A conversation I had Sunday afternoon led me to reflect on a MCU character who had to learn a lesson which has shifted the entire nature of his arc. Tony Stark was introduced in the first film as a playboy arms dealer and a war profiteer, but over the course of the first movie he began to see what his profiteering was unleashing on to the world and repented of his former ways. He became the hero, Iron Man.
But he’s had to re-learn that lesson in every film in which he’s appeared. Not the specific lesson about war profiteering, he’s smart enough to have sorted that out. Rather, he has to re-learn what led him to become a war profiteer in the first place. Tony is presents himself as a “larger than life” image in the world, hiding his insecurities projecting confidence. But his confidence can lead him into both arrogance and carelessness which can, and do, unleash terrible things on the world. Over and over and over, peaking first in Age Of Ultron and climaxing in his brutal fight at the end of Captain America: Civil War, Tony Stark forgets that the actions he does and does not do matter – and that real people suffer as a result. Yet, flawed as he is, Tony continues to get back up and tries be a positive force in the world.
Over and over and over he passes though his cycle of arrogance and failure, but each time he falls flat on his face Tony learns and grows. By the time Spider-Man: Homecoming arrives he’s come far enough along as a character to realize he can’t be the solution to the needs he sees in the world. This is why he tells a remorseful Peter Parker, when he claims he only want to be like Iron Man, “I wanted you to be better than me.” Tony sees in Peter something he knows he can never be 1.
It’s journey’s like Tony Stark’s which keep me returning to the MCU over and over. He grows with each appearance, but because film makers know he’s going to be coming back, they feel comfortable allowing that growth to be imperfect. It helps make the MCU feel more alive.
- Of course, in his arrogance, Tony manages to screw even this realization up, it’s part of his self-destructive nature. ↩