Is there any superhero out there that happens to be in more hot water these days than Tony Stark? I am sort of out of the loop on comic book news, but it seems Tony Stark/Iron Man is one of the most despised and maligned superheroes in the genre of late.
Ouch. If it were not for Marvel’s manhandling of him, I would say Tony did not deserve this. In truth, the original Tony Stark does not merit this treatment at all. And that is the one thing which makes me go easy on the petulant, crass, self-absorbed Iron Man that Robert Downey Jr. plays to perfection. I may not respect the current iterations of Tony Stark, but his earlier portrayal when he first entered the world of comics is a character I do respect. That is the only reason I am willing to go relatively easy on him.
What is there to say about Tony’s part in Age of Ultron which I have not already stated in previous character-based posts about the movie? Hmm. Let’s see….
Tony starts out a hundred percent fine in Ultron. It is just another day at the office for him as he helps the Avengers – his friends – bust HYDRA’s most recent operation in the obscure Eastern European country of Sokovia. Cap, naturally, chastises Tony for using poor language for a minor annoyance; Hulk is having fun tearing things apart and scaring the HYDRA soldiers witless, and Widow and Hawkeye are tag-team fighting the goons. Meanwhile, Thor is bringing the thunder as he looks forward to reclaiming the scepter Loki used when he tried to take over Earth roughly three years ago.
Yup, it’s just another day at the office. And would you look at that – it even comes with a secret door!
Then Tony, with his eyes on the “glowstick of destiny,” suddenly sees a vision of a horrible future. His team – his friends – are lying dead or dying at his feet. Natasha is sprawled on her back, her eyes staring glassily into the distance. The Hulk, lying on the rock behind her, breathes his last, several alien spears projecting from his back.
Thor is on his back as well, but mercifully his eyes are shut. Across from him is Hawkeye, who is folded up and seems to have slumped into a sitting position as he died. All his arrows are spent. Worst of all, Cap is lying directly in front of Tony. His eyes are closed and his shield has been broken in two. Its halves lie haphazardly near his head.
These are Tony’s friends. People he once did not know and did not care to know. People he once would have had nothing to do with, unless it was to tease and belittle them. But through the course of the battles he has fought at their side, he has gotten to know them better. He has learned who they are – and thus he has learned to care about them.
Natasha, a super spy Tony once mistrusted and quite probably hated, is now a friend. She trades witty banter with him, is competent at her job, and much nicer than he initially believed her to be. Thor, whom Tony once called a ‘tourist’ and lost a fight with, no longer seems so out of place and backward as he did on the Helicarrier. Clint Barton, a man whom he knew only as a marionette pulled around by Loki, is someone Tony has come to respect and with whom he will now happily trade jokes. Bruce/Hulk, a fellow scientist who Tony saw as a person in straits like his own, was the easiest friend Stark had made in years. They clicked at once and stayed “science brothers” afterward.
And finally there is Cap, an old friend of the father Tony hardly knew. It is easy to picture the two, seated at a table in the Tower during the evenings when they were not Avenging the wrongs perpetrated by the bad guys, prior to Ultron. One can even surmise that, when Steve was in the mood, he would tell Tony stories about some exploit of his father’s during the war – stories which the younger Stark was never told as a child.
In this way, Steve and Tony became friends between Winter Soldier and Ultron. Tony has come to see in Steve what his father saw in him, while Cap looks at Tony and sees a link to a life he lost and can never regain.
For this reason, his is the first ‘corpse’ Tony rushes to check on. There is no way to know for certain what Tony was thinking at that moment, but his thoughts probably went a little like this:
No, no, they can’t be dead! Tony thinks. This is a nightmare. Just a nightmare. I’ll check on Cap, and then I’ll wake up. Maybe Steve’s still alive, and he’ll tell me to wake up. This isn’t real, this isn’t real…!
That is when ‘Cap’ suddenly grabs him and asks why he did not save his team, his friends. “Why didn’t you do more?” Steve’s ghostly, rasping voice accuses him just before the hypnosis breaks, returning Iron Man brusquely to reality.
