Marvel’s Big 3: A Ten Year Journey

When the Marvel Cinematic Universe started, it was led by Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. Throughout their 10 year journey, they have each been defined by a distinct individual trait: Steve by valor, Thor by growth, and Tony by sacrifice. How and why did these qualities shape the three men?

Captain America

Valor means to have great courage in the face of danger. Steve Rogers, a scrawny young man was told time and time again that he couldn’t protect the little people like his friend best fried Bucky would do for him. However, he always shown valor. When Steve finally gets the chance to join the U.S. military, he decides he will put up his life to protect the “little man”. Even in a training exercise when a fake grenade is thrown, Steve puts his body on the line to shield everyone else. After he becomes Captain America and beats the Red Skull, there is no way to save the day but to sacrifice himself. Steve leaves behind the love of his life to make sure the rest of the world is safe.

When he awakens 70 years later, his whole life has changed. Steve is alone but when the world needs him, he’s there fighting the bad guy and saving the day. Everything changes for Steve when he discovers that his presumed-dead best friend, Bucky, is alive. However, Bucky has been brainwashed and attacks Steve. Even when faced with the possibility of his best friend being lost again, Steve stands tall and never wavers. Steve tells Bucky he’ll be with him to the end of the line.

Captain America’s biggest challenge arrives when Thanos comes for the Mind Stone in Wakanda. Steve is able to hold off Thanos for a second, but it isn’t enough. Thanos accomplishes his goal and wipes out half of life in existence. Not being able to fix it, Steve is forced to live on but never gives up hope. When he gets a rematch with Thanos, but is faced with no way of winning, Captain America shows what valor means. He stands tall even when he thinks he’s alone, but then with the help of the rest of the Avengers, he fights Thanos again and wins. Throughout his journey in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America has always been about courage, protecting the little guy and doing whatever it takes.


Thor Odinson began his journey as an arrogant young man who only thought about honor and glory. His recklessness causes his father to exile him to earth and deem him unworthy to wield his hammer, Mjolnir. Thor couldn’t wield Mjolnir until he learned honor and humility. Thor’s ultimate challenge comes when he loses his brother Loki, and his mother. Even with all of his power, he couldn’t save the two people he loved most. In his own eyes, he is a failure. That feeling carries through him when he could not save Asgard.

Thor felt his redemption would come though killing Thanos, but he fails to do so. Though he does eventually kill Thanos, it is too late to undo the snap. Thor’s feeling of failure and unworthiness persevere. He goes into hiding to cope with the guilt that he couldn’t save everyone. He doesn’t even have the one thing that made him worthy – his hammer, Mjolnir. When the Avengers come up with a way to get the stones back, Thor acts like he is happy, but he was hiding the true pain he felt. In his eyes, as the king of Asgard, the almighty Thor, he can’t have anyone see his pain. Acting like things are fine is a coping mechanism, along with heavy drinking.

When Thor and Rocket go to get the Ether stone, they time-travel to the day that Thor’s mother was killed. Thor gets to see his mother again but knows he cannot save her. His mother reassures him that it was normal to be a failure and that his strength comes from how he handles it. Hearing his mother tell him that failure just makes him like everyone else helps him realize he had been trying to be someone he wasn’t. He summons Mjolnir and it comes to him, proving he is still worthy. Thor’s journey has taken him from an arrogant god who sees himself above everyone to a man who is fallible like anyone else, but with the determination and strength to overcome his failures.

Iron Man

Tony Stark started the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and his journey has always been about sacrifice. In Iron Man, Tony is captured by terrorists and it seems like there was no way out. He devises a plan and escapes, but at a cost. Ho Yinsen, the man trapped in the cave with Tony, gives up his life so that Tony may live. It was that sacrifice that gave birth to Iron Man.

In The Avengers, Captain America asks Tony if he’s prepared to lay down his life for the other guy. When Loki invades and a bomb is headed towards New York, Tony risks his life to save the city. In Iron Man 3, Tony gives up every armor he has built to defeat his enemy; he was prepared to give away one of the things that mattered most to him.

Though he may give off an air of selfishess, Iron Man has always been willing to do whatever it takes. This attitude culminates in the finale of Avengers: Endgame. Although he regrets the loss of Peter Parker and his failure to stop Thanos, Tony had settled into a happy life with his longtime love, Pepper Potts, and their daughter. However when he figures out a theory to undo the snap, he chooses to risk his life despite having more at stake than ever before. While fighting Thanos, Tony gets a hold of the Infinity Stones. With no other way of defeating Thanos and his army, Tony snaps his fingers, winning the fight at the cost of his own life. Tony Stark’s journey has been about sacrifice for the greater good.