“You can rest now.”
Pepper Potts’ (Gwyneth Paltrow) final words to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) aren’t just a callback to earlier in Avengers: Endgame. As the hero slowly dies from using an Infinity Gauntlet to snap Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his army out of existence, Pepper’s words are a tragic reminder of what Tony struggled with ever since emerging from the cave in Iron Man (2008): obsession. Obsession to change his legacy. Obsession to protect his loved ones. Obsession to save the world.
“You can rest now” — those final words hold a connection to moments across Tony’s entire character arc, spanning 10 Marvel films. They even resonate with exact bits of dialogue from his prior nine appearances in the MCU, lines that all stem from Iron Man’s inception: he couldn’t rest the moment he realized that Stark Industries’ weapons were falling into the wrong hands.
With Avengers: Endgame taking a final bow in theaters this weekend (with added footage), and Spider-Man: Far From Home on the horizon, we look back at the moments that connect to this key line from the MCU.
IRON MAN (2008)
“There is nothing except this. There’s no art opening. There is no benefit. There is nothing to sign. There is the next mission and nothing else.”
Early in his first screen appearance, Tony asks Pepper to retrieve files from his office so that he can track where his weapons are going. Pepper refuses. She worries that he’s going to get himself killed if he continues with his Iron Man heroics. But this is Tony’s response.
It’s the first sign that Tony Stark is not just dedicated to, but obsessed with righting his weapons-manufacturing wrongs. Yinsen (Shaun Toub), the man who saves Tony in the cave and who pleads that he not “waste” his life, also suggests that Tony is “a man who has everything, but nothing” since he has no wife or children.
Tony’s response to Pepper highlights the nothingness, the emptiness of art openings, of benefits, of celebrity (and also sets up the significance of family to Tony down the line). All that Tony can do now is good, and with his suit, that’s a lot. “I shouldn’t be alive, unless it was for a reason. I’m not crazy, Pepper. I just finally know what I have to do. And I know in my heart that it’s right.”
IRON MAN 2 (2010)
“It’s about legacy. It’s about what we choose to leave behind for future generations.”
Iron Man 2 doesn’t do as much with Tony’s arc as it probably should. But at the Stark Expo at the beginning of the film, Tony talks about legacy, and it’s key to his future.
In Iron Man, Yinsen asks Tony if he wants his legacy to be the havoc that his weapons wreaked, and Tony works to change that. Iron Man 2’s opening idea continues that line of Tony writing his legacy by recreating his image, changing his heart, making up for his mistakes, and trying to become a better father than his own was. It’ll just be a little while before he can enact that last part.
IRON MAN 3 (2013)
“I love you. I’m lucky. But honey, I can’t sleep. You go to bed. I come down here. I do what I know. I tinker. Threat is imminent and I have to protect the one thing that I can’t live without. That’s you.”
It’s not that The Avengers (2012) doesn’t have any important lines, but the significance of his willingness to sacrifice himself to stop a nuke from hitting New York — the turning point in Tony Stark’s overall arc — is only verbalized later. In fact, it’s the crux of Iron Man 3.
The film starts out with Tony not paying enough attention to Pepper, but in the above scene, he finally breaks and confesses to her about how New York has left him with crippling anxiety and insomnia. He can’t rest — but not necessarily because of his weapons. He’s already done so much good, especially after New York. He can’t rest because of the revelation of “gods, aliens, other dimensions,” which leaves him terrified of what else might come. He’s just “a man in a can.” He has to prepare for the worst to protect the person he loves, the person he might be able to start a family with.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)
“A hostile alien army came charging through a hole in space. We’re standing 300 feet below it. We’re the Avengers. We can bust arms dealers all the livelong day, but that up there, that’s… that’s the endgame. How were you guys planning on beating that?”
The infamous Avengers: Endgame namesake scene. In an attempt to create “a suit of armor around the world,” Tony accidentally gives birth to Ultron. And “birth” is the truth of it, as Ultron (James Spader) lashes out almost like a bratty son. In response, the rest of the Avengers chastise Tony for his arrogance, and they’re right.
