SYFY WIRE's Infinity War Roundup is your go-to guide for everything you need to know about Marvel's massive superhero crossover, Avengers: Infinity War. In the weeks leading up to Infinity War's April 27 premiere, SYFY WIRE will be rounding up every important character arc and plot detail you need to know from the past 10 years and 18 movies.
Today's first entry deals with the characters from the film that started it all — Iron Man.
Let's take a look at the MCU lives of Tony Stark, Pepper Potts, James "Rhodey" Rhodes, and Happy Hogan thus far.
TONY STARK/IRON MAN (ROBERT DOWNEY, JR.)
Fair warning: As the fun, drunk uncle of the MCU and the man who started it all, this is going to be a long one.
The son of Howard and Maria Stark, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) was a genius/billionaire/playboy who inherited his father's weapons manufacturing company. He was down with the mixed morality of this company and his carefree lifestyle until he was wounded by one of the very weapons his company created and abducted by terrorists (insult to injury). In order to prevent a tiny piece of shrapnel from working its way to his heart, Tony created a miniature version of a clean energy source called the arc reactor and placed it in the center of his chest. To escape his captors, he created the first Iron Man suit and powered it with the miniature arc reactor.
He did this in a cave, with a box of scraps. He's that good.
Returning to the world, Tony announced that his company, Stark Industries, would no longer manufacture weapons. He also got to work refining the Iron Man suit and prevented further terrorist activities. After a run-in with his father's former business partner and long-time friend Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), Tony blurted out the truth of his iron-clad identity at a press conference, famously announcing, "I am Iron Man" at the end of the MCU's first movie, Iron Man (2008).
In the first of the soon-to-be-infamous MCU post-credit scenes, Tony met Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fury told Tony that he wanted to discuss something called "The Avengers Initiative." (Hello, foreshadowing.)
Stark appeared next in the post-credits tag of The Incredible Hulk (2008), where he not only confirmed that film's link with Iron Man but also told General "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) that they were putting a special team together.
In the MCU timeline, though, which isn't always chronological, that little meeting with Ross happened after the events of Iron Man 2 (2010), in which Tony was living large and had given new life to "The Stark Expo" in an effort to rebrand his name and strengthen his own legacy. Unfortunately for him, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian madman whose father had worked with Tony's, was also looking to strengthen his own legacy, and through less virtuous means.
Vanko vowed vengeance on Tony because of what Tony's father did to his father. As you'll soon find out, daddy issues and vengeance are common threads in Tony's interactions with other people.
Throughout Iron Man 2, audiences watched Tony struggle with the reality that his arc reactor (the thing that had kept him alive) was slowly poisoning him. So he started acting out. His behavior deteriorated to the point where he got wasted at his own birthday party and urinated inside the Iron Man suit. His best friend, Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle), took matters into his own hands and put on one of the older Iron Man suits, and the two of them proceeded to beat the hell out of each other and the party guests were scared off. Rhodey flew off with the suit and delivered it to the U.S. Air Force, where Tony's long-time rival and Vanko's sugar daddy Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) weaponized it for them. And thus, War Machine was born.
Tony then juggled many things at once — Nick Fury's watchful eye, Fury's spy Natasha "Black Widow" Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson), a strained relationship with Pepper, and having to create a new element for his arc reactor in an attempt to stop dying (remember, he's a genius). With help from his digital A.I. assistant JARVIS (voiced by Paul Bettany), Tony succeeded just in time to stop Vanko from killing everyone at the Expo during Hammer's presentation. Tony and Rhodey dealt with Vanko's Hammer-drones gone rogue, they took down Vanko himself, and Tony had his first kiss with Pepper.
Fury read Romanoff's report on Tony at the end of the film (in the background of these scenes, news footage shows the middle of The Incredible Hulk happening), and the conclusion was that they only wanted Tony as a consultant.
Though he was just a consultant, Tony was drafted into service fairly quickly in The Avengers (2012), which found him and Pepper putting the finishing touches on Stark Tower in the middle of New York City. Tony soon met his fellow science-bro Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), as well as Steve Rogers (Chris Evans). Tony and Steve had some friction at first, but they learned to get along... for a while.
