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LIGHTS, CAMERA, CRUCIBLES 7: Iron Man #128

Warwick Fairfax

August 16, 2022

Few movie heroes undergo a success-to-significance arc fueled by their crucible more dramatically than Iron Man – and maybe even more so, his alter ego, Tony Stark. In his first movie appearance, Tony is a glib, hedonistic billionaire playboy who has a lot to live with, but not much to live for. That all changes when he’s attacked with some of the same missiles his company makes and is nearly killed. As he emerges from that crucible, given a second chance by one man’s surgical skill and self-sacrifice, he becomes an entirely new man – and not just because he builds himself a suit of super-powered armor.

Highlights

  • Iron Man’s place as the most depicted hero in the MCU (2:44)
  • “Constitutionally incapable of being responsible” (6:18)
  • Tony’s life-altering crucible (9:07)
  • The importance exploring origin stories (10:47) 
  • A great fellow traveler: Ho Yinsen  (15:58)
  • Why Iron Man would have fit in our SECOND-ACT SIGNIFICANCE series (21:47)
  • How Tony’s crucibles lead him to his purpose (32:19)
  • Tony learns to guard his heart (37:08)
  • How Captain America helps Iron Man grow even more in his character (40:47)
  • Crucibles derail Iron Man’s life of significance for a season (46:56)
  • Robert Downey Jr. on the crucibles his character faced … and how he overcame them (55:30)

Transcript

Warwick Fairfax:

Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

 

Tony Stark:

They’ve been dealing under the table and I’m gonna stop them. I’m gonna find my weapons and destroy them.

 

Pepper Potts:

Tony, you know that I would help you with anything, but I cannot help you if you’re gonna start all of this again.

 

Tony Stark:

There is nothing except this. There’s no art opening. There is no benefit. There is nothing to sign! There is the next mission, and nothing else.

 

Pepper Potts:

Is that so? Well, then I quit.

 

Tony Stark:

You stood by my side all these years while I reaped the benefits of destruction, and now that I’m trying to protect the people I’ve put in harm’s way, you’re gonna walk out?

 

Pepper Potts:

You’re gonna kill yourself, Tony. I’m not going to be a part of it.

 

Tony Stark:

I shouldn’t be alive, unless it was for a reason. I’m not crazy, Pepper. I just finally know what I have to do. And I know, in my heart, that it’s right.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Those are breakthrough thoughts for any movie hero. The moment they understand and embrace their mission. But for this week’s subject of our summer series, Lights, Cameras, Crucibles, well, it’s one of the most unexpected revelations of any we’ve discussed in what is now our seventh episode. Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, cohost of the show. Warwick and I talk this week about Iron Man, and maybe even more so about his alter ego, Tony Stark, a glib, hedonistic billionaire playboy who has a lot to live with but not much to live for. That all changes when he’s attacked with some of the same missiles his company makes and is nearly killed. As he emerges from that crucible, given a second chance by one man’s surgical skill and self-sacrifice, he becomes and entirely new man and not just because he builds himself a suit of superpower armor.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

What fuels his journey from success to significance? Keep listening, especially for the reflections of the actor who portrayed him, Robert Downey Jr.. When you hear his perspective, you might just think Warwick’s been doing some script writing on the side.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Just to sort of level set where we’re at, like we always do, Iron Man was the first movie and the first hero that Marvel Studios set forth in establishing what came to be called, is still called, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He has appeared in three Iron Man movies, a Captain America movie, a Spider-Man movie, and four Avengers movies. Of all the heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man is the most prolific. You see him the most.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

We would argue, and we will argue over the course of this podcast today, that he has the most dramatic arc, character arc of any hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That isn’t because, really, of his iron suited persona. It’s his alter ego. Not his secret identity, as is known, because he reveals that pretty quickly at the end of what we’re going to talk about today, Iron Man, but that’s Tony Stark. The arc of Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the most dramatic, is the most dramatic in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It rivals the dramatic arc of any character that you’ll see in a film that has sequels.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

We’re going to unpack Iron Man 2008 as well as some of those other things that lead Tony Stark on his journey to a life of significance. The first thing I want to say, Warwick, and I didn’t talk about this when we talked before, but did you know this movie premiered in 2008, but its premiere in the US was May 2nd, 2008, but it premiered I guess three weeks earlier than that. Guess where it premiered three weeks earlier than that on April 14th, 2008?

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, I have no business knowing this. I just so happened to look up some notes on Iron Man, and it said Sydney.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Yes!

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So it’s a miracle I actually knew that, but I just happened to glance at it earlier this morning, so go figure.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Yeah, and it’s like… We can’t get away, even on this series, even on this special summer series, Lights, Camera, Crucibles, we can not get away from our reliance on our returning to Australia like our host. Once again-

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well we haven’t said this before, but the amount of superheroes and heroes that are from Australia, obviously Chris Hemsworth as Thor. We’re not specifically covering him in this series, but he’s sort of part of that. Russell Crowe, gladiator, as well as Robin Hood, which we’ve already discussed. The original Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn in 1938 was also Australian. I don’t know what it is about Australians playing superheroes, but who knows?

