Let's look at Tony's childhood. He had a smart, in-demand dad who gave him lots of money, but not lots of time. Tony never felt any real attachment to his dad, as far as being validated. As a result, he internalized the idea that he's not lovable, and therefore worthless. He became pessimistic, self-denigrating, and had a mistrust of just about everyone (made worse by the fact that his mentor, Stane from the first movie, betrayed him).
In light of these awful feelings about self and others, Tony's defense mechanism is narcissism. The line might blur between film and reality for Tony Stark and Robert Downey, Jr. here, but traits of narcissism are clearly evident in both films for the character:
1) He's all about himself. He says, "I am Iron Man" not because it was going to change the world, but because it inflated his sense of self. Now, he does make significant achievement in his own right, but he expects recognition of his importance, and that recognition has to be on national TV. Pyrotechnics, Stark Expos...the grander the better.
2) Requires excessive admiration. No explanation needed. When he doesn't get this, i.e., the media gives him a negative reaction, he retreats to his workshop all moody and sullen.
3) Takes advantage of others. Poor Pepper. Forcing her to be the CEO of his company really overwhelms her and makes her bitter at his treatment of her. And all those women he just slept with (used). He also treats his friend Rhodey pretty badly (i.e., like dirt).
4) Believes he is "special" and "unique." He doesn't want the government to get their hands on his "high-tech prosthesis" - because he has "successfully privatized world peace." TONY has done this. No one else. He sees the government as encroaching upon his fame, his niche.
5) Shows arrogance and haughtiness. He has several witty remarks aimed at authority figures while he's under the spotlight of the camera. He throws lavish parties and drinks too much, causing danger to the guests.
6) Is preoccupied with fantasies of ideals, like world peace. A noble cause, for sure, but in Tony's world, this looks a certain way, and when reality intrudes, he doesn't take kindly.
7) Lacks empathy. While Tony eventually does develop empathy, especially toward Pepper, he had a long way to go to get there. When he shows up with strawberries, and realizes she's allergic to them, he says, “I am getting better at this — I knew there was a correlation between you and strawberries!” He is trying to think outside himself.
But lucky for Tony, he receives a message from his dad in the form of an old archived video. This message essentially lets Tony know that his dad really did love him, and this helps heal his mild reactive attachment disorder. (Would that there was a cure for people like this in real life.)
Essentially, this is a watershed moment for Tony, and he sort of breaks free from his maladaptive narcissism and inner demons to go save the world and save the girl, yada yada.
Hope you've enjoyed this Movies & Madness review. Any and all suggestions for future assessments are welcome!