Tony Stark Is That One "Friend" We All Have

The Civil War trailer dropped the other day and by now you have probably watched it about 10 times. It's okay, you don't have to lie. We are all Marvel trash here. There is a LOT to talk about in regards to the trailer, but one thing people immediately started talking about (and making hilarious memes about) is the scene where Steve is apologizing to Tony about going to war with him. This is how the exchange goes: 

Steve: I'm sorry, Tony. You know I wouldn't do this if I had any other choice, but he's my friend.

Tony: *looking rather suprised and stricken* So was I. 



A lot of people in the fandom, myself included, were like "lol Tony pls." Steve is talking about Bucky, his first and oldest friend in the entire world. His literal 'ride or die' friend. His "Til the end of the line" BEST FRIEND. For Tony to look and/or sound even remotely surprised or hurt that Steve is choosing Bucky over him is absurd (right?). We've seen Tony and Steve interact in 3 films (counting the Civil War trailer) and in each one they have some friendly moments, sure, but just as many or more moments of disagreement, tension, or outright frustration and anger. That's actually been one of my beefs with the MCU. I really love the deep canon friendship between Steve and Tony. That long and deep friendship is what made the Civil War story in the comic books so devastating. Seeing that 50 year friendship destroyed was painful. But Steve and Tony have a completely different relationship in the MCU. They have nothing like that friendship. Not at all. This seems to be a very deliberate choice on Whedon's part (Joss Whedon who wrote and directed Avengers 1 and 2).

So did the Russos not watch Avengers 1 or 2 (I could forgive them for maybe skipping Age of Ultron)? Obviously not. As The Winter Soldier proved, the Russos are careful and deliberate directors who know their characters and their source material. No, something else is going on. And I think it's with Tony. 

I firmly believe that Tony genuinely thinks he and Steve are friends. However, I think Tony is coming from a totally different perspective than Steve when it comes to friendship. Tony is like 'We've been friendly! So we're friends, right??' and Steve isn't built like that. He can be friendly with you but that doesn't make you FRIENDS. He worked with Natasha for TWO YEARS and didn't consider her a friend. And they were clearly bantering and friendly towards one another. If you fight the good fight with him and have his back, Steve will totally consider you an ally, a teammate, a brother or sister in arms...but friendship is a very different level of intimacy and trust for him. He is open and vulnerable with Bucky, Peggy, Sam and Natasha in a way he has NEVER been with Tony. And Tony doesn't get that. Because he and Steve have fundamentally different ideas about what friendship is because of how they have personally experienced it.

Yep. Best friends forever!

Up until Avengers, MCU Tony has only had TWO real friends in his whole life: Rhodey and Pepper. That is a large part of the problem. Rhodey and Pepper spend a lot of time taking care of Tony. Managing Tony. That is Pepper's actual job before she becomes CEO of Stark Industries. They fix his messes, try to keep him from self-destructing and stand between him and the world. To Tony, friends are the people who put up with you no matter what. People who are endlessly patient who you know will always come back--even if they're (very justifiably) mad at you. There is a lot of enabling that went on in those relationships before Tony started getting his act together. And even after he is well on the road to getting it together, he still f*&ks up and people still enable him (see: Bruce getting talked into helping to create Ultron). 

This is TOTALLY different to how Steve approaches relationships. Steve's friendships are based in mutual respect, dependability, shared experiences and honesty. All of Steve's friends are rock solid, fiercely loyal pillars of strength. Which is not to say of course that Rhodey and Pepper aren't, they totally are, but it's not mutual. Chris Evans said that Steve is the kind of guy who when injured would be careful not to bleed on anyone. Steve's friends have to work to get him to let them share his burdens, to encourage him to lean on them, to convince him that they can take his weight. For him, the struggle is to let people actually help him. Trust, respect and friendship are hard won things from Steve. 

This is an important core character trait of Steve. There are friends and then there are BEST FRIENDS. A friend you can have a running joke with. You can be friendly and cool and hang out at parties with each other. But a BEST FRIEND has known you since you were 'just a kid from Brooklyn' and is 'with you til the end of the line.' A BEST FRIEND is someone you meet jogging and then three days later they help you take down a giant government agency because 'I do what he does, just slower.' A BEST FRIEND is someone who founds a giant intelligence agency in your honor when you "die" and almost gets killed trying to keep your blood out of the wrong hands. Tony... ain't quite there yet. 

In AoU we saw that Steve was the focus of Tony's vision about the world being destroyed. What has been clear since Avengers 1 is that Tony has very mixed feelings about Steve that he probably doesn't even fully understand. On the one hand, he has a huge chip on his shoulder about Steve related to Howard. As obsessed/maybe in love as we know Howard was with Steve after he fell (largely thanks to Agent Carter), that's understandable. Tony said in Avengers that Steve is the guy his dad never shut up about. But on the other hand, Tony CRAVES Steve's approval and friendship. It's obvious that a lot of his frustration with Steve is rooted in his reluctant admiration/hero worship for him. Remember when your parents told you that the kid that picked on you maybe wanted to be your friend/liked you? 

But then remember when he admits to Loki that Steve is "a living legend who kinda lives up to the legend"?

He would never admit that to Steve's face

Combine that with him not getting how Steve works and you get Tony totally having convinced himself that he and Steve are good friends and he is now surprised that Steve is choosing Bucky over him. Now I don't mean to say that Tony is TOTALLY off base. He isn't. Does Steve consider him a friend? Sure. The end of Age of Ultron makes that clear. Some of the looks he gives Tony are definitely fond. Where they are mismatched is the level of friendship. In the Civil War trailer Tony is painfully realizing that he kinda misjudged their level of friendship. Just a bit. And hey, we've all been there. You've either been Steve or Tony.  It's awkward on both sides (and I have been on both) but it's way more painful when you're the person who thought you were much closer to someone/better friends than you turned out to be. 


I think this is the Very Important Lesson About Friendship Tony needs. He needs to learn that friendships are work. And that's not a bad thing. It [friendship] is not a given or something you are entitled to. You can't just assume that you have a certain place in people's lives. Especially when YOU are a less-than-great friend youself. You don't get pissed at people or take advantage of them, then pretend like everything is chill and squashed later. I mean, okay yes, SOME friendships are like that (you are probably friends with a SAINT, which is how and why it works), but not friendship with Steve Rogers. In a VERY illuminating and informative article for Empire, Anthony Russo says of Steve and Tony's relationship: "It’s a sick, complicated relationship." Um. I don't know about you, but I cannot WAIT to see what he means by that. I think this is what Tony needs to experience if he and Steve are ever going to have anything like the friendship they have in the comic books. Until then? Bye, Tony. 

Niala Terrell-Mason's picture
on November 27, 2015

Hey, I'm Niala! I'm black, bisexual, super liberal, a Unitarian Universalist (I'll wait while you Google that), and a long time fangirl. I love fan conventions, Marvel, Star Trek, fan fiction, Tumblr, Harry Potter, most of the shows that Fox cancels and books. I work in a public library and I am a grad student pursuing a masters of divinity in interfaith chaplaincy (aka someone who does religion for a living). I hope you think I'm funny.