As the leading man of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, Iron Man is a comic book character that the world is now familiar with. Tony Stark has successfully captained the franchise, played fantastically by Robert Downey Jr. For the most part, he has been able to capture the Tony from the comic books.  However, the Tony that we see in the MCU is missing one character trait that defined his character in the comic books: his alcoholism.

Tony’s alcoholism is almost completely absent in the MCU. It was subtly referenced in the first IRON MAN movie, and Tony can be seen drinking in multiple scenes towards the beginning of the film. We see Tony making himself a drink after his presentation in the Middle East with a mobilized, fully furnished bar. This indicated to the audience that Tony clearly insisted on bringing alcohol with him, and that drinking is something he holds of higher priority than others. Credit to Iron Man’s director Jon Favreau for being able to sneak Tony Stark’s drinking problem into his character without making it a character flaw.

But Tony’s drinking was vastly minimized after the first movie. The only other times we even see references to him drinking are at his house party in IRON MAN 2…

…and his conversation with Loki in THE AVENGERS.

IRON MAN 2’s DVD commentary included a comment by Jon Favreu that the party scene was intended to reference DEMON IN A BOTTLE, a comic book arc where Tony struggles with his alcoholism. While these scenes portray Tony as a drinker, but don’t even begin to paint him as the alcoholic that he is in the comic books. Why is this?

Off the bat, it seems like Marvel intended to associate Tony’s drinking to specific aspects of his lifestyle. Tony drinks before getting captured by the terrorists in IRON MAN, then sobers up when he gains his new perspective on life. In IRON MAN 2, his booze-filled party is a result of him selling off his assets after learning that the palladium in his arc reactor is killing him. Marvel likely intended Tony to turn to alcohol as a coping skill. When hope is lost, and Tony has no one to lean on, he turns to alcohol as a way to cope with his unhappiness. While this is a shared trait of alcoholics, the drinking itself remains underplayed and doesn’t affect his life as a whole.

But there is an Occam’s razor explanation for MCU’s decision to exclude Tony’s drinking: Marvel doesn’t want a protagonist that’s an alcoholic. Disney is a family company, and excessive use of alcohol is not family-friendly. Shane Black, the director of Iron Man 3, has said on record that Disney nixed a planned storyline where Tony deals with Alcoholism. Alcoholism paints Tony as a character parents wouldn’t want their children to look up to, and Disney is aware of this. At the same time, it’s possible that Tony’s avoidance of spirits could be a choice made by Robert Downey Jr., an actor that notably had a drug and alcohol addiction. As someone that has suffered from alcoholism, RDJ may not want others to find themselves in similar struggles. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that Disney was quick to steer away from this part of Tony Stark’s life, a decision that is possibly a missed opportunity.

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Tony’s alcoholism humanized him and brought him back down to earth. Marvel presented us with Tony Stark, a character that is difficult to relate to. He’s a genius, a billionaire, and a playboy. He flies around in a suit he built, saving the world. On paper, there’s nothing about Tony that we as an audience can personally relate to. We have almost nothing in common with him. Tony is a fantastical idea of what a human being can achieve in a lifetime.

But this persona comes crashing down when we see him drunk, depressed, and belligerent. We watch Tony, a man with everything going for him, acknowledging his own character flaws, and struggle to accept who he is. A man that can build a solution to every problem, suddenly finds himself powerless. These were the moments that defined Tony Stark in the comic books, and their absence in the MCU are felt by those that have watched him struggle.

Beyond any opinions about the MCU films, their decision to exclude Tony’s drinking stripped him of one of his most humanizing traits. Without it, Tony felt too much like a superhuman human. A man that’s free of flaws or inner demons.The MCU made attempts to alleviate this, by giving him a love story with Pepper and a mini-arc with PTSD symptoms in Iron Man 3. But these moments felt fleeting, and never ended up defining Tony as a character.

It’s an unrealistic expectation for Marvel to include Tony’s drinking in future installments of the MCU. They’ve made movies that have walked the line between family and adult-friendly entertainment, and there’s no reason to mess with the formula now. However, if Marvel ever decided to make another Iron Man film that’s a darker, grittier character study of Tony Stark, we could easily see a revival of Tony’s alcoholism. As a former alcoholic, there is no reason to believe RDJ would have any difficulty playing the role. As someone that has conquered his addiction, there’s a possibility that RDJ would encourage this idea, to help show those with addiction that there is hope. Until then, on-screen Tony Stark will continue drinking wheat grass shakes instead of single malt scotches.

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