 

Gary Schneeberger:

There’s also Hugh Jackman who played Wolverine in all the X-Men movies, so-

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Absolutely. Yeah. There you go.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

I’ll say this as long as we’re on the subject, there is one from my hometown, Kenosha, Wisconsin. That’s Mark Ruffalo, the actor who plays the Hulk in the Avengers movies. He is from Kenosha, Wisconsin. He’s a few years younger than I am. He and I actually took a swimming class together when we were in our early… I was in my early teens, he was probably 10 or so because he’s four or five years younger than I am. So there you go. The life connections with Life, Cameras, Crucibles that Warwick and I have.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Okay, moving on. About Iron Man, when we first meet Tony Stark in the movie Iron Man, he is, as his best friend Army Colonel James Rhodes says, I love this quote, “Constitutionally incapable of being responsible.” He doesn’t mean the founders said he can’t be responsible. His constitution, his make-up. In his make-up, he is incapable of being responsible. He’s living life on his own terms. He’s doing what he wants when he wants and with anybody he wants. He’s not answering to or really caring much about anyone but himself. That, Warwick, is a recipe, right? That’s sort of a secret super-potion for running into crucibles. If you’re living your life like that, chances are you’re going to hit a crucible. That seems to be the experience we’ve had in talking with guests. It’s my own personal experience. Would you say that’s a truth of crucibles? That if that’s the way you’re living, if you’re living like Tony Stark at the start of Iron Man, you shouldn’t be surprised when crucibles come.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, no. I mean, in a sense, Tony Stark, at the beginning of the movie, represents almost an anti-hero. For me, as listeners know, growing up in a very wealthy background, 150 year old very large family media business in Australia, Tony Stark represents everything I didn’t want to be. Playboy, couldn’t care less about other people, going out to parties, with a different woman every night. Just it’s all about him, self centered, hedonistic, couldn’t care less about anybody else. That represents everything that I strive my whole life not to be.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

It’s sad. People like that, you think they’d be happy because they’ve got as much money as anybody has. They can do what they want with whom they want, when they want. But yeah, as we’ll see with Tony Stark, it’s a very empty existence. It’s pretty much impossible, I think for humans, given the way we’re wired, to be happy. The early incarnation of Tony Stark is it really, the word that comes to mind is sad. It’s very sad. You can not be happy in this hedonistic, it’s all about me, I’ve got as much money to do what I want, when I want, with who I want. That’s not a recipe for happiness at all, but that’s the early Tony Stark. That’s the beginning of the arc of where we first see him.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Right. And he ends up pretty quickly after we meet him in this movie, Iron Man in 2008, he ended up pretty quickly running into a crucible. He’s being driven somewhere in the Middle East, turns out to be Afghanistan, with American soldiers. He’s joking and clowning and posing for selfies with them, and he’s impressing them with his exactly what we’ve been talking about, his playboy ways.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

But that first crucible hits very shockingly and very powerfully. The caravan that he’s riding with the soldiers in is attacked by missiles. As he’s panicked outside of the vehicle he was in, he notices right before it blows up, one of the missiles that has been fired at him and the soldiers has written on its side, “Stark Industries,” and he is, that’s his company, the company he inherited from his late father, which makes weapons. He is seriously wounded by the attack, and as we… Very well done by the filmmaker, the director John Favreau, who also plays his chauffer, Happy Hogan, in this movie and throughout all of Iron Man’s appearances, he’s seriously wounded. He’s got some blood coming out of his chest, and he fades out of consciousness just as the screen fades to black.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

But then the movie does something really interesting. It takes us back 36 hours to give us a better picture, a more fulsome picture of who Tony Stark is. We flash back 36 hours to what we at Crucible Leadership like to call his origin story, right? That’s one of the things you really like to drill down on with guests because when you… Right? Explain why you like to drill down with guests on their origin story because that’s why they do it here with Iron Man, but it’ll help explain a little bit why origin stories are so important to understanding people.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Yeah. I mean, I guess you wonder, so what makes Tony Stark the playboy, the hedonistic person that he is? We get a bit of a glimpse into his background and what, as we’ll see here in a minute, what makes him him. But to help understand who the person is as he goes through a crucible, you’ve got to understand how they grew up, which often determines where our values come from and personality, skills, and abilities. So to really understand in as much depth as possible a human being, you really need to understand the origin story, their parents, their culture, their hometown. That’s why we do it, and certainly we do get quite a glimpse into his origin story. Tony Stark’s.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And his origin story is, if I had to pick one word, it’s gilded. He was born into wealth. He inherited, as we said, his late father’s money and his late father’s weapons manufacturing company. He is blessed, in some cases maybe cursed a little bit, with genius. He’s a billionaire playboy who runs the world’s most prolific and successful weapons manufacturing company. The flashback scene also shows him demonstrating for the military his company’s latest weapon called the Jericho Missile.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

During that scene, there are reporters there watching the demonstration along with military folks, and one of the reporters asks him, “Is it better to be feared or respected?” Here’s the glimpse, from his origin story, into Tony Stark’s character at this time. He says, kind of glibly, kind of smugly, “Is it too much to ask for both? Is it too much to ask for both, being feared and being respected?”

 

Gary Schneeberger:

What we come to learn in this… It’s short. It’s only about 10, 15 minutes, this origin story scenes, but what is revealed is he’s the smartest guy in the world and one of the richest, but there’s a sense with all of that, you alluded to it earlier, that he has a lot to live with, but he has nothing to live for. Let me say that again. He has a lot to live with, a lot of trappings, but nothing to live for. Nothing that engages his heart, it seems.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

He’s gliding glibly through life. His day to day existence is one of great success, but seemingly little significance. How does that play into why we’re… I mean, of all the heroes that we’ve talked about, he seems to be a great one for us to talk about on Beyond the Crucible because that idea of great success minus significance being unfulfilling is something you talk about all the time.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Yeah, it’s so true, Gary. I mean, since Tony Stark is the prototype of the emptiness of success alone, success without significance. It doesn’t fulfill. It leads to emptiness, a lack of purpose, hedonism. He goes from party to party, woman to woman, person to person. He doesn’t care about anybody. I’m not even sure if he cares about himself. He’s just not in a deep sense, he cares about nothing. He just lives day to day in this vacuous, empty state. It’s really depressing. There’s no happiness. There’s no joy. There’s just drink, relationships, not even relationships.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Right. Hook-ups.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Exactly. Yeah. In the real sense of that word. He is an archetype of what it is to have success and only success. Yes, he’s an MIT graduate. He’s one of the smartest people on the planet. He can invent or create anything. But for what purpose? There’s no purpose. There’s no rudder. Without a rudder or a purpose, life is empty. And so really, out of all the folks we’ve had so far on the series, he just exemplifies in this early part of the movie success without significance is empty, it’s hopeless, it’s meaningless. It’s depressing, and it’s sad. So he is really the archetype of why success alone, not only is it not fulfilling, it’s just depressing and empty. It’s a great archetype.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

