Iron Man's Personality in the Movies
The Adult Child
We’re given subtle hints throughout both movies that Tony Stark has some very childlike qualities. He’s a man who was forced to grow up quickly as a child (he built a circuit board when most children are showing off bridges made of colorful blocks) because the label of child prodigy was thrust upon him right away. He was expected to do great things, which for him were things that most adults struggle with. He had to learn how to behave in front of the cameras and was more than likely unable to put his toe the slightest bit over the line without getting into trouble. As a result, Tony sort of grew up backwards in a sense. In the deleted scene (linked above), Tony is shown having his own version of a hissy fit with Pepper and Rhodey. When Pepper tries to tell him that he needs to do something he responds with “I’m Iron Man” and his arms are crossed over his chest. He does make a valid point as to what his duties include, but instead of handling it as an adult would, Tony feels this is the best way to get his point across. And when Rhodey tells Tony he cannot go to Monaco with them because he has responsibilities, Tony argues with him. Rhodey then tells him that spending time with him is bad for their friendship. Tony has no idea what this means or what just happened between them because he is unable to rationalize relationships like a normal adult would.
It has also been shown that Tony is clingy and easily upset when Rhodey and Pepper have other friends or plans that don’t involve him. He has difficulty with boundaries and understanding that he is not the center of their universe (even though he still sort of is). He thinks that throwing his money around is a way to get people to like him, the mentality that giving people nice things is a way to make friends. He feels like the only way he can have friends is by bribing them with something enticing instead of people just liking him for who he is. He wants their attention and he wants to be validated.
It’s a well-known fact that Howard Stark didn’t find it necessary to give Tony any sort of positive attention as a child. Tony opens up and says that his father never told him he loved him or liked him and that he thought being shipped off to boarding school was the happiest day of his father’s life. Even if this had not been the case (as Fury gave indication to), Tony was still lacking in the love and affection that every child needs to grow developmentally and emotionally. And what do people do when they crave attention? They act out. They do things that force people to pay attention to them, regardless of the fact that they might be getting negative attention instead of positive. Tony will always be the kid who is screaming “look at me, look at me, look what I can do!” He wants people to be proud of him, but he does not know how to ask for it. He demands the attention of any room he is in, and if Pepper and Rhodey are preoccupied he makes sure they notice him. When he is not receiving attention he is probably the loneliest human being despite the crowd surrounding him. He craves the one on one and badly needs the affection he was robbed of as a child.
Growing up as an only child in a mansion with a father who cared more about his life work than his own son and a mother who is barely mentioned to the point you have to wonder if she even existed, you have to wonder how much time Tony spends feeling so lonely despite being in a crowded room. It’s bad enough that he has trouble identifying with other people but he puts on a false bravado in front of people and pretends he’s on top of the world. He is often seen working by himself, talking to his AI and robots who will never leave him, who provide him with entertainment. Tony was a child who had to rely on himself for entertainment and quickly came to believe that he would always have to do everything alone, without help, without a shoulder to lean on. How lonely must it be to be so much smarter than every child your own age and not be able to carry on a normal conversation? He can’t even figure out how to properly express his feelings and emotions. When he’s scared he hides it behind snark and still tries to deal with it on his own.
When Tony Stark says he isn’t a team player, he’s not lying. Natasha recognizes this, but it doesn’t mean he can’t be a team player. It’s just not his preferred way of dealing with things. In this scene above, not only do we see Tony skip out on a chance to have a threesome, he takes off in his suit to take care of some business in a town called Gulmira. He doesn’t tell anyone what he’s doing. He’s using this party as a cover, using sex as a cover (no one will notice that he isn’t where he said he would be), and goes off on his own. He knows he could not make it out alive, but he does not inform anyone as to what he is doing. He’s always had to handle everything alone and is not capable of asking for help when he needs it the most. This is most obvious in Iron Man 2 when he is sick. Rhodey even tries to help at one point, but Tony is forever under the impression that he is alone, that he will always be alone and that no one else can help him because every mess is his responsibility and his responsibility alone. How can you learn to ask for help when there was no one around to teach you how to do so as a child?
Snark Defense Mechanism
Tony treats many things like a joke. When situations become too tense, he will become snarky and try to lighten the mood with a funny comment because otherwise he is unsure of how to handle a moment or an emotion that is too strong for him. Tony is an insecure child on the inside. He doesn’t know how to love himself. He doesn’t want anyone to know this though, doesn’t want anyone to see him as vulnerable or weak, so instead he uses snark to cover it up and keep people at a distance. Why not when the last person who he trusted, who saw him vulnerable more than once, used his insecurities against him while trying to kill him? He might piss people off with his attitude, but it’s better than having to talk about feelings when he has no idea how to properly express himself in the first place.
Any other thoughts are more than welcome for discussion on this. These are only brief summaries of areas I could discuss for hours. I am always observing Tony’s character in the movies and picking up on things here and there. I’m not saying that I’m right on all of this at all, but I enjoy looking at the psychology of a character, and one as flawed and broken as Tony Stark is indeed a very interesting study.