The MCU’s Most Dangerous Villain

is Tony Stark, Himself

Sometimes a villain’s origin story is as simple as ‘this person wants to watch the world burn,’ but often they are given a more complex arc; think Doc Ock trying to solve the real-world energy crisis when he accidentally kills his love and is fused to his tentacles, or Thanos creating complex philosophical ‘reasons’ for his slaughter of billions.

None of them think of themselves as the villain, and when presented with their backstories, it’s clear not all of them started as such, either. Often the impetus for MCU villains is loss of a home or a loved one. Sometimes the villain is lured by promise of ending mental or physical anguish, or the tempting thought that they could be the one to ‘do the right thing’ and end a war, ensure their family’s survival. Maybe it’s the pursuit of good, or misguided energy which rots into an eventual evil turn. In a different corner of the multiverse, Tony Stark could be one of those villains, and Iron Man 3 gives us his means, motive, and opportunity.

(He’s practiced that megalomaniac look, too:)

In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark faces the Mandarin, both a persona front inhabited by Ben Kingsley’s Slattery, and the true ‘man behind the curtain’ Aldrich Killian. The film toys with perception, multiple villains, henchmen, evil corporations, all the usual superhero trappings, but it also examines Tony Stark’s own mental state; clearly an exploration of PTSD, but more importantly the MCU’s deepest dive into Tony Stark’s darkness.

Change a circumstance at the end of Iron Man 3 – Pepper Potts dying at Killian’s hand; Tony witnessing Rhodey betraying him to a foreign military; Tony being offered the end nuclear war in exchange for his reactor technology, only to see it twisted into a perpetual war machine – we could see a very different Iron Man going forward. We could even get multiple, wildly different Iron Man villains: one who might believe his own “I have the power” hype; one who might think he was ‘owed’ for doing the right things, and suffering unbearable loss despite that; one who might, instead of mentoring a young Peter Parker, killing Uncle Ben or Aunt May to create him, and convincing himself that was a ‘necessary evil.’

Tony Stark isn’t dangerous because he has trauma, or mental illness, or a fear of losing Pepper Potts. Tony Stark is dangerous because he has those things along with billions of dollars, ego the size of a small planet, and no other stabilising force . . . in other words, the origin story of many a comic book villain bent on world domination.

While Captain America is known for his innate goodness, Spider-man has always had his great responsibility laid on him by a loved one to bring him back to the straight and morally good way, Thor has great powers but not unending desire to build an empire outside himself if he were just left alone, Tony Stark has among his core traits all things which make for a perfect villain: strong ambition and lust for power, inexhaustible wealth, extreme egotism and intemperance. Take away one of the few things which tether him to his heroism – Pepper Potts, a loose sense of patriotism, a few friends and mentors – and the result could be one of the most delicious villains the MCU has ever seen.

While it’s clear the current phases of the MCU film cycle are already plotted to death (and carefully avoiding anything which could truly be considered risk – for that, you need to turn to smaller, less-known entities – the introduction of the multiverse with No Way Home, as well as its willingness to engage with villains who can be redeemed, show a path for this sort of one-off film. Who better to portray someone who falls off the brink only to pull himself back up than Robert Downey, Jr., and it’d be most fitting for him to do so with the character which was at once the MCU’s biggest risk, and his personal redemption arc.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: