Stories of heroes have been told, written, and passed down since the beginning of time; each unique but following a tight pattern. Joseph Campbell was the first to notice this and wrote a book called The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Campbell wrote about the similarities of every hero’s journey while breaking it down into three steps: Departure, Initiation, and Return. In his book, Campbell compares many old Greek myths and heroic tales from centuries ago, and although he focuses on ancient myths, modern hero stories follow Campbell’s stages just as closely. Ironman is a prime example of a modern story that follows Campbell’s pattern. Tony Stark (Ironman) is an eccentric billionaire who owns stark industries, the world’s leader in weapon making. He lives a bachelor lifestyle without any worries until he gets his call to adventure. The story of Ironman tells the tale of Tony Stark’s life changing adventure while closely following the stages written by Campbell which would label him a hero by Campbell’s standards.
Tony’s heroism was instantly challenged in his call to adventure; an extremely harsh one with severe consequences. The call to adventure is when the hero realizes that his or her world will soon change dramatically. Tony Stark travels to Afghanistan to introduce his new weapon, The Jericho, and endures a deadly life changing call to action. After the weapon demonstration, Tony’s caravan is attacked by a terrorist group who kidnaps him. The terrorists lock him in a cave and give him the ultimatum to die or build weapons for them. Tony’s call to adventure directly follows Campbell’s description. “This first stage of the mythological journey-which we have designated the “call to adventure”-signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown. This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented: as a distant land, a forest, a kingdom underground, beneath the waves, or about the sky, a secret island, lofty mountain, or profound dream state; but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight.”(58) Just as Campbell predicted Tony’s fateful region was a distant land. He was removed from his comfort zone and taken to a place of unknown.
The next step of the journey is where the story of Ironman first strays from Campbell’s steps. Campbell refers to the next step of the hero’s journey as the refusal of the call. The refusal happens when a hero does not feel comfortable with the call to adventure, usually because of fear or uncertainty of the future. Tony’s hero journey does not follow Campbell’s typical journey at this step. Instead of refusing the call this particular hero goes against the norm and accepts his challenge. While in the cave Tony decides not to lie down and die but to fight back. He now builds the suit and becomes the Ironman. Tony’s acceptance of the call is a key part of this movie because a refusal would have gotten him killed.
Following the refusal of the call comes Tony’s supernatural aid, Dr.Yinsen. Campbell describes the supernatural aid as a being that mentors and gives advice to the hero while he or she is beginning their journey. While being kidnapped Tony was severely injure and knocked unconscious. When he finally awakes he is in a dark gloomy cave with .Dr.Yinsen. After surgically saving Tony from his injuries, Dr.Yinsen helps Tony answer the call to build the suit and break free from his kidnappers.
Next in Campbell’s hero’s journey is the crossing of the first threshold. Campbell describes it as, “When the personifications of his destiny to guide and aid him, the hero goes forward in his adventure until he comes to the “threshold guardian” at the entrance to the zone of magnified power. Such custodians bound the world in the four directions-also up and down-standing for the limits of the hero’s present sphere, or life horizon. Beyond them is darkness, the unknown, and danger; just as beyond the parental watch is danger to the infant and beyond the protection of his society danger to the member of the tribe.”(77) In Tony’s case the threshold guardians are his terrorist kidnappers and he must escape their hold and break the first threshold. He does not know the danger that surrounds his situation, and has no clue what could happen when he tries to flee. The world beyond the prison camp is unsure for Tony; however he decides to cross the threshold anyways.
Now that the hero has crossed the first threshold he enters what Campbell labels as the belly of the whale. Campbell referring to this step, “This popular motif gives emphasis to the lesson that the passage of the threshold is a form of self-annihilation. Its resemblance to the adventure of the Symplegades is obvious. But here, instead of passing outward, beyond the confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward, to be born again.” Tony experiences a deep realization when he enters the belly of the whale. His lifestyle and morals change when he learns that Middle Eastern towns are being destroyed by terrorists that are using weapons he designed. With a newly designed suit, Tony works to fix his past mistakes and globalize peace. Just as Campbell described Tony is born again through a form of self-annihilation.
After traversing through the belly of the whale the hero starts the next step in his journey known as the road of trials. The hero is put through a series of tasks that are often difficult enough to where he or she fails at least one. In Tony’s situation he experiences few issues since he is equipped with an indestructible suit. The film uses this step to put it several scenes of him absolutely demolishing terrorists and other small foes. Problems do occur between Tony and his lifelong friend Colonel Rhodes because the government isn’t okay with a man in an indestructible suit flying around blowing up bad guys. One other problematic matter Tony has is mastering the technology of the Ironman suit. Not only did Tony have to create and perfect the suit; he also had to learn how to fluidly move and operate its weapons. By the end of the film it is apparent Tony had mastered it.
At this point in the hero’s journey Campbell predicts an experience or a meeting with a goddess or unconditional love. While Tony never meets a goddess he does fall for his secretary Piper. She does not possess any magical powers that can tempt or change Tony; however she turns the bachelor billionaire into a man that wants to settle down. Now the hero has come to perhaps the most exciting part of his journey which Campbell labels the ultimate boon. The ultimate boon is the peak of the story when the hero finally triumphs. Every previous step was solely preparation for this step. Tony went on this journey to put an end to terrorists like the ones who kidnapped him, and also to stop his business from making destructive weapons just to have them fall into the hands of terrorist. Obidiah is Tony’s business partner who is profiting from the sales to terrorists. He is the only person left standing in his way of turning the business around. On top of an arch reactor a fight breaks out while Obidiah is equipped with the first suit Tony made from scraps in the cave and Tony is armed with a newly redesigned suit. After an epic battle between the two Tony comes out on top and everything is peaceful. The Ironman story closely fits the description Campbell gives in his book.
The hero’s journey has climaxed however it is not over. Campbell’s typical hero story continues with the refusal of the return. Tony does not have a true refusal of the return because he is already home. The next step is the rescue from without which is a key part to the story of Iron man. Rescue from without is where the hero needs help to return to everyday life especially if the hero has been wounded physically or mentally. Tony’s help was his newly found lover Piper. She advises him on how to successfully be a good man, business man and Ironman. Without Piper Tony would not have been able to steady his life. Throughout the process of becoming Ironman, Piper was what kept Tony sane. Now that Piper has helped Tony figure his life out it is time for him to endure the last step of Campbell’s hero’s journey. The crossing of the return threshold is the final step. Also known as the return home, the crossing of the return threshold is where the hero recalls and retains any knowledge acquired on the journey and learns to live as the “master of two worlds”. Tony easily mastered the hero life while still being able to own a successful company. He was able to stay a billionaire without selling weapons to terrorist. On top of single handedly destroying terrorism Ironman became a more rounded man as his bachelor lifestyle starts to fade away.
The story of Tony Stark as Iron man is one of a true modern hero that closely follows the stages of Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Campbell was able to basically summarize the movie of Ironman decades before the script was even written; therefor Ironman is just as much as a hero as the old tales of Odysseus or Hercules. Ironman set out on a journey, achieved his goals and returned home just like heroes were doing centuries ago. How is it that every hero story is written by completely different minds yet follows such a tight pattern? The modern hero stories up to this date are still following the steps written by Campbell. Tony proves himself to be a true hero through his hero’s journey by being a prime example of Campbell’s text.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1968. Print. Iron Man. Dir. Jon Favreau. Prod. Avi Arad and Kevin Feige. By Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, and Matthew Holloway. Perf. Robert Downey, Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Paramount Pictures, 2008. DVD.