As an avid Marvel fan, I have developed a foolproof system for vetting potential friends by asking one question: “Who’s your favorite Marvel character?” Don’t let the simplicity of this inquiry fool you. The way you answer will tell me more about you than your personality test results, Instagram bios, and fortune cookies combined. While I have my own ideas of who the superior Marvel characters are, I try to be open-minded, and I will accept almost all answers to this question with minimal judgment. I mean, if your favorite character is Hawkeye, I’ll laugh a little, but we can be friends. However, there is one answer that is unforgivable, and that is the founding avenger himself, Tony Stark.
I know what you’re probably thinking: how could anyone hate Robert Downey Jr? Allow me to clarify. This is in no way a reflection of his performance as the Iron Avenger but rather a strict assessment of Iron Man’s hero status. According to many online polls, Iron Man is ranked as the most popular avenger, which is something I have never understood. After watching all the movies (many of them multiple times), I continue to be amazed by his popularity with the general public. Granted, he is smart, rich, sarcastic, and does make many sacrifices for the good of humanity, yet his character flaws overpower any of these positive traits. They highlight the fact that, despite popular opinion, Iron Man is not a true hero and instead is an immature and self-centered playboy.
Defense #1: The way he treats women
Clearly, there are many problems with the way Hollywood portrays women, and we could dedicate a whole column to unpacking all the sexist movies of the last decade, but for this post, I’m just focusing on Tony Stark’s behavior. For example, at the beginning of the first Iron Man movie, a female reporter walks up and asks to speak to Tony. Stark asks his wingman and friend, Happy Hogan, if she is cute and only turns around when Hogan verifies she is indeed an attractive woman. There are countless more examples throughout the movies that range from him sexualizing his fellow Avenger Black Widow to being insensitive and unsupportive towards his own girlfriend, Pepper Potts. All of these incidents show that Tony Stark does not respect women and is simply trying to use his “superhero” status as a flashy party trick to win their attention.
Defense #2: The way he views himself
Not only does Iron Man treat women poorly, but he generally treats everyone as inferior to himself. Tony Stark has an extremely exaggerated sense of confidence and views himself as a “savior” to humanity. However, his pride and arrogance cause tension between him and other avengers. Captain America: Civil War is a result of Iron Man and Captain America’s unwillingness to compromise on the Sokovia Accords and work through their differences. Tony Stark is so sure he is right that he refuses to consider anyone else’s perspective. He also struggles to accept his colleagues’ opinions, such as Bruce Banner, who is a highly trained scientist, when they are working together on various projects. His inability to work on a team with other superheroes, all of whom are qualified and experienced, displays his weak character and makes it difficult to view Iron Man as a true hero.
Defense #3: The way he creates problems
Many conflicts in the Marvel movies are either direct or indirect consequences of Tony Stark’s actions. For example, in the first movie, the weapons that attack Stark’s convoy were manufactured by Stark Industries. In Iron Man 3, Stark allows his reliance on his suits to become a crutch, and it affects not only his relationship with Pepper Potts but also his ability to fight against new threats. However, Iron Man’s chaos is not limited to his own movies but extends into the rest of the MCU as well. The entire plot of Avengers: Age of Ultron is the avengers attempting to clean up Stark’s mess when he accidentally creates Ultron, the supervillain trying to conquer the world. In almost every movie he stars in, Tony Stark manages to create more problems than he fixes, further highlighting his shaky standing as a superhero.
Bonus Defense: The words of Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. himself admits that Iron Man is an oxymoron. He said his challenge when playing Tony Stark was to help the audience see Iron Man as a hero and not “a wealthy, establishmentarian, weapons-manufacturing, hard-drinking, womanizing prick.” The fact that the actor admits it was challenging to portray Iron Man in a heroic way shows that Tony Stark’s popularity is a reflection of Robert Downey Jr.’s superior acting skills and not due to the character himself.
To anyone whose favorite avenger is Iron Man, do not worry. I am a forgiving person and will give you the benefit of the doubt that you were blinded by his shiny suits and quick-witted comebacks and were not aware of his many character flaws. However, now that you know the truth of the situation, I encourage you to reassess your beliefs so that if I ever ask you who your favorite avenger is, your response results in a new friendship and not a re-enactment of Civil War.