Iron Man – The True Villain in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Iron Man suit from Age of Ultron
Age of Ultron Iron Man

It goes without mentioning that I am not pleased with the treatment of Black Widow in Avengers: Age of Ultron. That said, I decided to take a break from the gender issues in the movie (which the ever excellent Amanda Wallace covered for us) and take a look at an even bigger problem in AoU: the Tony Stark/Iron Man problem.

My Backstory with Iron Man

When the first Iron Man movie came out, I nearly swooned. Robert Downey Jr. is a beautiful man, and the first Iron Man movie shows us a Tony Stark’s whose ego is still being kept in check by the life-changing experience of being held captive in the desert by terrorists. Yet as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded, so has Stark’s ego as he attempts to put vulnerability behind him.

Iron Man 2 sees Tony struggling for his life again (the palladium powering his thingymabob is poisoning him), giving up his life rather than asking for help from anyone. In The Avengers, Stark is mostly back to his usual jokester/ass status, baiting Thor constantly and poking at Bruce Banner in an unhealthy way. Rather than attempt to set aside ego for the sake of the team, it takes the death of Agent Coulson for everyone (not just Tony Stark) to put away their arrogance and pull together.

If we had hope of any reformation of Tony’s character, Iron Man III was the movie that could do it. Months after the Chitauri attack on New York, Tony Stark is having panic attacks and obsessively working on more Iron Man suits. In other words: Tony is scared and once again attempting to re-evaluate his life. He calls himself “the mechanic” when interfacing with a young boy, he destroys all of his extra Iron Man Suits, and finally explains that “the armor was just a cocoon”.  When the Avengers: Age of Ultron opens, we begin to see what Tony has really transformed into: a monster, not a butterfly.


We first see symptoms of Tony Stark’s underlying madness when the Scarlett Witch sends him a vision. Iron Man is on a distant dead planet somewhere with the bodies of his comrades surrounding him, and a Chitauri horde about to invade Earth. With his last breath, Captain America tells Stark that “he didn’t do enough.” While this vision supposedly originates from the Mind Stone (it was hidden in Loki’s staff), it plays off of fears that Stark has been having since Iron Man III: the great Tony Stark may not worry about anything Earth has to throw at him, but space is terrifying.

Space is so terrifying, in fact, that Tony Stark creates Ultron, the evil robot maniac who wants to destroy the world. That is an indisputable fact. He does this in an attempt to “create a shield for the world” and settle his own fears about evil space aliens. Again, Tony succumbs to his fears instead of focusing on more serious known problems. You know, like a better solution for taking care of the Hulk instead of demolishing a city block?

The hulkbuster Iron Man suit from Age of Ultron
A suit big enough for Stark’s ego

We see Iron Man save those guys in the elevator, but how many other people were maimed or killed in the fight between Iron Man and the Hulk? Iron Man didn’t seem to care then (or when a town in Iron Man III gets destroyed with his help), making it seem like the only threats Tony Stark cares about are personal.

Obviously, things get personal very quickly with Ultron. The robot seems to basically be Tony Stark’s evil twin, a fact that is hit home during a conversation between Ultron and Ulysses Klaw. To me, it isn’t surprising that a robot with the essence of Tony Stark might want to destroy the world. None of the other Avengers seem to catch on how deep Stark’s emotional trauma runs, a trauma reflected in Ultron each time we see him. After all, why does someone who wants peace so badly keep inventing weapons of destruction to keep the peace?

All of this is problematic, but what the crux of my complaint lies with how Tony Stark attempts to fix this problem. Instead of admitting that hey, perhaps creating artificial intelligence on the fly is a bad idea, Tony Stark decides to do it again. Ultron clearly didn’t work out (for reasons that are never made clear) but Stark decides, without any questioning of himself, that putting Jarvis into a new Vibranium body with a Mind Stone is a good idea. And this is before Thor busts in and says that it’s all going to be okay because he had a vision.

The Major Problem

My problem with this? It feels like AoU is saying that the horror of man’s arrogance (Ultron) can only be beaten by more extreme male arrogance (Vision). The horror of man’s arrogance (Ultron) can only be beaten by more extreme male arrogance (Vision). Obviously Vision isn’t arrogant, he’s the most amazing aspect of the movie, but the events surrounding his creation are some of the most egotistical in the movie – a movie that is full of dick jokes and dick-measuring.

Then, to top things off, absolutely nothing bad happens to Tony Stark. Nick Fury comes out of nowhere and shakes his head somberly at Stark, Captain America gives some stern looks, but there are no punitive actions taken. Iron Man gets to leave the Avengers with his dignity (and life) intact, and mostly no hard feelings. Through the creation (and destruction) of Ultron, Tony Stark is indirectly responsible for the deaths of many innocent people. Why isn’t he held accountable? Why does the audience still laugh at his jokes? And after creating one such monster, he was prepared to do it all again.

This movie, more so than any other in the MCU, had the opportunity to take a hard look at Iron Man and give him a proper send off as Rober Downey Jr. leaves the MCU. Using Ultron as a mirror for Iron Man was a great plot device that could have done just that, if the movie could have attempted to be more than just a superhero movie. Of course, that would have required character development, which would have cut down on the action scenes, but isn’t that a fair price to pay? We could have had it all Marvel, but you wasted James Spaders voice on this madness.


  1. What is is that the Scarlet Witch says? Ultron, like Stark, doesn’t know the difference between destroying the world and saving it?

      • I did like the idea of Ultron being a manifestation of fear. For me that was the underlying theme of the movie. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch were defined by fear — waiting for days watching that missile knowing it might still detonate. Stark is defined by the fear that his near death scene brought. Ultron is defined by the fear of nonexistence. It’s interesting, but it wasn’t handled with the level of emotional depth those topics might need to be.

        and I mean, apparently Scarlet Witch was motivated by infertility and sterilization, but whatever.

  2. One of my professors in undergrad once pointed out as we were watching Star Trek that there’s an underlying theme that technology creates problems, but that the solution to those problems is more technology. Stark seems to operate on that same theme, except that he himself is the cause of, and seemingly the solution to, all of those problems.

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