Tony Stark's MCU Arc Is a Shakespearean Tragedy (and Won't End Well)

People used to say that superheroes are the modern Greek Pantheon. The icons of both these new and old pantheons are often larger than life. They feel bigger than us.

But in many ways, this comparison is incorrect. DC often features larger-than-life heroes doing the extraordinary in a human world. Marvel -- and by extension the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- tends to focus on people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Perhaps Superman and Batman are like the Greek gods. Characters like Iron Man, though, have more in common with tragic heroes.

And, in many respects, Tony Stark's extended arc in the MCU is like something out of a Shakespearean tragedy. So far, Stark's arc from Iron Man to Avengers: Infinity War has held true to the typical arc of a Shakespearean tragic hero, from Acts I to IV... but what happens in Act V? What happens to Stark in Avengers: Endgame? By applying the trends of Shakespeare to Stark, a portrait is painted -- and not a happy one.

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ACT I - Iron Man and Iron Man 2

Iron Man MCU Rocket Launcher

Iron Man and its sequel comprise the Tragedy of Stark Act I. In Shakespearean tragedies, the narrative often starts by setting up the problems, both external and physical. Romeo and Juliet sets up the conflict between the Capulet and Montague families (external), while establishing that Romeo is a dreaming romantic who throws himself recklessly into love. Hamlet reveals that Denmark is in disarray following the sudden death of the king, that war is coming and there's a ghost wandering the palace (external), while Hamlet is just uncertain and aimless in the world. He rejects that his parents have remarried.

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The MCU introduces us to our core conflict: Stark. Externally, his weapons have been used to make the world a worse place, so Stark, now in a position where he can save the world, sets off to control the world's problems. And he actually manages to do so, putting an end to terrorists (Ten Rings), rival businessmen (Stane and Hammer) and old, unsettled conflicts he started (Whiplash). Seemingly, that last one is the least important, but it actually sets up the big conflict for Stark.

You see, while the external conflict seems important, it actually drives the real issue, which is the internal. Stark needs control. His tragic flaw from square one is he's rich and does what he wants. When he realizes his actions have unforeseen consequences, he seeks to control them. And succeeds.

ACT II - Avengers and Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 Movie

Shakespeare's second acts complicate matters, taking the conflicts established before to the next step. In Macbeth, the first act establishes that Macbeth was predicted to become the Dane by the Weird Sisters. Now, he wrestles with doing what is necessary to make that prediction real, wrestling with his ambitions now that conflict is over. Romeo falls in love with Juliet, despite only knowing her for a night and their families being at war.

With all the tragedies, the heroes lay the groundwork for their ultimate downfalls.

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The same thing is true in Avengers and Iron Man 3. Stark has established control over his world. He's creating renewable energy, become a celebrity and, come Iron Man 3, is regarded as the world's greatest hero. But he also realizes there are many problems he can no longer control. Problems far beyond him.

Iron Man 3 further complicates the problem by presenting Stark dealing with direct fallout of his own actions. As Stark says in the film, "we create our own demons."

NEXT PAGE: Stark's Quest for Control Will Be His Ultimate End

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