In the continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Tony Stark was born to Howard and Maria Stark. His childhood was characterized by a cold and affectionless relationship with his father, who was already famous as an inventor. He was also a child prodigy, graduating from MIT, summa cum laude, at age 17. Stark’s parents died in a car accident (later revealed to be an assassination) on December 16, 1991, and Stark inherited his father’s company, becoming CEO of Stark Industries. Over the years, he became well-known as a weapons designer, inventor, and lived a playboy lifestyle. At the end of 1999, he attended a conference in Bern where he met scientists Maya Hansen, inventor of the Extremisexperimental regenerative treatment, and Aldrich Killian, rejecting an offer to work for Killian’s Advanced Idea Mechanics.
In the mid-2000s, Stark travels to war-torn Afghanistan with his friend and military liaison Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes to demonstrate Stark’s new “Jericho” missile. After the demonstration, the convoy is ambushed and Stark is critically wounded, captured and imprisoned by a terrorist group, the Ten Rings. Fellow captive Yinsen, a doctor, implants an electromagnet into Stark’s chest to keep the shrapnel shards that wounded him from reaching his heart and killing him. Ten Rings leader Raza offers Stark freedom in exchange for building a Jericho missile for the group, but Tony and Yinsen agree Raza will not keep his word. Stark and Yinsen secretly build a small, powerful electric generator called an arc reactor to power Stark’s electromagnet and a suit of powered armor. The Ten Rings discover their hostages’ intentions and attack the workshop. Yinsen sacrifices himself to divert them while the suit is completed. The armored Stark battles his way out of the cave to find the dying Yinsen, then burns the Ten Rings’ weapons in anger and flies away, crashing in the desert. Stark is rescued by Rhodes and returns home to announce that his company will no longer manufacture weapons. Obadiah Stane, his father’s old partner and the company’s manager, advises Stark that this may ruin Stark Industries and his father’s legacy. With the aid of his computer J.A.R.V.I.S., Stark secretly builds a sleeker, more powerful version of his improvised armor suit, as well as a more powerful arc reactor for his chest.
At a Stark Industries charity event, reporter Christine Everhart informs Stark that his company’s weapons were being used by the Ten Rings to attack Yinsen’s home village, Gulmira. Stark learns that Stane has been arms trafficking to criminals worldwide, and is staging a coup to replace him as Stark Industries’ CEO. Stark dons his new armor and flies to Afghanistan, where he saves the villagers. While flying home, Stark is shot at by two F-22 Raptor fighter jets, forcing him to call Rhodes and reveal his secret identity. Stane acquires the wreckage of Stark’s prototype from the Ten Rings, and has a massive new suit reverse engineered. Stane’s scientists cannot duplicate Stark’s miniaturized arc reactor, so Stane ambushes Stark at his home and takes the one from his chest. Stark manages to get to his original reactor to replace it. Stark fights Stane, but is outmatched without his new reactor. While fighting Stane atop the Stark Industries building, Stark instructs Potts to overload the large arc reactor powering the building, unleashing a massive electrical surge that kills Stane. The next day, at a press conference, Stark defies suggestions from S.H.I.E.L.D. and publicly admits to being the superhero the press has dubbed “Iron Man”. S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury then visits Stark at home, telling him that Iron Man is not “the only superhero in the world”, and explaining that he wants to discuss the “Avenger Initiative”.
