Literally all the conflicts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe from 2001 on could’ve been avoided if somebody’d give Tony Stark a hug.
Cracked recently posted an article about plot points the MCU would never go into and brings up the fact that Tony Stark has PTSD and nobody seems to care.
This is true and a good point. But I don’t think it really goes far enough. The author talks about Tony’s reactions and behavior in Iron Man 3 after the battle for New York… and that, I think is where he gets it wrong.
Tony’s been dealing with PTSD since the midpoint of the first Iron Man movie. Y’know, when his convoy was attacked, soldiers died all around him, he was kidnapped by terrorists, watched a man he admired die in his arms and then had to kill a whole bunch of folks to escape.
It’s pretty obvious by the time he has his first post-release press conference that he is completely and utterly fucked up by the experience. His erratic behavior and abrupt changes in behavior? All part of what’s going on… and this leads directly into damn near every major event in the MCU.
Everything Tony has done has been to be proactive. He’s trying to protect people from harm before it happens. Thus the Iron Man and War Machine suits. Thus the Iron Legion. Thus Ultron. Thus SHIELD’s preemptive strike initiative. Thus the Sakovia Accords.
Because all Tony wants to do is make sure nobody gets hurt – including (and especially) him.
I mean, let’s look at things here. Tony has grown up believing that everybody he loves is going to leave him. His parents die when he’s 19. Jarvis – who practically raised him thanks to his absentee father – died before that. Ho Yinsen – a scientist that Tony admires – dies as Tony is trying to rescue him. Obidiah Stane – another father figure to Tony – betrays him and tries to murder him.
Tony has spent his entire life losing people he loves and now he’s trying to save everybody else. Small wonder that his power is building more and more elaborate suits of armor.
But everyone keeps brushing it off as Tony being Tony. By Iron Man 2, it’s pretty clear he’s not sleeping and the only thing that’s keeping him together is being TONY STARK the image, not the man. His erratic behavior isn’t just that he’s being poisoned by his arc reactor, it’s that he can’t handle the guilt and panic and pain of everything he’s gone through. But everybody keeps calling him a fuckup and an asshole, even people who should know better. James Rhodes, Nick Fury and Phil Coulson should recognize that a civilian who’s gone through what Tony has is going to need some serious help.
But then comes The Avengers. And the Battle for New York. And while Tony’s able to process misfits of science like The Hulk and Captain America, the Battle for New York blows his fucking mind away. Now he finds out a) aliens are real, b) there are billions of them, c) they want to murder us all and d) Tony only barely stopped them and that was mostly by luck.
So by the time Iron Man 3 rolls around, his psyche is mashed potatoes. He’s working like a madman because he knows what’s out there and he’s desperate to save the people he loves.
And then the Mandarin nearly blows up two of the people he cares for most in the world: Happy and Pepper.
And then he meets two more people his company’s weapons have destroyed.
And then the Scarlet Witch shows him a vision of all his friends have been killed and it’s his fault because he should have been able to stop it.
So what does he do? He turns to the only other person on the Avengers who can understand his trauma – Bruce – and tries to build another, bigger suit of armor, one that can protect the entire planet. And then watches as JARVIS dies in front of him. JARVIS – the last hold he had on the closest thing he had to a father.
And then in Civil War, he gets his face rubbed in his failures again. Look, here’s someone else you couldn’t save! This is YOUR FAULT Tony, you asshole!
Of course, by this point, he’s trying to do some self-directed therapy… and it’s pointing in the wrong direction. He’s trying to deal with his relationship to his father and not that he’s gone through shit that makes people break down. And when General Ross comes and says “Ok, here’s what you need to do to protect people and make sure you’re doing the right thing” of course he jumps at it. This is what he’s been trying to do over and over and over again since built that suit IN A CAVE. FROM SCRAPS! It’s why he’s building suit of armor after suit of armor.
And everyone thinks he’s an asshole.
Part of the problem is that people keep shaming him and yelling at him, as though that’s going to get him into therapy. You know what he actually needs? He needs a friend. Someone to ask him “are you ok?” and suggest that maybe doing this thing might help him. Nobody does though. Even Falcon – who is shown in Winter Soldier to be helping soldiers process PTSD and the scars of war – doesn’t seem to notice or care.
Literally the only person who’s remotely sympathetic to him? A little kid. Who tells him “Hey, you’re an engineer. Go build stuff.” Not what he really needs to do but hey, it’s the first person to take his pain seriously and fuck why not?
Yeah, he’s abrasive and pushes people away. Small wonder: everyone he loves either dies, leaves him or betrays him. Even Cap – Captain fucking America, who he both loves and resents because Daddy loved Rogers more than he loved Tony – has betrayed him. Has sided with the man who… well, spoilers.
He keeps people at arms length because he’s afraid to get hurt again. But he cares. He cares more than he can let himself admit. And all he wants to do is save people.
Tony Stark needs a hug and someone to ask “Hey, you ok?”
Honestly that’s why I like the iron man movies so much. Is because it’s literally watching someone go from ‘normal’ and ‘happy’ to completely batshit out of their mind iwth anxiety, terror, sleeping disorders, etc. etc. etc. all while their friends and loved ones watch. It even has them blowing off his issues the way it happens *all the time* with people with mental illness. Getting tired of hearing about it, finding the erratic behavior annoying, ‘tough love’ etc. etc.
It’s so… very… correct. I’m not sure they planned it that way, but it sure as hell does a great job depicting it.