Iron Man Character Development in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: The Man Willing to Lay Down His Life

Updated on August 23, 2019
Dean Howard profile image

Dean is a new online writer. He usually writes movie and music reviews.

What Makes Iron Man so Great?

In this article, I want to talk about the character who always came off as a jerk to me. Before Captain America: Civil War (2016), Tony Stark did not care about anybody but himself. There was nothing to him that made him a likable character. He is funny, but irresponsible. After the events of Civil War, Tony had a lot more depth to him as a character. His decisions are more responsibly driven. Once his end comes in Endgame, he is the complete polar opposite of the man he started out as in Iron Man (2008).

With all that being said, there are going to be some major spoilers. So, if you have not gotten around to watch any of the Iron Man movies, stop reading and go watch them. If you don't care to be spoiled of everything within the MCU, then by all means, keep reading. It is time to talk about the Godfather of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man.

Iron Man (2008)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe begins with the introduction of Iron Man in his first solo movie, Iron Man (2008). When we are fist introduced to Tony Stark, it is very apparent that he does not have much responsibility in his life. We do not see much of Tony before he is kidnapped by terrorists, but it is enough for us to know that Tony is a billionaire playboy. He is the CEO of his father's company, Stark Industries, but he does not know about anything that they do. His father's old partner, Obadiah Stane, is the one in charge of handling the company.

Stane also becomes the bad guy behind Stark's weapons being sold to the terrorists. When Stark finds this out, he is not sure who he can trust. This also leads into future movies because Tony has a close group of people in which he can trust.

Once he is kidnapped by terrorists, Tony gets a look into the negative impact his weapons are having on people. His eyes are opened to the fact that somehow the terrorists are getting their hands on the weapons his company makes. Tony builds a suit out of scrap parts and escapes, leading to the idea of the iron man suit.

When Tony is taken back home, the first thing he does is shuts down the weapons manufacturing until he figures out how to safely use them. He begins to take more ownership in the company. He also builds the first iron man suit and begins helping people who are being harmed by terrorists.

Tony has a small character arc within this film, however, he still ends the film being the same person he started out as. He takes a little more control in the company, but he is still the irresponsible playboy.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

In Iron Man's second outing, we see him in a battle with the government on control over the suits. Tony refuses to give the suits up because he wants control. This film really gives us the control freak within Tony. He does not want anybody to have the suits because he wants to be the one saving the day. In the court room scene, we see that Tony is still very irresponsible. He jokes around and puts on a show for the others in the room.

We also get the introduction of Nick Fury in this film. Fury is trying to recruit Tony and in doing so he also tries to make Tony takes some ownership. However, Tony does not trust a whole lot of people. We really see how the aftermath of the Iron Man battles have an effect on people. Tony begins to understand that there are people out there who are going to want him dead. This leads him to a better road, as I believe this has a major impact on his decision to team up with the Avengers.

This movie does not really add anything to Tony's character that we did not know before. He is still irresponsible and does not use the Iron Man suit wisely at some points in the film. So, I don't have much to say about, other than the fact that Fury is trying to get Tony on the track to being an Avenger. I also think that the government trying to have some power over Tony in this film and how he handles it mirrors how Tony handles it in the future with Civil War (2016). That aspect of the film does add something once you get to Tony being a better person because you can look at how different he is in both situations.

Avengers (2012)

In the Avengers (2012), we see Tony Stark have to work with others to save the universe. I imagine you are still reading this because you have seen the MCU movies, so I won't get into the plot too much. In short, the Avengers team up to defeat Loki, but they must learn to get along to do so. In this film, Tony is the most arrogant. He is cocky, rude, and thinks he is better than everyone else. I mean, he pokes Bruce to try to bring the Hulk out... On a aircraft carrier. For how smart he honestly is, this is a dumb thing to do.

Throughout the movie he just picks fights with everyone because in his head, he is better than they are. He does not act very heroic. He is not, in anyway, a likable character.

