Flawed and Growing in the MCU

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.

  1. Of course, in his arrogance, Tony manages to screw even this realization up, it’s part of his self-destructive nature. 


  1. GriffithsKL says:

    What’s the MCU?

    1. wezlo says:

      ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe”

  2. Emily says:

    Hey it’s…I really don’t agree.
    This is an incredibly…stale understanding of Tony Stark stemming from other character perspectives, including Tony himself.

    In Iron Man 2, it’s not confidence that has Tony acting self-destructive, but the inevitability of death. He’s trying to settle all of his affairs before he dies, which yes is incredibly controlling and arrogant but not…what we would consider a flaw. A lot of people would consider it admirable and natural that he suffered the breakdown that he did.

    But the crux here, is that his arrogance and controlling behaviour isn’t a bi-product of living his life as Tony Stark before Afghanistan, but in actuality a direct effect of becoming iron man.

    Before Tony had his life altering trauma he wasn’t controlling at all; that was the problem. Instead of the over-confidence in his ability Tony was disinterested in his abilities, even contemptuous about his genius. Now his genius is, what he believes, his only redeeming quality. He was neglectful. He left everything up to everyone else; and it blew up in his face (literally hee hee)

    We also see that even though Tony and all the other characters blame Tony for ultron in age of Ultron, we see that it’s really not that simple. Tony is proven to be correct by both the narrative and the characters in age of Ultron for creating ultron. “Stark is right” and then when Tony should have “learned his lesson” like you say about being over-confident he goes and creates vision, and all is well.

    The point is that it’s the exact opposite. Tony doesn’t trust his abilities in this movie. He doesn’t trust the avengers abilities to combat the inevitable alien invasion (and is the only to show concern, and a huge amount of mental concerns surrounding this). This is…yes this is over-esteem in his abilities thinking he can create something like ultron but…it wasn’t just him, and tony stark creating an AI shouldn’t really be a point of concern.

    And then…I don’t know what got lost in translation with civil war but Tony was on the side of not having the avengers have total control. Tony is fighting for someone else to have authority over avengers business, and it’s Steve who thinks the avengers can do it all on their own and that they can’t trust the UN.

    Tony Starks arrogance comes from a need to act, where before it was his inaction that hurt people.

    It’s not hard to see that responsibility has always been a major theme of Iron Man, or the central theme. And taking responsibility, something tony feels he NEEDS to do after all he’s done, means taking control.

    His fatal flaw is born of the greatest part of his character; helping people. He just wants to help people, and it blows up in his face for…really dumb reasons some of the time that have a lot more to do with timing and convenience than any real cause and effect on the characters part. Take Iron Man 3 and how somehow Tony takes the rap for Killian becoming a superhero because he was rude to him at a party.

    A lot of this perspective just…comes from other characters having a perspective on Tony Stark and that is VERY deliberate. Tony’s reputation v his actual character is a huge subplot of the iron man comics but it’s always this aspect that fans seem to fail.

    You can see how Tony in his own trilogy is treated completely different to the ensemble films, and it’s the ensemble films where you have the most criticism on the character. Tony Stark is used as a versatile ex machina based around the resources he can acquire and aspects he can bring to the story. It’s truly a tragedy that they misuse the character like that but I hope that with how Spiderman went they finally use someone else as their plot device and gives Tony the end his individual films earned him.

    But this was fun to write. I’ve been meaning to talk more about Tony stark and just how awful he’s treated in the MCU.

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