Since 2008, Iron Man has been the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The wildly unexpected popularity and profitability of Iron Man as a film franchise is what helped us get to the Avengers. It makes sense; Robert Downey Jr. plays the “cool exec with the heart of steel” perfectly…or does he? Though RDJ has managed to make audiences fall in love with him, there are a ton of changes the MCU has made in order to get to specific characters or plot points a lot quicker. The process occasionally works as a “streamlining”, but just as often they manage to make massive changes that go almost entirely against the spirit of the character and his universe.
Whether it be Tony Stark himself, his supporting cast, or even his villains — a ton of changes have happened in the Iron Man films over the years. Some of those changes have remained entirely in the films, while others are echoed in the source material, leaving certain storylines or characters retconned to match better with the cinematic universe. Fortunately, we here at CBR have a long memory, and are capable of telling you about all those changes. Welcome to the 15 Things the MCU Got Completely Wrong About Tony Stark!
15. HE’S NOT A SMART-ALECK
From the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, people have watched Iron Man and claimed the film nails his character perfectly in Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark. The comics would eventually alter the character to be a self-depricating jerk who told far more jokes and had a lot more fun with life, but these are actually changes that occurred thanks to the films.
In the original source material, Tony Stark was never much of a smart-ass. He’d crack the occasional quip as required by the superhero code, but he was much more serious. The character was more believable as a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, as someone who ran an international corporation as well as saved the world in his free time.
14. JARVIS IS THE BUTLER
One of the most disappointing parts of the MCU. In the comics Jarvis starts out as the loyal butler watching over Tony’s old home, the place that eventually becomes the Avengers mansion. He’s the soul of the Avengers, a part of several different versions of the team throughout the ages.
All of this went out the window during the very first film of the MCU. During Iron Man, Tony Stark would show that he had developed an hyper-advanced AI known as Jarvis. As the battle between the Avengers and Ultron began to heat up, Tony got the bright idea to take Jarvis’ program and download the AI into the skeleton that creates Vision, and just like that the Avengers’ faithful butler gets stuck in the comics.
13. THE MANDARIN ISN’T AN ACTOR
By now everyone is aware of the biggest twist of Iron Man 3. After hyping the film up as the meeting between Tony Stark and Iron Man’s biggest foe the Mandarin, things took a totally different direction when we learned the Mandarin wasn’t even real, but was actually just an actor working for the real villain, Aldrich Killian. After spending months threatening the world as a terrorist in videos, he finally reveals himself as a fake.
Of course, the Mandarin of the comics isn’t just for show. Time and again he’s tested Tony Stark, responsible for everything from trying to rip all the technology away from the world to nearly killing the Armored Avenger several times over. He’s very “real” (at least, in his world), and would likely wring an actor’s neck for pretending to be him.
12. HE BUILT THE WAR MACHINE ARMOR
One of the key conflicts during Iron Man 2 is having the military try to convince Tony to contribute his special abilities to aiding them in increasing their ability to protect the United States. In other words: they wanted the Iron Man armor.
But when the negotiations for that fall through they rely on their liaison, James Rhodes, to steal the armor for them. Ultimately, they slap a bunch of weapons on the Mark II along with a new coat of gunmetal gray paint, and voila, the War Machine is born. In the comics however, Tony works on this armor himself. He dons it briefly to take out a group of advanced samurai hitmen, the Masters of Silence, then he tells Rhodey he always meant for him to have it, bestowing the armor to him.
11. TONY AND PEPPER? NOT SO FAST
The main Iron Man trilogy tries to drive home one thing again and again: Tony and Pepper are “meant for each other”. But this wasn’t the case at all when the comics first came out. For decades the comics wrote Tony Stark as the playboy of playboys, and he had the women to match — a bevy of beauties would have their time in the comics before moving on as writers introduced new love interests.
Pepper would hold some interest in Stark at the very beginning, but eventually realize he was never going to settle down and start dating Tony’s bodyguard, Happy Hogan. They would continue to flirt with each other and have fairly improper relations considering Pepper was married, but it was rarely ever serious.
10. OBADIAH STANE WASN’T A FAMILY FRIEND
Another potentially massive change from the comic books. In the film, Obadiah Stane was a long time friend of the family and actually worked alongside Tony Stark. He was something of a mentor for the character, until we learn that he was directly responsible for Tony being nearly killed by terrorists.
The comic Stane was several levels above this, though. It wasn’t enough to kill Tony, and he viewed the whole thing as a game played between the two of them. He emotionally manipulated Stark, driving him back to drinking again after paying a woman he fell in love with to abandon him. Stark would eventually have his own company bought from under his nose, Stark International turning into Stane International. He wasn’t happy until Tony was a homeless wino, blowing his money by getting wasted. Sheesh, what a monster.
9. REPULSORS WERE HIS ENERGY BLASTS
The films made much of Tony Stark’s battery to power the Iron Man armor. Called the “arc reactor” in the films, it took care of everything from keeping his heart moving to running the suit itself. It’s a major plot of Iron Man 2 and 3. And it’s so popular it makes its way into the comics as Iron Man’s “Repulsor Tech”.
Long time comic fans would remember that Tony’s patented hand blasts were actually referred to as ” Repulsor Rays”, rather than the energy core that kept his suits running. Instead, the suit was powered from a number of clever ways — including a thermocouple that drew energy from intense heat or cold, and at one point, even plugging into a wall and running off good, old A/C!
