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some thoughts on movie Tony Stark
Rambling about Tony, because he's on my mind again lately. When I say ramble, I mean it. This isn't an essay.

Movie Tony is a fantastic distillation of the entire history of the character. The Tony Stark we meet in Iron Man isn't original recipe Stan Lee Tony, from Tales of Suspense #9. He isn't the Tony Stark we get in innumerable retellings of his origin, or the Tony from his too many reboots and re-imaginings.

Movie Tony is ALL THE TONYS thrown into a characterization blender, with heavy emphasis on the aspects of the character and his history that are topical. Tony's wealth is contemporary--he's super rich, in the manner of Bill Gates (with an even cooler house). His weapons manufacturing has moved from the usual to the fantastic--SI produces the kind of wonderland weapons that come with million, hell, billion dollar price tags are are slowly bankrupting the DoD and the assorted arms of the American military. There's the obvious transistors to arc reactor update, but well, what's the real technological potential of arc reactor technology? Clean energy. And the blowing up of things, but.

One of the most interesting--to me--parts of the filmverse is Tony's move to 'privatize peace'. Old school Tony starts out an adventurer and stays that way for a long, long time. The more political Tony comes later. But movie Tony is forced into the international political sphere from the get go. His motivation, his transformational moment is about power and responsibility, American imperialism, black budgets, and his own personal failings. Tony is forced to grow up (kind of) and part of that process is taking up the reins of power that were latent to his position (money, occupation, influence)... while somehow continuing to avoid responsibility.

He avoids corporate responsibility. By the second movie he's ceded his position as CEO to Pepper. (Though he takes up control of the company again, the key word there is control).

Note also that he's avoided civic responsibility--he's not exactly a patriot anymore, which is quite a contrast to old school Tony. The Tony of Iron Man 2 is an American, who wants perhaps to be a global citizen (resident?) without letting go of his American/class/white privilege. He still believes, but his view of America is irrevocably changed. This is a Tony who wants to be responsible to himself only, while pursuing global priorities. (Shades of Armor Wars and Civil War here). His priorities being: total control of his technology, and turning it to economic, ecological and political good. And of course, personal redemption.

Movie Tony is also A LOT older than most baby Iron Men we've seen in the comics and cartoons. He's set in his ways. Bored, so bored, with no intellectual peers, and no enemies worth his complete attention. Justin Hammer? Generals and Senators looking to squeeze a sweet deal out of SI? Please. He's spent his life drifting from one shallow relationship to another, and now in his late 30s/early 40s, is just about incapable of real and sustained intimacy. In Iron Man Tony wakes up. It's as though his real life has just began, and being 40ish rather than 20ish, or 30ish, it's that much harder a change to make. Part mid life crisis, part coming of age. This geek asshole (Gates, Jobs) and billionaire playboy (Brason et al) who gets people but doesn't get people, is now going to save them. And he's going to do it his own way.

I really appreciate them hitting this character note, because it's so true to the contemporary global elite. Tony's not a Rockafeller, or a Hughes. He's the super rich of today.

To balance that, we get that uber-memetic line, “Tony Stark built this in a cave... with a box of scraps.” Sure Tony’s a dissipated, super rich, genius, but his intelligence is practical, dynamic, creative. He’s not a hedge fund manager, he’s an engineer. He generates actual wealth, creates actual things (including jobs). And importantly, while it’s clear that Tony is a true comic book genius, able to make incredible leaps under the worst of circumstances, he’s dependent on the work of others. Iron Man is a result of his personal genius, and the work done by his mentors--and he acknowledges this.

Stan Lee famously said that the point of Tony Stark was to create a character that readers would like despite themselves. Tony Stark is a billionaire, genius, playboy, arms dealer (later philanthropist) and we shouldn’t like him. Iron Man took up this challenge and gave us a Tony we shouldn’t like, but do--without any shortcuts, and without leaning on the comics for good will. Tony is one of those characters who has to earn our affection and respect (over and over), and I think this is one thing Favreau understood very well. A good Iron Man story keeps us on that edge of love/hate, respect/disdain.