In Russia, Ivan Vanko sees media covers Stark’s disclosure of his identity as Iron Man, and begins building his own miniature arc reactor. Six months later,[N 1] Stark has become a superstar and uses his Iron Man suit for peaceful means, resisting government pressure to sell his designs. He reinstitutes the Stark Expo to continue his father’s legacy, but discovers that the palladium core in the arc reactor that keeps Stark alive and powers the armor is slowly poisoning him. Growing increasingly reckless and despondent about his impending death, Stark appoints Pepper Potts CEO of Stark Industries, and hires Stark employee Natalie Rushman to replace her as his personal assistant. Stark competes in the Monaco Historic Grand Prix, and is attacked mid-race by Vanko, who wields electrified whips. Stark dons his Mark V armor and defeats Vanko, but the suit is severely damaged. Vanko explains his intent to prove to the world that Iron Man is not invincible. Stark’s rival, Justin Hammer, fakes Vanko’s death while breaking him out of prison and asks him to build armored suits to upstage Stark. At his birthday party, Stark gets drunk while wearing the Mark IV suit. Rhodes dons Stark’s Mark II prototype armor and tries to restrain him. The fight ends in a stalemate, so Rhodes confiscates the Mark II for the U.S. Air Force.
Nick Fury reveals that “Rushman” is Agent Natasha Romanoff, that Howard Stark was a S.H.I.E.L.D. founder whom Fury knew personally, and that Vanko’s father Anton jointly invented the arc reactor with Howard Stark, but tried to sell it for profit. Howard Stark had Anton deported, and the Soviets sent him to the gulag. Stark discovers a hidden message in the diorama of the 1974 Stark Expo, a diagram of the structure of a new element, which Stark synthesizes. When he learns Vanko is still alive, he places the new element in his arc reactor and ends his palladium dependency. At the Expo, Hammer unveils Vanko’s armored drones, led by Rhodes in a heavily weaponized version of the Mark II armor. Stark arrives in the Mark VI armor to warn Rhodes, but Vanko remotely takes control of both the drones and Rhodes’ armor and attacks Iron Man. After Romanoff is able to return control of the Mark II armor to Rhodes, Stark and Rhodes together defeat Vanko and his drones. At a debriefing, Fury informs Stark that because of Stark’s difficult personality, S.H.I.E.L.D. intends to use him only as a consultant. Stark and Rhodes receive medals for their heroism. Stark’s involvement in the Avengers initiative is evidenced by his approaching General Thaddeus Ross in a bar shortly after Ross’s latest failure to capture the Hulk, informing Ross that a team is being put together.
Formation of the Avengers
Several months later, in response to an attack by the Asgardian Loki, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson visits Stark to have him review the research of Erik Selvig on the Tesseract. In Stuttgart, Stark, along with Captain America (Steve Rogers) and Romanoff, confront Loki, who surrenders. Thor arrives and frees Loki, but after a confrontation with Stark and Rogers, agrees to take Loki to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying aircraft carrier, the Helicarrier. The Avengers become divided over how to approach Loki and the revelation that S.H.I.E.L.D. plans to harness the Tesseract to develop weapons. Agents possessed by Loki attack the Helicarrier, and Loki escapes. Stark and Rogers realize that Loki needs to overpower them publicly to validate himself as ruler of Earth. Loki uses the Tesseract to open a wormhole above Stark Tower in New York City. A Chitauri fleet in space invades through the wormhole, and Stark and the others rally in defense of the city. Fury’s superiors from the World Security Council attempt to end the invasion by launching a nuclear missile at Midtown Manhattan. Stark intercepts the missile, and in an apparent sacrifice of his own life, takes it through the wormhole toward the Chitauri fleet. The missile detonates, destroying the Chitauri mothership and disabling their forces on Earth. Stark’s suit runs out of power, and he falls back through the wormhole but the Hulk saves him from crashing into the ground.
Aftermath of the Battle of New York
Following the battle, Adrian Toomes and his salvage company contract to clean up the city, but their operation is taken over by the Department of Damage Control (D.O.D.C.), a partnership between Stark and the U.S. government. An enraged Toomes persuades his employees to keep Chitauri technology they have already scavenged to create advanced weapons. Stark develops PTSD from his experiences during the alien invasion, resulting in panic attacks. Restless, he builds several dozen Iron Man suits, creating friction with girlfriend Pepper Potts. When Happy Hogan is badly injured in one of a string of bombings by a terrorist known only as the Mandarin, Stark issues a televised threat to the Mandarin, who destroys Stark’s home with helicopter gunships. Maya Hansen, who came to warn Stark, survives the attack along with Potts. Stark escapes in an Iron Man suit, which J.A.R.V.I.S. pilots to rural Tennessee, following a flight plan from Stark’s investigation into the Mandarin. Stark’s experimental armor lacks sufficient power to return to California, and the world believes him dead.