8. STARK USED THE EXTREMIS VIRUS ON HIMSELF
Iron Man 3 involved a ton of red herrings in its promotional ads. When fans saw Iron Man was now capable of summoning his armor to him, they assumed it was loosely based around Warren Ellis’ “Extremis” arc from the mid-’00s. During the storyline, Stark would face off against a man named Mallen who used the Extremis virus to boost his strength, speed, and healing factor to levels that allowed him to trounce even Iron Man.
The only option left for Stark was to use the Extremis virus on himself, altering his bodily functions and linking him to the armor in a way that allowed him to summon it at will. The film would ditch the part where Stark is forced to use Extremis to beat Extremis, and instead have Tony create a new device that allowed him to summon the parts of the armor to him instead.
7. JUSTIN HAMMER WASN’T INCOMPETENT
The movies did an awful job doing right by Iron Man’s bad guys. Played by Sam Rockwell, by Iron Man 2 they’d already gone to the well of impossibly rich and powerful evil white man once, so they had to find a way to mix it up. While Obadiah Stane was conniving and clever, Justin Hammer had to play a more comic relief role. The character tried his best to be the successor to Tony Stark once he left the weapons industry but his weapons were generally unreliable and he was a bungling idiot.
This is in sharp comparison to Justin Hammer in the comics. There he’s a smooth business man who figures out how to hack into Stark’s armor and force him to kill a foreign dignitary. Hammer would plague Iron Man several times over the course of the ’70s and ’80s, ever a challenging foe.
6. TONY STARK DIDN’T CREATE ULTRON
If you watched the films, you would believe that nearly all of the mistakes of the Avengers come down to Tony Stark. There wouldn’t be a need for a Civil War if Tony hadn’t created Ultron as a means of trying to save humanity only to have it turn on him and ruin the city of Sokovia. Stark would be known as a pretty bad screw up if it was true in the comics.
But Ultron was instead created by super scientist Hank Pym. Based off of Pym’s mind, the robot developed its own thought processes and eventually came to hate Hank Pym and be partially obsessed with Hank’s wife. It makes sense — in the comics, Pym was always the much more unstable character. Ultron would continuously upgrade itself until he was able to make Pym forget he created the robot in the first place.
5. IRON MAN DIDN’T INVENT PETER PARKER’S COSTUME
When Tony Stark introduces Peter Parker in the fight between him and Captain America, Parker’s already wearing the standard Spider-Man suit fans have known and loved. It’s not until Spider-Man: Homecoming we find out that the suit wasn’t actually designed by Parker, but is instead a high-tech suit created by Tony Stark. It’s got a ton of bells and whistles inside of it, including highly advanced telemetry and various different types of webbing.
On one level that makes sense. And eventually Tony does create a suit for Peter — the Iron Spider armor during the “Civil War” in the comics — but the original costume was all Parker’s idea. It lacks all the extra doo-dads, aside from the web shooters that Peter built on his own because he’s a young genius.
4. TONY WAS MUCH LESS SANE DURING CIVIL WAR
One improvement the films made over the comics is that Tony Stark is much more sane and reasonable during most of Captain America: Civil War. Though the two heroes eventually split apart, for the most part Tony works hard to keep Captain America on his side and help him understand that the Avengers need to take responsibility for their actions. Makes sense, since he’s the reason the Avengers have to deal with the Sokovia Accords to begin with.
That said, in the comics Stark goes far more insane. There, the inciting incident for Civil War happens because of a group of rookie heroes — one causes a nuclear explosion fighting a villain, taking hundreds of lives. Stark goes off the deep end, demanding that all the heroes turn over their secret identities and be accountable to S.H.I.E.L.D., even throwing heroes who didn’t agree into a prison in the Negative Zone!
3. THE WINTER SOLDIER DIDN’T KILL TONY’S PARENTS
It takes a lot for the Civil War to actually happen, but the battle itself isn’t what splits the team apart. The Avengers certainly take sides and by the end of the fight Rhodey is damaged in a very real way, but what really shatters the team is what happens near the end.
After spending the entire movie attempting to prove Bucky Barnes’ innocence in one crime, Helmut Zemo shows Iron Man footage of another: a brainwashed Barnes crashing the car of Stark’s parents and killing them both. It’s a brutal scene, and far more complex than what happened in the comics, where Stark’s parents simply died in a car accident and that’s the end of things. And even that doesn’t quite hold up, as they recently revealed that Stark was apparently adopted, and his mother was a rock star. Comics, right?
2. RHODEY AND TONY DON’T MEET UNTIL TONY IS IRON MAN
During the first film, Tony Stark is already well acquainted with James Rhodes. Rhodes is the liaison Stark Enterprises has to the government, and who they show off all their new weaponry to first. They’re not exactly the best of friends, but they’ve known one another long enough to like and tolerate each other, and gradually become the best of friends after Stark continues to risk his life being a hero and saving the world.
In the comics however, Rhodey was a soldier that was a prisoner of war alongside Tony Stark. After Tony worked with Yinsen to develop his armor, Rhodey was one of the men who fought alongside him, eventually flying back to the states with Tony. After the war, Stark would immediately hire him as a helicopter pilot.
1. IRON MAN’S SECRET IDENTITY
The biggest change of them all, though? Stark kicks off the MCU by revealing his secret identity as Iron Man at a press conference at the end of the film. This fits with the character established in the film up to this point, even if its the stupidest thing the guy could have done. Over the next two films, Stark pays for this as it becomes impossibly easy for him to be found and attacked — by Whiplash as well as Aldrich Killian in Iron Man 2 and 3.
Of course, Stark’s identity happens to be of public record in the comics as well, but it unfolds a different way. There, for decades Stark pretends that Iron Man is a bodyguard that’s employed by Stark International for him to be safe. It isn’t until decades later that he reveals his identity saving a child and his dog from a car accident.
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