This is part one of a three-part series piece, focusing on the character development of Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr. within the Marvel Cinematic Universe through Iron Man all the way up to Captain America: Civil War.
Genius. Billionaire. Playboy. Philanthropist. The Marvel Cinematic Universe version of the iconic superhero, Iron Man, has been played by one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Robert Downey Jr., and the character has never been the same since RDJ first suited up in 2008’s Iron Man. This film was what started an entire cinematic universe, and created a whole community of fans who believe and follow all these different theories and plot lines that have expanded into a franchise, and a successful one at that.
The success of MCU cannot be attributed to just one actor, character or even one film, but what can be said about MCU is that it would never have even started without RDJ or Tony Stark.
When everyone was first introduced to Tony Stark, he was the kind of character who we knew from the beginning that he was narcissistic and full of himself. In Iron Man, we see him partying it up at Ceaser’s Palace, gambling, womanizing, and even takes home a reporter who was supposed to be interviewing him for a story. At the same time though, all this made Tony Stark really likable, even though he exhibited really negative qualities, and this was mostly because of RDJ’s performance, which has made him such a mainstay character in MCU.
We see the worst of Tony to begin with, but then we start to see that he has a good side to him when he realize that the weapons he was making were falling into enemy hands and solider were being killed by the same weapons he created to protect them. He is injured and captured by terrorist, which is where he makes his first Iron Man suit, the Mark I.
He manages to escape and is later found by his best friend, James Rhodes and safely returns to the United States, and that’s the end of it, right? Instead of forgetting everything that happened to him while he was captured, Tony instead makes a decision: to shut down weapons manufacturing and later recreates his Iron Man suit, creating both the Mark II and III suits. He’s not a hero at this point because he feels guilty that people are dying because of his inventions, and he had no idea of it.
We find that Tony’s longtime friend, Obadiah Stane, was the one who was selling weapons behind his back and in turn, takes Tony’s company from him. Stane managed to gather the remains of the ruined Mark I suit and transforms it into his own suit, known as the Iron Monger. Tony and Stane fight on top of Stark Industries, where Tony manages to beat Stane by overloading the large arc reactor, the same technology that powers his suit, and knocks out Stane, who later falls to his death on top of the exploding arc reactor.
After this, Tony officially becomes known as Iron Man, and that is where the first film ends. Tony is still the same kind of person he was before, although he is now viewed as hero by some. Unlike other heroes in MCU, Tony is not your typical hero, he does not fight to protect people, only those he truly cares for. In both of his first two solo films, Tony is either directly or indirectly responsible for his antagonist, both Iron Monger and Whiplash.
In Iron Man 2, Tony has been active as Iron Man for some time, but what we start to see is that he is slowly dying from the element he used to create the arc reactor in his chest. Meanwhile, Ivan Vanko, whose life was ruined due to the actions of Tony’s father years ago, prepares to take on the new superhero Iron Man. This is another fight that Tony has to deal with due to the actions of his father, and in the film the relationship is explored a little bit more.
Tony is dying and instead of making peace with everyone around him, he becomes reckless, leading to a fight with Rhodes, who later becomes War Machine, but Tony is still his old playboy self, nothing really changing from the event of the first film. When Tony and Rhodes later confront Vanko, now calling himself Whiplash, and while Rhodes fully goes all out and intends to kill Whiplash, but Tony does not. In fact, towards the end of the fight, Whiplash blows himself up.
One other observation that was made clear about Tony is that unlike other heroes in MCU, he has never had to take a human life before. He did not kill Stane, who fell to his death, and Whiplash blew himself up. All this goes to the fact that Tony cannot process grief; he cannot move past death. When the Avengers were first formed, Tony took Coulson’s death very personally it seemed, and like he told Steve Rogers, “they” are not soldiers, which is true only for Tony. This is how he was processing his grief by saying everyone is not a solider, but almost everyone of the Avengers has taken a life before, that is everyone but Tony.
In Phase 1, Tony is still our favorite genius, billionaire, playboy, philantorphist, but every since he first put on the suit and became an Avenger, he started to change, and in each phase of MCU, we start to see a darker Tony, something that I don’t think many people have caught on to…yet.
The series will continue with Part 2 of the Rise and Fall of Tony Stark, be sure to be on the lookout for it.