Tony was highly instrumental in the Battle of New York, and even pulled a "sacrifice play" with a missile in the climax of the film. He managed to survive, but the experience stayed with him.
Iron Man 3 saw Tony dealing with major PTSD after the events of The Avengers, constantly trying to make sense of alien attacks, a giant portal in the sky, and his own near-death experience. He was living with Pepper, but most of his attention was given to tinkering with new Iron Man suits — at this point, he pretty much had an entire museum full of them.
It was here that Tony showed his true mettle, or "iron," if you'll pardon us. Suit or no suit, Tony stepped up to the challenge of taking a terrorist on one-on-one. He uncovered the Mandarin plot, which was really the work of Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a scientist that Tony mocked and played a trick on during his drunken playboy days. Killian's plot for world domination involved a new substance called Extremis, but thanks to Tony, Rhodey, Pepper, and JARVIS controlling all of Tony's suits at once, the day was won.
Somewhat at peace for once, Tony had JARVIS detonate all of the suits. He also decided to finally have the shrapnel piece removed from his body, which meant no more in-body arc reactor.
Though he seemed to be well adjusted, Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) undid that rather quickly. While helping the Avengers to stamp out what was left of HYDRA, Tony was given a vision from Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) in which he saw a world torn to ruins and all of his fellow heroes dead. He became obsessed with the idea of "peace in our time," and together with Banner, he created an A.I. that was meant to be the ultimate alien deterrent. They name it Ultron.
Ultron turned against everyone almost immediately and the new mission became stopping Ultron from destroying the world. Tony and Steve had another argument, and Tony made the grand decision to fight against Ultron by creating... wait for it... another A.I.-driven robot. With the recovered Mind Gem, JARVIS, and a synthetic body created by Ultron, Tony and Banner (with a little thunderous help from Chris Hemsworth's Thor) managed to create the Vision (also Paul Bettany).
Alongside an even bigger team of Avengers, Tony contributed to stopping Ultron's evil plans in the city of Sokovia. The city was destroyed, but the world was saved. He created a new Avengers facility in upstate New York (moving them from his converted NYC Stark Tower) and he ended the movie, supposedly, at peace.
Except, once again, not really.
Captain America: Civil War (2016) depicted a Tony who was insanely guilt-ridden over the deaths in Sokovia, and he was even taking a break from his relationship with Pepper. He clashed with Cap (again) over the idea of the Sokovia Accords, which would give the government oversight on the actions of the Avengers — Tony was for it, Cap not so much. If Tony had been through the events of Cap's previous film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, maybe he would have seen things differently. But, alas, Tony and Cap don't seem to talk too much outside of occasional Avengers team-ups, so he didn't get the full download.
The heroes all took different sides in the escalating feud between Steve and Tony, and Tony even recruited a young web-slinger named Peter Parker (Tom Holland) to help him out. After the teams battled it out at an airport in Berlin, Tony and Cap discovered that their entire feud was mostly orchestrated by a Sokovian named Zemo, who wanted revenge on the Avengers for the events of Age of Ultron.
Zemo had one final truth-bomb, however— he revealed that the brainwashed Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) killed Tony's parents many years ago. Remember that thing about daddy issues and revenge? It's back with a vengeance.
Tony wanted to take the former Winter Soldier out, but Cap couldn't let him kill his best friend. The three of them went at it in horrifying fashion — Tony ripped off Bucky's metal arm and he almost got the upper hand on Cap. Steve "I can do this all day" Rogers ultimately bested him, and when Tony told him that his father made Cap's famous Vibranium shield and that Cap wasn't worthy of it, Cap dropped it to the floor before leaving with Bucky.
Despite the civil war, Steve "heart of gold" Rogers sent Tony a letter at the end of the film in which he promised he'd be there if Tony ever needed his help. He included a little burner phone with the letter that, supposedly, is a straight line from Tony to Cap. That's an offer that will come in pretty handy when Thanos invades Earth in Infinity War.
