Character Phylogeny

As movies come and go in the film industry, we have been treated to some of the most enthralling character arcs in recent memory. It shows growth, character development, and most importantly, change. Often, we find character development in the protagonist, not just in films, but also in novels. A solid example would be Annabel from the Mama horror film, played by Jessica Chastain, whose initial avoidance of children is transformed into an aggressive motherly love by the end of the film. People always say that change is necessary in order to push us forward. Maybe they are right, then Robert Downey Jr’s decade-long helm at the position of Tony Stark is a strong testimony at that. It is not just nostalgia that we feel when we see the captivating Iron Man kick another villain’s ass. I’m sure that we all miss his laser beams and fancy hardware, even more so since it sparks our definition of what is cool. Tony Stark is cool, but I remember and recognize the rollercoaster ride that tin man and I sat on together. Iron Man is a hero, because he saves lives and protects the innocent and all that, but it is also because he has a heart, which in turn propels him to what we determine to be his final suit, a suit of bravery and goodness.

Iron Man

Our first impression of Tony Stark is more in awe than in respect. Think of the two biggest fuckboys from respectable TV dramas, Harvey Specter from Suits or Lucifer Morningstar from Lucifer, the MCU’s Tony Stark trumps them tenfold. His brilliance is as clear as day, being able to fashion a weapon with just metal and bolts. I think everyone is in agreement with me such that no one rivals Stark’s innovation and talent for making the impossible seem, possible. And yet, despite all his success in wealth and courtship, he falls short on the part where he’s supposed to care. Tony Stark is a selfish bastard who seeks self-preservation above everything, described best by Captain America as someone incapable of making the ultimate sacrifice. Rather, like we all know, Tony would choose himself over anyone in a heartbeat. And in a very Stark way, he infamously suggests “cutting the wire”. Part of the reason why we love him so much too, is those funny one-line gimmicks that he dishes out, sometimes dirty, sometimes political, yet still always memorable.

Is it true you went 12 for 12 with last year’s Maxim cover models?

Tony is a celebrity, idolized by everyone, which would explain why he has such an inflated ego. I’m going to presume that he’s never experienced any difficulties in his rich, pampered life, so his kidnapping by the terrorist group, Ten Rings, really hit home. Oh, did I mention the loss of his father prior to this? By the making of his own weapons, he is made vulnerable in the vast totality of a world he is formerly protected from, blindly giving reasons to wage war and war-profiteering. No remorse. This astronomically high self-esteem actually helps him confront the ugly consequences of a traumatic event, the catalyst to his physical and psychological scars. You can commend his personality for its resilience, or maybe credit it to his unwillingness to show weakness after returning home, though his life force grows over the puncture like a vine. Adaptation, we call it, in the form of an arc reactor.

Him having no remorse should be elaborated though; in the first ten minutes of Iron Man, we hear him referred to as a patriot, a sort of keeper-of-peace. When questioned about his questionable efforts, his morality comes in clear view.

Tell me, do you plan to report on the millions we’ve saved by advancing medical technology or kept from starvation with our intelli-crops? All those breakthroughs, military funding, honey.

Tony isn’t ignorant. Even if his beliefs do not coincide with the reporter’s and yours, he still believes that his actions are correct. True, he makes his fortunes from selling weapons to the highest bidder, but I don’t doubt that at least a smidge of that money goes to somewhere good.

Iron Man is a great film to introduce us to Tony Stark’s character. The Mark Two suit is symbolic of his self-esteem and his ability to re-shape the traumatic event as an opportunity to adapt his own identity into a new narrative. We see him subsequently return to the Ten Rings, a better man in a better suit, with the goal of intervening and destroying what he built. A new flavour on the sundae, a new Tony Stark being responsible for his creations. All of this is ultimately the manifestation of his imagination repairing the damage done to his narrative against the trauma. We see a broken man rising from the scraps of a system that is comfortable with zero accountability and Tony Stark transforms his ideals for the better, along with a new identity.

I am Iron Man.

