As the longest running and one of the most beloved heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you'd think we'd have gotten a pretty good line on Tony Stark by now.
Robert Downey Jr. not only staged the career comeback of the century, but also managed to capture our collective hearts when he kicked off the MCU back in 2008 with the still highly enjoyable Iron Man, and his character has been on the up and up ever since.
Or, has he? Despite enjoying success in his personal and professional life, something's not quite right with Tony Stark.
The curious thing about it is, despite the obvious emotional problems which have plagued the man of iron over the course of the past eight years, there's very little time given over to drawing proper attention to these issues. And it's rare that his teammates or close friends ever acknowledge that there's a problem.
And they probably should, because his problems combined with his status as one of the top dogs of the MCU have wider ramifications for not just the team, but the wider world itself (remember [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](tag:293035) anyone?).
Here we take a look back at Tony Stark's development over the six Marvel movies Downey Jr. has starred in, and we ask the question — should we be worried about where this road is leading him?
Iron Man (2008)
Here's where it begins. At the outset of Iron Man Tony Stark is a fairly happy go lucky character: a genius billionaire mostly unaware of the terrible ramifications his companies weapons are having on the poorer population of Afghanistan.
Then he's blown half to death by his own weapons and captured by the Ten Rings, an incident which will continue to reverberate in his mind for years to come in the form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
On top of this you have Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). Tony's Daddy Issues come into play more obviously in the follow up movie Iron Man 2, and the betrayal of Stane — who had been a surrogate father figure to Tony ever since the death of his parents — feeds into this.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Alcoholism is common in PTSD sufferers as part of a destabilized mindset, and the Tony Stark of the comic books has had long running struggles with alcohol abuse. Iron Man 2 is as close to an exploration of Tony's alcoholism and the famous "Demon In A Bottle" story from The Invincible Iron Man comics of the 1970s that we're ever likely to get.
In "Demon In A Bottle" Tony's company is under threat, his girlfriend Bethany Cabe leaves him and Iron Man is framed for murder.
Here his adventures with alcohol get to the destabilization point, threatening both his personal life as Tony Stark and his superhero alter-ego Iron Man. Despite Disney's rejection of the use of the "Demon in a Bottle" storyline (as according to Shane Black and Drew Pearce) this issue was touched on here.
Facing the prospect of his own death from palladium poisoning, Tony gets dangerously drunk in his Iron Man suit during his birthday party, prompting James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) to put on the suit which shall later become War Machine. The two come to blows, the party is destroyed, and Tony's relationship with both Rhodey and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is threatened by his erratic behavior.
The Daddy Issues are brought to the forefront here too, with Tony deciding to continue his father's legacy through the Stark Expo. It's here he appears to finally come to some peace over his relationship with his father, as he watches a video of Howard Stark (John Slattery) which prompts him to discover the design for the arc reactor which will save his life.
Though these issues appear reconciled by the end of Iron Man 2, they pop up again in Iron Man 3 and [Captain America: Civil War](tag:994409).
The Avengers (2012)
Steve Rogers: "Big man in a suit of armour. Take that off, what are you?"
Clearly The Avengers is primarily about learning to play nice with the other kids, not just for Tony but for each member of the dysfunctional team. But — as the famous "genius billionaire playboy philanthropist" exchange between Tony and Steve Rogers shows — it's Tony who has the most difficulty getting along with his teammates, especially Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans).
The tension with Cap can be put down to a number of things, from Tony's unresolved Daddy Issues — which led to the creation of one of the finest memes to come out of Captain America: Civil War — to him just being a egomaniac who doesn't like to be upstaged.
But the team has to come together, and they eventually put their differences aside to save New York when Loki (Tom Hiddleston) attacks. It is worth noting though that the one person Tony does instantly get along with is Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), the only other member of the team who could likely match Tony in terms of emotional disturbance.
The really important moment of The Avengers for Tony Stark though is the scene of self-sacrifice during the Battle of New York, the "one way trip" into the wormhole to dispose of the nuclear device launched at the city by the World Security Council.
As Tony passes through the portal his suit loses power and he floats for a moment in the blackness of space, taking in the sight of the Chitauri battleships. His eyes close as he loses consciousness and falls back to Earth through the portal.
In psychoanalysis this instance can be termed a physical Abyss Experience: a confrontation of horror which can cause a fracturing of the mind as part of a trauma complex. And this experience has huge repercussions for Tony's state of mind in his solo follow-up movie, Iron Man 3.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Tony's PTSD — after largely being sidelined over the past few films — is brought back to bear in a big way in Iron Man 3. This time the major traumatic incident Tony's working through is not that of his forced captivity by the Ten Rings, but the moment of his near-death in The Avengers.
The Mayo Clinic lists intrusive memories as one of the most prevalent symptoms of PTSD, and in Iron Man 3 we see this occurring time and time again as Tony relives the moment where his suit loses power in space and he falls to his (near) death.
He has numerous panic attacks related to memories of the incident, and his mental link with the The Mark XLII — the Autonomous Prehensile Propulsion Armor — causes problems when a nightmare prompts the suit to protect Tony in his sleep, almost hurting Pepper in the process.
