Character Progression In Iron Man

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So this weekend David and I went and saw Iron Man 3. David will be discussing the movie in comparison to the comics later this week. What I want to look at is the character progression of Tony Stark and Pepper Potts from Iron Man to Iron Man 3 (including the Avengers). I just feel that Tony and Pepper as individuals and as a couple have had an interesting progression over the various movies and wanted to explore that.

Through the first Iron Man alone Tony Stark makes huge transformation in who he is. The root of who he is does not change, but he still changes. Pepper also progresses through the movies. Even the little bit we see in the Avengers definitely shows Pepper’s character moving forward. (Spoilers to follow for Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Avengers, and Iron Man 3).

Iron Man

Obviously in the first movie it is a no brainer that Tony Stark would have some character progression. If he didn’t it would not be much of a movie. We see Tony at first as the leader in weapons manufacturing. He is egotistical, narcissistic, and in many ways is too smart for his own good. The initial impact of being kidnapped and seeing the terrorists having a stockpile of his weapons shocks Tony. He may be a weapons manufacturer, but he sold his weapons to the United States Armed Forces and did not want to see those same weapons in the hands of the enemies they were fighting.

He may have joked about the fact that peace would put him out of business, but he did think he was protecting people. When he was actually faced with and lived through the damage that his weapons caused he no longer wanted to be a part of creating weapons. He had been wandering aimlessly before, just following in his father’s footsteps, but suddenly he had a focus. He had something to work toward. The partying, the lifestyle was not as important as being able to do the right thing. He did not stop being a little insufferable, but at least he had something important to focus on.

During this same movie we are introduced to Pepper Potts, the one woman who will call Tony on his bullshit. Some people feel like Pepper is a flat character in Iron Man put in solely in relation to Tony, at the same time Tony is Iron Man so considering the movie it makes sense. In this movie she is his assistant, but at the same time she obviously cares about him even though she understands that he is a partier and a player. I think she understands that he is not a bad person, just kind of broken.

Even though at the beginning she is just his assistant, by the end I think they end up equal. She is not the genius that he is, but she is smart enough to know when he is not being entirely honest and to call him on stuff. I think it is what makes the start of their relationship work is that he can get any woman he wants and has, but Pepper will not be gotten so easily.

Iron Man 2

Now Iron Man 2 was not as good as the other movies, but I think they still kept moving the character progression forward. Tony was having to deal with his father issues and with the potential of dying because the electromagnet was poisoning him. Early on Tony has almost given up, he basically thinks that he is going to end up dying. He is holding it at bay, but he goes on a binge and lets Rhodes get one of the suits, which it is obvious it is on purpose. Of course after the big show of not wanting the suit to end up with the military he couldn’t just give it to them. So he gives up the suit, makes Pepper CEO of Stark Industries, and starts ostracizing most people.

About this time Nick Fury shows up, basically calls Tony a whiny bitch who has given up, and puts a fire under him to start getting him moving. Some of it is actually the legacy that his father left him of figuring out a sustainable energy source. It is the arc reactor, but without all the nasty side effects that are happening. He does not completely move past all of his issues with his father, but it definitely bridges some of the separation that Tony has always had.

As mentioned before Pepper becomes CEO of Stark Industries. She goes from assistant to Tony to leading the company. Now again the movie is not about her so we are not looking at her story, but I thought it was awesome to see Pepper become the lead of the organization. Considering how rare it is that something like that actually happens in the real world, it is fantastic to see it in a fictional one. She still cares for Tony, but is always willing to walk away when his shenanigans become too much. She never truly leaves him, but is not going to just sit around while he decides to self-destruct.


This is an interesting one to look at because it is not a movie about Iron Man. This is the introduction to the team of heroes, the problem being that none of them know how to work in a team. Tony in particular has never really played well with others and is put in a team with all these other heroes – with an organization that he does not really trust – and you get some fun moments. Captain America is often reminding Tony that he is a loner and will not make the tough call, which is how Tony comes off. No matter if others know that he really tries to do the right thing, he keeps his air of nonchalance and ego about. It can be hard to see past those items.