My very favourite versions of the character are the ones where Tony is a shade more anti-hero than hero, perhaps wanting to rid himself of his less than desirable traits. I’m not so interested in an opera of self-hate, as the Tony of ideas, infinite possibility and failure, brilliance and arrogance, humility AND pride. I love the Tony who’s a bit scary, a futurist running faster than anyone else and running off the rails... but who’s also just a guy. Someone who wants to chill with his bros, install roller skates in his armor, eat old fashioned American cheeseburgers, and break all the laws of physics before breakfast.

Btw, one of the best things that RDJ brought to the character was the sense that this was a man who could turn on a dime. He nailed Tony’s innate quickness, and flexibility. Iron Man is Tony, in the sense that Tony is all speed, overwhelming force and flare. Or, Iron Man is the active part of Tony. The other side of Tony, the inactive, in denial, in extremis, traumatized Tony is also very present in RDJ’s performance, especially in Iron Man 2. Those wild swings between the two, just yes. Tony has an iron will, but the rest of him is mercury.

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I am only just reading the comics so I have a very basic understanding of Tony but this:

Tony has an iron will, but the rest of him is mercury.

Was definitely something that I think is so very, very true. And something else I think they nailed with movie!Tony that maybe isn't in the comics (new reader still!) but works for me is how fast RDJ tends to talk in them. I feel like he talks so fast and switches subjects so often because that's how his brain works - he thinks that fast, comes to a decision on something or decides he's done with it and then is ready for the next thing, and everyone else gets stuck trying to catch up because he won't slow down.

YES. Different versions of Tony have different manners of speaking, but good contemporary versions tend to use this trope at least a little.

What's smart about this part of RDJ's performance is that he picked up on the signals of supergenius being different today. Like, superfast talking when Tony first debuted would probably signal mad scientist, or... too smart to function? But these days it works. It's not just about adapting Tony to the screen, but responding to other parts of popular culture, to make Tony recognizable but au courant. What a genius looks like is different today. Movie Howard is basically old school Tony--but put that character in Iron Man and he's yesterday's man.

What have you been reading? And what are you digging about the character?

I have (clearly) a lot of feelings about the character and definite opinions about the various runs.

Like, superfast talking when Tony first debuted would probably signal mad scientist, or... too smart to function?

I never thought about that but it's true! And I mean really it's not that big a leap to go from crazy-smart inventor to "mad scientist" and I'm really glad that as far as I've read so far, they've made it really clear that Tony is super smart and he loves working with machines and making them better but it's like...he invents things that he needs or he thinks the world needs, he's not like a scientist who only loves their subject and doesn't really care about anything else? If that makes sense?

So far I've actually read up through Civil War! So all of Invincible Iron Man up until the end of that, the New Avengers up to that, and any other tie-ins that happened to be in the file I got. And then of course I've read a bunch of meta so I technically know what happens pretty far into the future ahead of Civil War but knowing it and reading it are two very separate things so I don't think it counts. Civil War itself is...I understand why a lot of people don't like Tony because of it, but I still do.

I haven't read much further than that yet; I keep putting it off because I've heard lots of not-pleasant things about Fraction's run and while I'm going to decide for myself if I like it or not as I read it, it DID kinda make me want to slow down and appreciate the older stuff a little before I get there. I also checked out "Demon In A Bottle" to read but haven't yet.

What I love about the character: honestly I've always had a thing for characters who are very smart and who love working with electronics, first off, so Tony hits all of those buttons, but what really makes me like him is really how flawed he is, for a superhero. And how much he realizes that he's flawed in some ways - because he is, he really is - but at the same time there are things that he just can't see about himself that keep him falling into the same traps, etc. He's his own worst enemy in a lot of ways and I find that compelling because it's very human.

But really when I think about Tony, I just picture someone who has all of this money and all of this intelligence and wants desperately to do something good with all of it but who is not good with people and has made some huge mistakes that send him to the breaking point. But he comes back every time. He gets back up - sometimes with help but sometimes on his own - and he keeps going and he tries to fix things, or at least cause the least amount of damage to everyone around him but himself. I think that's why I like him, because I see how good he wants to be and how hard he tries to be, even if he sometimes fails big time. obviously I have many feelings, too. (Also Extremis is one of the COOLEST THINGS EVER and I'm still bitter that apparently they get rid of it.)

Oh, so where did you start reading? Just the contemporary New Avengers through to the end of Civil War stuff? I ADORE IM from Ellis to the Knaufs. I dropped the book like a radioactive hot potato a few weeks into Fraction/Laroca's run. It just... tried too hard to be movie Tony, but without any of the skill, and without really working with the MU and the character's recent history.