Stark investigates the remains of a local explosion bearing the hallmarks of a Mandarin attack. He discovers the “bombings” were triggered by soldiers subjected to Hansen’s Extremis, with the explosions being falsely attributed to a terrorist plot in order to cover up Extremis’s flaws. Stark traces the Mandarin to Miami and infiltrates his headquarters using improvised weapons. He discovers the Mandarin is actually an English actor named Trevor Slattery, who is oblivious to the actions carried out in his image; Killian, who appropriated Hansen’s Extremis research as a cure for his own disability and expanded the program to include injured war veterans, is the real Mandarin. After capturing Stark, Killian shows him Potts (whom he had kidnapped) being subjected to Extremis, in order to gain Stark’s aid to fix Extremis’s flaws and thus save Potts.
Stark escapes and reunites with Rhodes, discovering that Killian intends to attack President Ellis aboard Air Force One. Stark saves the surviving passengers and crew but cannot stop Killian from abducting Ellis and destroying Air Force One. Killian intends to kill Ellis on an oil platform on live television. On the platform, Stark goes to save Potts, as Rhodes saves the president. Stark summons his Iron Man suits, controlled remotely by J.A.R.V.I.S., to provide air support. Potts, having survived the Extremis procedure, kills Killian. Stark orders J.A.R.V.I.S. to remotely destroy all of the Iron Man suits as a sign of his devotion to Potts, and undergoes surgery to remove the shrapnel embedded near his heart. He pitches his obsolete chest arc reactor into the sea, musing that he will always be Iron Man.
Creation of Ultron
Some months later, Stark and the Avengers raid a Hydra facility commanded by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, who has been experimenting on siblings Pietro and Wanda Maximoffusing the scepter previously wielded by Loki. While the team fights outside, Stark enters the lab to retrieve the scepter, and finds it, along with Chitauri ships from the Battle of New York and androids under construction. Wanda sneaks up behind him and uses her mind manipulation powers to give him a haunting vision: the rest of the Avengers dead or dying on a dark world in space, with the Captain’s shield broken in half on the ground. Rogers warns him “You could have saved us” before dying, and his words “Why didn’t you do more?” are heard. He then sees a massive fleet of Chitauri ships fly into a gigantic portal leading to Earth. Stark awakens from the vision, and grabs Loki’s scepter with resolve.
Returning to Stark Tower, Stark and Bruce Banner discover an artificial intelligence within the scepter’s gem, and secretly decide to use it to complete Stark’s “Ultron” global defense program. The unexpectedly sentient Ultron, believing he must eradicate humanity to save Earth, eliminates Stark’s A.I. J.A.R.V.I.S. and attacks the Avengers at Stark Tower. Escaping with the scepter, Ultron builds an army of robot drones, kills Strucker, recruits the Maximoffs, who hold Stark responsible for their parents’ deaths by his company’s weapons, and goes to the base of arms dealer Ulysses Klaue to obtain Wakandan vibranium. The Avengers attack Ultron, but Wanda subdues most of the team with personalized, disturbing visions, causing Banner to transform into the Hulk and rampage until Stark stops him with his anti-Hulk armor.1
After hiding at a safe house for a time, Nick Fury arrives and encourages Stark and the others to form a plan to stop Ultron, who is discovered to have forced the team’s friend Dr. Helen Cho to perfect a new body for him. The Maximoffs turn against Ultron when Wanda’s powers reveal his plan to destroy humanity. Rogers, Romanoff, and Barton find Ultron and retrieve the synthetic body, but Ultron captures Romanoff. Returning to their headquarters in New York, the Avengers fight amongst themselves when Stark secretly uploads J.A.R.V.I.S.—who is still operational after hiding from Ultron inside the Internet—into the synthetic body. Thor returns to help activate the body, explaining that the gem on its brow—one of the six Infinity Stones, the most powerful objects in existence—was part of his vision. This “Vision” and the Maximoffs accompany Stark and the Avengers to Sokovia, where Ultron has used the remaining vibranium to build a machine to lift part of the capital city skyward, intending to crash it into the ground to cause global extinction. One of Ultron’s drones is able to activate the machine. The city plummets, but Stark and Thor overload the machine and shatter the landmass. The Avengers establish a new base, and Stark leaves the team in the hands of Rogers and Romanoff.