Watching the other movies Tony has made tough calls before, but he has only risked his own life. He is often trying to destroy a single enemy instead of attempting to destroy a whole army. Even in Iron Man 2 once he destroyed the main enemy the robots would not be as important. In Avengers the problem is bigger than him and takes everyone working together to try and solve the problem. In the end Tony makes the power play, he even called Pepper because I am pretty sure that he did not think he was going to survive getting rid of the nuclear weapon. It takes a certain person to risk their own life to save others and I am positive Tony was not that person in the first Iron Man.

Pepper is only in the Avengers for a short amount of time. Tony and her have gotten the new Stark Tower up and running. Pepper as head of the company is still traveling a lot and making sure business keeps running while Tony keeps being brilliant. I think in the Avengers that Pepper was more confident in her role and it was great to see that she had a life outside of Tony that even he didn’t know about. Still not putting up with any of his crap and making sure that he deals with the things that need to be dealt with.

It is such a short moment, but Pepper and Tony balance each other out so well. She is calm and level headed, while he is eccentric and often speaks before he thinks. He might be a genius, but somehow she still gets him to do things. It was really nice to see their relationship keep moving forward.

Iron Man 3

The thing I really loved about this movie is the fact that it harkened back to the first Iron Man movie. In the first movie Tony got broken down and in this movie we see the after-effects of the events in the Avengers. Tony has been fighting bad guys, but had not really been in a war before. In this movie he was finally vulnerable, his guard dropped because almost being trapped in space and falling from the sky broke something inside of him. He lost some of his swagger, he had to learn how to live in this world knowing what was out there.

Now in true Tony fashion even in his lowest moments he was still a snarky, egotistical genius, but one who understood that he could die. When he has to penetrate the home of the Mandarin without a suit it terrifies him, but out of the mouth of a child comes the answer. Tony is a genius he can invent almost anything. He built a suit when he was trapped in a cave in the desert. How much more can he do now that he is out in the world? In many ways I think that is the turning point for Tony. He does not need his suit because he can just build something new and invent and out think. (Even though an army of Iron Man suits had to be the coolest thing ever).

In the third edition it is great to really see some progress with Pepper. Tony and she are obviously together and she is one of his biggest weaknesses. He is not only worried about his own safety, but hers. At the same time he is often the reason she is in danger; she stays with him anyways. Early on it is great when the building is falling apart and he puts her in the Iron Man suit and she is using it to get herself and another scientist out of the building. In this movie she does get captured and even injected with a potentially deadly human enhancement called Extremis.

Now the end of the movie is where you get such a great moment with Pepper. Pepper, level headed, rational, has been an amazing CEO for Stark Industries. Now she has been injected with Extremis which if her body rejects it could make her turn into a human bomb. At the same time she ends up pulling off an awesome move to kill off the Mandarin – then afterwards mentioning how violent it was. The experience she has helps her to understand Tony a little bit better.

This is just touching on the character arc that Pepper and Tony have gone through, but I really like that they have kept their characters moving forward. Even though obviously Pepper is not the focus of the movies she is still important in the world of Tony Stark. One of the few people who will not let him get away with things and is not willing to let him make excuses.

6 responses to “Character Progression In Iron Man

  1. Great idea for a post. After seeing Iron Man 3, I re-visited the first Iron Man for the first time in a while, and really marveled at how far Tony and Pepper (especially Pepper) have come since the beginning of the franchise. I recently e-watched Iron Man for the first time in a while.

    Your take on their respective progression and development is pretty right on. Good job.


  2. Oops. I meant to delete that “I recently re-watched Iron Man for the first time in a while” sentence. Doh! Score one for redundancy!


  3. Interesting synopsis. I’ve got to say though, Pepper’s moment of violence in the end seems a bit of a stretch, but it works so well in the story, the reason you mentioned above being one of them, I don’t mind that stretch too much.

    I really haven’t focused on Pepper’s growth, may have to rewatch and track. Tony’s has been a fun ride and I love seeing where we ends up in this latest movie.


    • I agree that her outburst is a stretch, at the same time there is a question whether a part of the side effect of the process is making you violent. All the people who were injected with Extremis seemed to be really violent, but there could be other reasons for that.

      I still love though that she gets to be a successful female CEO.


  4. Pingback: Iron Man 3 and Iron Man Extremis: A LitFlix | Comparative Geeks

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