“You create your own demons” - Tony Stark and the Villains of the MCU. The Blame Game Part 2
There have been many posts about IM3, and its numerous faults. I won’t go into every single one - it’d take longer than a Tumblr post should be. Instead, I’ll focus on something that was hinted from the very beginning of the movie, and that is present all throughout the MCU.
“A famous man said you create your own demons”. A sentence said in Tony’s thoughtful, regretful baritone while the suits blow up poetically. A sentence that sets us up for a clear conclusion. That yet again - it’s all Tony’s fault.
This is not a new thing. Most of the villains Tony went up had some sort of personal vendetta against him. In a way, that’s not necessarily surprising. There’s only so much depth the villain of a Marvel movie can have and vengeance or power hunger is usually the go-to reason. The same reasons often motivate the villains in other stand-alone Marvel movies. The difference is that the heroes in other movies are rarely, if ever blamed for it.
So, to start us with, a run-through Tony Stark’s villains.
Obadiah Stane - the back-stabbing, double-crossing father figure. Stane, the guy who arranged Tony’s ordeal in Afghanistan, who sold Tony’s weapons behind his back, who tore his arc reactor out of his chest. The same guy who barely warrants a footnote apparently, even if he’s the true Merchant of Death. Even the Ten Rings terrorists decide to take him captive instead of killing him because he’s more valuable alive than dead - although arguably, they are Tony’s exception, in the sense that it wasn’t personal on their part. They just wanted the weapons.
Justin Hammer - the business rival. In a way, Hammer is a parody of Tony. Sometimes, it seems his sole purpose is to point out how much better Tony is at everything. But that doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous. Stupid people with wealth and influence are often the most dangerous. Just look at Donald Trump. (And yes, I know Justin isn’t an idiot. He’s just ridiculous. But I’m making a point here).
Ivan Vanko - the old wounds nemesis. I never did understand if Howard did in fact rip off Anton Vanko’s designs, or if Anton was guilty of Howard accused him of. Either way, this is a classic case of the “sins of the father”.
Aldritch Killian - the guy Tony… dissed at a party one time?
And yet, from the very beginning, the movie tells us that it’s ALL TONY’S FAULT. And this is in fact an opinion I’ve seen in the fandom. If Tony hadn’t been a jerk to the young Killian at the party, he would have never become the Mandarin.
No. Just no.
Tony does not carry the weight of the decisions of every single wackjob in the world. Was he an asshole? Sure. But the natural response to having your work rejected is not to turn yourself into a scientific experiment and start blowing people up.
That’s like… going around gunning people down in clubs because you realized the girl you met last night gave you a fake phone number.
At the end of the day, all Tony really did was provide feedback for Maya Hansen. He helped a fellow intellectual peer. He actually assisted in stabilizing Extremis and making it better. I know it’s incredibly tempting to call it irresponsible, but the work was primarily Maya and Killian. Tony had very little to do with it.
And yet… “We create our own demons”.
There is a parallel here we can make with other Marvel villains. First we have the Captain America villains - the Red Skull and Alexander Pierce, Hydra - in both cases, “nothing personal” - just Cap standing up against evil. I suppose technically, the Red Skull hated Cap for winning the lottery when it comes to the serum, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s more chance than anything else. It could have easily been some other guy who was in that position. Zola goes into a similar category. The only one who falls into the personal nemesis category would perhaps be Crossbones, who blames Cap for his disfigurement. The Winter Soldier doesn’t really count - there’s a very real personal element there, but he’s never truly Cap’s enemy, I don’t think. You need to have agency to be somebody’s nemesis, and the WS is mostly just Pierce’s weapon.
Then we have the Thor villains. Loki.
Loki is also a sore point for me in the MCU. Loki endured Asgard’s abuse for 1000 years, and finally snapped when he learned the truth about his parentage.