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 feels more like a sequel intended solely to continue Tony Stark’s adventures as the hero. I think of it as a classic hero’s tale, that resembles the plot graph of the first Iron Man. You have Tony, at the highest points in his life, meeting an adversary that demands change. Our hero’s ego soars following his discovery of a new form of weaponry, and for all his achievements and praise, he is yet to learn humility. His fallout with his best friend, along with the villains, Whiplash and Justin Hammer, force him to become better. That incredible scene where he “creates” a new element, is a fabled story that comes just in time for the battle at the Stark Expo. Rewatching this film, that’s when I realized that filmmaking is not just about what fancy film techniques you must conjure in order to be considered a great film. A great film considers all aspects; Iron Man 2 plays to its strength, character development, like the MCU does with all their characters.


The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people, see if they could become something more. See if they could work together when we needed them to to fight the battles we never could.

What was the point of making films out of comic book superheroes if you could not one day join them together in the blender? In the grand scheme, the individual heroes, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and so on, are just pawns on the chessboard meant for something greater. It does not demean their significance as singular characters, but the Avengers Initiative is to fight super mega bad guys for the sake of global, if not universal peace. This is the best solution that Earth can come up with in the face of a familiar villain, Loki. 2012’s action film is the stepping stone to the prospect of culminating, an experiment to see how far imagination and infinity can stretch. On the box office front, Avengers flourished. No one has ever seen a sing-along in the form of this film, so I remember the hype surrounding this project. How the hell are some of the strongest people on Earth (and Asgard) going to band together for the greater good?

The character in question here, is Iron Man. Out of all the Avengers, he would seem like the least likely to work well on a group project, much less accept a sidekick. We all remember that argument scene where all the Avengers are mindlessly harassing each other, trying to figure out who the leader of the group is. Naturally, Tony Stark steals the show with his spiel about “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist” and “everything special about you came out of a bottle”. Tony doesn’t change one bit; he keeps every shred of his assholeness and comedic relief, yet now he has to babysit others. Whether he likes it or not, Iron Man is no longer a one-man team. He can no longer think solely about himself.

That last scene when Iron Man carries the missile into outer space in a bid to save New York from complete destruction is the most glowing compliment to a character that MCU could have given. Can you imagine the Tony of the first two Iron Man films pulling a stunt like that, knowing that death was highly probable? Two words. Character. Development. Amidst all the shield-throwing, heavy artillery, green smashing, and electro-hammer-bursts, my favourite superhero (Iron Man of course) plays a pivotal role in beating Loki and the Chitauri. We’re still treated to his genius dose and crude humour, but we also grow up next to Tony Stark, to realize that a) we’ve yet to see the end of Tony Stark’s development and b) there is a bigger bad guy waiting next in line.

Iron Man 3

Following New York, the trauma suffered still walks next to Tony, unhindered, unchecked, and manifesting. Power and money are one thing, though if you are having a mental seizure every two seconds, there’s no world to save but your own. The official Iron Man trilogy puts the period in Tony’s individual development. It shelves out a perfect union between him and Pepper Potts, whilst preparing him for the biggest war to come. There is no extraterrestrial threat. This time, it’s coming from his own backyard, from his own past.

The trilogy is incredible in the way that it introduces a new form of weapon to challenge Iron Man, symbolic of what he needs to overcome in order to “grow”. You have the Ironmonger, Whiplash, and now, fire-breathing-super-regenerating dudes. À la holy grail/trinity of dramatic endings, we see him rebuild himself and his Malibu crib, reaffirming his identity through coherent narration.

Captain America: Civil War

Marvel had always originally intended to team Iron Man with Captain America, The Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Thor. Together they would make a whole ass film, ward off inconceivable planetary dangers and set the standard for heroism, at least on Earth. Now, there are ten different superheroes with names each weirder than the next, fighting their own battles in the morning and teaming up in the evening. What a difference an Avengers sequel can do to you.

On the topic of “growing up”, we as the audience are subject to the dilemma of what is right. We see growth in Tony already, who brings back the theme of accountability from Iron Man. If you poke a bear, it will fight back. If you stop breathing, you will die. What my point is, actions have consequences. Captain America: Civil War is the crack in the MCU that nobody want, yet everyone agrees is the best course of action for the story’s sake. It’s a clash of ideals/needs that splits the band up, an ugly divorce at that. This is Captain America’s film but we can see Iron Man oozing into this, the memory of Tony Stark running as fast as he could from being called the Marchant of Death in his youthful Iron Man days, but carried down a path of destruction.