With that scene haunting him, Tony leaps to a bad idea as he rushes to protect his friends at all costs. As was said in the post “Avengers: Age of Ultron – Bruce Banner/Hulk,” Tony has a great deal of faith in synthetics. Too much faith, frankly. He thinks he can cure the world, just as many other modern scientists do, with the next gadget or computer program.
In his vision, Tony sees another alien invasion taking place. Clearly, this is a nod to the Post Traumatic Stress the writers gave him after Marvel’s The Avengers. Personally, this seems like a rather dumb handicap with which to have saddled him. In fact, I am not sure that Tony actually has PTSD at all. I think what happened to him during the Battle of New York was this: the rose colored glasses were yanked off of his eyes – forcefully, and very quickly.
You see, before Loki’s invasion attempt, all Tony’s battles were fun and games – after a fashion. He got into battles against opponents who were tough and definitely dangerous. But he was able to conquer them because their tech could not match his. There was nothing he faced that he could not handle with a new gadget or toy, one he had either built in the lab or on the fly.
Then, in The Avengers, he runs into aliens with machinery that beats every piece of machinery except that which is featured in the Star Wars films. Against beings who travel through space and have advanced biotechnology, what can Earth use to defend itself? Nukes? That worked on the Chitauri…
But what else is out there? Nukes will not hold back everybody.
Combat is a harsh reality, one for which Tony was not prepared. He had been playing on a much lower level, showing off in the varsity leagues. Cap was right in The Avengers; up to a point, Tony’s performance in battle was glorified showboating. So when Loki arrived and brought an alien army with him, Tony was suddenly dealing with an enemy more technologically advanced than he was. Everyone knows Stark tech is top-of-the-line. Nothing is more advanced than Tony’s gizmos. His is the pinnacle of human technology.
But being on top of the heap on Earth does not make you king of the galaxy. Tony was not thinking that far ahead. He still had his eyes on Earth, not the stars.
Loki forced him to look up. Way, way up – through a portal over his own building in NYC. Talk about being humbled in your own home!
This did not sit well with Tony, and he would not admit it. Not to his friends, and definitely not to himself. Oh, he has said they cannot handle the threats outside the galaxy, sure. But that is because he is looking at the matter solely as synthetics versus synthetics – tech against tech, if you will. He is looking at the battlefield as a tech guru, not a soldier.
Tony is not used to playing second banana to anyone – not in the technological department. He has always been one step ahead of everybody else; one computer program, widget, thingamabob above the rest. The attack on New York taught him that he was indeed the head of the Mech Pack on Earth. But in the universe, he was a small fry.
And that scared him. Tony does not have PTSD. He is simply terrified of not being able to technologically outmatch any and all opponents. If he cannot do it, no one on Earth can.
And he is right. No one person on Earth can stand against an army, no matter the whizz-bang machines they are using, and hope to win. That is just plain stupid. Or hubristic, depending on whom it is you are talking about. But Tony does not see it that way. He is so accustomed to doing everything with machines, and protecting those he cares about by the same method, that to be shown something he cannot defend against frightens him beyond words.
This is why he initially keeps his vision to himself. How can he make his friends understand his fear? How can he tell them, “I can’t protect you or the world because the technology out there is centuries, maybe millennia, ahead of what we’ve got here on Earth. It would take that long to study and copy it, and I don’t have that kind of time!”
Tony cannot admit that – to himself or to his friends. The implications alarm him too badly. If they go up against forces with superior tech which he cannot figure out how to beat, then as far as he can tell, it is all over. This is why he has nightmares about the Battle of New York in Iron Man 3. This is the burning fear he keeps banked and hidden in his mind afterward, where he does not have to look at it….
Until Wanda uncovers it, and fans it into flames at the beginning of Age of Ultron.
Tony’s main problem in the films is that he believes synthetics are the answer to everything. In his opinion, science is the answer to all problems. Tech will solve every dilemma, save every life, and stop every calamity. Isolated in his labs, Tony does not take time to look around and realize that there are things more powerful than machines in the universe. When he goes out, he does not “people watch,” as they like to say.
He does not observe a little girl who goes up to and hugs her dad at the store, or the smile her father gives her as she does so. He does not see a man drop his wallet and another person, noticing the wallet fall, pick it up and return it to its owner. Part of this is his father’s fault, in a way. Howard Stark was so busy trying to fix the world so Tony could grow up safely that he did not spend enough time just being with his son, teaching him that men make technology; technology does not make men.
