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While Captain America: Civil War wasn’t a fully faithful adaptation of the original Civil War comic book storyline (there’s no way it could have been, given Marvel’s lack of access to certain characters at the time), it did carry over several key elements, like pitting Captain America and Iron Man against each other physically and ideologically. However, at one point, there wasn’t even a guarantee that Robert Downey Jr. would reprise Tony Stark in the Civil War movie. As Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige recently recalled:
We didn’t have a deal with Downey. So it’s like, ‘Looking good with Downey! It’s Cap versus Iron Man.’ ‘I don’t know, it might not be Downey.’ Alright, it’s gonna be Cap versus who?’
Robert Downey Jr. was confirmed to appear in the third Captain America movie in October 2014, shortly before Marvel Studios announced to the world that it would adapt the Civil War storyline. Before that, Downey had starred as Tony Stark in the Iron Man trilogy and the first two Avengers movies, as well as cameoed in The Incredible Hulk. So that’s six appearances under his belt in the span of seven years. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
It’s fortunate that Kevin Feige and the rest of the Marvel brass were able to sign Robert Downey Jr. onto Captain America: Civil War, as it’s hard to imagine who could have served as Steve Rogers’ heroic opposite in Tony Stark’s place. Just like in the comics, Steve and Tony had differing opinions on legislation dictating what enhanced individuals could and could not do, and considering that these two were among the MCU’s anchoring heroes, it felt all the more powerful when they found themselves on opposite sides of both this political debate and later on the battlefield.
Tony Stark and Steve Rogers’ relationship being fractured, as well as the Avengers being essentially dissolved, are what kicked off Phase 3 of the MCU, and its impact could still be felt when Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame came along. Tony and Steve patched things up before the former died and the latter traveled to the past to live out the rest of his life, but who knows how their dynamic would have changed had Tony not been present in Civil War.
Kevin Feige recalled how it was touch-and-go for a bit getting Robert Downey Jr. onto Captain America: Civil War during the Q&A portion of his visit to the New York Film Academy, where he also noted that there was a period when it was unclear if Marvel would be able to work out a deal with Sony and bring Spider-Man into the mix. Ultimately Feige and his team were successful on both fronts, although where the Web-Slinger is concerned, it turns out that said period where his absence was looking likelier helped flesh out Black Panther’s role.
As mentioned already, Iron Man and Captain America have now exited the MCU following the conclusion of Phase 3. While we will see how differently their lives could have turned out in the animated What If…? series on Disney+ (which is offering a seven-day free trial), their time in the cinematic spotlight as over, and going into Phase 4, we’ll not only reunite with familiar characters like Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy, but also meet plenty of new folks, like The Eternals, Shang-Chi and Blade.
The MCU will continue next year with the release of Black Widow on May 1. Don’t forget to look through our Marvel movies guide to learn what else is coming in Phase 4 and beyond.