Getting rid of extremis was such a mistake. Instead we have brain backups a la Spock's Head and just... Fraction's grasp of the science fiction elements is tenuous. I don't think he's forward thinking (or deep thinking) enough to do IIM--unlike Ellis, or Warren, who both did really interesting things with the character. With Fraction, I always get the feeling that he's aping better IM writers, and remixing their work with whatever sf films are popular at the moment, and whatever he reads in Wired. Now, the Knaufs didn't lean as much on the sf side of the character, but they were still able to do interesting things with extremis--they understood how to work with it, create weaknesses for Tony, and keep him a... well, playable character, as it were.

Man, I love Tony's flaws. I love how terrible he is a bit a pure hero sometimes, and like you say, those blind spots. It's that edge. That sense that he's going to fail or succeed spectacularly. That duality of wanting to be better, but not being able to overcome his worst self (because he doesn't always see that part of himself clearly). <3

Just the contemporary New Avengers through to the end of Civil War stuff?

The very first thing I read was the Avengers Red Zone/Disassembled storyline, I forgot about that. And then it was straight into Invincible IM/New Avengers. That's what my friend recommended and I figured I could go back and read the older stuff later; I was just so happy to finally get a starting point because the thought of trying to dive in on my own was a very, very scary one!

Ugh that's so disappointing to hear about Fraction, because he's been on the book FOREVER and is in charge of so much now and wonderful, his grasp on the character is kinda sucky. Oy. I mean I get the appeal of movie!Tony, I really do, but movie!Tony came FROM comic!Tony, you shouldn't be trying to bend a comic character into a movie counterpart based off him! With comics you have the chance to explore so much more than a movie can, it's disappointing to hear over and over that he just can't do that well at all.

And I liked extremis so much because (again) I have a thing for tech - all of those scenes in the IM movies where it's just Tony and his workshop are my favorite - but it really did kind of make Tony one of the most modern heroes I've ever seen, you know? Tony operates on technology and that's really what's driving today's world, so he doesn't seem quite as dated as some others (much as I adore them). He's very much grounded in today and always thinking of the future and I love that, and there's so much you can do with it! Why they threw that away I'll never understand /o\

That sense that he's going to fail or succeed spectacularly.

That really is it :( He wants so badly to be good but at his core he doesn't believe he'll ever manage that and that just keeps biting him in the ass over and over. And then of course every time he fails, it just reinforces that. Oh, Tony <3

I'm a big Fraction hater, so you know, form your opinions when you get there. His take isn't godawful, but it's just so subpar, coming out of years of great IM stories, where even Bendis was hitting the occasional home run with Tony. Like, how do you take the character from stuff like Extremis and Hypervelocity, stories that balanced big ideas with character development and philosophical issues to... angsting about past problems and sleeping with Pepper and Maria? Does not compute.

Extremis was so great because that is the arc of technology in the real world, ie. we're increasingly cyborgs as a species. We're increasingly dependent on technology, and it's increasingly integrated into all aspects of our lives and bodies. But crucially, extremis is weird enough to still have the gloss of 'future' to it. It's scary enough to still be bleeding edge, while actually being a really contemporary idea. I guess it's all about framing. Anyway, if you take away the futurist/post-human drive, Tony is yesterday's man. I'm not interested in that character. I want a Tony who is right out there on the edge.

About movie vs. comics Tony, there are a lot of character notes Fraction struck that didn't resonate for me, because they were so based on movie Tony. But like I said above, movie Tony can't rely on comics Tony's stories--he had to make his own way, and earn our affection on his own merits. In the movies we're getting almost the complete arc of Tony's character development from inception to about CW, super compressed and with different fine print. To GO BACK to movie Tony means ejecting character development. For example, Tony's relationship with women throughout the 90s and 00s is really different from movie Tony's, or old school Tony's--because he's been through so much, and he's learned better. He still likes to party, but this is now a guy who's got some serious relationships under his belt. Comics Tony is (or should be) a fundamentally more mature character than movie Tony.

Like, how do you take the character from stuff like Extremis and Hypervelocity, stories that balanced big ideas with character development and philosophical issues to... angsting about past problems and sleeping with Pepper and Maria?

