Tony Stark and Steve Rogers have interesting parallels that put them on two sides of the same coin.
Stark is a trust fund kid who grows up to be a narcissistic yet likable jerk (thanks to RDJ). Rogers is a poor outcast who turned out to be a naive yet endearing do-gooder (thanks to Chris Evans).
Iron Man was created in a capitalist modern society where the enemy is greed and human nature. Captain America emerged in a time of old fashioned values when there is a clear line between the good guys and the Nazis. Naturally, the cynical genius clashes with the idealistic soldier.
Who has the best franchise?
Round 1: The Debut
Iron Man gave us a taste of what the Marvel Cinematic Universe has in store – perfect casting, well-funded CGI action, and superhero powers. Robert Downey Jr. was born to play Tony Stark, a human representation of the mecha nerd’s ultimate fantasy.
Iron Man’s origins story is predictable, but it tackles a relevant issue just enough to make his narrative compelling without taking itself too seriously. The seamless CGI and pyrotechnics provide plenty of escapist entertainment.
In contrast, The First Avenger has a retro vibe and old fashioned blockbuster entertainment. It introduced some of MCU’s favorite supporting characters – Peggy Carter and Bucky Barnes. Chris Evans’ debut is also a by-the-numbers flick that looks more like an appetizer to pass the time before the main course – The Avengers.
Score: Iron Man-1 Captain America-0
Round 1: Iron Man wins this round as the more enjoyable action hero flick for both comic fans and uninitiated moviegoers. It started a new wave of superhero movies that made MCU possible. This is not to say that Captain America doesn’t have potential. The straight-laced superhero’s first swing isn’t just as exciting as Stark’s first flight.
Round 2: The Sequel
Iron Man 2 is the weakest link in The Avengers line-up. The sequel had the right idea – tackle the trials and tribulations of a publicly outed superhero who has to juggle worldwide fame and responsibilities. As the hero’s journey often goes, the source of his power is also his curse.
Unfortunately, this was poorly written by Justin Theroux. Instead of expounding on this premise, we get A Day in the Life of Tony Stark: The Series, in which we find out what he does for fun and how he pees in the suit. Eventually, he figures it out and defeats one-dimensional villains.
On the other side, Captain America: Winter Soldier shifts gears for a much more timely narrative that reflected today’s paranoid world. The Russo Brothers took over the director’s chair and the results were a big improvement.
Cap finally gets a worthy adversary, which provided hard-hitting showdowns that were missing in the first movie. It’s the classic bestie turned enemy trope, but Sebastian Stan has good chemistry with Chris Evans that you end up rooting for the Stucky bromance. We’re also introduced to his foil – The Falcon.
Score: Iron Man-1 Captain America-1
Round 2: Winter Soldier obviously wins the second round, making it a draw. The sequel moves Captain America’s character and story forward. Iron Man 2 isn’t a sequel at all, it’s an expansion pack with Tony Stark moping around until he finally got his shit together.
Round 3: You know I Had to Do it to Em
Iron Man bounces back with the third movie as “a techno-thriller set in a more real-world than even The Avengers,” writer Drew Pearce said. It’s enjoyable, with a family-friendly vibe and character-centric plot. The bad guys have vague motivations, but it’s compensated by Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley. It’s a darker story than the rest of the films in the franchise, but it’s a refreshing change of pace thanks to Shane Black.
Captain America responds with the Civil War, an all-out closing. It’s a superhero movie with surprising depth while still retaining the gritty action of its predecessor. Marvel can’t help but high jack every movie to connect their cinematic universe and sustain a multi-million dollar franchise-building machinery. And it still has Marvel’s villain problem. Fortunately, Captain America has amusing side characters and a memorable final showdown to make up for it.
The Winner Is…
The straight-laced Captain America has been the most compelling superhero of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as of this writing. He has humble origins, dealt with a modern world that challenged his own beliefs, and faced his own fallibility.
Iron Man has taken a similar trajectory. The prototype was made from scraps of metal and DIY computing wizardry. The first mechanized suit challenged his emotional and physical limitations until Tony finally took the shrapnel off to embrace his own abilities rather than rely on them.
However, Captain America has a better franchise that consistently pushed the character in interesting directions while maintaining continuity. His stories have current themes, which provided an interesting juxtaposition from his ideals. In turn, these events provided the much needed rough edges to a cookie-cutter character.
His straightforward powers – super strength and a huge metal Frisbee – doesn’t need to rely much on CGI, providing physical action scenes. One of the main reasons why Civil War is so great because it delivered good old fashion mano-a-mano that reminded us why we loved superhero movies in the first place.
Iron Man has three disparate sequels in a franchise that lost steam as it went on. It lost sight of the character as the overarching theme became a fancier and better suit. Yes, that’s what Iron Man is about in the first place, but audiences still need a human character to connect with. CGI is useful but ultimately uninvolving if you rely on it too much.
Iron Man earned more with a total of $2,157.7B while Captain America followed closely behind with $2,025.9B. In terms of quality, the skinny kid from Brooklyn wins over the billionaire playboy.
Iron Man kick-started the Marvel Cinematic Universe which forever changed how superhero franchises are made, but Captain America is the better finisher.
Box Office stats are worldwide grosses from Box Office Mojo.