Going into Captain America: Civil War, all the conversation was about what side were you on: Team Captain America or Team Iron Man? According to the writers and directors, walking out of the movie, that debate should not be over—because they specifically didn’t want to answer it.
“We weren’t interested in enforcing a point of view that might limit a conversation walking out of the theater,” co-director Joe Russo told io9. “We always felt from the beginning that the most compelling story we could tell is if at the end of the film, when you walked out, you were arguing with your friends and family about who was right. It was important to us to honor both points of view.”
What’s also important is how those points of view are actually the complete, 180-degree opposite of what the characters were at the beginning of their journeys. In Civil War, Iron Man is for the Sokovia Accords, a law that would put the Avengers under the control of the government. Captain America is against them and believes they should be able to operate independently.
“In many ways they find themselves on opposite sides of where they started,” said co-write Stephen McFeely. “Tony was the rebel. Now he’s a bit of a company man because of decisions he’s made in other movies. And Cap was, in essence, a company man, right? ‘I want to do the right thing for my country.’ And now, because of the experiences he’s gone through in these movies that that can’t always be the safest way to handle it. And hopefully, 49 and 51 percent of the people go ‘I’m with that guy.’ That was always the challenge and it’s great that we have so much to work with.”
It’s actually kind of brilliant when you think about how these characters have evolved over a dozen or so movies. In the first Iron Man, Tony Stark creates the suit because he wants to police the world himself. He’s not beholden to any rules and kind of spits in the face of authority. And yet, over the course of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, events such as creating Ultron and flying into space have made him realize, maybe we do need to be watched over. Meanwhile, it’s the opposite for Captain America. When he came out of cryo-sleep, Cap was all about helping S.H.I.E.L.D and the Avengers and following orders. Now, after finding out HYDRA took over S.H.I.E.L.D, he trusts himself and his friends more than anyone else. They’re total opposites, which makes them great foils.
“We wanted both characters in this movie to play protagonists and antagonists alternatively at different points of the film” added co-director Anthony Russo. “And they both have very sound, emotional reasons for doing what they do in the movie. And what’s interesting is Cap the hero becomes Cap the anti-hero and Tony the anti-hero becomes a hero. We felt that that trajectory would be a complex trajectory for the audience taking into account all that’s come before it.”
Russo also believes that ambiguity was basically the crux to the entire movie. They couldn’t have done the film without it.
“It’s almost impossible for us to have done it any other way,” Anthony Russo said. “Yes, at the heart of the story it’s Captain America vs Iron Man, but these two guys, they’ve been developing now of the course of many movies and many years and played by amazing actors. How do you turn one of those guys into a villain? It’s impossible. They’re too well-rounded as characters to be villains so you have to treat them both as protagonists even though they serve as antagonists to one another.”
And so, even at the end of Captain America: Civil War, you may side with Iron Man or you may side with Captain America. Even the characters aren’t quite sure what’s next.
“We wanted [audiences to choose a side, but we didn’t want anyone to be right or wrong,” said co-writer Christopher Markus. “The appeal of it is no one is clearly on the side of righteousness. There’s a good argument to be made [with Iron Man] and there’s a good argument to be made [with Captain America].”