(Part I is here.)
Yesterday, I happened to scroll down to read the comments on a clip from Iron Man 2, and yes, I laughed out loud. First of all, I was amused to discover that I'm not the only one watching old Iron Man clips on YouTube in the wake of Endgame. Secondly, I was tickled by the disbelief. You see, the clip in question was the birthday party scene. Yes, that one. "If you're coming in late," remarked one user, "yes, this is the same guy who [spoiler redacted for the intro portion]." Yeah, it really is. That's what's amazing!
If there's one thing that always - always - inspires my respect, it's when a work of fiction takes a character from point A to, essentially, point Z in a manner that is logical and in keeping with said character's established baseline personality. That's what Babylon 5 does with Londo and G'Kar -- and that's what the MCU does with Tony Stark.
Considering where this all started, what just happened is awe-inspiring.
(Spoilers below the jump!)
Behold the arc in sum:
Point A: An unapologetic weapons merchant and all-around spoiled brat who whiles away his free time on fast cars, hard partying, and a series of one night stands. Point Z: The husband and father who sacrifices his life to save the universe.
How does this happen? The answer, in short, is that Tony is not a sociopath. Even in his earliest - and most prideful - incarnation, he has the capacity to feel guilt -- to feel responsibility. And when several people lose their lives to protect his wastrel ass, that potential is unlocked -- and becomes the driver of his evolution.
Of course, as I pointed out in my last post, Tony is still a bundle of untamed emotions and appetites. Ironically, despite his stratospheric IQ, he's still driven more by his heart than his head. That's why he gives up so spectacularly and so embarrassingly in the aforementioned birthday party scene: he thinks he's dying and lacks the wisdom and stoicism of a Steve Rogers to cope with it in any other way but to self destruct. Fortunately for the universe, Nick Fury is a manipulative bitch who knows how to remind Tony who he really is beneath the braggadocio and covering humor -- which he proceeds to do in both Iron Man 2 and The Avengers.
Then comes New York:
I remember being profoundly impressed when I saw this in 2012. Indeed, when I reviewed the movie, I singled out this scene for praise:
"Objectively, Stark is the character who grows the most throughout the film. At the start, he is - well - himself. He announces that he doesn't 'play well with others,' pokes Bruce Banner with sharp implements because the concept of the Hulk amuses him, and basically drives Captain America insane with his refusal to take things seriously. Indeed, at one point, Stark's behavior prompts the Cap to proclaim self-righteously that Stark would never 'make the sacrificial play' and leap onto a grenade for the others. But once things go pear-shaped on Fury's ship, Stark completely turns around. Though he's still lovably roguish in that way we've come to expect, he's also willing to accept Cap's leadership of the group. Most importantly, against all expectations, it is Stark who takes on the crazy-dangerous task of diverting the nuclear missile headed for New York during the final climactic battle. To be perfectly honest, Joss scared the crap out of me with that one; for a moment, I was afraid he was going to kill off Iron Man."
Oh, sweet, naïve me! Little did I know that this was the moment that prefigured Tony's ultimate destination.
It's also the moment that shifts Tony's perspective completely. You see, because he's been blessed - or cursed - with a brain, he easily puts two and two together and comes up with a sum of holy-shit-we're-screwed. Although Tony doesn't yet know his name, he sees Thanos on the horizon, realizes that Earth isn't ready -- and panics. Literally. For six years and three more movies. He becomes the Cassandra, warning the other Avengers that something big is coming -- something that is sure to defeat them if they don't plan for it in advance. And in the meantime, he tries to prepare on his own. But once again, he struggles. He makes mistakes. He tries to make Ultron to shield the world -- and it goes south. He compromises himself in Civil War -- in large part because he feels more guilt over Ultron, but also because he honestly wants to preserve the Avengers and believes voluntarily submitting to UN control will stave off a forcible dismantling of the team. And all the while, he blames himself for the coming cataclysm:
Then comes Infinity War. Just as Tony anticipated, the Big Thing arrives. Just as Tony anticipated, they lose. Just as Tony feared, everyone (save Nebula) crumbles into ash around him -- including the kid he's taken on as his protégé. And he returns from space exhausted, starved, dehydrated and emotionally broken. (By the way, I'm going to come back to that scene in the Steve & Tony post because holy crap, did that have layers!)
Then five years pass. He rebuilds his life. He has a daughter whom he adores. But the failure of Infinity War still weighs on him -- particularly the loss of Peter Parker, who would not have been mixed up in that conflict if it weren't for Tony ("If you died... I feel like that'd be on me."). So while he initially balks at rejoining the Avengers when he's approached by the others, in the end, he can't let it go. He has to see if he can make it right.
Then comes the end: the ultimate sacrifice play. He leaves a positive legacy -- the whole world. And after that, he can rest.
I'm literally crying as I write this -- because it is one of the best stories ever. And no, I honestly don't feel like I'm exaggerating. Authors and artists, take note: This what emotionally satisfying writing looks like.