Features Film

Civil War: Is Tony Stark REALLY The Bad Guy?

Written by Jonathan Goddard

With Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice now in cinemas, the next big-screen comic book battle to divide fans will of course be Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War. This epic tale of Avengers divided will pit genius billionaire playboy philanthropist Tony Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. against World War 2 veteran hero and defender of liberty Steve Rogers alongside a crew of concerned heroes in a battle over the right to act freely. Since this is a Captain America movie, does that mean that Tony is automatically the bad guy here? There are lots of considerations to be made, so that’s what I intend to discuss here.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the alignments of our two brave leaders, since this will help us to understand if either of them are technically good or evil. For those of you not familiar with alignment tables, they are a system in Dungeons & Dragons (and other table-top RPGs) to define your character’s moral position, with a vertical scale of good vs evil and a horizontal scale of lawful vs chaotic and the middle being neutral. Now, I obviously haven’t seen the movie, but in the comics Tony sides with the government over the Superhuman Registration Act, which is ostensibly designed to protect innocent bystanders from the harmful collateral damage caused by super-fights (imagine how much trouble that would have saved Bruce Wayne!). Tony’s support of the government puts him on a lawful alignment. The fact that it is, on the face of it at least, a well-intentioned act would arguably make Tony’s alignment Lawful Good. Naturally, Cap stands as the all-American paragon of individual freedom and resistance against tyrannical government, which would put him closer to the chaotic end of the spectrum, and naturally at the good end of the scale. Steve Rogers is basically Chaotic Good.

Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it seems in principle. In the comic arc Civil War, Tony becomes the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. to lead them in their task of enforcing the Superhuman Registration Act. Given Tony’s egomaniacal streak and that he has been put in charge of one of the biggest espionage agencies on earth, is it that hard to believe that perhaps he is actually acting out of self-interest rather than for the safety of mankind? Should Tony truly be lawful evil? That said, his ego was modest enough to submit to a higher power in the first place, so is he perhaps putting his own ego aside for the protection of his fellow human beings? See, other people’s motivations are HARD!

On the other hand, if you can rely on Steve Rogers for one thing, it’s consistency. You can count on him to uphold the founding principles of his homeland, and to never waver. That’s why this article isn’t titled “Civil War: Is Steve Rogers really the bad guy?”.  Steve goes off-message from the government because he believes that there may be a threat to his oldest friend,  as well as a threat to fundamental freedom of action. I think the point I’m trying to dig down to here, is that this is, at its core, more about opposing ways of saving lives than it is about Good vs Evil. Maybe neither side is good or bad. Perhaps both sides have valid and important principles. When heroes have a principle, they will defend it to the bitter end. When the smoke clears and the sun goes down, the real casualties of this Civil War just might be friendships and bonds.

Doesn’t that make this story potentially so much more human than another simplistic and reductionist good guy vs bad guy flick? The idea that you don’t have to have an actual enemy to have conflict or drama in a story really appeals to me. It looks more like Tony isn’t the villain in this film, just as Steve isn’t the villain either. What we have is two sets of heroes with two different ways of trying to save lives. Heroes who desperately believe that theirs is the better way and who are willing to throw down against their former comrades to defend their approaches. Debate club, this ain’t. But it doesn’t mean they’re not all passionately making valid points and standing up for their principles. Of course, this is all speculation on my part.

While I’m speculating though, consider this: Is someone else pulling the strings here? Perhaps a rogue element in S.H.I.E.L.D., or maybe Hydra, or the government? Or maybe, just maybe, someone bigger, and “madder”, than all of them combined is jiggling their golden fingers to control the puppets.

What do you think? Are you Team Tony or Team Steve? Or do you believe they’re both fighting for humanity? Are there darker powers in play, shaping the Sokovia Accords? Let us know in the comments, or tweet us at our twitter page

About the author

Jonathan Goddard

When he is not doing his day job in a hospital laboratory, Jonathan can be found hanging out in comic shops, reading Deadpool comics, or writing about comics. It's a bit of an obsession.