As a result, Tony sees little acts of kindness not as pebbles which start great rockslides but as solitary, random incidents with the lifespan of fireflies. They last a night, or maybe for the entire summer, and then they are gone. How can a human heart be more powerful than a machine?
This is where the other Avengers have the advantage over Tony – for the most part. Cap saw people make great and small sacrifices throughout World War II. Each one of these personal denials of self made a difference in the Allied war effort, no matter how seemingly trivial they were. The combined sacrifices of these people taught him to make the greatest self-surrender he could – joining the U.S. Army so he could be a shield to protect those who could not defend themselves. He faced the original HYDRA’s best war machines, and in doing so, he learned a valuable lesson: Machines of any kind, no matter how strong they are, can always be broken.
Men’s souls and hearts do not break nearly as easily.
Clint has seen the same thing, and more closely than Cap has, in a way. Loki took control of most of his mind and his whole body in The Avengers. But Clint learned he could resist the Trickster, albeit in small ways. Those small instances, however, had powerful consequences. Shooting at Fury’s heart, which was protected by body armor, meant the Director of SHIELD lived to coordinate the war against Loki. Missing Hill, when he would never otherwise have failed to take down his target, meant she was still alive to help in the war effort. Fighting Natasha the way the Black Widow fought best saved his life, and it allowed him to fight against his enslaver. So Clint understands that others may be able to bend him to their will for a time….
But he can choose to bend only so far. And he can choose not to break.
Thor learned when he met Jane Foster, Eric Selvig, and Darcy in New Mexico that the simple acts of kindness matter in the grand scheme of things. Jane was willing to help him when she met him first. She could have driven off and left him in the desert after broad-siding him with her vehicle. She could have ignored him and not told Darcy to get the first aid kit, focusing instead on the Asgardian markings in the sand. But she did no such thing. She took Thor to the hospital, took him to Mjolnir’s landing site later on, and stayed by his side to face the Destroyer – a machine nothing on Earth could stand against. Presumably, no Asgardian or other advanced being from the Nine Realms could stand against it, either. But Thor did. And you know what he learned when he fought his father’s favorite toy?
Even the best and mightiest machine is no match for a determined warrior. In the crunch, machines will always break before a man will.
Natasha knows this, too. It was Clint’s decision to spare her that lead to her redemption. If their positions had been reversed, the odds were against her showing any kind of mercy to him. She always accomplished her missions, always took down her targets. Clint, however, spared her. He had her on the ropes, could have killed her easily. But he did not. In allowing Natasha to live, he taught her that killing is a last resort, not a first. Clint showed her that orders may be wrong or evil, and in such cases they can successfully be countermanded by the individual’s decision. When he lowered his bow and told her he was not going to kill her, she learned something very important:
All the brainwashing and training in the world cannot take away a man’s choice. She, and others like her, could choose to be more than the machines they were programmed to be.
Bruce’s experience of becoming the Hulk taught him the futility of believing in technology as a solution to every problem. As the Hulk, he can break any piece of tech sent against him. It will take more than a bullet or a nuke to kill the Hulk. This means that it will take a lot to kill Bruce, too. Tech, Bruce knows, is not the answer to the world’s problems. No matter how indestructible it seems to be, there is always a way to smash it.
Tony has not learned that lesson from his experiences. His main weapon in battle is a high tech suit of electromechanical armor. Tech is the way he defends himself. It is what he relies on to do his job, more so than any of his friends. Also, Natasha, Steve, Clint, and Thor have trained long and hard to be at their physical peak in combat. They are all athletic and have physical combat skills they can use to defend themselves if they lose their tech. Bruce does not need to train in this way, since he can turn into a nine foot tall green mountain of moving destruction when he releases his rage.
On the other hand, Tony’s training is limited. And he started late.
To be a good or great archer, one has to practice from childhood, usually around the 12-14 age range – if not younger. In the comics, Clint was around that age when he began learning archery, so it would make sense if he started out that young in the films. (Renner definitely has not been practicing that long!) Natasha was trained in combat and gymnastics from the time she could walk. Steve’s serum keeps him in peak health, strength, agility, etc. He does not need to train, but he does it all the same so he will not be caught flat-footed.
