Anthony Edward “Tony” Stark/Iron Man, 53, of New York, died in October of 2023, succumbing to injuries received during a battle with an alien who attempted to obliterate all life in the universe. Or maybe he died on April 26, 2019, the day Avengers: Endgame was released, of the need for the series of films to move on and focus on other characters played by other actors who have not wearied of acting in the franchise. It depends on how you look at it.
In 2008 Marvel Studios, then an independent studio but since purchased by Disney, released a film called Iron Man and began what was retroactively monikered “The Infinity Saga,” a twenty-two film series that culminated in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. In that first film, Tony Stark, a wealthy playboy finds a conscience and builds an iron suit that enables him to fight bad guys, becoming Iron Man. He doesn’t hide his identity from the world. At the time, that was a big deal, as superheroes and secret identities seemed to go together like cowboys and hats. In the final film, Iron Man/Tony Stark dies. In the world of the story, Iron Man/Tony Stark had become a kind of international celebrity and his death was the final act that saved the universe from what threatened it.
That threat was an alien wearing a magical glove that gave it the power to obliterate half the life on earth and elsewhere in an instant. The alien accomplished this. Iron Man/Tony Stark and others undid that act and brought back all the people the alien had obliterated. To do this, they time traveled and met past versions of themselves while visiting alternate “earths,” or timelines. One of the people Iron Man/Tony Stark brought back who had been obliterated was Peter Parker/Spider-Man, a teenager Tony had taken a liking to and mentored into becoming a superhero during four of the twenty-two films in the “infinity Saga.”
Peter Parker is an exceptionally bright but otherwise normal teenage boy who happens to be :super strong and sticky.” It was always a little strange that Tony Stark decided to involve this kid in the dangerous work of superheroing, especially when there were near-uncountable other, similarly super-powered adults around, but Stark exhibited a pattern of questionable decision-making. He seemed to regret this decision later, as he spent as much time trying to protect and control Peter as he did training him, but ultimately Tony seemed to trust the boy, perhaps because of Peter’s high intelligence or perhaps because of Peter’s ostensibly good heart. The chance to bring Peter back from obliteration is the factor that finally convinced Tony Stark to reassume his Iron Man persona and work to undo the alien’s murderous deed. Doing so cost him his life. Tony Stark was survived by his wife, Pepper Potts, and his daughter, Morgan Stark, his former chauffeur and best friend, Happy Hogan, and a grateful global population, half of whom literally wouldn’t exist if not for Tony’s efforts.
But you knew all that, didn’t you? That’s the deal with obituaries though – the information in them isn’t novel, especially obituaries of the inordinately famous. That doesn’t mean obituaries aren’t engaging though. They are their own genre, and some of them are sublime, revealing facets of the personality little considered before or situating a personality in its life-long context. Obituaries exist as much for those who survive the deceased, to help them process their loss and move on, as they do for the memory of the deceased. In the time immediately following a loss, life feels weighed down by the absence. Obituaries help shift that weight. That feeling dissipates over time.
Spider-Man: Far From Home isn’t an obituary for Tony Stark/Iron Man, but it might as well be. His absence drives the narrative. Peter Parker is struggling to move on in the wake of Tony’s death. Peter isn’t grieving exactly. He just wants to live a normal life—Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s eternal struggle in each iteration—and the obligations of superheroing keep impinging on his life. This time, those obligations are Nick Fury, a quartet of elemental monsters, and a powerful new superhero from another dimension who goes by Mysterio.
The film is what one expects it to be. (Reviewing Marvel movies has for a while now felt like reviewing episodes of a TV show.) There is one stellar sequence involving a series of inventive visual displays that rush by like a freight train, and the second half of the movie is better than the first. Jake Gyllenhaal is dreamy but given far too little screen time in the second half when his character starts to really shine. Tom Holland could probably “aw shucks” his way out of a murder charge. His charm is unnerving.
It’s summer. Theaters are air-conditioned. Tony Stark is dead. Popcorn is tasty. There’s a new Spider-Man movie.