Although Tony is at his most arrogant, his actions at the end of the battle in New York is a turning point to his character. When a missile is about to strike New York, Iron Man risks his life to direct it towards the wormhole in the sky. He is thrust into the vastness of space and sees a whole different side of the world. In this movie, Tony is surrounded by Gods, aliens, and then he flies through a wormhole. This leads to a change into his character. This does show a more heroic side of Tony, but this scene plays a bigger role in with his psyche in future movies.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

In the most underrated film of the MCU, we see Tony Stark dealing with anxiety and PTSD from the attack on New York. We see how a normal human being, in a world of Gods and assassins, would deal with an alien attack. He has now experienced life different than fighting people in suits just like him. He has multiple flashbacks to almost being lost in space when he went through the wormhole. This would honestly take a psychological toll on him.

Tony has a fear of another attack just like New York, so he is obsessed in building suit after suit to protect him. He has a whole basement full of suits. He knows that there is another world, bigger than he is, and they will attack again. He copes by trying everything in his power to be prepared. He wants to make sure that when another attack comes, he will be more than ready.

Tony is a totally changed person by the end of the movie. He is in a much better place than where he started. He understands that he can't always be the one person to protect the world. He ends the movie by destroying all his suits. I wish they would have continued this story of Tony's anxiety and PTSD, but they kind of throw it in the trash after this movie. However, I think after watching Infinity War (2018), this film is important in the development in Tony's story. This is because of how prepared Tony wants to be for the end, but no matter how prepared he is, he won't be able to stop it. I think this is the most important thing about Tony.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

After the events of Iron Man 3, the screenwriters took a step backwards with Tony's story. He ended Iron Man 3 being a better person, but he is back to his normal self in this film. They go back to Tony being obsessed with being prepared for an outside force trying to take over the world. He wants to build a protection around the world because he fears that the attack on New York will come again. Tony is so arrogant that he goes behind the back of the rest of the Avengers to create Ultron. He does not listen to Bruce on how dangerous this could be, and in return, he creates Ultron who wants to do bad.

However, Whedon created Tony so powerful that Ultron doesn't even seem like a threat to him. He has so many weapons that kills all the Ultron bots so quick that he destroys them left and right. When we look at Captain America who doesn't stand a chance but still stands his ground, we see him as a hero. He knows that he can't take on a robot like Ultron, but he still does. Tony is the polar opposite. He doesn't have to fear Ultron because his suit is so overpowered. He has a reason to be so arrogant, and because of that, we do not relate to him.

Even with all the flaws of Tony in this film, there is a scene that adds a lot to Iron Man's character, especially after viewing Endgame (2019). Scarlett Witch shows him a vision in which all the Avengers are dead. When he kneels beside Steve, Steve tells Tony that he could have saved them. So, this even added more to Tony's dream of protecting the world. He sees the fate of the Avengers and will do anything to keep that from happening.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

This movie is the major turning point for Tony Stark. The Russo brothers came in and created an entirely new character. The story in this movie is the Avengers answering for their actions to the government. This obviously splits the Avengers apart because Steve doesn't want to be controlled, but Tony thinks they need to be put in check. They both have their own reason for their decisions. We are shown the mother of a boy who was killed during the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. She confronts Tony on his actions and he takes it personally. This leads him to the decision on wanting their actions put in check. He wants his friends to agree with him because he does not want to see them locked up. He does not joke around with any of the situations because this is a serious matter.

This is the polar opposite of how Tony was in Iron Man 2 when he did not want to answer for his actions. Tony wants to take responsibility. He changes as a person during the course of this movie. We see him becoming a more responsible person. It also adds more to his character when he begins to take a more fatherly role in the life of Peter Parker. He sees himself in Peter and wants to protect him. This is a more responsible Tony than what we have seen before.

Then we also feel for Tony on a personal level when Tony sees his parents choked to death by Bucky from footage taken by security cameras. He finds out that Steve Rogers knew of this, even though he did not know it was Bucky. So, Tony is in his lowest point at this moment. He is almost on a killing spree to get to Bucky. Tony has always had issues about his parents and finding out how his parents really died makes it emotional, even for the audience. We feel for him on this personal level away from being Iron Man.