We’re drilling down so far on this point I think here because it’s important to realize, a lot of times people, especially when they’re going through crucibles, will look at others who we don’t know, we see them on TV, we see them walking down the street, we know of them, and we think, “Wow, they’ve got it all together. They have money, and they have position, and they have prestige,” and we think that’s the way to go. That’s where happiness and joy and fulfillment and significance comes from. What Tony Stark reveals, and it’s done very well in about 15 minutes at the start of this movie, and what we’ve been talking about, that’s not the case. Tony’s about to realize that.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Back in Afghanistan, scene goes back to Afghanistan, he’s been taken captive by rebels in an unstable part of the country. He’s been saved by another captive, the scientist named Ho Yinsen, who removed shrapnel from around his heart when the bomb exploded and inserted an electromagnet in his chest to keep the shards away from going into his heart and killing him. He’s being kept alive by an electromagnet that was fashioned out of spare parts by his fellow captive, another scientist named Ho Yinsen.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Knowing that they have Tony Stark, the bad guys here, they’re known as the Ten Rings, a rebel group in Afghanistan, they give him some spare parts, some of his own missiles that have been sold to them. They give Tony Stark all these pieces, and they want him to build them this Jericho Missile that he had shot off in his audition with the military. All the materials are left there for him to work on.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

But as he’s about to go do that, Ho Yinsen, who may be the best, we call them fellow travelers, the best teammate of anybody we’ve seen so far in this series. Ho Yinsen says to him, looking at all of these spare parts to build a weapon of mass destruction, says, “This is your legacy, Stark. Your life’s work in the hands of those murderers. Is that how you want to go out? Is this the last defense of the great Tony Stark, or are you going to do something about it?” It’s clear from this scene, isn’t it, that Tony’s conscience is pricked for the first time that we’ve seen him by that comment from his fellow captive.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

It’s very true. Here he is in captivity in some cave, the bad guys, in this case the captors, Ten Rings, they have him. He’s seen the destruction that the weapons his company makes does. I think as we’ll see, he realizes that his own weapons are killing American soldiers. So this weapons proliferation is one of the concerns out there is, it’s very difficult to make sure that any of the quote, unquote good guys get the weapons. He sees, for the first time, what his company is doing.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

In a sense, Yinsen, the scientist who is captive there, he’s, as we’ll see, he’s acting almost like a biblical prophet. In the Bible, the prophets are the truth tellers. They tell the king, they tell those in authority typically what they don’t want to hear, which sometimes can mean a death sentence when you do that. You’ve got to be courageous. He’s telling Tony Stark what he doesn’t want to hear, but he desperately needs to hear if his life from a character and moral point of view is going to be saved.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Ho Yinsen does Tony an incredible service by speaking the very hard truth. What’s more painful? Being in captivity, or having that kind of truth that cuts to the heart? His heart’s already in a mess physically with the shrapnel. What’s more painful? I don’t know. Both are incredibly painful. Those kinds of words, those are tough to hear, and I’m sure they were. But Tony knew that they were true. He knew it once it was spoken.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And that’s something that you’ve said many times on this show and in your book, Crucible Leadership, this idea of being able to speak truth to power. Ho Yinsen does that. Ho Yinsen speaks not just what Tony wants to hear, but what he needs to hear. There’s another conversation. It’s very brief. They’re talking about families, and Tony asks him if he has a family, and he says yes, he has a wife and two kids. Yinsen asks Tony, and Tony says no, he’s got no one. Very keen observation by Yinsen. He says, “So you’re a man who has everything and nothing.” Again, that’s one of those things that speaking truth to power, finding someone who will say what you need to hear, that admonishment changes the trajectory of Tony Stark’s life as much as nearly dying in the mortar attack does. Those kinds of things that Yinsen tells him begins to get him to realize how empty his existence is.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

So he doesn’t build them. He’s working in the cave with all these materials he’s been given, but he doesn’t build the Ten Rings a missile. He builds himself a mechanized suit of armor that gives him super strength, makes him impervious to bullets, and allows him to fly for at least a little while to fly away from the cave when the time comes. But when his captors catch wind of what he’s doing, they try to kill him. Yinsen distracts them long enough for the suit to power up, and he’s mortally wounded.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

As he dies, as Ho Yinsen dies, Tony finally gets around, he hasn’t done this before. Again, that selfishness. He wasn’t able to even bring himself to thank this man for saving his life. He thanks him, and Yinsen replies, “Don’t waste your life.” He thanks this man for saving his life, and this man says to him with his dying breath, “Don’t waste it.” The rest of Iron Man and the rest of Tony Stark’s journey throughout all the movies he appears in in the Marvel Cinematic Universe really spotlights his efforts to do just that, to not waste his life, to move from just success to success with significance.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

We’re talking about Iron Man and Tony Stark as part of our series Lights, Camera, Crucibles, but really, Warwick, couldn’t he have fit in perfectly in our previous series, Second Act Significance? Isn’t that where Tony Stark’s headed now after Ho Yinsen passes away?

