From Playboy-Billionaire to Savior of the Universe
Tony Stark's Development in the MCU
Our affinity, as it stands for the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist is undeniably immense and is an affinity that has been nurtured for many of our long-lived comic book fans for many a decade, but for those of us younger fans who were fortunate enough to not only gain exposure to the brash greatness that is/was Anthony Edward Stark through the amazing comic books adventures that have been printed on pages since 1963, we have also had the privilege of seeing this amazingly constructed and well-written character be brought to life on the big screen. The powerfully talented Robert Downey Jr. did more than bring a comic book character to life, he personified and embodied this character without pause and seemingly, effortlessly. We not only got to see Tony Stark fight the forces of evil on theater and television screens, we saw him LIVE and we saw him GROW.
We were introduced initially to the onscreen iteration of Tony Stark in his debut appearance in "Iron Man" back in 2008 being the cocky and pigheaded hotshot we're used to seeing in the comics, on his way to showcase some of his latest weaponry to potentially/inevitably sell until his parade is rained on by a terrorist attack which lead to him being almost killed by his own tech, an ironic turn of events for sure but it's as the saying goes, "live by the sword, die by the sword" or in Tony's case, if you live by advanced weaponry, you'll get a ton of shrapnel to the chest by advanced weaponry. To add insult to his near fatal injury, Tony is forced by the terrorist group known as the Ten Rings (who have managed to get their hands on a huge cache of Stark Industry tech) to build a high tech weapon to use in their goals of conquering the region (and eventually the world of course). Long story short, Tony indeed does build a weapon while in captivity but it certainly wasn't a weapon to be used by his captors, no, he built the very first version of his Iron Man suit, the Mark I. Of course, at the time, it didn't nearly pale in contrast to the later models of the suit he would go on to construct but for the time being, it was more than enough to crush his captors and escape their clutches.
After having survived near death by his own creations AND discovering a new application for his tech, Tony would go on to realize that his tech should be used to better/protect mankind which is what his late father Howard Stark had always wanted for his son, Tony. But this revelation wasn't enough to quell the brash, selfish nature of old Tony, although it did make him an ambitious superhero, it did not make him a better man...not yet anyway.
Fast forward some years after having defeated a few foes and slowly but surely redeeming the Stark Industry brand, Tony finds himself within a team, a team of other superheroes, Earth's Mightiest Heroes in fact. He isn't quite use to sharing the spotlight as a superhero and definitely shows throughout the course of the 2012 MCU film, "The Avengers". A specific AND recurring butting of heads between Tony and one Captain Steve Rogers AKA Captain America is one that most fans saw coming from the jump. The two contrasting personalities of Tony and Steve are almost like water and oil. Steve's humility posed as a direct opposite to Tony's arrogant nature with Tony going so far as to express his believe that he is the superior hero, or even a greater man than Cap supplemented by Tony's attacking comment that everything special about Steve "came out of a bottle" in reference to the method of which Rogers achieved his super soldier abilities with the help of none other than Tony's father, Howard during World War II. But throughout the rest of the film, after this exchange, Tony comes to realize that he can't fight the incoming threat to Earth on his own as New York falls under extraterrestrial attack, lead by Loki, but orchestrated by a much more mysterious AND much more powerful threat who later is revealed to be none other than the Mad Titan, Thanos.
This battle manages to humble Tony when during the climax of the fight between the Avengers and the alien threat, Tony realizes that he has no other option than to lay down his own life to save the lives of millions, a feat which many at the time wouldn't have expected him to do. In the process of carrying out this heroic act, Tony survives while defeating the alien forces but not without lasting mental scars from yet another near death experience but this time by a threat he was not able to foresee OR repel on his own thus humbling the ironclad Avenger in more ways than one.