His erratic behaviour worsens over the first half of the movie, cumulating in the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) blowing up his home, again nearly killing Pepper — the one person Tony cant stand to lose.
Curiously though, following his literal fall from grace and initial interactions with the young Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins), the panic attacks mysteriously stop. He's then able to get himself together enough to save Pepper, and destroys the multitude of suits he'd built up until that point in a cleansing action.
At the conclusion of the film he throws the now-removed arc reactor into the sea, discarding the symbol which could be read as representative of his initial captivity in Afghanistan. But this doesn't mean he's cured.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
And Tony's back at it in Avengers: Age of Ultron, with a new suit but the same old problems. This time around we're treated to a certain overcompensating complex: by running too far too fast with his desire to save the world, Tony accidentally creates Ultron, not understanding how an all-seeing artificial intelligence could ever possibly go wrong.
The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) induced vision Tony experiences towards the beginning of the movie contributes heavily to his growing neuroses, indeed it manifests as a result of them. He envisions his teammates lying dead and dying, and Steve Rogers accuses him of failing to save them.
Steve Rogers: "You... could've... saved... us... Why didn't you do more...?"
In this vision Thanos has killed the Avengers and is gearing up to destroy Earth, a projection of Tony's deepest fears. He knows the Avengers aren't enough to stop what's coming, so he creates Ultron to help them.
And we all know how that ends.
Interestingly enough Ultron also seems to have some Daddy Issues, as he rips off Ulysses Klaue's (Andy Serkis) arm for daring to compare him to Tony Stark, and Tony jokingly refers to himself as Ultron's "old man".
Please don't have kids Tony if this is how you plan to raise them.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Miriam Sharpe: "They say there is a correlation between generosity and guilt."
And here the guilty complex resulting from the events of Age of Ultron and the Daddy (and Mommy) Issues which have been a long standing facet of Tony Stark's character really come back to bear in Captain America: Civil War. Despite the fact that it's a Captain America movie, Civil War is perhaps the best exploration of Tony's character that we've seen in the MCU so far.
The Tony is Civil War is driven by two primary motivations: guilt over the death of Miriam Sharpe's son in Sokovia (a hugely important character from the comic books of the same name) and his own attempt to work through the death of his parents.
The death of his parents is revealed at the beginning of the movie to have been caused by Cap's best buddy, the brainwashed James "Bucky" Barnes/the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), and the climactic scene where all hell breaks lose in Siberia comes when Tony views Baron Zemo's (Daniel Brühl) footage of the event.
But at first it's Tony's guilty complex over the creation of Ultron and the Battle of Sokovia which drives him to side with General "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) and support the Sokovia Accords.
Directing duo Anthony and Joe Russo explained to Empire that Tony has reached a point in his life where his "egomania" is overtaken by guilt, and it's the primary drive for his character in Civil War:
Joe Russo: "[Tony] now has a guilty complex, and the guilt drives him to make very specific decisions."
Civil War can be read as another betrayal to add to Tony's long list, as his "friend" Steve Rogers choses to protect Bucky from Tony's vengeance. Although they appear to have reached some kind of reconciliation at the conclusion of the movie by Tony's small smile at Steve's letter, it's highly unlikely that the hatchet could be buried so easily after the deeply emotional events of Civil War.
Now Here's The Problem
The problem isn't that Tony suffers from these issues: it's that no-one else really seems to give a crap about them. Though his closest friends — Pepper Potts and Rhodey — attempt to stage some sort of intervention in Iron Man 2, by the time Iron Man 3 rolls around and Tony is really losing his grip they treat his problems as inconvieniences rather than attempting to reach out and help.
The best examples of this are taken from Iron Man 3, in particular a scene where Tony has a panic attack in a restaurant with Rhodey. At first he's confused, not knowing why his body is reacting this way to the memory of the wormhole in The Avengers, until JARVIS informs him that he's having an anxiety attack.
Rhodey's response is to smack him on the helmet and tell him to pull himself together. As a US Military Colonel, he should've been the first to recognise the symptoms of PTSD, but he never really brings it up or attempts to reach out to help Tony at any point thereafter.
Even the Iron Man 3 post-credits scene reiterates that no-one really gives a crap about Tony's problems, as Bruce Banner falls asleep whilst Tony recounts the events of the movie in what is basically a therapy session.
It's a hilarious scene, but worrying that not even Science Bro Banner is willing to listen to Tony's problems, or acknowledge that he's slowly falling to pieces as the MCU progresses.
And where does Captain America: Civil War leave Tony Stark?
Pepper has left him. Rhodey is almost paralyzed from the waist down. Banner is in space (we'll be seeing him in Thor: Ragnarok next). Captain America has left — siding with the man who killed Tony's parents — along with half of the Avengers team. Black Panther isn't sticking around. Black Widow has vanished, now wanted by the law. And Spider-Man, well he's a fifteen year old. This leaves him with Vision who — let's be fair now — is a synthetic Infinity Stone powered android created by Tony himself. Not the healthiest of companions.
These guys aren't exactly material for a good support network, in fact at the moment we're suspecting that the next instalment in his franchise shall be entitled Iron Man 4: Tony Finally Goes To Therapy. One can only hope.