Thor comes from a realm of fighters. Apparently, up until Sif declared she was going to be a warrior for Asgard, the only ones in the realm who did not studiously train from a young age to become warriors were the girls. So Thor has had plenty of training – much more than any of his teammates!
Tony has none of these assets. He is not a superior athlete, and he does not maintain a regular training regimen. All he has is that “big brain” of his, and if he cannot use his intelligence to solve the problem, he feels stuck – temporarily, most of the time.
This is why he attempts to jumpstart Ultron with the Mind Stone. To him it is a/the most advanced energy source; energy which he, the ultimate technocrat, understands instinctively (which means he is looking at it wrong, and doesn’t understand it at all). If anything can give his tech the edge over whatever big, bad threats are lurking amidst the stars, it is the gem in the scepter. Remember, readers, that: “Magic is just science we don’t understand yet” – and Tony, in this case, doesn’t have a clue what that science is.
For all his flaws, the fact is that Tony really does care about his friends. He truly does want to keep them safe. They all want that for each other. If you watch the cartoons or look at the comics, you will see Thor or the Hulk jumping in front of bullets or snatching teammates out of danger while throwing themselves in harm’s way. You will watch Widow shove Hawkeye out of the line of fire, or you will see the archer shoot down a threat his partner has not seen coming. Cap will shield his friends as best he can if the situation calls for it, as will Tony.
This is what close-knit units of soldiers and friends will do for each other in a battle. They will forget their own safety and comfort to preserve that of their friends’, no matter the cost to themselves.
In this case, however, Tony took the principal way too far. Without thinking, without caution, he threw everything aside to prevent his friends and home from being destroyed in the far future.
And that only made things worse.
Have you ever done something wrong and then tried immediately to fix it, readers? I have. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, this makes the situation worse. When Tony realizes that Ultron was one of the biggest mistakes of his life, he tries to “fix it.” Wanda points this out to Cap in South Korea, but she makes a mistake in her warning. Tony does know the difference between saving the world and destroying it. In that regard, Wanda misread him. She is correct, though, when she says, “He will do anything to make things right.”
Tony carries a lot of guilt for letting people in his company sell the weapons he made under the table. And yes, some of that guilt is his and he has to atone for it. But doing “anything to make things right” is not the solution. Doing anything to “make things right” means you are open to doing exactly that: anything. If you are that desperate, then even if it is a really stupid, haphazard, bad idea, you will jump into it feet first.
This plan of attack just makes the problem worse. Cap knows this, and that is why he tells Tony and Bruce to shut down the Vision. As per usual, Tony will not accept that Cap is right and he is wrong in this matter. He has learned to take responsibility for his actions, but only to an extent. Beyond that point, his hubris tells him to stop listening because, as one of the three smartest men on the planet, he can fix anything with enough time and tech.
What Tony needs to do in the film franchise and newer comics is to sit down and realize that people are not machines. You can fix a buggy computer program, you can repair a broken tractor, and you can make a million whizz-bang gadgets which will improve the quality of life for the average man. But you cannot “fix” the world. You cannot “fix” other people’s flaws. Heck, an individual cannot even “fix” himself! Only the grace of God can “fix” those flaws, and you will not find that grace in a computer program or a car engine. And you definitely will not find it in a chemistry set!
This is something Tony has not yet accepted. Somewhere after the Battle of New York, his reformation hit a snag on his newfound fear. Ever since, his progress as a hero has almost completely stalled. He has taken two steps back for every half-step of growth. He has not yet managed to learn his lesson. Hopefully, the writers will get around to changing that in the coming films. The comics would do well to start working in that direction, too.
Well, readers, this is the last character post I will be doing on Avengers: Age of Ultron. As much as I have enjoyed talking about the film, I am glad to be done with it. I hope these posts were as illuminating for you as they were for me.
Now, though, I have to go on to the next project – discussing the Avengers’ character growth in Captain America: Civil War!!!!
*Dramatic sigh.* Oh, the work I do for Marvel!
Just kidding – I don’t do it for them. I write for the fun of it! 😉
Catch ya later!
The Mithril Guardian