Ten years ago, this April, Marvel released what would be the beginning of a highly ambitious but ultimately brilliant series of superhero films that would make billions in box office sales and merchandise, catapult a career or two or fifty, and take fans on an epic journey of excitement, wonder and general awesomeness! No I’m not talking about a galaxy far, far away. That’s for another time. I’m talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and in this edition of Marvel Monday, we take a look at Tony Stark aka Iron Man.
“Sometimes you gotta run before you can walk.” – Tony Stark in Iron Man
The comic book character of Iron Man was created by the amazing Stan Lee and made his first appearance in “Tales of Suspense” #39, dated March 1963. The film version of Iron Man had been in development since 1990 at Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, or New Line Cinema at various stages, before Marvel Studios reacquired the rights in 2006. So who would take on the iconic “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist”? Different actors expressed interest along the way, (such high profile names I don’t even want to utter out loud), but only one man could play Tony Stark. A man named Robert Downey Jr. And let’s face it. No one could play Tony Stark better. This was only something Downey could do. It was fate. Written in the stars.
So who is Tony Stark? In the beginning he seems to be indeed just a business man. Doing deals, meeting beautiful women, making lots of money. Oh yeah, he’s also a genius engineer. He faces more than a few external battles, like being almost blown to bits by one of his own company’s rocket-propelled grenades. After being captured and imprisoned, a fellow captive, a doctor, implants an electromagnet into Stark’s chest to keep the shrapnel shards that wounded him from reaching his heart and killing him. After escaping, life for Tony Stark will never be the same. At the end of Iron Man, we get one of the best scenes in the film. Despite being told to keep his identity a secret, Stark reveals to the press that he is the armoured superhero, Iron Man. But as time goes on and you scratch the surface, you uncover a man. Not just any man. A human being struggling to not only save the world, but himself.
Throughout the three Iron Man films (released in 2008, 2010 and 2013 respectively) and into Avengers (2012), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2014) and Captain America: Civil War (2016), we see a man slowly unravel. It’s hard to watch. The weight of the world on his shoulders, both as Stark and Iron Man. After the events of Age of Ultron, we see just what that kind of stress will do when he starts suffering from panic attacks, nightmares, feelings of guilt and questions everything around him. Not to mention the general personality conflict and moral issues that arise with Steve Rogers in Civil War. What’s so remarkable about this period in the life of Tony Stark is that we the audience start to question him. We question not only his ability to do his job and protect the world, but his way of doing things. This flawed hero, who can be charming, selfish, difficult, and basically driven by fear. I mean, aren’t heroes meant to be tough and strong and get the bad guys? If Tony Stark can’t do that, what hope is there for the rest of us “mere mortals”? Ok, so most of us aren’t fighting bad guys while trying to save humanity, but we certainly know of and can appreciate Stark’s internal struggle for identity and purpose, while dealing with life and loss. But isn’t that what makes him human?
“Give me a break! I’m doing what has to be done. To stave off something worse.” – Tony Stark to Steve Rogers in Captain America: Civil War
Along the way on this hero’s journey, we are introduced to more than a few characters that play quite a role in Stark’s life. Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Tony’s kick-ass personal assistant and love interest. Jon Favreau, as Happy Hogan, Tony’s comedic bodyguard and chauffeur. (Favreau also directed Iron Man and Iron Man 2). Don Cheadle (who replaced Terence Howard after the first Iron Man), as James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Samuel L. Jackson bringing his usual cool self to the mix playing Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson, an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow who we get to meet in Iron Man 2 and is of course now a permanent member of the Avengers team. And we’ve had villains played by the likes of Jeff Bridges, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Guy Pearce, James Badge Dale and a hilarious turn from Ben Kingsley, in Iron Man 3.
The story of Tony Stark and Iron Man could quite possibly come to an end in Avengers: Infinity War or next year’s Untitled Avengers film. Whatever the outcome, it will be a very sad day when we say goodbye to this iconic character. The man who can be arrogant and uses sarcasm and humour to deal with things. The man who never backs down from a challenge and still wants to save the world. The man who can be self-destructive yet loyal. The man that became not only the leader of the Avengers, but a hero to so many on screen and off.
Images courtesy of IMDB