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Absolutely. His first act is hedonism, playboy, overseeing a company that makes weapons that kills people, including American soldiers. But you can not overstate the service that Ho Yinsen does for Tony Stark. Ho Yinsen, as we see, he sacrifices his life so that Tony is able to power up the Iron Man suit. He wouldn’t have escaped without that. Yeah, there’s just that, the phrases he says, “You have everything, and yet nothing.” That was probably the most cutting thing he ever said. “You have everything, but nothing.” Again, that’s just a dagger to the heart. Tony knows it’s true. “Don’t waste your life.”

 

Warwick Fairfax:

It’s so moving that I guess we don’t know the backstory, but Ho Yinsen’s family have been killed. You make the reference that he’ll see them basically in the afterlife or heaven or some such phrase. As he’s saying, “Don’t waste your life,” he basically says, “It was always the plan for me to sacrifice my life for you.” We don’t know his faith origin exactly, but he’s clearly a person of faith, and he sees it as some divine plan… I don’t know whether it’s to save Tony, but certainly for him to sacrifice his life for Tony, and he believes he’ll see his family in the afterlife. It’s hard to deal with somebody that sacrifices their life for you. That changes Tony’s life as much as anything. His life will never be the same after the tremendous service and words and the sacrifice of his life that Ho Yinsen does for Tony Stark. It’s really incredible.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Yeah. We see that immediately after this scene when Yinsen dies. Tony, as I said, the Iron Man suit that he builds can fly for a little bit. It takes him out of the cave area. He lands in the desert. He’s rescued by his friend Colonel Rhodes who, they’re such buddies, he calls him Rhodey. He immediately calls a press conference. I love that. As a PR guy, the first thing Tony Stark does when he’s out of the cave and he’s into safety calls a press conference. Bravo. Bring the media in. He says this as he takes his first step toward a life of significance. He says to the assembled press about his experience in Afghanistan, “I saw American kids killed by the very weapons I created to protect them. I realize I have more to offer this world than just making things blow up.” And he announces plans to get out of the weapons business.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

This is another critical Crucible Leadership point here. You don’t have to have your plan all figured out to move toward a life on purpose dedicated to serving others. Your vision is rooted in your skills and passions and values, but you don’t have to have a completed blueprint to move toward it, even if you’re a wizard with blueprints like Tony Stark is. I mean, he goes to work on those blueprints and starts to take, as you like to say, small step by small step toward a life of significance. He doesn’t have it all figured out. He’s not exactly sure what it looks like, but he’s moving toward it, inspired by his friend in the cave who gave his life to him. He begins moving toward that, and that is really when Tony Stark’s life starts to turn around, right?

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Absolutely, Gary. One of the things we say on Beyond the Crucible and Crucible Leadership all the time is your vision needs to be rooted, yes, in your desire and skills, but above all, it needs to be rooted in your fundamental beliefs. Your passions, what you believe to be most dear and most true. He realizes with his prophet, fellow traveler if you will, Ho Yinsen in the cave, that his overseeing this weapons business is killing not only people but American people specifically, and he’s American, Tony Stark.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So he makes this decision based on ethics and morals from his standpoint that he believes it’s immoral, it’s wrong, from his perspective… Again, I’m not trying to make some overarching value judgment, but from his perspective here, he believes that it’s against his morals and ethics to be in the weapons business. Now, Stark Industries you sense is predominantly a weapons business, so what does that mean? Tony is a brilliant guy. It’s easy to say he’ll figure something out. He’s probably thinks, “Yeah, I’ll probably figure something out,” but his attitude is, even if I don’t figure something out, and he does and he will, I’m willing to bet everything on my morals and values.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

That’s one of the things you have to do. It doesn’t always mean it’s a bet the farm moment. It turns out to be not the case here. But you’ve got to say, “My morals and my ethics and values are such that if that’s what it takes, then that’s what it takes. It’s not about money. It’s not about my job. I have to do what’s right, period.” He doesn’t have it all figured out, but that first step is a massive one, in a sense. He says, “I’m going to live in light of my values and morals, and we’re not going to be in the weapons business.” It’s a massive decision, but it’s rooted in the anchor of his values and beliefs. In that sense, it’s a great role model in terms of the process that he uses to make a decision.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Right. That’s perhaps the first time we can say about Tony Stark, Iron Man, that he’s a great role model. He begins to take those steps toward a life on purpose dedicated to serving others, not just himself. What it does, there’s a cleaving that happens at this point in the movie because Tony has a partner in the business, Obadiah Stane. Obadiah Stane was his father’s partner, his late father’s partner as well, and he’s a bit of a mentor to Tony, although we don’t get a lot of those kinds of scenes that happen. Obadiah is, he’s all weapons all the time and doesn’t have some of the same moral qualms that Tony develops.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

As Tony begins to shift and move toward that life of significance, it causes a rift between him and Obadiah that builds a little bit through the movie. One of the things, I mean, one of my takeaways from this moment, it’s interesting. You and I were talking about this earlier, and we have different takeaways here. My takeaway on this one is something we talked about in the Second Act Significance series, and that is, when you move from your first act to your second act, there can be this belief sometimes that you have to throw the first act out completely, that nothing that happened in that first act is perhaps worthwhile. You have to erase.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

