Tony Stark saved the world. Tony Stark also did a lot of morally questionable things in his past. Most of all, Tony Stark’s legacy was complex and rich with all the idiosyncrasies and wisecracking humor that made him human. This article is going to be a love letter to Tony. If you saw Spider-Man: Far From Home, you know why the video below is significant. If you don’t, spoilers ahoy!
A tribute to Tony Stark’s legacy, as well as Natasha Romanoff’s and Steve Rogers’s, begins FFH, accompanied by Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You.” The rest of the world is seen mourning Tony’s death after his heroic sacrifice at the end of Endgame. Natasha and Steve are barely acknowledged after that short tribute video. But Tony?
Tony is remembered, and his memory is treasured. Maybe it’s because this is Peter Parker’s movie, and Peter was the closest thing Tony had to an apprentice (or a son). Or maybe, just maybe, Tony was Earth’s Best (Troubled) Defender, after all.
“Earth Just Lost Her Best Defender”
The moment Tony Stark got the Infinity Gems from Thanos, placed them in his own gauntlet, uttered his final, iconic words, and snapped his fingers — he secured his place as Earth’s Best Defender. Never mind that Steve Rogers had granted him that title in the previous film, Infinity War. Let’s address the elephant in the room: Civil War.
Tony and Steve went toe-to-toe over so-called ideological differences. But really, it was about the differences in their personalities and leadership styles. This was a conflict that was apparent from The Avengers. It started blossoming into an outright crisis in the Age of Ultron, and it imploded in Civil War. But ultimately, Steve honored Tony in his death, both presumed and real. There’s no doubt Tony would have done the same for Steve, had Steve ever really been in any danger during his time in the MCU.
But to be entirely truthful, Steve’s choice at the end of Endgame, which he claimed was inspired by Tony, rings hollow. It seems to honor the old Tony, the Tony we met at the beginning of both Iron Man and Iron Man 3. But not this Tony. Tony, who made a new family out of his friends, laid his life down to save them all and the world.
Steve told Tony at the beginning of the Infinity Saga that Tony wasn’t the type to make the sacrifice play. The ultimate irony turned out to be this: Tony did make the sacrifice play. Steve never did. He did fall on his knees during the deleted “Avengers All Honor Tony” scene, so there’s that.
The King Is Dead. Long Live The King.
The heading may not seem to make sense, but it does. Let me explain. There’s always been an Arthurian tinge to The Avengers, both in comics and movies. And nowhere is that clearer than in the recently released, for some reason, deleted scene. In this scene, all of the surviving Avengers, old and new, pay tribute to Tony by kneeling in front of him.
It’s a very Knights of the Round Table moment. The Knights of the Round Table, like the Avengers, are scattered and broken by the end of some retellings of the saga. Tony, in this case, is Arthur and just like the legendary king, Tony Stark’s legacy is a complex one. In many ways, Arthur was a bad king.
He left his beloved Knights to their own devices, way too often. He didn’t stop the inner quarrels. This was because he was usually too wrapped up in his own personal life struggles. But that’s a lot of us, isn’t it? The reason the Arthurian legend resonates through the centuries and finds itself at the heart of The Avengers and the Infinity Saga (and perhaps in future phases of the MCU) is that the legend is so human. And just like Arthur, Tony might be the most Human of them all.
Tony Stark’s Legacy As A Non-Enhanced Hero — “Just A Man In A Can”
Tony was kind of just a regular guy, who so happened to be a genius, who stumbled headfirst into his superhero-dom. He didn’t set out to be a superhero when he built the suit. He just desperately wanted to escape that cave (where he built the arc reactor… with a box of scraps).
But then he was given his mission. From the unlikeliest of sources: Dr. Yinsen, who Tony had ignored just a few years prior. To protect, to defend, to destroy what Tony had created, an empire of war and create something new, a peaceful world. Tony Stark’s story is one of redemption, ultimate redemption, which leads to his ultimate sacrifice. He never did anything half-assed.
Oh Yeah, Ultron… Tony Stark’s Legacy Has A Dark Side
Many fans are split on whether or not Tony was right to build Ultron. The Russo Brothers say he was right to do it, while some argue that building Ultron means he is the actual villain of Age of Ultron. Despite the often black and white sense of morality that we get in the MCU, things are a lot greyer than most of the conflicts that appear at first glance. Tony built Ultron because he wanted a
“suit of armor around the world.”
He was spurred onto this by his fears of what horrors outer space held for Earth. He was right about that. The vision Wanda Maximoff gave him very nearly came true. The only difference — he died. The others (minus Natasha) didn’t. Ultron was probably Tony’s greatest mistake other than his life before the suit, before his life as Iron Man. But again, making mistakes is part of being human. Tony was the most human of them all.
Tony Stark’s Legacy As A Mentally Ill Hero:
“Do You Need To Be On Some Sort Of Medication?”
Tony Stark is unique among the MCU stock of heroes. Why? He suffers from mental illness. Between alcoholism, PTSD, anxiety… (you can learn more about mental health here) he has quite the mental health cocktail. As someone who also suffers from mental illnesses, the reveal of Tony having similar issues always gave me a touchstone in the MCU to refer back to again and again. Because sometimes? The MCU feels ridiculous. It feels unreal. And it is, of course. But there’s still some reality to it. Tony brought that to reality again and again and again. I needed him to be the hero when I couldn’t be.
The “Beyond” Quality Of Tony Stark’s Legacy
Tony Stark’s legacy is a complicated one, a troubled one, an inspiring one, and a prolific one. Now he has a daughter, Morgan. He has a kind of heir, Peter Parker. He has his wife, Pepper. His best friend, Happy, is in charge of keeping everyone safe.
Rhodey will always be there, War Machine or not. Harley fits in there somewhere too. All the foundations in his name factor in as well. His legacy in the MCU is secure. One can only hope Morgan comes back at some point and maybe even avenges her dad? I don’t know. I can hope, I guess. What comes next? Who will lead the MCU now?
I don’t know the answer to those questions. I’ll be over here collecting my Iron Man figurines, posters, and plushies amongst everything else.