But we're not done yet. Remember, Tony's the MCU's fun, drunk uncle, but he's been busy for the past nine years of MCU films, and his character development has never been more apparent than it is in the next installment.
Tony seemed to be a little better off when he appeared in Spider-Man: Homecoming, where he played the mentor figure to a 15-year-old Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man. He didn't want him to go too far too fast, and he definitely did not want him to be a full-on Avenger yet. He helped Peter when he could, and scolded him when he needed to. He surprised even himself when he "sounds like his father" at one point, but he ultimately rewarded Peter with a new suit (and membership in the Avengers) after Peter took out Vulture and saved most of the dangerous technology from the former Avengers Tower. Peter refused the offer, so Tony needed something else to present to an already assembled press conference. He proposed (badly) to Pepper, and we are led to believe that he was going to announce their engagement.
Whew! That was a lot, but as we said, Tony's been in this from the start. What's most important to know here is this: he's technically still fighting with Cap, but he does have a secret cell phone that can get in touch with Cap if Tony really needs him. He's in possession of a much nicer Spidey-suit (that seems tailor-made for Peter), and he is likely engaged to Pepper. He's also caring for Rhodey, but we'll get into that in a bit.
VIRGINIA "PEPPER" POTTS (GWYNETH PALTROW)
Tony would be even more of a mess than he already is without Pepper by his side. Look no further than his behavior in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War when she's not around and in his life for proof of that.
Pepper began as Tony's assistant — she did his errands, kept his company afloat, and kicked women out of his house once the sun came up. She was overjoyed when Tony returned from his abduction, and though she joked that her tears were those of joy because she hates job hunting, it was clear that she cared deeply for him.
She helped Tony replace his first miniature arc reactor (putting her hand waaaaay inside of his chest) and then gifted him the old one, with an inscription that read, "Proof that Tony Stark has a heart." It's a really good thing that she didn't throw the thing away as Tony instructed, because it ended up saving Tony's life in the first film. Pepper was also critical in Tony meeting S.H.I.E.L.D., as she is the one who initially met Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg).
Tony made Pepper the CEO of Stark Industries in Iron Man 2, and his erratic behavior put a strain on their friendship. He didn't make her aware of his near-death state, which caused a lot of confusion between them. When she finally found out, she was worried — but mostly furious that he had kept it from her. After he saved her from an exploding Hammer-drone, the two shared their first kiss.
Pepper appeared briefly in The Avengers, helping Tony get Stark Tower online, and seemed more interested in the Avengers Initiative than Tony was. She also, conveniently, kept in touch with Agent Coulson, which rankled Tony. When Tony started to make his sacrificial move at the film's end, JARVIS tried to get her on the line... but she didn't realize that her phone was ringing. Luckily, Tony lived, but not being able to speak to Pepper before potentially sacrificing himself for humanity clearly stuck with him.
In Iron Man 3, Pepper was in full-on CEO mode and had to deal with the advances (both professionally and personally) of Aldrich Killian. She was living with Tony at this point and also had to deal with Tony's PTSD, as well as a giant stuffed bunny appearing in their driveway.
During the attack on Tony's Malibu home, Pepper found herself in the Iron Man suit for a moment before she was flown to safety. Once Killian went full-on supervillain, Pepper was injected with Extremis as a test subject. She seemed to fall to her death in the film's finale, but the Extremis in her system let her survive. It also let her kick some serious butt for a few minutes. She was rattled by the new powers that the Extremis had given her, and Tony promised they'd get it sorted out.
Tony's ending voiceover told us that they did exactly that, though there's every possibility that some Extremis could still be in her system. Pepper Potts might very well still have superpowers.
Tony bragged briefly about her in Avengers: Age of Ultron. We find out during Captain America: Civil War that the two of them are taking a break, but by the time Spider-Man: Homecoming comes around, she is still running Stark Industries and the two of them are still together. More than that, they are likely engaged.
JAMES "RHODEY" RHODES/WAR MACHINE (DON CHEADLE)
Lt. Colonel James Rhodes was Tony's armed forces liaison and one of his best friends. Initially played by Terrance Howard in the first film, the role was assumed by Don Cheadle for every film afterward. Rhodey routinely acts as Tony's voice of reason and usually attempts (with varying degrees of success) to keep Tony's ego in check.
