Now that the Avengers: Endgame spoiler embargo has been lifted for awhile, it’s time for us to take a look at the “endgame” of each of the original six Avengers and see how they got to this point in their respective journeys. And we’re finishing off with the one who started it all, Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man.
I’ll be honest: I’ve been putting off writing this one. Clearly I put off writing a few of the others in this series too but I’m well aware the gaps between have gotten longer and longer. This has been a series of very mixed opinions and unclear stances, and I’ve been determined to end it on a positive note. The trouble is my stances – or lack therof – on the handling of Tony Stark in Endgame are the most muddled of all. (The one thing I do have a clear opinion on is that seeing how awkward I’ve been with these articles I should never do a miniseries like this again.)
I’ve always said the Iron Man arc has been the most consistent and carefully crafted in the MCU. But looking back after Endgame it’s more like even it may not have been immune to some oddities here and there; after over four months I still can’t tell whether the move to have Tony sacrifice himself was well-crafted and truly built upon his previous appearances or too much of a re-tread to be impactful in the ways they seemed to want it to be; between Infinity War and this movie there is a clear pattern of characters with “problematic” pasts sacrificing themselves as redemption (the old “redemption = death” trope, which quite frankly is overused in media) and the filmmakers keep spouting the idea that he “finally” sacrificed himself even though this blatantly ignores major events of previous movies when he did it before (see: all the previous Iron Man and Avengers movies). However, it’s not presented as a redemption arc in the movie itself so it’s hard to say whether it’s actually meant to be an example of that or simply allowing the character who started this saga to be the ultimate hero of it all. And the same goes for whether dying by defeating Thanos is a metaphor of never being able to overcome PTSD/mental health issues (in this case, the living embodiment of it) until you die or one of eventually managing to overcome said issues and not allowing them to be the thing that destroys you.
However, while I think the arc itself probably isn’t as perfect as its being heralded as given the retreads here and there, I still stand by my belief that Tony Stark was the best handled character throughout the Infinity Saga. With little to no exceptions, every decision and line of dialogue was consistent with the place of development he had reached at whatever point he was at in his ten film appearances. When we saw significant drops in his ego in both of the first two Iron Man movies, they stuck. When we saw him develop anxiety and PTSD after the Battle of New York, it remained an ever-present undercurrent driving his actions in every subsequent appearance. And perhaps most satisfying of all, after several movies of dealing with his “daddy issues”, Tony used those negative experiences to ensure he was a better father to his own child rather than just conveniently forgetting what it was like for him when he was a kid and allowing the cycle of neglect to continue. (I know he forgave his father for all of that and made peace with it, but that doesn’t make the way Howard treated him right or okay.) Unlike with quite a few of the others, there was never a time where the filmmakers had me going “Wait, what? That’s wildly out of character,” when it came to Tony.
Iron Man is arguably the most popular MCU character to date – he’s certainly the most iconic and the unofficial face of the Infinity Saga – and I think that’s because the lessons we have learned from his story – being aware of your power and privilege and using it for the greater good over selfish desires, living with mental health issues and learning to cope with them, and not repeating the mistakes of yourself or of those who have wronged you – are very resonant in today’s cultural discussions. So to top off this series, here’s Robert Downey Jr.’s Disney Legends Award segment from last month which touches on what he’s taken away from his experience with the character…and getting arrested at Disneyland.