Oh this sounds lovely. I hope they both at least got some character development while Tony was angsting about them B|

It's scary enough to still be bleeding edge, while actually being a really contemporary idea.

This is it exactly! It was something that you can maybe picture happening in the future but we're not close enough yet so it's still this really cool amazing thing that kept Tony just that bit ahead of everything else, which is really where he seems to enjoy being, i.e. being a futurist, etc. THAT is something I find interesting.

In the movies we're getting almost the complete arc of Tony's character development from inception to about CW, super compressed and with different fine print.

I think they've actually done a really wonderful job with condensing all of that; the only thing they haven't actually dealt with is the alcoholism, which I'm not sure they will just because they're supposed to be "family friendly". And you made a great point above, about movie!Tony and comic!Tony being different just because of their ages at the very least! Comic!Tony was "enlightened" rather early on in his life; comic!Tony didn't get a wakeup call until he was in his 40s, apparently. Comic!Tony is so much more mature than movie!Tony is even just in what I've read so far, not nearly as bad with people, etc. He IS a more mature version even if technically I'd bet he's younger than movie!Tony.

If even I can tell that then you know that you don't need comic!Tony going through the same kind of crises that he's already gone through before just because they're trying to write stories based off the less mature movie!Tony who hasn't wised up yet. Comic!Tony has done this; do we really need to knock Tony down to watch him get back up when he's done this before already? I feel like that's the most common complaint I've seen with Fraction - people say he doesn't seem familiar with all of Tony's history not only because he writes OOC stuff but because he also writes things that have been done before like they're supposed to be new.

If you ignore what comes before, Pepper's character arc eventually gets pretty good? I mean, you still have to hand wave a lot of things, but she does become a superhero, so there's that. Maria Hill is OOC imo, but I'm that rare breed: a Maria Hill fan.

That IS one of my biggest problems with Fraction's work--that he wants to tell stories that have already been done, and done better. Fraction just doesn't seem to have anything new to say about the character. It's like... just more episodes of a long running show, that's maybe been running too long?

Yay for Pepper then \o/ And ugh poor Maria, I imagine fandom isn't too kind to her.

Yep, that is definitely the thing I keep running across when I look at comments in people's LJ or on sites, etc. That basically Fraction is doing what has already been done (and done better). It's really sad because when I tried looking for recent posts on anything Tony-related that's NOT the movies in people's LJs, I can't really find anything, and just going from a few posts I've seen, it seems like not very many Tony fans are even bothering with his book these days :( I know that's mostly anecdotal (and heck I could be missing a huge chunk of people talking about it here somewhere!) but it definitely contributed to my not exactly rushing to read it.

I'm thinking about really, really reading Fraction's IIM from the start. So if you like, we could do it together? In built support.

I'm slightly jealous of your not-essay. Dude. Seriously. :)

Bored, so bored, with no intellectual peers, and no enemies worth his complete attention.

Like he's been waiting all his life for something to challenge him properly. Being Iron Man does it for a while but he needs people he can't push however he likes. This Tony *needs* Avengers.

I love the way RDJ's Tony is all restless energy and sudden sharp focus. Gah.
He is *perfect*.


This Tony really DOES need the Avengers. I wonder if they did that consciously, or if it's something that developed organically from their (Fav, RDJ, et al) ideas about the character.

RDJ's Tony is such an endless delight. OMG. I can still be moved to clapping with joy by him. Ngl, the trailer for Avengers had me literally bouncing in my seat going TONYTONYTONY.

I'mma say it was a happy mistake? RDJ dominated ruthlessly on screen, it's his focus and charisma that comes through and that makes Tony just that tiny bit too superior.
..or I'm wrong, idek. RDJ has a history of making small roles clever and nuanced when the script doesn't actually give him that much.

He's on fire and it's a joy to watch. (Please, please let him be just that little bit too much of a dick in the movie. It works, really, it does.)

I'm rewatching it right now. SO GOOD.

I think you're right. All the interviews indicate that it was an incredibly improvisational film, and that everyone did a tremendous amount of homework first. I think they knew the character well before hand, but continued to develop their ideas about him throughout filming.

You lucky bastard.:)

(I'm watching Breaking Bad and I keep freaking out every five minutes.:)

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