'Avengers: Endgame': Tony's Breakdown Further Humanized a Hero

There’s a scene near the start of Avengers: Endgame, the crowning achievement of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where Tony Stark is rescued by Captain Marvel as he’s drifting aboard a spaceship in the outer limits of space.

When he returns to Earth, he’s near madness. Thanos has just extinguished half the life in the known universe, including many people Tony cares about.

There’s a fleeting moment where Tony has a breakdown, screaming at Captain America and blaming him for their predicament. While it may seem very unheroic, it actually makes Tony even more compelling as a character. Here’s why. 

Where we meet Tony Stark in the MCU

At the outset of Iron Man, Tony is a playboy billionaire enjoying his lifestyle. His company is a weapons manufacturer and at best he’s burying his head in the sand on some of their more nefarious dealings. Eventually, Tony’s kidnapped by terrorists and is shown the error of his ways by a man named Yinsen who helps him escape. He resolves to use his power and privilege to do good in the world, and Iron Man is born. 

While there’s plenty more character development yet to come over many movies, we begin to see how Tony’s going to grow as a character. He starts as a self-centered, narcissistic businessman and becomes a genuine hero. 

Tony Stark’s emotional journey throughout the MCU

One of the most interesting aspects of the MCU is how much the characters change over the course of the series, across films. Tony doesn’t just change from Iron Man film to Iron Man film. He also changes as a result of the Avengers series. 

In the first Avengers movie, Tony aids the rest of the Avengers in responding to an attack from alien invaders: the Chitauri, a war-like people led by Loki. Near the film’s climax, he takes a nuclear bomb into space, essentially sacrificing himself for the good of the planet.

He lives, but he made the decision to take on what amounted to a suicide mission. In Iron Man 3, Tony deals with PTSD as a result of that battle. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, he (along with Bruce Banner) creates an AI system that nearly takes over the entire world.

Finally, in Captain America: Civil War, Tony tries to make amends for his sins but comes into conflict with Steve Rogers and other Avengers members. 

Tony’s road takes a long and winding path. When we get to the culmination of the Infinity saga, he’s nearly at the end of his rope. 

How Tony’s breakdown in Endgame humanizes him as a hero

In Avengers: Infinity War, Tony is nearly at peace. He’s preparing to marry Pepper Potts, the love of his life, and they talk of starting a family. He’s then pulled into an unexpected war against Thanos and whisked away to his homeworld, Titan.

Accompanying Tony on his journey is his protégé, Peter Parker. At the film’s conclusion, Thanos is successful and wipes out half of the universe, killing Parker and many other MCU heroes. This rocks Tony to his core. 

A Reddit thread discussing the beginning of Avengers: Endgame talked about how when Tony is rescued from deep space at the beginning of Endgame, he snaps at Steve, yelling at him. While this may seem out of character, it’s actually anything but. At that moment, Tony has just lost the closest thing he ever had to a son — not long after thinking of starting his own family with Pepper. 

Tony certainly isn’t perfect, but as evidenced throughout the MCU movies, he’s striving to be better. When he fails in Infinity War, he’s at a breaking point. At the beginning of Endgame, he’s essentially lost his most important battle and then has to accept his own impending death.

For him to return to Earth and show anger isn’t a character flaw, but just a sign that even though he’s a superhero, he’s still very much a human being. 

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