“The truth is… I am Iron Man.”

Those are the words that ended Tony Stark’s first film in 2008, breaking with the tradition of superheroes maintaining secret identities. This was a good guy who wasn’t afraid to be himself, even if sometimes he was a little bad.

More than a decade later, Avengers: Endgame promised a conclusion of sorts. So where did the journey of Robert Downey Jr.’s “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” finally take him?

Let’s explore…

***Spoilers Below***

If you’re here, that means you’ve seen Avengers: Endgame and know what many fans feared would happen to Tony Stark.

He placed himself between a threat to the whole universe and managed to stop it — though no amount of armor could save him.

“I am inevitable,” Thanos said, after grappling with the hero and tossing him aside. But when the Titan snapped his fingers, he found his Infinity Gauntlet empty of gems.

“And I… am… Iron Man,” said Stark, revealing that he’d used his attack to snatch the Infinity Stones away.

The Final Sacrifice

As the cosmic gems melted into his armored glove, Tony Stark snapped his own fingers, turning Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his legion to wisps of ash.

But it came with a price. The explosion of energy left him badly burned and fatally wounded. As those he loved most gathered at his side, the arc reactor in his chest dimmed and went out.

In some ways, it seemed like a natural choice. Stark had gone from aloof arms dealer to someone who repeatedly risked his own life to spare others. But it still wasn’t an easy choice, especially given the hope and inspiration Iron Man has provided to fans over the years.

Tony Stark has always struggled with the question of whether he was worthy. On screen and off, Downey showed the world redemption through the lens of fantasy.

He also proved you could be a good guy… and still be kinda bad.

The Man in the Machine

Downey has never shied away from his history. A self-described “dope fiend,” he struggled with addiction and dangerous behavior, did prison time, went in and out of rehab — and kept relapsing. Still, his journey toward recovery is a happy ending that has inspired others who’ve battled the same problems.

When he finally got clean, his rocky history made it impossible for some filmmakers to get insurance on their projects if they cast him. He was unbankable. Marvel Studios and director Jon Favreau took a chance on him with 2008’s Iron Man, and Downey’s charisma became the core that powered a decade of epic moviemaking.

Downey insists that, while he’s definitely not Iron Man, he did put his heart into that spot in Tony Stark’s chest right behind the arc reactor.

Both men didn’t like who they were, and both decided to change for the better. “I’m just a f—ing actor. I’m just a guy who does have a very interesting past, who does not regret it, who wished to shut the door on it,” Downey told EW last year. “I think that that translates.”

When it came time for Tony Stark’s goodbye, Downey was the one who decided he shouldn’t say anything at all.

No Words

So Tony is silent while Tom Holland’s Peter Parker clings to him, while Don Cheadle’s War Machine stands beside him, while Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts (shielded in the Rescue armor he built her) comforts him with the promise that she and their daughter will be okay.

There was always a daredevil aspect to Tony Stark, a defiance of danger, a determination — almost a self-destructive impulse — to put himself in harm’s way. Eventually, it was going to end in something he couldn’t walk away from.

This is why Thanos knows who this puny human is in Infinity War. Stark had already made a lot of trouble for him.

Stark is formidable not because his heart is pure, but because it has been damaged.

And rebuilt to be stronger.

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