Breaking Down Iron Man: The Father of the MCU
The character of Tony Stark/Iron Man has gone through so much over the 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). He was the one that started it all and the progression of Tony, from his first film to Homecoming feels completely natural and grounded. There is an interesting arc with Tony that can also be compared to Steve Rogers/Captain America. From an arrogant playboy to accepting responsibility while saying ‘F- you’ to the Government, to becoming a man who needs accountability for the actions he and the Avengers have caused.
There was a time where Iron Man was everyone’s favorite Avenger, but through the years, he may have taken a back seat in the MCU as a whole, but still remains an integral part of it. Interestingly enough, Iron Man’s trilogy shares a similar resemblance to Thor’s trilogy, where they give us a good introduction of the character, a sequel that rather dipped in quality, only for the third film to get a new director and do something different. In all his films and every other appearance he makes in the MCU, Tony changes little by little.
Iron Man – The Self-Made Hero
Three weeks before the release of Iron Man, Jon Favreau said, “I really don’t know how people are going to react to this thing.” I don’t think he could’ve imagined how big the franchise was going to become. While Iron Man was a superhero origin film, Favreau has stated that he didn’t want to make it a superhero type film and to have the focus more on Tony in his development of becoming a hero.
We already know how Tony Stark was before he was taken hostage. A genius playboy who literally contributes to a ‘war machine’ by making weapons to keep ‘peace’. That doesn’t seem to someone people would enjoy watching. When he escapes captivity and sees the destruction of all his weapons that’s when he realizes he needs to be better and begins to have no desire to continue dealing with a system that has zero accountability.
Of course, that doesn’t sit well with everyone, especially Obadiah Stane. Interestingly enough there seems to always be a theme of fathers in his film, sometimes it’s more prominent but here it’s rather subtle. We know Tony never had the chance to say goodbye to his father and likely the closest thing he ever had to one was Stane, but he hated being the background. Though the film doesn’t really explore that theme, there is a hint of it in within the movie, and it’s something that could’ve been explored more.
Now the most important thing about Tony that he learns in this film is to not take the closest people in your life for granted. Pepper and Rhodey have to deal with so much because it seems like Tony doesn’t care about them. Tony makes Rhodey wait hours for him outside and he forgets about Pepper’s (his assistant at the time) birthday. His journey when he gets back is to try and be more upfront with them and realize who in his life really matter.
Iron Man 2 – A Second-Rate Sequel
Jon Favreau returns to direct Iron Man 2, but now that he’s a superhero that the world knows about, where can you take this character? Well, Tony Stark is still Tony Stark and he owns the superhero persona like a rockstar. Even with the events from his first film, Tony may be a better man, but he’s still filled with arrogance and the need for adrenaline.
One thing Jon Favreau stated was that he wanted to give the film an old James Bond type feel and it’s very prominent in certain parts of the film, but not so much in other scenes. He said he wanted to go make a more ‘superhero movie’ now that the character’s been Iron Man for a while. There was cringe-worthy humor that came from one of the secondary antagonists, Justin Hammer, who’s basically a second-rate Tony Stark. The comedy out of him is on purpose, but is more annoying than anything. The character is fitting into the world of Tony Stark, but for the audience doesn’t work. Tony doesn’t care about him at all, so why should we?
The film hovers around the iconic Iron Man storyline “Demon in a Bottle“, which has Tony suffering from alcoholism. They only give us a glimpse of it at his birthday party, disappointing Pepper and Rhodey, the two people closest to him. We learn that the reactor that’s keeping him alive is also the thing that’s killing him. There could’ve been a stronger struggle with the character that could have really grounded him more in reality with something millions of people suffer from.
Probably the most redeeming thing about the film (aside from Robert Downey Jr.’s performance and the first appearance of Black Widow) is introducing Tony’s father Howard Stark. From the first Iron Man, we learn that he never said goodbye to his father; he still has a void in his heart and it comes from his father. We learn that he was one of the founders of S.H.I.E.L.D. and was killed in a car crash, but more importantly, he was also this huge figure that was inspired by Howard Hughes and Walt Disney. Eventually, Tony learns that his father did genuinely love him and this gets brought up in a later film in the MCU.