The word that we use, though, is pivot. Pivoting is less drastic than erasing. You pivot, you move into something new. That’s what Tony does. It’s a seismic pivot to be sure, and it causes tensions with Obadiah Stane, but he keeps around things that have been developed in this first act. The thing that he keeps around is what’s called the arc reactor. That’s this renewable energy source that powers his factory, his plant, and it becomes what he can use to power both the magnet in his heart and then what he ends building in this suit for Iron Man. But you had a little bit of a different takeaway from that pivot moment and the trauma it caused in his relationship especially with Obadiah Stane.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Yeah. I mean, I think it’s a both, and. Basically, he doesn’t decide to get out of technology and go make detergent or cookies or whatever or cranes even, or what have you. Something that has nothing to do with technology. I guess cranes can, but he uses that technology like the arc reactor, his vision is to use it for renewable energy. Obviously Obadiah Stane, as we’ll see, sees the arc reactor can be a great source of military weaponry. Even with that piece of technology, they have very different, a yin and yang view of what it can do. So he’s not throwing away his brilliance, his MIT degree, his genius. He’s just channeling his inventiveness in an area that he believes will serve humanity rather than destroy humanity.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I think it’s ethically and morally a massive pivot, almost an erasure. In terms of the technology and his skills, it’s in a sense, the squaring of the circle is it’s almost, to a degree, an erasure in terms of a 180 degrees in his morals and ethics from weapons to serving humanity. In terms of his skills and abilities and what’s happened, the underlying skills and technology and workers and scientists that are needed is probably not that much different. It’s a big pivot in one sense, not such a big pivot in terms of technology and his ability. It’s one of those curious things. It is a both and. It’s an interesting thing to look at.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Yeah. It’s a matter of degree when it comes right down to it. He has another key exchange with his assistant, Pepper Potts, who he’s secretly in love with her, and she’s secretly in love with him, and that will play out over the next several movies in various ways. But he asks her to help him because he learns that Obadiah Stane has been dealing under the table, selling weapons to the folks in the Third Ring perhaps. Just bad actors on the world stage, and he wants her help to stop Obadiah Stane from doing that.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

She won’t do it at first because she’s worried that Tony will be killed. When he asks so that I think who she sees is the old Tony. Oh, well, okay, you want to do this, but… In fact, she says at one point, “If you go down this road again,” like maybe he has done this some time in the past, “It’s not going to turn out well for you.” You haven’t changed, basically, is what’s maybe going on in the back of her head.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

But he tells her this, which changes her mind and she stays, and this is what he says, and that is the clip that we played at the beginning of this episode. That clip of Pepper and Tony having a conversation, that’s what changed her mind that he had changed his spots. That he’s a different Tony Stark than he was before. Here just to revisit what was said at the start of the show, he says to her in part, “I shouldn’t be alive, unless it was for a reason. I’m not crazy, Pepper. I just finally know what I have to do, and I know in my heart it’s right.” Tony Stark’s crucibles have led him to his purpose.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

As we’ve heard from the nearly 100 guests that we’ve had on this podcast, that is a common experience in the real world, R-E-A-L, and it’s the experience here in the reel world, R-E-E-L, for Iron Man.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Yeah, it’s so true, Gary. In that cave in Afghanistan is where he found his purpose. In that cave, he realized, I’m this hedonist that’s making weapons that are destroying people, including Americans. Ho Yinsen, almost like a biblical prophet, gave up his life for him, spoke truth to him. It became clearer and clearer in subsequent scenes, and he realizes that he knows what he has to do. He knows what’s right and what’s wrong. He believes making weapons that destroy people is not what he’s been called to do. He knows what his purpose is, is to use technology to benefit humankind. I think Pepper begins to realize this is a different guy. She always admired, even I think secretly loved the old Tony. Maybe she saw there was some good in there beneath the exterior. But she realizes, this is a different guy. It’s a great scene.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

There’s a scene right around then when Tony has to upgrade his magnetic heart to a new heart that will drive his Iron Man suit, which we’ll see here in a bit. So he asks Pepper, “I need some help here. Can you just get the old heart out? And just remember, don’t touch the wires to the metal rim of my heart, just like the game Operation.” She goes, “Uh, what do you mean?” She’s never played that game. It’s a funny scene because it’s like, oh boy, this is going to be difficult.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Anyway, the heart comes out with a few little close calls, and she ends up putting this heart in a glass trophy case. Written around that heart, she’s got these words, “Proof that Tony Stark has a heart.” She realizes this Tony Stark is different. He does care. He does have a heart. She wouldn’t have given that to him pre-cave. “Tony Stark has a heart.” He would have probably taken that at the time as just this stab in the heart, like you’re mocking me because he wouldn’t have thought he does have a heart. Now, I think he really appreciates the gesture. That’s really a tangible demonstration on Pepper’s part that she sees that Tony Stark is a new man, a new person. It’s just a wonderful scene.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Yeah. Then the rest of the movie plays out with Tony walking out his path to a life of significance. I love this part because you say all the time, Warwick, about taking small steps. Just take one small step and follow it by another small step, and anybody who’s ever watched any Iron Man movie knows that Tony Stark is a prolific tinkerer. He takes lots of small steps when it comes to improving his armor. This is the first set of real armor that he builds to go out on missions. He spends a lot of time taking small steps to perfect his suit of armor then uses it to defeat the Ten Rings, the bad guys in Afghanistan, and then to defeat Obadiah Stane, who has stolen some of the technology, the arc reactor, and built his own armor, and Tony defeats him.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Tony finds out, actually Pepper finds out and tells Tony, that it was Stane who actually not only wanted to take the company over, but ordered the hit on Tony by the Ten Rings. The attack that happened at the start of the movie was ordered and paid for by Obadiah Stane. It’s an interesting point, I had never thought about it before. Tony is not as devastated as you might expect when someone who’s close to you like that is the one who betrays you so viciously.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

