Tony Stark Iron Man from Iron Man 2

“…You run against the wind

You hear the starting gun

Now don’t you turn away

Now look what you have done

If you wanna make that move

Get into the void”

Into the Void – Glenn Hughes

Last month there was a report about how Marvel Studios contemplated for a certain amount of time to adapt one of Iron Man’s most iconic comic book stories, Demon in a Bottle, which dealt with his alcoholism as a sequel to the film that kick-started the Marvel Cinematic Universe back in 2008. Of course, that sequel ended up being 2010’s Iron Man 2, and, love it, hate it or anything in between, we can safely say that it has little to do with that memorable storyline from the comics.

The report goes on to explain a lot of the people in charge of the film felt that nobody wanted to see Tony Stark in the condition he is found in Demon in a Bottle and while we see him drinking, spiraling a bit out of control, in Iron Man 2, by the time we get to 2013’s Iron Man 3, after Disney bought Marvel, Tony’s drinking is a non-factor and there haven’t been any attempts to adapt anything about that storyline ever since.

I’m here to tell you why that, from a storytelling perspective, was a colossal mistake.

Robert Downey Jr playing Tony Stark. Tony is standing at his desk staring at his computer monitors.
Image Credit: The Verge

Commercialism is always going to play a big role in the world of commercial art (hence the “commercial” in the name) and it is understandable because you want your product to be successful. And there’s no denying that Marvel Studios’ treatment of the Tony Stark character, along with Robert Downey Jr.’s iconic portrayal (would be his most memorable interpretation until the day he dies), has turned Iron Man into a pop culture icon and a worldwide brand when he was a character mostly familiar to comic book fans.

In terms of results and numbers, no one can deny their approach and that it paid dividends for everybody involved. But by the same token, it isn’t hard to analyze a lot of missed opportunities with the character in the MCU, especially when it comes to his solo movies.

Sure, the first Iron Man film is a classic of superhero movies and it was quite groundbreaking at the time, helping kick start the MCU and launch the character to other media. And it is a great story, paying great respect to Tony’s origin story and showing a great redemption story of how a broken, selfish man finds the hero that is within him. That’s classic storytelling and that is the core reason why the movie has had such an impact throughout the years.

Having said all that, it’s not hard to watch the next two films and see that, by and large, they are more flash and fireworks than substance. This isn’t about Tony Stark’s character arc through the MCU, but rather his own second and third solo movies that don’t play a big role in developing him or offering quality storytelling, often almost like throwaway films that don’t influence what is happening in the grand scheme of things with Tony.

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This is where Demon in a Bottle comes along.

Co-written by David Michelinie and Bob Layton and drawn by John Romita Jr. and Layton himself, this comic released in 1979 defined the vast majority of Tony’s arc in the eighties and a lot of writers have come back to it on several occasions throughout the years, which goes to show the endurance and quality of Demon in a Bottle–it’s the quintessential Iron Man story.

This comic book storyline is Tony’s lowest moment, where he starts a downward spiral whilst losing everything he has and everything he owns, including his company, his Iron Man suit, and even his own willingness to live at some points. The stress, the responsibilities, and the pressure grow and grow and he eventually breaks, hiding in the bottle to overcome his own fear of failing and making mistakes.

This is very similar to what Tony Stark goes through in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and while I can understand that you can’t adopt every single great comic book storyline, there is a big wasted opportunity in exploring what happens when a hero cracks under pressure and has to pick himself up after such a monumental failure. Sure, MCU Tony has low moments, but none as definitive as this one.

One of the arguments as to why they rejected adapting this story was the fact that people wouldn’t like to see Tony Stark like that and I understand that. Comic book movies aren’t aimed at just comic book fans but at a wider spectrum of viewers and most of them aren’t familiar with this particular storyline. Plus, there was this underlying feeling that alcoholism “wasn’t very cinematic” and that it was going to become the focal point of the film.

Okay. And?

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Considering what little Iron Man 2 and 3 offer to the character of Tony Stark, a story dealing with his alcoholism wouldn’t have been any less–in fact, it would have added to what was already a strong, compelling character. I mean, Iron Man 3 has Tony destroying his armor, only to come back in the next Avengers films!

And his alcoholism would have played an interesting role in elements such as the creation of Ultron or the fall of the Avengers, thus leading to a much more interesting and complex dynamic. It makes for a more real and raw situation in terms of his character development. Add to that the fact that we’re in a shared universe made up of multiple movies and you have a lot of films to develop Tony’s fall and redemption, which is something that perhaps Demon in a Bottle did way too quickly (although future writers also dealt with that in the comics).

Of course, I can also see the angle that these movies are aimed at audiences made up of all ages and there is understandable reluctance in showing a superhero drinking himself to death, plus the bad effect it may have on people even if it is done with the best of intentions. So there is also a logic behind Marvel Studios’ decision.

Iron Man sitting in a donut in Iron Man 2.

Overall, the MCU had a lot of success with Tony Stark, and his arc by and large was done quite well. There can be some valid criticisms, but no one can deny that it worked for them. But looking back at this decision and the potential ramifications, both good and bad, it’s a bit tempting to think how things would have panned out if they had decided to go the Demon in a Bottle route.

But regardless, it is always fun to think about these things. It’s what fans live for, after all. Now it’s time to hear from our community. Do wish the MCU utilized the Demon in a Bottle storyline or do you think this would have hurt Tony’s character overall? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Thanks for reading!