***MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR TONY STARK IN AVENGERS: ENDGAME AHEAD. DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN ENDGAME.***
Welcome to Bae Watch Wednesday, where I tell you all about the fictional characters you ought to be crushing on. As I continue to not ever be over Avengers: Endgame, I want to talk about the OG: Tony Stark.
Who Is Tony Stark?
We first met Tony Stark in 2008’s Iron Man, the first movie of what would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tony is the son of weapons designer Howard Stark, whose efforts helped end World War II. After Howard’s untimely death, a teenaged Tony became the head of Stark Industries, helped along by Howard’s right-hand man, Obadiah Stane. Tony is a genius, who’s always had a head for engineering and design, so he takes SI to new heights as its CEO.
Unfortunately, Tony isn’t exactly the best image for SI. He’s brilliant, sure, but he’s also reckless, irreverent, and fairly immature. He sees the world as a plaything, not something serious. This all changes when Tony, following a weapons demonstration in Afghanistan, is taken captive by a terrorist sect. Tony is brutally wounded, with shrapnel from a Stark weapon lodged in his chest and kept out of his heart only through the talents of another captive. The sect tries to force Tony to make them weapons, but he instead builds a supersuit that allows him to escape and return home.
Changed by his time in Afghanistan, Tony finds it impossible to return to the carefree wastrel he was. When he learns that SI has been dealing weapons under the table, he tries to start over. He tells the world that SI will no longer make weapons, even as he refines the supersuit into a technological marvel of an exoskeleton. Using the suit, Tony flies missions to bring justice and undo the damage he’s caused. This runs him afoul of Obadiah, who was responsible for Tony’s kidnapping. Tony manages to save the day, but he’s gotten hooked. Rather than quietly fade back into the role of Tony Stark, he utters the fateful truth: “I am Iron Man.”
Tony becomes the first big name superhero as Iron Man. He finds purpose in trying to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stay that way. As the suit starts poisoning him and Tony fears the end, he descends back into alcoholism and neglect. When it looks like Tony is going to lose everything, he gets a kick in the pants from SHIELD, a government agency with a pet project about superheroes. SHIELD helps Tony get his life back on track, but deems him too arrogant to join a team.
That all goes out the window when SHIELD faces a threat they can’t handle on their own. When Loki steals the Tesseract and brainwashes a few SHIELD agents, Tony is roped in to help them find the Tesseract and stop Loki before he can destroy New York. This requires Tony to work with other people SHIELD has recruited, which doesn’t go so well at first. Tony gets along great with Bruce Banner, a fellow science guy, but clashes with the righteous attitude of Captain America, Steve Rogers. Things become real when Tony’s SHIELD liaison, Phil Coulson, is killed, and Tony starts to take things more seriously.
In the end, the team – dubbed the Avengers – manages to save the day. This is in large part thanks to Tony, who sacrifices himself to save New York, despite claims that he is too self-centered to be a real hero. Luckily, he doesn’t die. Unluckily, he develops severe PTSD from his experience. As the Avengers move on with their own lives, Tony finds himself frequently reliving the trauma of New York. It seems for a time like he won’t be able to recover and be the hero he is. But in the end, Tony is able to move on, too.
Although Tony tells his long-suffering girlfriend Pepper that he’s retiring from being Iron Man, he can’t stop himself from coming back. When SHIELD is destroyed by Hydra, Tony helps the Avengers mop up the mess. His lingering issues with anxiety caused him to create Ultron, an AI that is supposed to protect the world when Tony can’t, but instead attacks the Avengers and tries to destroy humanity. The tensions from the Ultron conflict boiled over when Tony agreed with a UN proposal for more oversight, leading to a seemingly irreparable rift in the Avengers.
But, as always, when the stakes are up, Tony is there. When Thanos comes for the Infinity Stones, determined to destroy half of all life in the universe, Tony steps up to stop him. Tony ends up fighting Thanos on the planet Titan, with the help of Dr. Strange and Tony’s young mentee, Peter Parker. Sadly, Thanos wins and wipes out half of all life. Tony is trapped on Titan watching everyone – including Peter – fade away into nothing. When he manages to return to Earth, he is bitter and resentful.
Five years pass, and Tony moves on. He starts a family with Pepper, who thankfully survives. They have a daughter, Morgan, and Tony settles in to being just Tony. He’s not Tony Stark the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist, or Iron Man, or an Avenger. He’s just a husband and a father. But when Steve shows up with a plan to undo Thanos’ damage, Tony – as always – can’t stay away. Tony helps the team come up with a plan to save the day. They face Thanos once more. At the last moment, it seems like Thanos will inevitably win. But Tony sacrifices himself once more, saving all life in the universe but losing his own.
Why Is Tony Stark Bae?