Captain America beats him to near death. Tony cowers as Cap slams his shield into the Iron Man suit. He cares about his life. He does not want it to end this way. This is different than the previous Tony who did not really care about his life. He would get himself into situations that put his life into risk and wouldn't think twice about it.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

I remember when this film was released, a lot of people's complaint was that Iron Man played too big of a role in this film. However, I do not agree with this. I think Tony has the right amount of screen time to depict the fatherly role that Tony is taking. Tony helps Peter transform into a better superhero. He wants him to be safe and be responsible with his powers. Yes, he gives him a advanced Spider-man suit with Iron Man technology, but he also takes it away when Peter uses it irresponsibly. This is because Tony was never responsible with his suit. He would use his suit for stupid stuff like destroying his home in Iron Man 2. Tony sees a lot of himself in Peter and wants better for Peter because he knows there will be a time when he is no longer around. So, he wants Peter to be ready and mature to fight the battles after he is gone.

There is a line in the movie in which Tony says that if something were to happen to Peter it would be on him. This line is Tony taking ownership. He does not want anything to happen to Peter because he cares about him and wants him to use his powers responsibly. I don't know if the Tony from the first Iron Man would say something like this. To look back and compare "then" Tony to "now" Tony really shows how far he has come.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Once again, the Russo bothers direct Iron Man in this film and create so much emotional depth for the character. Tony's interactions with Doctor Strange while they are on their way to the planet known as Titan show how ready Tony is. Tony makes a comment in which he says that Thanos has been in his head for 6 years ever since the attack on New York. He has been preparing for this ever since the first Avengers movie. We have watched him struggle with anxiety from the attacks and wanting to make the world a safe place. It has all lead Tony to the events in this movie.

I am going to go ahead and jump straight to the fight between Iron man and Thanos. In this fight, we see Iron Man use a whole arsenal of new weapons against Thanos. He has obviously been prepared for this fight. The suit was built for when Tony had to confront the force that has been haunting him ever since New York.

So, Tony says to Strange that Thanos has been in his head, and then we see his fight against Thanos. He has built different suits in the past, and has tried to build a suit of armor around the world for this moment. He has driven himself crazy to defeat the guy who has caused him so much anxiety since New York.

What the saddest part about the whole thing is is that no matter how hard he tried to create the perfect suit to stop Thanos's eventual arrival, he is still no match. He has all these upgrades to his suit, but in the end, he cannot stop Thanos. Tony has gone through so much mentally in preparation, but he still loses. By the end of the movie when everyone is snapped to dust, Tony is in a low point again. He could not protect the world even at his best.

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

In the final conclusion to the Infinity War storyline, Tony is beaten. He has given up on trying to protect everyone else and worries only about being happy himself. This movie takes place a few years after the events of Endgame and Tony is no longer Iron Man. He is a husband and a father, enjoying life in peace and quiet. He is eventually brought back into being Iron Man to save the universe one last time. However, he does not do it for himself. He has everything to lose now. He has a wife and a daughter named Morgan. He does not want to mess up anything to lose them.

The final scene with Iron Man is the most heartbreaking, if we remember the man he started out as. Tony Stark in 2008 would not have sacrificed his life like he does in Endgame. Through the events that made him take more responsibility and allowed him to grow into a hero, Tony can lay his life down to save others. Yes, he does use the glove with the stones, however, Tony does not defeat Thanos with any weaponry he created himself. He does so by being Tony Stark. Being the Tony Stark who has changed into the person willing to make this sacrifice. He gives everything up that he had gained. When Strange raises his finger to give a clue to Tony how to defeat Thanos, Tony's face is a look of realization that he must sacrifice his life. We know that he did not want to do it because he was so happy being a father, but he does so anyway to protect the world. That is what he always tried so hard to do.

Tony Stark's Legacy

Looking back at how much Tony has changed really makes his final moments all that more special and heart breaking. Captain America told him in the first Avengers movie that Tony is not the type of guy to lay down on the wire for another person. That Tony would not have, so he was correct. However, Tony has become a good man, apart from being Iron Man, that he is now willing to make that decision.

When we look at the amazing character development with this character the end moments for him make it so touching. When we see a hero who is willing to change to be a better person just like we do in life, he becomes memorable. This character has matured in the last few years and it is refreshing to see Tony Stark go out as a great man.

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