Our very strength invites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict breeds catastrophe.

In the process of kicking butt, lives are being taken as souvenirs. Personally, Steve Rogers makes a solid point rejecting the government’s leash, Tony Stark trumps his argument with the realities of war. Casualties come hand in hand with wars, Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron great examples of that. Maybe he does indeed get clapped by Captain America and the Winter Soldier, but we watch Tony Stark turn from a reckless “Merchant of Death”, into a far greater compromise. Like a teenager, our(my) hero matures splendidly into an adult.

Avengers: Endgame

Right when all is finally headed in the right direction for Tony Stark, the Infinity saga finds its way onto his doorstep. We watch on adoringly when Tony cuts off every syllable that Peter Parker has to offer, excusing it as his unique way in showing some fatherly love. We have come so far, watched the transition from selfish to selfless, loveless to loving, which concludes with his announcement to Pepper. Iron Man wants a child, more responsibility and finally some normalcy in their lives. It’s an exploration of what comes after reaching adulthood, a metaphor for when you turn 18, get married, and have kids.

I love you 3000.

Despite losing Peter Parker, along with some Avengers, temporarily, to the Infinity snap, Tony still carves out a life for him and Pepper. They welcome their daughter, Morgan, and it is tempting to just shy away from the drama happening with the Avengers. They lost, simple as that. In the wake of losing half of life during Infinity War, he tries to keep his sanity by staying away from the spotlight, which shows how afraid he is. To grow as a person also means to discover new things to fear, that’s what my mom likes to say. As a father, Tony cannot become Iron Man whenever he wants. A decade ago when he learns the importance of accountability, it that means having another thing to worry about. Yet the most annoying thing about being married to a genius is the fact that you never, truly, stop. As the universe comes calling, he reluctantly dons his bat-suit to return to the hot seat.

Tony — trying to get you to stop, had been one of the failures of my entire life.

My man literally invents time travel and is commissioned to save the world/universe one more time. Avengers: Endgame is beautiful because it gives us closure. We are treated to a masterpiece of character arc finishes, romanticized by the inevitable departures of the actors from the MCU. There is a visceral change and theme in every character from Endgame. Thor, overcoming loss. Captain America, what is right. I call Iron Man’s change, an “evolution”. There’s a reason why this article is dedicated to the memoir of Tony, and not another Marvel hero. When I think of this slick and cunning bastard, I am reminded of his intellect and his sagacity as well, but most importantly, his development. Avengers threatens Tony’s sacrifice for New York, Endgame seals his fate for the universe. Exchanging a single life for the sake for trillions is mathematically logical. To actually do it, difficult. When he snaps his fingers, you transcend into a different realm of disbelief. I’m sure that people all have their favourite superheroes, and seeing them turn to dust in Infinity War feels awkward. Watching Tony Stark die in theatres, hits home twice as hard. This is a character that we all love, so his wellness is important to us. In the aftermath of all this fighting, his dying words continue to haunt the survivors and audiences alike. It is reminiscent of the journey between Point A and Point B in a metal suit. We see his conviction to do what is unilaterally good, compounded greater and greater in the films that follow.

I am Iron Man.

The suit is cool, but Iron Man belongs to Robert Downey, Jr. His effortlessly nuanced performance as Tony Stark, a heedless, billionaire playboy arms manufacturer cast into a brutal crucible that forces a top-to-bottom reassessment of his life so far, is a dark delight that combines pop-culture wit and genuine emotional depth. Downey, gets under the skin of a character whose devil-may-care arrogance, born of lifelong privilege, is viciously ripped away, an experience that makes a better man of him, but not a different one. He’s still cocky, self-centered and superficially imperious, but he knows he’s not untouchable, which has as much to do with being obliged to ask Pepper way back in Iron Man to plunge her hand into the perpetually open hole in his chest and adjust the device keeping him alive as it does his newly awakened conscience.

And that, is how you do character development.

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