Aftermath of the Battle of Sokovia
Some months after the Battle of Sokovia, U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross informs the Avengers that the United Nations (UN) is preparing to pass the Sokovia Accords, which will establish UN oversight of the team. The Avengers are divided: Stark supports oversight because of his role in Ultron’s creation and Sokovia’s devastation, while Rogers has more faith in his own judgment than that of a government. Circumstances lead to Rogers and fellow super-soldier Bucky Barnes (who has been framed for a terrorist attack) going rogue, along with Sam Wilson, Maximoff, Clint Barton, and Scott Lang. Stark assembles a team composed of Romanoff, T’Challa, Rhodes, Vision, and Peter Parker to capture the renegades at Leipzig/Halle Airport. Rogers and Barnes to escape. Stark learns that Barnes was framed and convinces Wilson to give him Rogers’ destination. Without informing Ross, Stark goes to the Siberian Hydra facility and strikes a truce with Rogers and Barnes. They find that the other super-soldiers have been killed by Baron Zemo, who plays footage that reveals that Barnes killed Stark’s parents. Stark turns on them, dismembering Barnes’ robotic arm. After an intense fight, Rogers finally manages to disable Stark’s armorand departs with Barnes, leaving his shield behind. Stark returns to New York, where he works to build Rhodes exoskeletal leg braces that allow him to walk again.
Peter Parker resumes his high school studies when Stark tells him he is not yet ready to become a full Avenger. Parker continues his local crime-fighting activities as Spider-Man, and is rescued by Stark from nearly drowning after an encounter with Adrian Toomes. Stark warns him against further involvement with the criminals. Another weapon from Toomes malfunctions during a fight with Parker and tears the Staten Island Ferry in half. Stark helps Parker save the passengers before admonishing him for his recklessness and confiscating his suit. Parker realizes Toomes is planning to hijack a D.O.D.C. plane transporting weapons from Stark Tower to the team’s new headquarters. Parker thwarts the plan and saves Toomes from an explosion, but declines an invitation from Stark to join the Avengers full-time.
Concept and creation
Favreau felt Downey’s past made him an appropriate choice for the part, and that the actor could make Stark a “likable asshole,” but also depict an authentic emotional journey once he won over the audience. Favreau was also attracted to Downey from his performance in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, with Downey frequently conversing with that film’s director, Shane Black, about the script and dialogue in Iron Man. Downey had an office next to Favreau during pre-production, which allowed him greater involvement in the screenwriting process, especially adding humor to the film. Downey explained, “What I usually hate about these [superhero] movies [is] when suddenly the guy that you were digging turns into Dudley Do-Right, and then you’re supposed to buy into all his ‘Let’s go do some good!’ That Eliot Ness-in-a-cape-type thing. What was really important to me was to not have him change so much that he’s unrecognizable. When someone used to be a schmuck and they’re not anymore, hopefully they still have a sense of humor.” To prepare, Downey spent five days a week weight training and practiced martial arts to get into shape, which he said benefited him because “it’s hard not to have a personality meltdown […] after about several hours in that suit. I’m calling up every therapeutic moment I can think of to just get through the day.