Relationships are a dime a dozen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Almost every superhero has been paired off with a love interest, be it Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter, Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff, and even Vision and Wanda Maximoff. Each has had varying effects on the overall series arc, but none of those romantic relationships have been as vital as Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) are the lifeblood of The Avengers. Their relationship has never been great, but the world depends on them putting aside their differences and working together.
The main challenge for The Avengers isn’t the villain of any of the movies. It is that our heroes can’t get along. It is the egos and differences of these super-powered beings that get in their way. Each villain takes advantage of that conflict in order to raise havoc on the group, though. Loki purposely gets captured in The Avengers so that he can manipulate the heroes. That is when Tony Stark and Steve Rogers finally met face-to-face. Let’s just say it wasn’t all smiles and handshakes. These two men had predetermined thoughts about one another long before they ever crossed paths in person.
Tony had grown up in the era when Steve was frozen in ice. He heard stories from his father, Howard Stark, about how this magical man was the champion of the weak and protector of all. Thanks to the events in Captain America: The First Avenger, we see Steve was responsible for world peace during the war. That’s quite the legend. The fanfare for Captain America was through the roof and no one could escape it. That made adolescence difficult for Tony. Not only did he feel that he had to measure up to his father, a renowned genius, but jealousy also came from the attention this superhero got over him.
On the other hand, Steve was frozen for a long time, and his introduction to Tony couldn’t have been great. Steve was friendly with Howard Stark — in fact, his shield was actually developed by the elder Stark. What Steve knew about Tony wasn’t the most glowing report. The history on Tony Stark would say he was the head of a company that made weapons of mass destruction and is a megalomaniac who cannot help himself. He erects towers that are emboldened with his name and has to be the center of everything. That isn’t the man that Steve typically hangs around with. He always throws himself into danger not for himself but for the greater good of all mankind. His ideals couldn’t be further away from those of Tony.
Thankfully, in The Avengers, the two men put aside their differences. With the help of Nick Fury, who uses the death of Agent Coulson to bring Tony and Steve together, the two men stop Loki and win the Battle of New York. They weren’t going to hang out and get drinks together as everyone goes their own way after the battle. They would work together once again in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but the relationship continued to be rocky until it completely shattered during Captain America: Civil War.
After the death of countless innocents during the Battle of Sokovia in Age of Ultron, Tony had trouble living with blood on his hands. Confronted by families and headlines, he saw the damage The Avengers did and could not reconcile with himself. He agreed to government-mandated rules, known as the Sokovia Accords, which would control how, when, and where The Avengers could assist. He would give up whatever freedom he had as a superhero and answer to a higher power.
Steve saw things differently. If The Avengers had to wait for approval from a group of 100-plus diplomats, nothing would ever get done. Additionally, some of their allies, like the Scarlet Witch, would have to be confined because her abilities were too unstable. It wasn’t so much an agreement but a shackle that could hold sway over the activities of The Avengers. Tony and Steve had varying opinions as to whether to sign the document.
The Sokovia Accords were only a part of the disagreement between Tony and Steve. Civil War throws an assassin called The Winter Soldier — who is Steve’s old friend and war mate, Bucky Barnes, in brainwashed form — into the center of the conflict. He is the prime suspect in a bombing against UN officials during the signing of the Accords. His extensive past as a covert-ops agent for HYDRA doesn’t help matters. Steve believes that Bucky can still be saved, and he is not willing to give up his friend, even if that means betraying Tony.
Civil War villain Helmut Zemo lost everything during the fall of Sokovia. He quickly realized he was too weak to get revenge on The Avengers himself. Instead, he sought to turn them against each other. He discovered footage of Bucky, under control from HYDRA, murdering Tony’s parents. He laughs while the great Iron Man and Captain America come to blows.
This isn’t just a small battle between friends. What we witness is the end of The Avengers as we know them and a relationship that might have passed any chance of reconciliation. Steve takes Tony to the absolute limit before he stops his assault. What Zemo might not have expected was that this conflict he concocted would extend far past his intentions, leading to the fall of half the population.
The finale of Civil War has Steve sending Tony an old flip phone, which is an olive branch of sorts. Should the time come for them to put their differences aside and work together, Tony should use that phone and call Steve. But the events of Avengers: Infinity War are slightly more complicated than phoning a friend befits.
It has been some time since Tony and Steve have spoken. We aren’t given an exact timeline, but hey, Steve has a beard now, so some time must’ve passed. After having almost killed each other, it isn’t easy for them to talk on the phone. In fact, Bruce Banner makes the phone call to notify The Avengers during Infinity War about the invasion of Thanos. Tony and Steve never share a scene together, and The Avengers fall to Thanos.
Trailers for Avengers: Endgame haven’t provided the most in-depth looks into how The Avengers will defeat Thanos and return peace to the galaxy, but they have showcased an important reconciliation. Not only does the latest Avengers: Endgame trailer show Tony back on Earth, but it also shows a handshake between Tony and Steve.
This handshake is all about the trust the two men have for one another and might represent the closure of their conflict. They will put aside ego and resentment to stand up to evil. If this the last time we see the two men on screen together (which is possible due to both Downey and Evans’ contracts ending after this movie), it is even more exciting to see these two characters go out together.
When they are together, Tony and Steve lead The Avengers, a ragtag group of superheroes, far better than anyone else could. More than any other relationship in the MCU, theirs will decide the fate of the universe.