Tony Stark in the comics was not always a particularly easy character to love. Often the smartest man in the room, he was also the most dickish too. It was often hard to relate to a ridiculously rich man who had all the world's coolest toys that weren't bat-themed and yet was such an asshole about it.
Bruce Wayne pretended to be a flamboyant pampered rich playboy as a cover so people wouldn't suspect he was Batman. Tony Stark was a flamboyant pampered rich playboy. It wasn't an act. That's just who he was. And it's kinda hard for the average person to relate to that.
|But we can all relate to making terrible decisions while drunk.|
Remember how I mention that Tony Stark could be a bit of an asshole? Well, just as an example, one time Tony got super upset when he discovered that a number of his villains' armour was based on his designs and was actually his tech. Now, you would think that Tony would approach this in a calm and rational manner, informing the Avengers and SHIELD about the stolen tech, getting them to issue warrants to seize that stolen tech following due process, right? No, that's just silly.
Instead, Tony went on a personal vendetta tracking down each criminal he suspected of stealing his tech and taking them down, disabling their armour, even if they weren't doing anything illegal at the time, because of course that's what one of the smartest people on the planet would think was a perfect solution to the problem.
And when he gets called out on it by his fellow Avengers, friends and allies for years, his only response is to asked them to trust him with no qualification or explanation for his actions.
|"I really want to Tony, but I just can't with that haircut. Seriously, dude, a perm? A perm?!" - Hawkeye|
Some of the people he took down had even reformed and were now working on the right side of the law by the time he caught up with them, but stolen tech is stolen tech. No one steals from Tony Stark and gets away with it... unless they had gotten away with it for years until this genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist figured out they had stolen from him.
As this article by Scans_Daily details, one of the people Iron Man suspects of using his stolen tech goes by the name of Stingray. Now, not only is Stingray not a criminal but is in fact a hero and a scientist who uses his suit to explore the ocean and track underwater life, he also works for the US government. Yet, Tony still goes after him for reasons I can only determine as: because he's an asshole.
So, he rushes off to confront Stingray but because Stingray has hear all about how Iron Man has been taking out other amoured individuals, he flees when Tony tells him to give up his amour. Iron Man then chases the government official and knocks him unconscious, only to discover, whoops, that he wasn't using stolen tech after all. Boy, was Iron Man's helmet red that day.
|Don't worry about it Tony. Loads of people chase down government officials and disable their armour based on little to no evidence that the armour was in fact stolen. Could have happened to anyone.|
But that's an old comic storyline from back in the 1980s. Surely, since then Tony Stark has been written more as the intelligent futurist he is and less like a stubborn and arrogant dick who only sees things his way allowing himself to get lost in his own personal vendettas?
Well about that... around the time the first Iron Man movie was about to come out, Tony had been front and centre of a crossover events comic that had pitted superhero vs superhero and had divided long time allies along ideological and political lines. This was the Civil War story arc, where following a tragedy involving superpowered vigilantes which resulted in a school getting blown up, the government implements the Superhero Registration Act, a piece of legislation that forced superheroes to act under official regulation and declare their secret identities to the government.
Guess which side Tony "I wrongly chased a government official and knocked him unconscious" Stark was on? The side of the government? Get out. Surely not, Tony "To turn over the Iron Man suit would be to turn over myself, which is tantamount to indentured servitude or prostitution, depending on what state you're in" Stark? No of course not. Because he hadn't said that yet. That quote's from Iron Man 2, keep up.
But, yeah, not only was Iron Man on the side of 'the Man', he was kinda painted as the bad guy all the way throughout the event until the last issue where it was suggested his viewpoint was right after all, because apparently the writers changed their minds at the last minute, I guess.
|Pitting him against the ultimate symbol of everything wholesomely good about America probably didn't help the whole "Iron Man is the bad guy in this, right?" thing.|
Actually, to be fair to Tony, he was right. Practically speaking, of course superheroes would be required to be registered. It's so baffling obvious, it's kinda odd it took until 2007 before Marvel addressed it. This isn't a question of privacy or control either, but sheer necessity.
In the real world, we require citizens to get a driver's licence to be qualified to drive and no one gets upset because of course you need a standardised method to make sure everyone can drive. Police need to be qualified and registered in order to work and be licenced to carry a gun because holy shit, guns be dangerous. They need to be held accountable for their actions, and you can only do that if they are registered. The only way to hold a vigilante accountable is to arrest them.
