Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man is Both the MCU’s Greatest Hero and Villain

Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe witnessed quite the shock in Avengers: Endgame. In fact, the movie was full of exciting, shocking, and thrilling twists. But none packed quite the same emotional punch as the death of Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.).

But before we pour one out to Stark’s memory, let’s revisit how the character is, in some ways, the chief villain of the MCU.

Robert Downey Jr. at an 'Iron Man 3' press conference
Robert Downey Jr. at an ‘Iron Man 3’ press conference | Laurent KOFFEL/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Iron Man paid the ultimate price to save the universe

As Captain America (Chris Evans) points out in The Avengers, the Tony Stark audiences meet in 2008 is most certainly “not the guy to make the sacrifice play.” Yet, in that film and Avengers: Endgame, Stark demonstrates he is willing to put the fate of the world (and the universe) before his own life.

Heroes as powerful as Captain Marvel, Thor, and Scarlet Witch all fail to get their hands on the Infinity Gauntlet and defeat Thanos (Josh Brolin). But in doing one, Iron Man accomplishes the other too. The Avengers and their literal armies of allies overcome Thanos and his forces.

And just a snap later, the universe is saved. And Stark’s own death begins. Although Stark does plenty of hero work in previous movies, the stakes have never been higher than they are in Avengers: Endgame. Besides, most of the previous threats have one unfortunate thing in common.

But Tony Stark also created a lot of his own problems in the MCU

In that very same scene, Cap points out how “the only thing [Iron Man] really fights for is himself.” Tony Stark might disprove that a few times over in the MCU. But consider how many of the villains Iron Man faced were a direct result of the hero’s own actions or inaction.

All three of the main villains in the Iron Man trilogy — War Monger, Whiplash, and Aldrich Killian — represent dark versions of Stark himself. And either Tony or his father created the circumstances leading each of these men to evil. In the two MCU Spider-Man movies, both Vulture and Mysterio have beef not with the webslinger but Iron Man himself.

And then, of course, there’s Ultron. This bloodthirsty robot was created by — you guessed it — Stark himself. In the interest of protecting the world, he very nearly indirectly tore it apart. The Avengers’ rescue effort in Sokovia also inadvertently killed Helmut Zemo’s family. This terrible secret derailed the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War and left Earth vulnerable to Thanos in the process.


Robert Downey Jr. and Tony Stark Were Both Saved By the Same Fast Food Chain

In the end, was Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man his own worst enemy?

We’re not even going to touch on the fact that Tony Stark’s company, Stark Industries, has decades of experience building deadly weapons. Rather, it’s the impact Stark makes throughout the MCU that makes it clear he is low-key as much a villain as he is a hero.

Everywhere he goes, Iron Man — especially prior to his commitment to the Avengers — inspires others to seek vengeance for how he wronged them. He’s a character whose curiosity, arrogance, and ego inform his every move. Well, most of the time. And fans need to reckon with his greatest failures.

No matter how integral Downey’s performance is to the MCU as a whole, some viewers might have missed the fact that Iron Man is far from the wholesome hero so many people seem to want him to be. In fact, he very well might be both the greatest MCU hero and its most accomplished villain.