Tony’s intentions are good, but because he can’t rest, he can’t see his mistakes. Instead, he works tirelessly with one thing in mind: If he does nothing, the endgame will come. If he does nothing, it’s his fault.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)
“Saw ‘em all dead, Nick. Felt it. The whole world too. Because of me. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t do all I could…” “It wasn’t a nightmare. It was my legacy. The end of the path I started us on.”
Talking to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) at Hawkeye’s (Jeremy Renner) barn, Tony now considers the legacy of Iron Man, instead of just Tony Stark. Did the “superhero” bring this alien madness to Earth? Is this all a process of escalation? And will that ultimately cause the death of his friends? The nightmare, a vision of the Avengers dead and an alien army charging to Earth again, appropriately comes in the shadow of a Leviathan carcass from the Battle of New York.
Tony is just a man in a can, but he puts an incredible burden on his own shoulders. “I wasn’t ready. I didn’t do all I could.”
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)
“A few years ago, I almost lost her, so I trashed all my suits. Then, we had to mop up Hydra. And then, Ultron. My fault. And then, and then, and then, I never stopped because the truth is, I don’t want to stop. I don’t want to lose her. I thought maybe the accords could split the difference. In her defense, I’m a handful.”
Iron Man 3 ended with Tony blowing up all of his suits and getting surgery to have his core removed. It’s… a weird ending in retrospect, and was possibly a result of Robert Downey Jr. potentially leaving the role soon after. But this moment in Civil War reworks that idea. It makes that ending rather sad, as here, Tony is admitting to his crutch. He wants to be with Pepper, to have a family with her — the film throws in a pregnancy joke, like Avengers: Infinity War will later do — but he has an obsession. And that obsession is what drives him to make mistakes while dealing with the Sokovia Accords.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)
“When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you.”
Civil War is also where Tony gets his first taste of fatherhood. Essentially filling the role of Uncle Ben, Tony becomes a mentor to Peter Parker (Tom Holland). When recruiting him, he makes sure that Peter has his head in the right place. And this line echoes the idea at Tony’s heart: Heroes need to act. Peter has that in him. He just needs a father-figure to help him get there.
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)
“What if somebody had died tonight? Different story, right? Cause that’s on you. And if you died, I feel like that’s on me. I don’t need that on my conscience…” “If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it, okay? God, I sound like my dad.”
In a confrontation that Tony later describes in very fatherly words as the “tough-love moment [Peter] needed,” the elder Avenger scolds Peter for taking on more than he had the capacity to, and endangering others and himself in the process. As if he didn’t have so much on his plate to worry and lose sleep over already, Tony couldn’t handle Peter dying because of him.
Not too long before this, before Peter gets into trouble, Tony tells Peter that he believes in him and that he’s doing a good job — an effort to “break the cycle of shame.” In turn, this moment plays the same function, of Tony being the dad he needs to make sure this young kid — who will deal with being Stark’s obvious successor in Spider-Man: Far From Home — turns out better than he did.
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)
“No, it’s you who doesn’t understand that Thanos has been inside my head for 6 years since he sent an army to New York and now he’s back! And I don’t know what to do.”
In a confrontation with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), as they argue over whether or not to take the fight against Thanos to Titan, Tony speaks directly to the psychological fallout of New York, and the struggle he’s had since Iron Man 3.
Then, Thanos was coming. Now, Thanos is here. Is Tony ready? Has he done enough? The end of Infinity War, which sees Tony lose Peter, the son he never had, leaves Tony with the crippling thought that he didn’t.
AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)
“You can rest now.”
Avengers: Endgame gives Tony a family, which, as Yinsen suggested all those years ago, is what would really give him purpose. It also plays on his tragic impulses.
Infinity War suggested that Tony didn’t do enough, but Endgame offers him, right when gets the family he wanted, one last shot to do something. He could never have both, but he could never stop chasing both. So, of course he takes the opportunity, even if it might kill him. In truth, rest for Tony Stark could only come through death. As for the future: he’s got a lot of people carrying on his legacy.
Kyle Kizu is a freelance film writer from Los Angeles. His writing has also appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.