discover the truth for himself, and Steve pushes Tony to work within a team and see the benefits of operating within a hierarchy. By the film's end, they are able to settle their ego-driven differences, but their philosophical differences are still present and far more deep-seated.
In [Iron Man 3](movie:24391) we see a notably different Tony Stark, one who is shaken to his core by the events of The Avengers. No longer is he the sole protector of the world. In fact, the world is much larger and much more dangerous than he could have possibly imagined when he built his first suit all those films ago. He now lives in a world in which Gods and aliens exist and Tony is just a "man in a can." We witness his descent into PTSD, complete with erratic nightmares and obsessive suit building. This is a man who feels dangerously inept in the face of these larger than life threats and will do whatever it takes to keep the world safe, including build an intelligent robot who eventually becomes hell-bent on destroying the world.
The events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier cause Steve to question everything he's ever known. He doesn't know why he still fights, and even expresses frustration with being Fury's personal janitor. The reveal that S.H.I.E.LD. has actually been infiltrated by Hydra only further pushes Steve away from traditional authority, embracing his freedom to do what he knows is right. Steve transitions from a follower to a leader and his distrust for authority and oversight is at its peak.
Finally, the little tidbits that we know about Avengers: Age Of Ultron tell us that Tony Stark is now essentially bankrolling the Avengers, complete with Stark Tower being relabeled Avengers Tower. Over several films, Tony has gone from being a lone wolf with a resplendent distaste for authority, to being THE authority in the wake of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s collapse. Steve on the other hand, has become far more cynical and distrusting following Hydra's deception and seems to be increasingly concerned with the notion of preventative action and government control. S.H.I.E.L.D. tried to enact world peace via Project Insight and Tony tried to protect the world with an automated police force. Both attempts obviously went completely to hell, leading to Steve telling Tony "every time someone tries to stop a war before it starts, innocent people die. Every time." One can imagine that the events of [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](movie:293035) will only exacerbate the growing divide between these two heavyweights, with Steve being pushed even farther into distrust for authority and Tony pushing even harder for organization and oversight, provided he is the one doing the overseeing. I'll leave you with two things to consider:
1) It's pretty incredible how well Marvel has planned out these two character arcs over the course of the films so that they eventually clash. It's not like they are just manufacturing a disagreement for the sake of the film. As this article hopefully demonstrates, there is a legitimate evolution in both Tony and Steve's world views and sense of morality as a result of the events they have lived through.
2) I find it interesting that both characters have ended up on almost opposite sides of the philosophical and moral spectrum from where they started, with Tony embracing authority and Steve rejecting it.