At the end of Thor 1, Loki lets go of the spear and essentially commits suicide. And yet, at no point does Odin take responsibility for anything that happened to his son. HIS SON. Not a random stranger he met at a part. His adopted son, whom he deliberately lied to, whom he raised to hate his own people, who lived for 1000 years in a culture that disdained his natural inclinations.
I always did wonder just how much Odin knew of what happened to Loki in the void. Thor tells the Avengers the name of the species Loki planned on bringing along. This could be just script oversight, a plot hole. so to speak - there’s a lot of that going around in the MCU - but it does not speak well of Odin. And I will go to my grave saying that Loki was coerced into his actions from Avengers 1.
Then there is the dark elf Malekith. Presumably, Odin’s father Bor wiped out all of Malekith’s people. Malekith is entitled to some revenge. But at no time does Odin acknowledge Asgard’s responsibility in the situation with Malekith - Bor’s, if not his own.
Arguably, Loki is about as personal as you can get when it comes to villains. Malekith’s beef is with Asgard as a whole, not with Thor. And even there, his primary motivation is acquiring the Aether. Revenge is secondary (as evidenced by the fact that after getting the stone, he left Thor and Loki to the minions).
Next, we have the Guardians with their Ronan. I’m not 100% clear on what Ronan was trying to accomplish beyond “Kree justice on Xandar” and the apparent destruction of the planet, but it was unrelated to Quill and the crew. Similarly, in Ant Man, Darren Cross’s vendetta and main goal was related to Hank Pym, not Scott Lang.
For Bruce Banner, we have Thaddeus Ross. There’s definitely a personal element there. He hates Bruce largely because of Betty. He’s obsessed with the Hulk - although it’s worth noting that it stems from his work with the super-soldier serum. The Abomination acts as a secondary, forgettable villain - possibly resentful that the Hulk beat him, possibly craving power. Ross’s obsession carries over to Civil War, independent of the Hulk once Bruce is out of the picture.
Finally, we have the collective “Avengers” villains (other than Loki).
The Maximoffs - whose parents were killed by a SI missile. We don’t actually know who sold the missile, but what we do know is that the reason of the revolt in Sokovia was Hydra. Chances are Hydra’s purchase of the Stark missile was entirely legitimate, through SHIELD. Doesn’t that put things into perspective? Again - it’s a Tony thing.
Ultron. I’m still on the fence on just how much of Ultron is Tony’s responsibility. One day I’ll start a debate about it. But let’s say, for the sake of keeping the post of a reasonable length, the murder-bot Tony is widely blamed for.
Zemo - Like Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, a Sokovian who lost his family due to the Avengers. It’s personal for him too - just not solely focused on Tony.
So, to wrap things up, other than the Iron Man villains, the only villain who truly gets personal is Loki and perhaps Ross and Crossbones. The collective villains all include Tony, or even focus on him - as is the case of the Maximoff or Ultron (”he hates you the most”).
It is important to note that even in cases such as Ross’s, the grudge match against other heroes is always viewed as unjustified. ALWAYS. It’s always the other guy’s who is in the wrong. That’s just the way it works. There were scenes in Thor that depicted Loki in a more complex light, but those scenes were specifically deleted to make Thor the good guy and Loki the villainous jealous younger sibling. Not so in Tony Stark’s case. In Tony’s case, he’s the one to blame for everything since the Original Sin.
There is an underlying message here - a message that has been perceived and internalized. That Tony Stark is hated - so it’s okay to blame him for everything else too. It’s the same pattern of blame that is everywhere in the MCU.
This is why during AoU, everyone is in such a rush to blame Tony for it. Steve Rogers, a man who has known Tony for years, bends his ear to the words of a Hydra agent and believes her over his teammate. Thor chokes Tony. Bruce skirts responsibility. Wanda gets away with it (we’ve been over that already).
It’s quite frankly an alarming pattern - and somehow it makes me wonder if they won’t manage to make Thanos Tony’s fault too. If not, they’ll probably set it on Loki.