One of the beats of the reason why maybe that it’s metaphorically wrapped in the fact of how Tony survived his attack, a magnet to keep shrapnel from entering his heart. He learns in Afghanistan when Ho Yinsen saves him and back in the US as he leverages the power of the arc reactor to build a better magnet the importance of guarding your heart. The importance of guarding his heart. That mindfulness keeps him alive when the shrapnel of betrayal threatens him too. That’s one way to look at it. I know you have another shading of why maybe Obadiah’s terrible, terrible actions don’t hurt him quite so much.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Yeah, I mean, he does guard his heart. The thing about Tony Stark is he may have been a hedonist, self-serving, self-centered, maybe even narcissistic person, but he is a genius. So I don’t know that he’d care, but I think he fully realized that Obadiah Stane was all in about the weapons and killing people and didn’t really care much about anything else. Was he shocked that he betrayed him? Yes. The fact that he was betrayed because Obadiah wanted to make sure we’re all in as a company for weapons sales? That part wouldn’t have surprised him.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

But one of the interesting things about these two characters, and often in great movies you have good versus evil, and so you’ve got a classic battle here in which Obadiah sees technology as ways of making money and killing people and making weapons. It’s all about power and money. It’s not personal. Of course, it is personal when you kill people, but Obadiah doesn’t see it that way. He sees the arc reactor as, hey, we can make lots of Iron Man suits and kill lots of people. What great technology. Tony is thinking, well, this is, we’re going to use this to save people.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

In some really paradox and irony of fate, as I reflected on the movie, in a sense, Obadiah is significantly responsible for Tony Stark becoming the man he does by the end of the movie, a man of character. Because Obadiah is the one that sets him up to be captured by the Ten Rings in Afghanistan. Sometimes bad people overreach. If you just left Tony as this hedonist, then Obadiah could have run the company and made millions or billions of dollars and would have been just fine. But for some reason, he wanted more power, and he didn’t have enough power. We don’t know, we’re only guessing at the back story, and says, it’s not enough for me to totally control the company. I want this Stark kid out of the way. Basically, he thought he was going to be killed was the goal.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

If Obadiah Stane hadn’t overreached, maybe Tony never would have become more of the good guy or at least on a path to living a life of significance, caring about people. Obadiah represents the evil archetype, the bad, and Tony more of the good, and as sometimes happens, the bad guy overreaches and ends up transforming Tony Stark. It’s a fascinating backstory there. I’m sure maybe in hindsight, Obadiah maybe thinks, “Did I really need to do that?” He’s probably not self-aware to realize his own cataclysmic mistake of setting up Tony Stark. It’s a fascinating relationship.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Now, as we said at the outset there, Iron Man is the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who shows up in more movies than anybody, in nine different movies. There are a lot of beats to his story of this arc that we’ve talked about, this arc from only success to significance. Still has success, but also has significance. Living a life on purpose dedicated to serving others. We’re just going to touch on a few of them.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

In the first Avengers movie, for instance, he has an exchange with Captain America. If you remember, listener, from our episode on Captain America a few weeks back, the real superpower of Steve Rodgers, Captain America, is his character. Yes, he has a super solider serum that gives him extraordinary strength and agility, but it’s his just grounded character. Clearly then, when he meets Iron Man, who’s got a little bit more flash to him, there’s some tension there. At one point in the first Avengers movies, Captain America says, “The only thing you really fight for, Stark, is yourself.” You can tell it stings. It leaves a mark on Tony because he looks at someone, now that he’s walking more in integrity, now that he’s walking more outside of the flash and the emptiness, he sees the character all over Captain America. To be told that by someone like that wounds him.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

The two heroes are also at odds in the movie Captain America: Civil War. In fact, the civil war being described is between Team Captain America and Team Iron Man. The disagreement there is whether the government should have oversight powers over the Avengers, over the heroes. Tony, Iron Man, believes that the government should. His reasoning, he’s learned the lessons of his crucible. He’s seen what unchecked power, his weapons distribution, especially when Stane is selling them to bad actors, he realizes the danger that presents to the world, so he’s okay with government supervision. Whereas Cap, who saw government gone awry in World War II with the Nazis, Cap’s like, whoa, we can’t have that. That’s what leads to them being at loggerheads. That’s the fascinating point.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

The whole Captain America, Iron Man relationship throughout their… And both of them have left the Marvel Cinematic Universe. No spoilers here. That, really, we talk a lot about having a team of fellow travelers. I think the Avengers, as a superpower team of fellow travelers, where they make each other better. I don’t think any two characters make each other better more than Iron Man and Captain America. They become a little bit more like each other. Iron Man picks up some of Cap’s character, learns some things like that, and Captain America learns to kind of loosen up a little bit and open his heart perhaps more on his sleeve more than he had before. Is that a fair observation?

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Absolutely. I mean, having colleagues like this where they’re both superheroes. Yes, there’s some difficulties, but they respect each other. I think one of the things that Captain America really points out when he says to Tony Stark, Iron Man, “The only thing you really fight for is yourself,” is that even though Tony Stark has progressed in his character from hedonist playboy to somebody that really is trying to make the world a better place and shift Stark Industries from weapons to technology that will serve humanity, the old man, the old woman sometimes takes a while to die, if you will. So you don’t totally eradicate the old person.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Are there times in which Tony reverts to, hey, it’s all about me? Probably. I think that’s what, again, almost as a biblical prophet role, Captain America is pointing out. One would hope that Tony Stark realizes, yeah, I thought I licked that one, I guess not yet. When you’ve got that kind of personality tendency, it helps to have other people telling you the truth and fighting for you with you, but also, just like Ho Yinsen earlier, Captain America’s telling hard truths. So really, as we go forth in life, even when we think we’re in a pretty good place, you still need those fellow travelers, those truth tellers to tell us things that we don’t want to hear.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Because from my faith perspective, we’re fallen people. We’re prone to stray. Don’t think just because you think you have licked it that you won’t stray again. We’re all human, and so we need people like Captain America in our lives, not so much because he’s a superhero, because of his character and his ability to tell truth in love. It’s just a great lesson that we learned from that relationship between those two characters.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Yes. And as a Marvel Cinematic Universe geek, hello, I do have the Iron Man action figure here during this whole episode, I can’t resist that this is a case not of iron sharpening iron. It’s iron sharpening vibranium. Iron Man’s got a suit of iron, and vibranium is what Captain America’s shield is made out of. Their relationship is definitely iron sharpening vibranium or vibranium sharpening iron at the same time.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Another beat in another movie, in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Tony creates what he describes as a suit of armor around the world. He brings his genius to bear on trying to protect America, his motives are good, he wants to build a suit of armor around the world. But it goes terribly wrong, and it leads to the robot he created developing sentience and it plots the destruction of the world. He’s wracked with guilt over his efforts there.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

