Enough with the daddy issues. Since it’s Mother’s Day, and Captain America: Civil War is dominating the box office, this is the perfect time to discuss what we just learned about the woman who gave birth to Iron Man.
Robert Downey Jr. hinted about this element of Tony Stark’s past way back in July when he spoke with Entertainment Weekly during our set visit to Civil War.
He said Stark was in a reflective state of mind in this film. “He’s gonna see what he can do if he goes back and recalibrates his personal life, you know, regardless of how well that does or doesn’t go,” the actor said.
“He’s thinking about where he went to school. He’s thinking about his folks …”
The actor added, “He’s not a kid anymore. He’s thinking about the back nine. Obviously he has this kind of tragic childhood where his folks die and all that stuff and he mentions it in the first film. He says, he never got to say goodbye to his dad, and …”
Downey trailed off. I asked: “What is the story with his mother? I don’t think we’ve ever heard much about that.”
The actor jabbed a finger in the air. “Exactly,” he said, flashing a familiar grin. “I’d always felt that she was like a really cool kind of like, Ivy League rebel, Eleanor Roosevelt type, you know? So that’s kind of what’s been on my mind with it.”
I asked, “Is that a part of the movie or just something you keep in your head as background?”
“It’s a little of both,” Downey said. “Little of both.”
For once in his life, Robert Downey Jr. didn’t spill one of Marvel’s big secrets. It turns out Maria Stark is a crucial part of Civil War — but since her storyline has massive repercussions we’re going to talk about that with directors Joe and Anthony Russo after the jump, to protect the spoiler averse …
NEXT PAGE: What happens to Maria Stark, and why …
Okay, if you’re here, you have submitted to a retinal scan authorizing import of Civil War spoilers …
With the world’s superheroes divided over who should have control of their actions, director Anthony Russo describes Tony Stark as “the egoist who is now ready to submit to an authority because of guilt.”
And what makes a person feel guiltier than … mom?
Pepper Potts and Tony have split up by the start of the film, leaving Iron Man in a vulnerable place. He’s starting to question everything he’s done up to this point in the metal suit, and whether his judgment has really made things better — or just more deadly. (Remember, he’s the one who created the last major threat to the planet: Ultron.)
He’s also feeling envy toward Captain America, a man who has managed to do less damage to the world throughout his near century upon it. Cap, a.k.a. Steve Rogers, fought alongside his father during World War II, and Tony grew up in the shadow of Howard Stark’s long-lost red, white, and blue hero pal.
“I love it being about his dad,” Chris Evans tells EW. “It’s such a… what guy in this room can’t relate to that? And it’s just so nice to see Cap, the best guy you could possibly construct, be the source of some of that frustration and friction and tension. That ended up being one of my favorite scenes.”
That family dynamic also helped set up Tony’s relationship with his mother, played by Hope Davis. Tony’s cold war with his father couldn’t help but create some awkwardness with his mother too.
Civil War features a virtual reality memory — created through new mind-reading Stark Industries technology — that shows a much younger Tony refusing to say goodbye to his mother and father before the car crash that would end their lives.
Fair warning — here’s an even bigger spoiler ….
At the end of the film, we discover Cap’s brainwashed former best friend Bucky Barnes, known as the Soviet/HYDRA assassin The Winter Soldier, was responsible for crash — and actually executed Tony’s mother and father with his bare hands.
It added another layer of psychodrama to have an innocent person as a victim. “We all know Howard Stark almost made his own bed in a way,” Anthony Russo says. “But you know, his mom arguably much less so.”
Not only did her death add another element to Tony’s guilt, but… Marvel had previously mentioned that his parents died together. So they didn’t have much choice: she had to be involved in that “accident.”
Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, says Maria Stark almost turned up in a previous film, played by another actress. (He declined to say who was cast in the role.) “She made an appearance in a flashback in Iron Man 3 that didn’t make the final cut,” he says. “I can’t remember now if we shot it or not. … I think we shot part of it. So it was on our minds, it was on Robert’s mind to give her more of a presence.”
In the memory scene in Civil War, a young Tony Stark listens as his mother plays the song “Try To Remember,” which is from the 1960 musical The Fantasticks.
Why did they choose that song?
“That was Downey,” Anthony Russo says. “He was very fixated on that song.”
“We were working on that scene and we knew we wanted it to have a little bit of a throwback feel. It was shot almost like a stage play,” Joe Russo adds. “There was an original idea probably from [screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley] that she was playing a piano at the beginning of the scene and then we discover Tony drunk on the couch.”
“Then they were playing together at one point,” Anthony Russo says. “We went through a million songs, we kept changing it every couple weeks.”
“It’s not AC/DC,” Kevin Feige jokes.
“Downey had a very personal reason for wanting that song,” Anthony Russo says of “Try To Remember.” “I think it was a song he loved when he was a kid.”
Shifting into ultra-geek analysis mode, the song also includes repeated variations on the line, “Try to remember a kind of September …” when life seemed happy and limitless.
“Deep in December it’s nice to remember / The fire of September that made us mellow…”
Is there hidden meaning in a song that’s about how good things were before the winter … before the winter SOLDIER. Before he ruined everything by murdering mom and dad, and … and … and …
“That’s exactly why it’s in the movie,” Joe Russo says. “Nailed it.”
“We didn’t want to give it away but you caught us,” Anthony adds.
Turns out, the Russo brothers have a superpower of their own: sarcasm.
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