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Iron Man: From Possum to Protector - Part 1

Updated: Jul 15, 2022

In our culture today we can become one of three types of people. A possum, a protector, or a predator. How we matured emotionally, and whether or not we experienced any kind of trauma in our childhood will play a role in which of these three we become. However, if we discover a tendency in ourselves to be either a possum (a person who freezes or hides when in fear or things get tough) or a predator (a person who fights or attacks when in fear or when things get tough) we don’t have to stay that way. We can transform ourselves into a gentle protector, (a person who can protect others from themselves when in fear or when things get tough) just like Tony Stark/Iron Man did in the Avengers series of movies.

This blog series will go through each of the movies where Tony Stark is present to show you how he goes from being a possum to a protector. This first blog will cover Iron Man 1 & 2. Note: There are spoilers, but these movies were released a decade ago so if you haven’t seen them yet, I would imagine you’ve already heard all the spoilers. However, just in case, this is your warning that there are spoilers if you haven’t yet seen these movies.

In the first Iron Man movie we see a wealthy man who thinks he’s the greatest thing to ever happen on the earth. He doesn’t just have his name on Stark Industries, he plays a vital role in it because he’s a genius and he enjoys building things. He believes he can get any woman he wants, and he’s incredibly selfish as seen at the very beginning of the movie when he is three hours late meeting James Rhodes at the airport. Appearances might suggest he’s actually more of a predator than a possum, but I think I can convince you otherwise.

Tony Stark’s emotional maturity level* is that of a child. He’s selfish and doesn’t know how to take care of anyone but himself. When he’s in captivity, he meets Yinsen, who has reached an emotional maturity level of a parent, if not an elder. He knows who Tony Stark is and what he represents and he sees a potential in Tony that Tony can’t see in himself yet. As they work, they talk. Yinsen tells Tony about his family and how he’s going to be with them again once they leave the cave. Tony explains he doesn’t have anyone and Yinsen remarks, “So you are a man who has everything, and nothing.” Indicating that although Tony Stark can afford to buy whatever he wants, he’s missing out on the most important thing: real, meaningful relationships with other people.

At first, Tony refuses to do any work, believing he is doomed to die no matter what. He forgets who he really is: A genius who can build anything. He doesn’t think about helping Yinsen, he gives up and decides the only thing he can do is not give into their demands. Do nothing and die. But Yinsen encourages him by reminding him who he is and asks Tony what he wants his legacy to be. Will it be a legacy of death, or something new he will create out of this tragedy?

They work together to build the original Iron Man suit so they can escape, but when the time comes for them to get out, Yinsen sacrifices himself so Tony can live. This is another sign that Yinsen reached the parent or elder stage of emotional maturity and we can assume he’s the first person to show Tony what sacrificing yourself for others looks like. Tony doesn’t understand why Yinsen would do this when he has a family waiting for him, but soon realizes Yinsen’s family is dead and helping Tony survive, and only Tony, was always his plan. As he’s dying, he tells Tony, “Don’t waste your life”.

As soon as he arrives home, he impulsively holds a press conference where he announces he’s shutting down the weapons manufacturing part of Stark Industries until further notice. He rightly has a fear of his weapons getting into the wrong hands, but selfishly believes he is the only one who can fix the situation. But instead of dealing with the company, he becomes obsessed with creating a new Iron Man suit. A suit that can protect him from all the scary things in the world. A very possum like behavior. His behavior is somewhat inconsistent because he obviously has trouble trusting the people closest to him, but instead of following up and doing the job he said he was going to do, he is easily convinced that Obadiah is much better suited to taking care of the weapon manufacturing situation. Meanwhile, Tony hides in his mansion and tries to figure out how to improve the arc reactor that’s keeping him alive and improving the Iron Man suit.

His impulsivity is also a lack of emotional maturity. He doesn’t think through the consequences of his actions and as a result, his enemy, Obadiah, gets the upper hand. This puts Pepper Potts in danger, when he gets her involved and it’s only when Obadiah paralyzes Tony and tells him that Pepper Potts is in danger that Tony realizes what he’s done and begins to think of making sure she’s safe.

Once he learns the people who kidnapped him are terrorizing Yinsen’s town, he decides it’s his responsibility to take care of the situation himself. He is still not willing to trust anyone, not even those closest to him, such as Rhodes or Pepper Potts, even though both reach out and try to help him. Rhodes, by offering to help with the suit and those who are trying to get their hands on it, and Pepper, who makes a gift out of the reactor he created in the cave, which says “Proof that Tony Stark has a heart” to remind him he does have the ability to care about other people.

At the end of the first movie he is instructed to give a cover story for his protection, and the protection of those who helped him. This was done by people who genuinely want to help him, but he again, selfishly does his own thing and announces to the world that he is Iron Man. There is not much character change in the first film, but it’s hinted at.

In the second movie it’s revealed that many other people are trying to recreate Tony’s suit, but Tony is convinced he is the only one who can perfect the arc reactor that powers the suit and he’s not worried about other people succeeding. He goes back to his play boy ways and doesn’t think about how his actions might affect his friends until he’s proved wrong at the car race, where a man shows up who has created his own arc reactor to power his electric whips.

Here though, we see he is immediately concerned for Pepper Pott’s safety. Although, he fails to show concern for Happy. Besides dealing with the fact that his new and improved reactor is slowly killing him, he is now fearful that the one thing he thought he had control over is out in the open. So be becomes obsessed with upgrading his suit, and creating more than one of them. He does this because he begins to realize the problems he faces are bigger than he can handle alone, but instead of turning to actual people for help, he builds more suits in order to create his own army of protection.

After the race track, he visits his newest enemy in prison to find out how he created the arc reactor and begins researching the guy and his history and discovers the man’s father worked with Tony’s father and was instrumental in the creation of the arc reactor.

Believing his enemy has been defeated, he gets overwhelmed with the problem of his own health and gives up. He throws a big birthday party for himself, gets drunk, and puts his guests in danger when he wears, and uses, the suit to show off. This creates a breach in his home security, and eventually destroys his home when Rhodes tries to stop him. Tony Stark did not act like his usual self under stress. He tried to drown his problems in alcohol and his habit of showing off for people got the best of him.

The next day, Nick Fury tracks Tony down and confronts Stark about his fears and assures him he hasn’t tried everything when it comes to the arc reactor that’s keeping him alive. The people trying to protect Tony are still willing to help him even though he had a freak out. They still see him for who they know he can be and Nick Fury tells Tony he needs to, “Get to know the secret of your heart.” This is the second reference to his heart, and the third nudge to let people in.

Interestingly, in a later movie, he has had surgery to remove the shrapnel that makes the arc reactor in his chest necessary. I believe the reason he doesn’t get this taken care of sooner, and why Nick Fury doesn’t suggest it at this point it time is twofold. First of all, Nick Fury knows Tony has the ability to unlock new technology and make new discoveries. He doesn’t suggest Tony have surgery to solve his problems because he knows Tony needs a reason to keep moving forward, so Nick gives him a reason to keep going. Also, Tony can’t have the surgery because he doesn’t have a community of people he trusts yet. He is so stuck in fear that he believes he has to keep himself alive and not rely on anyone else to help him.

After he is once again reminded who he is and what he’s capable of, he begins to search and discovers his father cared for him more than he ever thought. He makes his first attempt at an apology to Pepper, but it ends up being all about him. He has not quite figured out how to attune to people.

Iron Man 2 is the first time Stark is willing to let others help him and sees a bigger picture of what he has taken on by building the Iron Man suit, and announcing himself as the Iron Man superhero.

*To learn more about emotional maturity levels you can watch my video series on the subject here.

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