But on a positive note, as we move through these other movies, his relationship with Pepper finally develops into love and eventually marriage. By Avengers: Endgame, in fact, they have a daughter. For me, that’s a very beautiful part because Tony is no longer the man who has everything, but no one. It changes him.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Also what changes him and makes him, because he’s gone through these other developments, by the time we get to the introduction of Spider-Man to the Avengers in the latest iteration of Tom Holland playing the character, that when the high school hero joins the Avengers, Thanos, this cosmic villain, wipes out half of the world’s population with a snap of his fingers after he gathers these powerful things from all corners of the universe called the Infinity Stones. That happens in Avengers: Infinity War where he does the snap, and Spider-Man’s one of the people who is vanished. It devastates Tony. It’s a crucible that leaves him depressed, unsure.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

As we sometimes say on the show, Tony Stark sort of, figuratively at least, stays in bed with his head under the covers. He has given up. He gives up the hero game. As other Avengers are looking to try to find a way to undo what Thanos has done, Tony’s living with his family off the grid, and he’s not involved anymore. You said earlier when we were talking about this, that’s kind of the wrong decision to make. We say that all the time. That’s the wrong decision, to live with your head under the covers. Tony has taken his life of significance, he’s put a pin in it himself by doing that.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Yeah, I mean we’ll see later, he pivots a bit. It’s easy to be depressed when terrible things happen. You’ve got to find a way out of it, but I like how his character grows. The old Tony was incapable of having a serious relationship, a serious relationship with a woman. It was just one night stands. Pepper Potts is clearly a highly intelligent, highly capable person who, as much as she really likes and admires part of Tony, is not going to put up with that kind of thing and won’t be… She’s too smart to be in a serious relationship with the old Tony.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So the fact that, as we can see in later Iron Man iterations, that there’s love and marriage and then a child, it shows that he has developed enough that he is capable of loving another person other than himself. Pepper Potts realizes he is because if he wasn’t the person that he became, there’s no way Pepper Potts would have married him. No way she would have put up with it. That’s really a clear marker, affirmation from Pepper, if you will, that he has evolved. Not perfect, but evolved to a point where he is capable of loving another human being other than himself. It is a great moment.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Yeah. That leads us to the final beat really with Iron Man, and that’s in the final Avengers film, Avengers: Endgame. The Avengers get Tony back. He rejoins the team. He reconsiders. Tony rejoins the team to help them reverse Thanos’s snap that wiped out half the globe. The Avengers use time travel to gather the infinity stones for themselves and reverse the snap with a snap of their own. Iron Man, always the tech tinkerer, always the… He builds a gauntlet that’s capable of holding all the stones and snapping again to bring back all those who were lost.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Just in case, this is a good time… This would be a good time to watch on YouTube, if you’re not on YouTube, but we’ll also probably make a clip of this. He builds a gauntlet, and here is the gauntlet with all the infinity stones in it. It drives my dog crazy. Sorry, but there it is. Iron Man’s infinity gauntlet. Right there, he snaps his fingers with this thing on. These are the infinity stones right there. That is what reverses Thanos’s snap and brings back the half of folks who were wiped out all across not just the globe here, but the universe.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

One of those it brings back is Spider-Man, is Peter Parker, who has developed a very, if you remember our conversation, listener, about Spider-Man, he lost his parents when he was young. He lost his uncle Ben as well. He’s a bit of an orphan, raised by surrogate parents for sure, but having a father figure like Tony Stark… I mean, just listen to that sentence based on what we started talking about almost an hour ago. Tony Stark is a father figure. Tony does the snap, but it leaves him gravely ill. Spider-Man does come back and gets to say goodbye to Tony Stark as he lay dying. It’s a beautiful moment.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

To see the guy who started out as everything to live with but nothing to live for, had everything but no one, now he’s got a daughter at home, now he’s got this surrogate son who is devastated by the fact, even as Tony Stark saved his life by snapping that gauntlet. Spider-Man is devastated by the loss of Iron Man. It’s really, really a moving scene and a fabulous ending to this arc of we talk about living a life on purpose dedicated to serving others. Tony Stark does it, and it costs him his life, and he’s okay with that. It’s amazing from who we met at the start of this film.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Yeah, it’s a great point, Gary. Tony Stark has gone from this hedonistic, self-serving playboy to somebody that’s willing to give up his life to literally save humanity. The ultimate sacrifice to bring back his friends. You know you’ve achieved something if, as you’re dying, there are people like Spider-Man, and obviously I’m sure Pepper Potts, who deeply grieve you. It’s a sad day is if you lie dying, people are thinking, “So what? Good riddance. Who cares?” You don’t want to be that person. It is possible to be that person that people think… Maybe not that extreme, but it’s like, well, it’s sad, but oh well. You don’t want oh well to be people’s reactions. Things happen.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Spider-Man’s devastated, and really, going back to the very beginning of the movie with Ho Yinsen, Ho Yinsen sacrifices his life so that Tony Stark could live. Obviously wasn’t Tony’s intention to model that, but in a sense, he modeled his first mentor in Ho Yinsen by giving up his life the way Ho Yinsen did for him. It’s a beautiful… Death can be beautiful, which it’s not really, but it’s a beautiful moment in that sense of modeling what was done for him and being the person who leaves a legacy.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

