The Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the MCU, was launched with 2008’s Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the titular character. Like his fellows, Tony Stark has undergone some personal changes. He conquered his personal demons and became a true Avenger and leader. He’s an iconic hero for all to love and adore.
In many ways, Tony Stark is the hero the big screen needed, but in other ways, he acts a bit more like a villain. And for more than one reason, Tony Stark could have fallen to the dark side and become a rogue machine of destruction. In what ways is Iron Man truly a hero, and in what ways would he make for a compelling villain instead?
10 Hero: Father Figure
Tony Stark didn’t have the best relationship with his own father, and he was only briefly shown having a young daughter in Endgame. But the MCU has a few “best dad” figures in it, such as Yondu. Now, Tony Stark can be counted, too.
He became a mentor to a young Peter Parker and gave him all kinds of cool suits, and generally acted like a dad. This was especially clear in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and these two have great on-screen chemistry.
9 Villain: Shiny Exterior
Tony Stark’s armor does have a shiny exterior, but that phrase can also describe his stylish and well-pressed suits. Tony is an immaculate gentleman, at least on the outside, and he looks fancy in his tower and at any black-tie event.
Many villains have this Great Gatsby look to them, to contrast with their brutal nature on the inside. Many of the coolest villains in comic books and action movies are rich and look the part, and Tony Stark could pull that off, too. Villains aren’t slobs; they look good.
8 Hero: Love
Tony Stark used to be a total playboy, never tied down to just one woman. He sure acted that way in the first Iron Man movie, and even called himself a playboy in The Avengers. But he has now laid his bachelorhood to rest.
His personal life has a new star in it: Pepper Potts. Tony has always trusted and treasured her, and now, their relationship has reached new heights and they are truly happy together. A real hero is kind to everyone, from the civilians they save to the people most dear to them.
7 Villain: Self-Absorbed
Many of Tony’s more negative traits were shown earlier in the MCU, while he was still evolving as a person. Early on, he was totally in love with himself: his money, his Iron Man suits, his ego, his parties, all of it.
This could have served as a great on-ramp to becoming a true villain, and if Tony’s selfish ways got magnified instead of changed in his personal arc, he’d make a classic and cool villain for sure. Iron Man has a heart of metal, indeed, cold and hard.
6 Hero: Quipping With Friends
Tony Stark does have a good friend in Rhodey, who went on to become War Machine, a battlefield companion of Iron Man himself. Rhodey is more uptight than Tony, but he’s not above making a few quips during battle.
He’s got decent chemistry with Tony, and Tony is perfectly happy to trade fun verbal barbs with him and the other Avengers. It’s mostly a good-guy thing, trading barbs like that (villains are supposed to be menacing instead). It would be a shame if Tony had to give up his quipping ways when becoming a villain.
5 Villain: Huge Arsenal
Over time, Tony worked hard to phase his business and personal mission away from weapons of mass destruction. He doesn’t want to make weapons his trade anymore. But if he kept it up he’d be one well-armed villain.
If Iron Man was the bad guy, he’d be a serious threat, since he can set up missile launchers and robotic war drones all over the world to threaten the good guys and battle them anywhere, anytime. Villains need armies and guns, and Tony has all of them.
4 Hero: Sacrifice
At first, it was clear that Tony Stark put himself first. He was willing to fight regular bad guys in his Iron Man suit, but wasn’t about to lay down his entire life for the cause. He had too much left to do.
The Avenger: Endgame surprised everyone when Iron Man performed the Infinity Stone snap to undo Thanos’ evil plan and save the entire universe. It came at the cost of his own life (it’s hard to believe he’s really gone), and it was such a great capstone to Tony’s heroic personal arc.
3 Villain: Scary Suits
Tony Stark chose a red and gold theme for his first suit, and it looks great. War Machine is more gray, like regular military hardware, and has red glowing eyes. As a villain, Tony could make his suits even scarier.
He could choose dark colors and sharp points on his suit as weapons and to intimidate his enemies, and even use scary voice modulators and make his helmet’s eyes glow red instead of blueish-white. He could also load his suit with extra guns and even torture devices.
2 Hero: Setting An Example
Overall, Tony Stark is effective as a hero because he could have ended up as a villain. After all, why not? He was selfish, rich, ambitious, a genius, and had almost no one to hold him accountable. It would have been easy.
But he didn’t, and he set a positive example that no matter how wealthy or powerful someone is, they must have a humble side, cooperate with others, and make many sacrifices to do good for others. Tony showed everyone his best side by using his assets to start helping others instead of himself, and that’s a vital message for any era.
1 Villain: Secret Bases
Tony Stark has a pretty great home on the California coast, a sleek and fancy structure that looks like a modern art museum from the outside. The whole place is lavish and homey, but also tough like a fortress. It’s also got an extensive garage.
Cool villains usually have a hideout, and as a villain, Tony would really show other villains how to combine the comforts of home with the essentials of a bad-guy lair. In fact, Tony would probably have more than one hideout and rotate between them, to throw off the good guys trying to capture him.
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