Tony Stark: Hero or Villain?


A lot of the buzz surrounding Captain America: Civil War centers on Tony Stark. He’s been Marvel’s most likable hero, their wiseass in an iron suit. Their billionaire, playboy, philanthropist who can make us laugh with a rapid fire barrage of quips and then move us to tears with a rare moment of vulnerability.

(Uh, I like Iron Man, you guys.)

The thing is, he’s very clearly Captain America’s opposition in Civil War, just like in the comics. However, the comic book event didn’t have Captain America as its title… it was, in that way, neutral. What we’re getting from Marvel Studios, however, doesn’t seem to have a neutral set-up. The cast makes it seem as if it’s not only an Avengers film, but THE Avengers film thus far… and yet, it goes right on ahead and makes sure you know that Captain America is its protagonist. So that seems to suggest that Iron Man, who wants to take Bucky into custody and very likely force Cap and the other heroes to register like he did in the comics, is the villain. It seems that much of the MCU fans are already rallying behind Cap, and everything indeed seems to point toward Tony Stark becoming a true antagonist.

Only, I don’t think he’s going to be. He already was.


Tony Stark has the most dynamic and captivating character arc in Marvel Studios, transforming from a carefree arms dealer to a tortured superhero whose life goal is to instill world peace. He was accused in the first Avengers film of being a guy who wouldn’t sacrifice himself for his team or the greater good, and ended the film by almost doing just that. In Iron Man 3, he fought through crippling anxiety and PTSD and faced potentially the greatest loss of his life, before saving the day and rising up as a newly redeemed hero.

It’s Avengers: Age of Ultron that showed Tony’s descent into villainy. When the Avengers locate Loki’s spear and Tony uses its power to create Ultron, which he originally intended to be a initiative to gift the world with “peace in our time,” he ended up creating a sentient weapon more dangerous than anything he made and sold in his time as an arms dealer. And then, when it all goes wrong and Ultron begins his assault against humanity, Tony does it again! He risks everything getting worse on the hunch he has that, this time, it’ll work out. Now, granted, Tony’s hunches are historically right and, granted again, this time he was successful. His second crack at getting his peacekeeping robot right led to the creation of the Vision, but the Avengers attempted to stop him, and they were right to do so. He couldn’t easily condemn the world to an even quicker demise.


Joss Whedon, on Age of Ultron’s audio commentary, confirms Tony’s role as the true antagonist of the film:

“The big decision was to go off (to the title on Scarlet Witch’s) smile or (Tony’s) grab. Ultimately, the grab (of Loki’s scepter) very specifically said ‘we have a problem, and that problem is Tony.’ And one of the things that also sort of hit me late in the game is that you can really look at this film and just straight up say Tony Stark is the villain. It’s not just the beard. He is a good man who is corrupted by his own anxiety, this vision of disaster and makes what obviously is a really bad decision.”

Now, here’s why I don’t think that Tony will continue this journey down the path of villainy in Age of Ultron. While Tony isn’t necessarily someone who is always the quickest to learn his lesson, especially when the lesson is to not follow his scientific whims, it is clear by the end of the film that Tony is through with his role as Iron Man as we know it. He sees the bigger picture, finally, and he’s attempting to find his place in it. He attempted to fix it all in one fell swoop and he failed, but that was inspired by fear. Now, as the Civil War begins, I believe that we are going to get a Tony Stark who has moved beyond fear.


This time, I think Tony Stark is going to be the hero. Maybe, this time, when we have a problem… that problem is going to be Steve Rogers.

(I also love Cap, though, you guys.)

PAT SHAND writes comics (Vampire Emmy, Disney Princess, Hellchild), novels (Charmed for HarperCollins), and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). Though he looks forward to Captain America: Civil War, he hopes for a future where Tony Stark and Steve Rogers could once again share a heart-to-heart over a tree stump and a pair of axes.


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