The film does a good job of setting up the antagonist Ivan Vanko/Whiplash and have it be a story about the sins of the father’s past, but the film fumbles with Vanko. There isn’t a lot to grab the attention, but what he represents and what he accomplishes at the end of the first act is great as this guy gets a wake-up call. From the beginning of the film he’s said that no one needs to worry, he has everything handled, when clearly he doesn’t and has to learn the lesson of humility as he tries to correct the mistakes he made to the people closest to him (Pepper and Rhodey), finally allowing himself to open them, which allows him to open up with other people that we see in his next appearance…
Tony Stark appears again in the ensemble film The Avengers. The past two films have taught Tony to not take for granted the people in his life, as well as finally opening up to them, which leads to him teaming up with a bunch of other superheroes. However, he’s still the same Tony who’s full of himself and constantly cracking jokes, some of which don’t make any sense, but he’s still a hero and is willing to sacrifice himself to save millions. It’s the events at the very end of Avengers that changes Tony to become even more of a dynamic character.
Iron Man 3 – The Beginnings of a Changed Man
In Iron Man 3 they went with a different director to bring his own stylized flare to the character. Shane Black of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the writer of Die Hard puts Tony in a logical situation, which has him suffering from PTSD after the events from The Avengers. Although he’s a superhero, he’s still human, suffering from insomnia and panic attacks, which helps ground the character.
Admittedly, when I first saw the film, I wasn’t a huge fan of it. There are still several elements that bother me, specifically with the twist of the Mandarin and having Aldrich Killian as the main antagonist. Even in my rewatch, the plot/plan of Killian still doesn’t make much sense for me. However, like Iron Man 2, the set up to seeing Killian become the villain is interesting as we see a past Tony who’s even more irresponsible and overall not a good person. They show the damage he’s done to people in their pasts and has to face them head-on.
It’s in this film where I believe Tony comes to the realization that he needs to take more responsibility. In The Avengers, he completely disses S.H.I.E.L.D. and is almost against the very idea of them, but after Killian seeks revenge, I think Tony finally learns that every action has a consequence and it seems his goal is to get rid of those consequences, which you will see.
They also set up a mentorship role with Tony, which is actually very sweet as Tony see’s himself in Harley, a young science-loving kid. Even with Tony’s hard exterior, he shows this kid there is still plenty of tender moments and beats with him. More than anything this starts to show Tony as a father figure which comes to play in later MCU films.
The setting of the film is during Christmas and while Shane Black loves to incorporate the holiday in some of his films, he and writer Drew Pierce said that there’s something always calm and peaceful on Christmas Day as everything just seems quiet and at peace. By the end of the film, Tony blows up all of his new suits, symbolizing that his past isn’t going to take over and he’s ready to start anew. Now, he can truly focus on what matters since the suits were a distraction in his life. It’s in these final moments where we get a true sense that Tony has changed for the better.
Iron Man returns in Avengers: Age of Ultron where he and the team are more of a cohesive unit. However, he’s still arrogant and allows his hubris to get the better of him when he creates Ultron, thinking he could do something good with it. He sees a glimpse of his friend’s death and is taken back to the moment that triggers his PTSD. We also still see the negative effects of Tony’s past as he’s part of the reason Pietro and Wanda’s apartment was bombed when they were children. He’s trying to police situations by creating the Iron Legion, a group of Drones sent to protect civilians, but the last thing the people of Sokovia want is a former weapons manufacturer policing them. There is graffiti art of Iron Man holding AK-47’s and “$” sprayed on top of it. Tony isn’t popular and places across the globe.
Tony’s biggest problem is that he’s trying to control something that he has no control over. He takes responsibility for the destruction of Sokovia and that leads us to his next appearance in.
Captain America: Civil War, where he demands every Avenger member to take accountability for their actions. This is where fans started to split between Team Cap and Team Iron Man, and while most people were on Cap’s side, there is a clear understanding of why Tony is doing what he’s doing. From New York City to Sokovia, to then having the Triskellion collapse, there has been threat after threat since the first Iron Man and it’s reached a point where the world can no longer tolerate it.
Tony’s father has always been a part of his life, even when he was absent in it. They pull another element from Tony’s past and place it in Civil War, which makes the fight between him and Cap carry a lot more weight.
It’s also in Civil War where we see Tony start to become more of a mentor figure, especially to Peter Parker. The mentorship is more evident in Spider-Man: Homecoming, as he teaches Peter that to be a hero it means to keep pushing yourself to be the best person you can be. But we also see more of the damage Tony does to people like Adrian Toomes.
Fast forward to three years later in the MCU and Infinity War begins. There are several theories as to what will happen to him, but one thing is certain, this whole universe started thanks to Tony. So, we’ll just have to wait and see what comes next in his life…