He helped out where he could in Iron Man (getting two of the best comedic jump-cut moments in the process) but really came into his own in Iron Man 2, in which he put on an old Iron Man suit and became War Machine. After he used it to beat up a drunken Tony, he took the suit to the government and had it weaponized by Justin Hammer. The new suit (with Rhodey inside of it) became the centerpiece of Hammer's presentation at the Stark Expo, but then Ivan Vanko got involved and turned Rhodey's suit (and all of Hammer's drones) against everyone. Rhodey regained control of his suit thanks to Black Widow, and he and Tony took down the remaining drones (and Vanko) together.
Iron Man 3 depicted Rhodey's War Machine persona being rebranded as "Iron Patriot," and he was again working for the government. Both Rhodey and the newly-repainted suit got captured by Aldrich Killian, and soon enough Rhodey had to help Tony stop Killian and save the President. Rhodey proved to be rather formidable outside of the suit and was instrumental in getting the president to safety.
In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Rhodey was back to the moniker "War Machine" and he attended the party at Avengers Tower, where he had a hard time impressing anyone with his War Machine exploits. When Nick Fury triumphantly appeared in Sokovia in the film's finale, War Machine came flying in with him, assisting the Avengers in making sure none of the Ultron drones got away.
He fully joined the Avengers in their new lineup at the end of Age of Ultron, and we see him more firmly entrenched in their drama during Captain America: Civil War. He was in agreement with the notion of government oversight, so he was most definitely Team Tony. He helped end the chase between Cap, Winter Soldier, and Black Panther, and also fought on Tony's side during the airport battle.
In the climax of that scene, he, unfortunately, caught a blast of friendly fire from Vision and went plummeting to the ground after the War Machine suit lost power. He survived, but the end of the film sees him in rehabilitation, trying to regain the use of his legs with some fancy looking Stark-tech.
We don't know what Rhodey's current condition is, but he was in good enough spirits to joke about Tony's name at the end of Civil War. With enough tech, we're sure he'll be able to get back in the War Machine suit once again. His appearances in Infinity War trailers seem to support this.
HAPPY HOGAN (JON FAVREAU)
Originally Tony Stark's driver and bodyguard, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) stepped down from that position to work more as an assistant to Pepper — mostly because the idea of Iron Man needing a bodyguard was ridiculous. He could still be seen helping Tony on occasion, and he even had the Iron Man "suit in a briefcase" handcuffed to his hand during the Monaco sequence in Iron Man 2. By the time he appears in Iron Man 3, Happy is head of security for Stark Industries.
Hogan last appeared in Spider-Man: Homecoming, in which he was Peter Parker's contact for all thing Stark-related. Happy had to deal with numerous calls and texts from Parker, and he didn't seem to enjoy that part of the job. Hogan kept an eye on Parker anyway, all while making sure "moving day" happened. That event, which involved the transitioning of all sensitive materials (like Thor's "magic belt") from the vacated Avengers tower to their new facility, provided the drama behind the film's climax.
Though Hogan was often rough and rude with Parker, in the end he admits to Tony that Peter's "a good kid." Hogan may show a tough, mean exterior — but he has a true heart of gold underneath. When we last saw him he was fishing an engagement ring out of his pocket for Tony to give to Pepper, which he said he'd been carrying around "since 2008." This is poignant not only because the first Iron Man came out in 2008, but also because Favreau directed the first (and second) Iron Man films.
All in all, what is the current state of our Iron Man crew? Pepper is still CEO of Stark Industries, and Happy is very high up in that company's ranks. Rhodey is likely still undergoing rehabilitation. And Tony? You know him. You can take away his toys, his suits, give him massive paranoia, and even send the Mad Titan to his home planet— none of that matters. At the end of the day, he is Iron Man.
We'll be back tomorrow with a roundup for all of the major characters in the Thor films, including Thor, Loki, Valkyrie, and Bruce Banner!