We see Tony again in 2013 in "Iron Man 3" facing down not only an old enemy, the terrorist group, the Ten Rings, led by a mysterious figurehead who dubs himself, The Mandarin but Tony is also facing some inner demons which cause a series of anxiety attacks which he must confront to rise to the occasion and return to his confident self again to beat the baddies who once again threaten the safety of innocents. These anxiety attacks are stemming from Tony's newly acquired PTSD from his near brush with death a year prior to the events of this third Iron Man installment. It has humbled Tony in a very severe way. He can't face the people he cares for let alone his adoring fans without sensing imminent doom (a symptom of anxiety). This also affects his heroics as he contemplates hanging up his suit and falling off the radar but it isn't until eventually, he uncovers that a once loyal and overzealous fan of his work, Aldrich Killian has conjured up the idea of the Mandarin, in an attempt to cover up a deeper conspiracy involving the manufacturing of a serum that endows its consumer with fiery superhuman abilities that almost always lead to unholy amounts of innocent casualties. Tony eventually has to shake off this crippling anxiety when it is discovered that Killian has gone and kidnapped Pepper Pots, Tony's darling, causing Tony to enlist the aid of his longtime companion, James Rhodes AKA War Machine or in this film, the Iron Patriot eventually resulting in Tony's victory and his new found ability to persevere through even the toughest of situations whether it be a battle of the physical kind or of the mental sort.
So lets fast forward another 3 years, after Tony unwittingly creates the murderous A.I. dubbed Ultron ("Avengers: Age of Ultron", 2015) due to a reactionary response born of Tony's belief that he was further protecting humanity from larger, more powerful threats, like the ones he fought in New York nearly 4 years prior, he defeats it with the help of none other than his own loyal A.I. assistant, Jarvis who after being murdered by Ultron was reborn as the Avenger known as Vision who houses the mind stone inside of his forehead (where do you think Lil Uzi got the idea from?), Tony now comes to firm grips with the concept that the actions of him and his superpowered allies have equally super consequences after reflecting on the life that was lost in Sokovia due to the battle between the Avengers and Ultron's robotic forces.
This marks another monumental stage of Tony's personal development in the MCU, he has finally reached the point where he realizes he must weigh outcomes and act accordingly rather than whimsically attacking a problem headfirst. With this newfound mindset, in the 2016 film "Captain America: Civil War", he is easily brought on board to agree and enforce a new government bill that would require all superpowered or otherwise enhanced individuals to register their identities and forfeit their privacy to be constantly surveilled for the "safety" of humanity. This of course does not go over well with all of his superhuman amigos, ESPECIALLY Captain America, a man who believes firmly in personal human rights, which of course is what the Sokovia Accords would encroach upon in concerns to the liberties of superhuman individuals. This disagreement and other mishaps in the world inadvertently cause a civil war between the superheroes, with teams forming around two leaders: Tony and Steve. It is then even more evident that Tony has mentally matured and has taken a new step towards becoming the iron-willed savior we know him as now when it is revealed he has taken on the role of mentor for none other than Peter Benjamin Parker AKA Spider-Man. This relationship between the sage of a billionaire and the superpowered teenager from Queens will be a focal point in the pinnacle of Tony's character development for it is the sole relationship outside of the romantic one with Pepper where Tony feels 100% responsible for the future of another human-being.
After the Avengers nearly tear each other limb from limb and a deep, decades long Hydra conspiracy is unveiled, resulting in a grim revelation that Bucky Barnes, the former best friend of Steve Rogers, murdered Tony's parents in order to prevent Howard Stark from inventing anymore technology that would benefit and protect humanity from evil, it leaves the Avengers broken and without a stable base with Tony being unsure of what the future holds...to his chagrin, it holds much more despair, despair he had envisioned in the past due to the influential powers of the Scarlett Witch, despair he even warned his former allies about referring to the threat from above as "the endgame". He couldn't have been anymore correct.
While Tony moves forward with life after Cap and the other heroes Cap freed from the Raft split from the Avengers, a cosmic threat is coming, a threat unbeknownst to Earth's Mightiest Heroes, has been been stirring longer than they had even been a team. The Mad Titan Thanos nears his goal of universal balance which he believes can only be achieved by erasing half of the life in the universe from existence, a plan he has had since the desolation of his homeworld, Titan which literally starved itself of resources with its enormous population. This marks the beginning of the end of Tony's character evolution. Thanos eventually comes face to face with Tony not long after subduing the likes of Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and an incomplete group of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Tony again shows that he is ready to give his all for the sake of humanity, he heads a solo assault on the Mad Titan who he knows is armed with 4 Infinity Stones capable of utterly destroying him.
