Iron Man, Hiro Hamada, and Untreated Mental Illness

Note: The Iron Man mentioned here is referring to the MCU version. Spoilers for Captain America Civil War!

So, when Big Hero 6 came out, a lot people noticed there were a lot of similarities between the main character, Hiro Hamada, and Tony Stark. They’re both genius brunettes savvy with technology and robotics who build special suits to go out and save the world and love to fly. Considering how BH6 is based off an obscure Marvel comic book, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was intentional. However, after re-watching the first Iron Man and watching CACW, I notice that there’s another parallel between the two–mainly, they’re both people dealing with grief, guilt, and mental illness, but whereas Hiro is getting the help he needs, Tony is not.

When Iron Man 3 came out, a lot of people were talking about how Tony Stark was clearly suffering from PTSD and/or Panic Disorder. Other people talked about the possibility of him having Narcissistic Personality Disorder as well. If you ask most people, they’ll say Tony’s problems started after the end of the first Avengers movie. But I think his problems actually started with the first Iron Man movie.

When Tony comes home from captivity, I couldn’t help but notice he continues to put himself in danger. He refuses to go to the hospital, tests his gear without wearing a helmet (even though he does get hurt), and partakes in a lot of risky behaviour in the name of atoning for his sins. But he also refuses to let people help him. He only get’s help when he is incapacitated. Throughout this movie and other MCU movies he also makes a lot of really brash and reckless decisions and at times can come across as a serious asshole.

By contrast, Hiro, who is suffering from bereavement and depression, has friends and a healthcare companion that will protect him, keep him safe, and will reach out to and help him whether he likes it or not. And when Hiro behaves likes a jerk, he realizes that he was wrong and apologizes for it, becoming a better person.

One of the major scenes that stuck with me was in CACW was when, after Iron Man finds out Bucky was responsible for the death of his parents, he lashes out and tries to kill him. In the aftermath, Bucky escapes and Tony is still unhappy. A similar scene happened in BH6 when Hiro found out who killed his brother, and also reacts brashly and tries to have the man killed…but then realizes that wasn’t the right thing to do, cries, apologizes, and resolves to find a nonviolent solution.

The scene that I found really upsetting was when Iron Man went for his first test flight. I didn’t watch it feeling relieved or excited or happy for Tony; I watched it and went “wow Tony is clearly mentally ill”. Because that first flight was extremely dangerous and I got the impression that Tony did it because he felt the need to be in control of something. Compare it to the first flight scene in BH6; it’s clear throughout the whole thing that the experience is making Hiro feel better, and that he feels freer, and isn’t in total danger. I got the opposite emotion watching Iron Man’s first flight.

Whenever I watch MCU movies involving Tony I see it as his gradual descent into depression and despair. It’s clear that he has a lot of unresolved issues and either no one is bothering to help him or he doesn’t bother to seek it out. And it’s clearly wearing on him, to the point where he has to build technology to remold the memories of a traumatic or sad event by himself instead of seeking a professional therapist. At this point I want Tony to get his own personal healthcare companion in order for him to get better!

It’s a very sad parallel, and I find it a little disturbing how untreated mental illnesses and grief are somehow required for mainstream superhero movies (this is one reason why I prefer BH6 and a lot of animated, family-friendly superhero shows to a lot of live action superhero stuff). It goes without saying, until the writers and directors of the MCU take Tony’s (and other character’s) mental health seriously and respectfully resolve their problems, I’m going to be more excited for BH6 related content than a lot of MCU stuff. At least with BH6 I know that my problems are valid and won’t be brushed aside in favour of drama.


Author: Laura Alexander

My name is Laura, I use they/them pronouns, and I'm a recent graduate of the Social Service Worker Program at Sheridan College. I'm on the autism spectrum (Asperger's) and I have a passion for film and animation, social issues, and helping others, all of which will be featured on The Flying Red Robot blog. Please read the about page before commenting or following. "Big Hero 6" is my favourite movie.