Listen I’m never, ever going to be over Tony losing his life in Endgame. I love Tony Stark. I love him so so much. He is my favorite character in the MCU. I am unabashedly Team Tony (to my dad’s eternal chagrin). Tony Stark is my hero. And while I feel like his story in Endgame neatly ties up his arc and is a service to his overall character, I’m not going to get over it.
Robert Downey, Jr. changed the game with Tony Stark. He so fully inhabits the role that it’s hard to determine where Downey ends and Tony begins. Through everything that has happened to Tony, Downey portrays him with the perfect charm and light. He will be sorely missed as a staple of the superhero genre.
Despite his famous claim to being a “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist,” there’s something inherently relatable about Tony Stark that many other superheroes lack. Many of the figures that dominate comics and summer blockbusters are inhuman (sometimes literally). Superheroes are more than mortal. Whether it’s from a science experiment gone wrong, or a wacky coincidence, so many of our heroes have become more than we could ever hope to be. Whether it’s super strength, or flight, or even a spidey sense, these people are truly superhuman.
Not Tony Stark. Tony Stark is a man with a brain. That’s his superpower. He wasn’t exposed to any radiation that made him super-smart, either. That’s just his own intelligence coming into play. Tony Stark invented a new form of electricity in a cave in Afghanistan with limited tools and shrapnel in his heart. He managed to turn that into an exoskeleton that could fly. While his later refinements would be done with all the might of his labs and technology from Stark Industries, Iron Man simply came from an engineer in a cave. That’s amazing.
Tony Stark is a human hero. Even among the “human” heroes like Steve Rogers, Tony stands out for the root of his strength. His power doesn’t come from a test tube; it comes from him. Sure, Tony’s not perfect. In fact, he’s wholly, humanly imperfect. Tony has massive flaws – alcoholism, insecurity, anxiety – that keep him on a human level. He’s not some inhumanly perfect person who never does anything wrong. Tony feels real. He feels like a person you could genuinely meet and know, not just a figure on a screen. Tony also gives real representation, as a person struggling with mental illness. Tony Stark made me feel seen. He’s perfectly, humanly relatable.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a pop culture behemoth. With 22 movies spanning more than a decade and box office receipts that stretch the bounds of belief, the MCU is a titan of modern cinema (and that’s not even going into the television aspect). Everyone from casual fans to comic book diehards see MCU movies every summer. Avengers (and others) are plastered on every product you could possibly think of. The MCU is a big factor in why it’s cool to be a nerd again. It’s such a staple of pop culture that it seems like it’s always been there.
But it hasn’t. The MCU owes everything all to one man: Tony Stark. When Marvel Studios put out Iron Man in 2008, it was a massive gamble. Previous superhero movies had focused on far more well-known characters like the X-Men or Spider-Man. Iron Man was a risk. More than that, Downey was a liability. But Marvel, who had lost so many of their lucrative properties to other studios in their poorer days, wanted to stake a claim for themselves. So they gave us Iron Man. And audiences loved it.
It’s thanks to Iron Man that we have any of the MCU or the concept of a “cinematic universe” in the first place. The famous “I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative” moment started the trend of post-credits scenes hinting at future stories. The connectivity of different movies leading up to a massive crossover like The Avengers was a new concept. And it all comes down to Tony Stark. Marvel gave fans a snarky, arrogant, bit of an asshole lead who didn’t have name recognition to back him up (aside from comic book fans). And the fans loved it. And wanted more. So we’ve got more.
What’s Not To Love?
Tony Stark got me into superhero movies. Not entirely, of course. I’d always been a nerd, and though I never really got into comic books themselves, I was a fan of their worlds and their stories. I grew up in the golden age of 90s animated TV shows (the 90s X-Men was a particular favorite). I’d seen all the X-Men movies, all the Spider-Man movies, even the Fantastic Four movies. But they never really caught my whole fancy. Then along came Tony Stark, and I fell in love.
Iron Man changed the game, not just for me, but for everyone. Robert Downey, Jr. brought to life a charming, irreverent, drunken genius, and the audience clamored for more. We’ve been through ups and downs with Tony, from watching him nearly poison and drink himself to death, to seeing him sacrifice himself time and again for the people he cares about. We’ve seen Tony be a hero, and we’ve seen Tony be a failure. Tony made mistakes, and Tony saved the day. Through it all, he remains one of the most relatable and enjoyable characters in film, and he’s been a personal favorite of mine the whole time.
And now that time has come to an end. The final Avengers movie really was the endgame for Tony Stark. It’s a beautifully crafted end for the man who started it all. We finally see Tony move on, leave Iron Man behind, start a family and a real life for himself. But at his heart, Tony Stark is and always will be a hero. So he leaves it all behind, his loving family, his hard won peace, to save the day one last time, even though he’ll lose everything. Tony Stark is the original hero, and he will be forever missed.