Captain America: Civil War was promised to be one of the most emotionally affecting films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, and it failed to disappoint on that point as it broke our collective hearts. But one of the saddest subplots of Civil War was only mentioned a few times, and the other player in the story didn't even appear at all.
The breaking apart of the relationship between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Pepper Potts (Qwyneth Paltrow) was referred to in passing by Tony and Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), but not really expanded upon at all during the movie.
Clearly there wasn't very much time available to explore this subplot, but how quickly it was brushed over was a little disappointing — particularly as it's a crucial part of why Tony does what we does in Civil War.
Iron Man Steps Up & Falls Apart
When Tony makes a last ditch attempt to convince Steve to sign the Accords the following exchange takes place, showing that it's not only his guilty complex which drives his reasoning for getting behind the Accords:
Steve Rogers: Is Pepper here? I didn't see her.
Tony Stark: We are kinda... well not kinda...
Steve Rogers: Pregnant?
Tony Stark: No, ha, definitely not. We're taking a break. It's nobody's fault.
Steve Rogers: I'm so sorry, Tony. I didn't know.
Tony Stark: A few years ago I almost lost her so I trashed all my suits. Then we had to mop up Hydra. Then Ultron, my fault. And then, and then, and then. I never stopped. 'Cause the truth is I don't wanna stop. I don't wanna lose her. I thought maybe the Accords can split the difference. In her defense, I'm a handful.
Wanting to make things right with Pepper is a big part of why Tony does what he does in Civil War. He's trying to shed the recklessness he's displayed before — which nearly got her killed in Iron Man 3 — as a way of proving he can be responsible.
The trashing of Tony's suits occurred at the end of Iron Man 3, seemingly reconciling his own identity which had been in crisis throughout as he had his arc reactor finally removed. He activated the Clean Slate Protocol for Pepper, but by the time he popped up again in Avengers: Age of Ultron he was back at it as though nothing had ever happened.
Speaking of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we didn't see Pepper appearing there either — she hasn't been seen since 2013's Iron Man 3 in fact. In Age of Ultron she was only mentioned in conversation between Tony and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) during the party at Stark Tower, when the two compare the achievements of their respective partners. As Tony says, Pepper is busy running " the largest tech conglomerate on Earth", but that's the only mention of her we get during the movie.
The conclusion to Civil War saw him left alone again with the remnants of the Avengers, and no Pepper Potts. So what about moving forward? Odds are we probably won't see Pepper in Avengers: Infinity War, so what about the possibility of Iron Man 4, and beyond?
Iron Man 4
First of all, don't get too excited. We don't even know if Iron Man 4 is officially happening, though Downey Jr. seems open to the possibility. But as one of the most lucrative characters of the ensemble universe there is still a future for Iron Man in the MCU, whether it's in future solo films or portrayed by another actor (say it ain't so!).
The question we have to ask is, is Pepper actually good for Tony? Tony's neuroses, and Pepper's seeming indifference regarding them isn't a new thing.
In Iron Man 2 his actions threaten their still budding relationship, but whilst he's breaking down in Iron Man 3 she doesn't really seem to notice, or care. It's tough to tell what the state of affairs is between them currently as Paltrow didn't feature at all in Civil War or Age of Ultron, but it's not sounding all that good.
Comic book Tony has been dating biophysicist Dr. Amara Perera as of late, and her influence on him has quite literally caused him to attempt to make steps towards becoming a better person.
As Tony tells Amara in Invincible Iron Man #3:
"I can't shake the idea that becoming the man that would actually deserve you... would be a very good goal in life at this stage of the game."
We haven't seen Amara for a while in amongst the events of Civil War II and everything else that's been going on with Tony Stark recently, but at this stage in the MCU Tony could perhaps do with a fresh love interest along the lines of her character.
For someone with as troubled a personal history as Tony Stark — especially in the MCU — it would do him a world of good to be with someone like Amara. Someone who simultaneously imposes limits upon his behavior whilst encouraging him to grown in a more positive direction. Pepper's character hasn't really been all that successful in doing so, so we have to ask the question:
Should They Get Back Together At All?
It's always hard reconciling the idea that the historic "true love" isn't the one who the character ends up with. In the comics Spider-Man isn't even with Mary Jane right now (although she did briefly become the Iron Spider, which was awesome).
Right now comic-book Pepper Potts and Tony Stark are no longer together either, indeed Pepper hates Tony following the events of Axis and Superior Iron Man, and has vowed to take him down should he become morally compromised again. Even in the comics, their relationship has always been far from perfect and far from solid, so it's no surprise that the MCU has the same problem right now.
And there's already been some future potential love interest teased for Tony in Civil War with the dynamic between his character and May Parker (Marisa Tomei, whom Robert Downey Jr. actually has a romantic history with).
There's a few ways the Tony and Pepper relationship can go from here, and our preference involves a heck of a lot more character development for Miss Potts. Whilst she had a good run of it in Iron Man 3 — kicking ass when infected by Extremis and avoiding the whole 'dying superhero's girlfriend' trope — she has typically been relegated to the background of things. The non-superhero girlfriend doesn't really demand much screen-time when the world is at stake.
So tell you what Marvel: Bring Pepper back for an Iron Man 4, turn her into Rescue, and have her and Tony fly away into the sunset together. That'd work too. Sometimes we just need a happy ending.
What do you think is next for Pepper Potts in the MCU? Tell us in the comments below!
Cover image: "Pepperony" by cylonka