4 Reasons Iron Man is the Greatest Hero in the MCU
4. He's a Rare Ambitious Hero
There is a conspicuous lack of ambition in modern protagonists. Indeed, the very concept of ambition has become a dirty word; it's the Dark Side of the Force. It will get you sorted into Slytherin. In the vast majority of stories, a hero is a person who asserts the status quo against the ambition of a villain. Most of these heroes don't even seem to know who they are if they're not able to serve as a reactionary opponent to a big-bad; just look at how lost Harry Potter is when he's asked what he wants to do when he grows up. Or look at the funk Luke Skywalker gets into after the Jedi are done Returning. This lack of heroes that can discover their heroic identity without some villain taking the initiative does not speak well for our society.
Tony Stark is one of the very rare super heroes who is openly, unabashedly ambitious, so much so that he doesn't need a bad guy to get himself into trouble. Whole movies revolve around him solving problems that essentially spring from his own actions, the most obvious being The Age of Ultron. The villain of this movie was literally created by Stark, the fruit of his own bold experiment. The parallels to Doctor Frankenstein end there, however, in that we are not left with a moral about how man should not play god; Stark deals with the consequences of his actions, adapts, and comes out ahead in the end by creating Vision. What we're left with is a role model who isn't afraid to experiment and pursue his ambition, even if it means making mistakes here and there, and that's a flavor of hero that we could honestly use a bit more of.
3. He Builds More than he Destroys
Ever notice that most heroes do little but smash and kill? Obviously, it's easier from a cinematic perspective to equate doing good with pointing the big gun at something bad and blowing it straight to hell. The end result of this is that we're left with a litany of heroes who do little but tear down, and then everyone with a blog or a YouTube channel gets to explain to us what kind of economic collapse would have resulted from all of their destruction.
Stark, for one, doesn't leave us to wonder who cleaned up after the heroes finished breaking everything. Following the Battle of New York, he creates the Stark Relief Foundation to rebuild and provide humanitarian aid. This group is brought up again following the incident in Johannesburg in The Age of Ultron, making it clear that Stark is ready, willing, and able to continue being a hero even after the fun part is over.
Stark doesn't even need a mess to clean up in order to give back to humanity. He has built an entire empire based on making the future brighter, be it in the form of greater defenses or cleaner, cheaper energy. There are even heroes that only managed to stand among the Avengers thanks to Stark's tech (War Machine, Spider-Man, and spoiler).
2. He's the Greatest Mind in the Universe
There's something magnificent about the fact that Stark gets to hold his own among gods and titans simply by being smarter than everyone else. Granted, he has certain super-human capabilities given to him by science, but he stands among Doctor Strange and the original Ant Man in a fairly exclusive club of heroes who achieved super-dom entirely by their own design. He didn't gain powers via a freak accident, like Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, the Hulk, or the Fantastic Four. He wasn't born into power, like Thor, Starlord, Groot, or any of the X-Men. He didn't have power given to him, like Captain America, Black Panther, Nova, or the second generation of Ant Man and the Wasp. He's simply the kind of guy who sits down and invents a new element or solves time travel because he had a flash of inspiration and a late night of fevered work. And this is enough for him to sit down with Earth's greatest heroes and still be the biggest head in the room.
1. Captain America is the American Ideal, but Iron Man is our True Potential
The dichotomy of Captain America and Iron Man is a truly compelling one. We frequently see the two butt heads over leadership matters in the Avengers, a dynamic that serves as the driving force for Civil War. Oftentimes, it would seem that Cap is speaking as the voice of idealism, while Stark is, for better or for worse, living in the real world. Cap says, "This is what should happen", and Stark says "This is what needs to happen". It's an eternal struggle between two forces that does not necessarily require that either one is wrong.
The truth is that, though he may not wear the Stars and Stripes on his armor, Iron Man is exactly as much the America super hero as Captain America is. Cap is the America that we wish we could be: He's pure, selfless, and righteous to the point of irrationality. He's even a literal icon from an idealized American yesteryear, representing those perfect "good old days" that never actually existed. Iron Man may not be as unimpeachable as the Captain, but he represents the perfection that we could actually aspire to. Like our country, his past is stained with selfish and shortsighted acts that hurt many people, but he does what he can to learn from his mistakes and achieve a better future. In this way he's the model of the cocky, hedonistic capitalist who finds a way to harness his quintessentially human flaws to achieve the greatest good.
But I won't spoil that for anyone who hasn't seen all the movies yet.