Superheroes often have amazing and destructive powers that can level buildings. Of course they would have to be registered. Just like if you want a gun you need a licence so the government can track and monitor who is allowed to carry firearms. And that makes sense since guns are weapons. Most superheroes are living weapons.
Additionally, surely at the beginning of their careers, young superheroes would benefit by government training from experienced superheroes. Would Spider-Man had made so many mistakes (and he's made all the mistakes and then some) if he had received some sort of formal training when he got started?
|Mistakes like trading his marriage and a lifetime of happiness with his wife to save the life of his dying geriatric aunt who probably would die soon anyway... by making a deal with the devil. Good call.|
But anyway, the point of all that was to illustrate that the public perception of Iron Man wasn't all that great when Iron Man hit the theaters. However, something happened that no one could really have predicted. Robert Downey Jr. made Tony Stark the most likable asshole in the history of cinematic history.
His Tony Stark was just as arrogant and egotistical as his comic book counterpart, but with an undeniable charm and wit. His Tony displayed much of the assholish behaviour he did in the comics but with such exuberance and energy that he was instantly watchable and somehow relatable, at least on the level where you can identify with the character even though you think they're a dick. Also, he was funny.
Most of the Iron Man movies consist of Rober Downey Jr. talking to A.I. butlers or robot arms, trading quips and making one-liners. More than any other superhero movie that was played straight before it, Iron Man is pretty close to being a comedy in parts, helped by its lighter tone and Downey's energetic performance.
|And of course, the comic timing of Dummy, the robot arm.|
So it makes perfect sense they would get Shane Black, writer of the first two Lethal Weapon movies, classic buddy cop movies with instantly recognisable one liners, to direct the third Iron Man movie. Now, I'm not gonna spend to much on this because it has been said elsewhere, but Marvel figured out how to do superhero sequels.
Where most superhero movie sequels are essentially the first movie only bigger and with different bad guys, Marvel have discovered they don't need to make their sequels superhero movies. I mean, they're still superhero movies since they feature superheroes but they aren't straight superhero movies.
Rather they're scifi fantasy movies with a superhero (Thor 2), an action political thriller with a superhero (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) or a buddy cop movie with a superhero (Iron Man 3). Essentially, Marvel Studios makes whatever type of movie it wants to make, they just happen to feature superheroes.
|They made a scifi action comedy with a talking raccoon who likes big guns just because they could.|
And Iron Man 3 is possibly the best buddy cop movie I've seen in the past five years barring the Jump Street movies. The back and forth dialogue and trading of quips between Robert Downey Jr. and that kid he hangs out with in the middle of the movie when he's being all Sherlock Holmesy? (wrong movie Robert) That is brilliant. Their repartee is so pitch perfect and fast-paced, it's kinda a shame when Tony leaves him behind.
And of course, Downey and Don Cheadle as Rhodey are so perfect onscreen together, they really feel like a great buddy cop duo in the vein of Riggs and Murtaugh, Cates and Hammond or Tango and Cash. Every moment they share onscreen is a joy to witness since their bromance is so genuine.
|Yes, I know this is from Iron Man 2 but just let me enjoy this, okay?|
I do have to make a qualification here though, the comedic tone of the film does unfortunately undercut a large portion of the film's more impressive dramatic or intense moments quite severely. It was like Shane Black decided to use any dramatic scene as a set up for a joke rather than to let the scene sit and connect with the audience.
Possibly one of the worst (best?) examples of this was following the really impressive skydiving scene where Iron Man has to catch thirteen people who were sucked out of Air Force One and are plummeting to their death. In a quite clever and tense scene, Iron Man saves all the people despite all the odds, only to fly directly into a truck and be smashed to bits.
But wait, Tony Stark wasn't even in the suit but was remote controlling it from a distance. Therefore any dramatic tension caused by worrying about his well-being while he is saving the people falling is completely dissipated, ruining any investment we might have had in the scene.
|Yeah, all this awesome? Ruined now. Thanks for that.|
That said, I really enjoyed Iron Man 3 and looking back, it was the first 'real' Marvel sequel. Rather than being a sequel to a superhero movie which just did what the first one did only bigger, it was a sequel to a superhero movie which did something different in that same fictional world. And there's something pretty cool about that.
Plus, the movie is funny. Like seriously, rewatch it as a comedy. It makes it so much more enjoyable.
Civil War (comics) Wikipedia page
How I learned to not like Iron Man anymore...