What did Ho Yinsen say to him before he died? “Don’t waste your life.” What does a not wasted life look like? It’s mourned by a lot of people. There’s a beautiful scene toward the end of Avengers: Endgame, which is Tony Stark’s funeral, and no one really talks or says much of anything, but what we see is every superhero who is still living in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, who’d appeared in any movie in that universe, shows up for his funeral. The camera pans through every one of them. Some of them haven’t been seen but maybe once in an earlier film. It’s this never ending pan shot of all of these characters who are mourning the death of Tony Stark.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Here’s how beautiful it is, and he won’t kill me for saying this because he’s a sensitive kid. My nephew, I watched Endgame with my family, and my nephew was one of them, and he actually wept during that funeral scene because it was so touching to see the way that Tony Stark was remembered. That was his legacy. Everybody he ever encountered, even when the encounters sometimes weren’t great, as you said, sometimes you can backslide in your character, everybody showed up and everybody celebrated who he turned out to be. It was a great ending.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And it’s not just you and I who think that was a great ending. Robert Downey Jr., who surprisingly whose name we have not mentioned in this entire episode yet. Robert Downey Jr., the very excellent actor who played Tony Stark and Iron Man through every one of those nine movies he appeared in in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was asked after Iron Man passed away, he was asked after his arc was over, after Robert Downey Jr.’s arc as the actor playing Iron Man was over and after Iron Man’s arc as a character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was over, the press asked him to reflect on it. This is an exact quote that Robert Downey Jr. gave about how he viewed the arc of Tony Stark and Iron Man. Keep in mind, this is being read right now on a podcast called Beyond the Crucible. Here’s what he said: “For me, the end of this run with Marvel is a complete 180. It started off with someone who was absolutely self-centered, has more money than he can ever spend, is spiritually dead, and has no idea that they’re about to go through a crucible that is going to put them into a position to be of service to their community.”

 

Gary Schneeberger:

When I saw that quote, Warwick, when I found that quote, I found it in a book about what we can learn from superheros to apply to our life in a spiritual sense, the book was written. When I read that quote, I couldn’t… My mouth was agape. I could not believe that that language, coming from Robert Downey Jr., is exactly the kind of thing we talk about on this show and have for more than 120 episodes. It’s absolutely remarkable to me.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

It really is, Gary. Robert Downey Jr., he gets it, at least in this quote certainly, that here you have the arc of this character as much as… It’s probably a bigger arc than any superhero we’ve covered so far of going from a self-centered, hedonistic, narcissistic person, and as he rightly says, spiritually dead, to going through a crucible where he does serve his community, he does serve humanity. He becomes somebody that cares about other people, is capable of having a serious relationship, both with friends, fellow travelers, like Captain America and other superheros, as well as Pepper Potts, who becomes his wife and he has a child with.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

It’s just an amazing arc of his character that he goes through, and I guess as we reflect on this, we all have a choice in life, and I guess one thought would be is, who do you want to be? Do you want to be Tony Stark, the successful, wealthy, hedonist person that has no purpose, no roots, no core? Or the Tony Stark that still has success, he’s not poverty-stricken. He still has money. Money’s not wrong per se, but he has significance. He has purpose, and he’s loved by his teammates, his fellow superheroes. He’s loved by Pepper, and I’m sure he’s loved by his child, their daughter. Which Tony do you want to be?

 

Warwick Fairfax:

We all get to make a choice in life. We get to make that choice of which Tony Stark we want to be. We won’t all have a lot of money. That’s not always up to us to choose, but we can choose our legacy. We can choose our character. Those are choices we can make and we are responsible for. It’s such a great quote, and Iron Man is just such a great character, not just because of the technology, but the arc that his character goes through. People like Captain America and Pepper Potts and Ho Yinsen, all these people that really help him in his journey. It’s just an amazing story.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

That, Warwick, was a super heroic way to wrap up this episode. I don’t have to say anything more. I was going to go into, here’s some reflection points, but you just gave the best reflection point there is. Which Tony Stark do you want to be? Who do you want to model your life after? Not that we want to model our life after superheros all the time, but do you want to be someone who has everything but nothing, as well? Or do you want to have both? Do you want to have everything that really matters? That’s where it ends up for Iron Man in the arc of all the films he appears in in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His legacy is all those people attending his funeral when he is laid to rest.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

As we lay this episode of Beyond the Crucible to rest, listener, thank you for spending time with us in this second to last episode. I’m sad that it’s going to end. I want to extend it farther. The second to last episode of Lights, Camera, Crucible is about what we can learn from movie heroes about overcoming setbacks and failures. Next week, if you want to prepare for our conversation, we’re going to finish up with not a superhero, but a sports hero in the movie Hoosiers, which is a fantastic, inspirational movie about a small town Indiana basketball team that decimates the odds against them and goes on to great success. The coach finds some great significance. That’s next week’s episode.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Until we get there, until that time arrives, listener, please know that we understand that your crucible experiences are difficult. We understand that they’re painful. But we also understand through our own experiences and the experiences of those we’ve interviewed on this show and what we just unpacked about Tony Stark and Iron Man, that if you learn the lessons of your crucibles, if you apply them to your life moving forward, it’s not the end of your story by far. It’s the beginning of a new chapter in your story that can lead you to the best destination possible, and that destination is a life of significance.