Tony Stark would be no match for Sauron.
My eldest has recently become interested in the Marvel movies. So, under no great duress, I’ve been watching some of them with him. I’ve seen most of them before, but it is a pleasure to watch them again, chiefly due to seeing how he enjoys them.
For the most part, they aren’t bad movies. They’re fun. Worthy of popcorn and putting your brain completely on hold for a few hours. Though, I have to say, Marvel has become addicted to a particular sort of end routine. It usually consists of huge things blowing up in the sky while New York or the world is about to end (yet again). This gets old after a while. There are a couple Marvel movies that deviate from this ending, such as the two Ant Mans, Black Panther (a rather dull movie, in my opinion, other than the world-building of Wakanda and Andy Serkis’ character) and Spiderman: Homecoming, but the Avengers movies are the worst offenders.
Big hole in the sky? Check. Weird creatures from other dimension/galaxy showing up? New York City smashed to bits for the umpteenth zillion time? Check. Small country in the Balkans about to get nuked? Check? The first Infinity Wars faithfully followed this tried and true recipe, with the somewhat ritalinizing addition of people vanishing en masse and an open ending (due to the fact that Marvel and Disney are intent on squeezing more nickels from the turnip via the sequels).
Despite, the frivolous amusement of the Marvel movies, they share a collective vacuum, a narrative absence equivalent to a galaxy-killing black hole. The villain. There are no Saurons in the Marvel universe.
The villains, large and small, from Michael Keaton’s conflicted father-businessman in Spiderman: Homecoming, to Josh Brolin’s Thanos in Infinity Wars, are really a bunch of shallow, whining milksops. They behave badly enough, I’m not arguing that. They blow stuff up, murder people, don’t seem to recycle, etc., but they aren’t villains in any profound way. They’re villains because of dreary things like resentment (Adrian Toomes in Spiderman: Homecoming), greed (Darren Cross in Ant Man 1), environmentalism (Thanos in Infinity Wars), resentment (both Loki and Hela in the Thor movies), lust for power (Hydra in various movies).
I’m not saying these motivations make for completely dull villains. They’re decent motivations. In fact, they’re humanizing motivations because all of us as individuals fall prey to these temptations in different ways and in different intensities. And, while I don’t subscribe to environmentalism in any degree that would prompt crime on my part, there are nuts out there who run amok accordingly due to love of trees, small rodents, plankton, etc. However, these motivations, recognizable in their familiarity (as we all have the potential to be wicked in the quietness of our hearts), cannot stir us much beyond our cinematic enjoyment, because of that same dreary familiarity.
Thanos, the most impressive of the Marvel villains, to put it mildly, is not Sauron.
Thanos, despite his dedication to wiping out half of all life in the universe, is a bit of a dud in the villain occupation. There’s not much more to his wickedness than that. There’s no profound depth of evil in him. There’s no articulation in the choices of his character that evil is an absolute thing, a thing of vile corruption completely devoted to destruction of truth, beauty and goodness, a brutal concept that has existed outside the universe from before time began.
Thanos is merely mixed up in his logic about natural resources and how their potential interacts with the purposes and needs of society. He went to the wrong college and took the wrong classes.
Tolkien had a much more profound grasp of villains and evil. He ran deep in his writing, plumbing the depths of what evil and good truly mean, while Marvel seems to find most of their material for villainous behavior on the floor of the psychologist’s office. Or, arguably, at best, ripped off from the dark nihilism of German national socialism. I have to admit, that’s probably been their best villain motivator, and they’ve certainly gone to that well plenty of times.
Hela, the goddess of death in Thor: Ragnarok, had tremendous promise. But she was reduced to a ho-hum motivation from a failed father-daughter relationship. Tolkien would have been wise enough to not use that color. He might’ve dabbled in it for some cosmetic dressing, but he would have scorned it as the dark foundation. He saw the world from an absolutist point of view, that good and evil are realities that exist outside of Man, that evil does not spring from the choices of Man, but that Man chooses evil. Or good, hopefully, from time to time. And this one difference, as opposed to the mindless materialist view of the Marvel universe, creates a great divide between Sauron and the spandex moderns.
Tony Stark would’ve died in Mordor. Sauron would’ve seen to that. All of today’s cheerful choices to defend freedom for the sake of freedom, built on an airy framework of nothing at all (at least, that’s what it’s become these days), would’ve crumbled into ruin on those dark plains. If they’d have even gotten that far.
The foundation stones of Barad-dur go down very far. Far below our everyday villainry. Far below even the best philosophies of our material world. And, as such, the hero who seeks to defeat such an evil must do so with something that is not a comfortable native of the world of men.
Which, again, is why Sauron would’ve easily defeated Ironman.