But this effort is fruitless as he is only able to draw a few drops of blood from Thanos which earned him a great deal of respect from the Titan. This however was not the greatest blow to Tony's ego and his very mental composure. Thanos accomplishes his goal and erases half of the universe's life from existence...including Peter Parker, the one other soul besides Pepper who Tony had an immense amount of care invested into. It is not rare that we see Tony mentally broken or distraught but this is notably the rawest moment in which we witness Tony's ability to be completely vulnerable.
With Tony now being stranded in space after being defeated by Thanos and witnessing the perceived death of other heroes including Peter's, Tony is left broken and alone with Nebula, the very daughter of Thanos. He is not optimistic about his odds of survival in space but still holds onto his love for Pepper and only wishes at this point to drift off into blissful death thinking about her. BUT this is all thrown out of the window when he is saved by the one and only Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel.
Tony and Nebula are brought back to Earth and reunited with their friends and family, a bitter sweet moment for everyone. Although Tony is relieved to be back on Earth with the love of his life Pepper, he is still disillusioned by his defeat and arguably more shaken about the loss of Peter who he pretty saw as a son. He see's Captain Steve Rogers for the first time after the Civil War and feels a slight amount of relief but also a huge amount of resentment because of Cap's absence in the fight against Thanos on Titan. This moment shows that Tony in some form believed his odds of success would've been greatly increased if his former ally Steve Rogers had been there by his side, a very contrasting moment between the Tony of this time and the Tony we initially met in 2008 who would've believed in his heart he could've taken down Thanos on his own.
With 5 years passing by, Tony has established himself as a family, leaving the life of superheroics behind him in order to raise his daughter Morgan. This retirement doesn't last long as the remaining Avenger's have sat on their grief for far too long and wish to do something to reverse Thanos' work. Though initially adamant about staying in retirement and being with his family, the inner hero in Tony cannot stand idly by while he has innate ability to come up with a solution to bring half of the universe back from the void of nothingness, resulting in Stark finding the key to "successful" time travel. The Avengers hatch up a plot to reverse the effects of Thanos' infamous snap by producing a snap of their own with Infinity Stones fished from different timelines that were placed into a gauntlet of Tony's design that managed to hold the immense power of the stones and carry out the task. This plan however, only worked to an extent. The population wiped out by Thanos was indeed restored but the looming threat of a Thanos from an alternate timeline launched an assault on the Avengers for one final confrontation. This battle was in fact the ENDGAME.
A major battle of epic proportion ensued, both sides with the goal of defeating one another no matter the cost. In the end, only a few stood to face Thanos himself. Thor, Captain America and Tony were face to face with a being who now not only aimed to correct the balance of the universe, but now was bent on rewriting it in his own image, atom by atom. This battle had everything riding on it literally. Tony was forewarned by Doctor Strange in the previous battle against Thanos that he had one shot to win for sake of the universe and then warned one final time, which slammed Tony with the revelation that Strange had sacrificed the Time Stone in exchange for Tony's life because he knew Tony was instrumental in ensuring that the universe survived a desolate fate at the hands of Thanos' tyranny. With this knowledge, Tony took the final steps to what was the pinnacle of his heroism, the peak of his personal growth not only as a superhero but as a human being. Tony knew he would not only have to sacrifice his family life to pull this off, but he would also have to ultimately sacrifice his own life to become the savior the universe had always needed since the very beginning.
Tony, in his last act of heroism, managed to snatch the stones from Thanos' clutches, take in the power of all 6 stones which obviously caused a great deal of pain as they were literally tearing him apart from the inside out and he snapped his fingers to undo the misguided work of Thanos and in the process, disintegrate Thanos but fatally injuring himself. This moment alone is the moment where Tony stopped being just the man in the super advanced high-tech power suit and became one of the universe's greatest defenders/saviors.