This is NOT just another review of Marvel's The Avengers. Don't get your hopes up, dear readers--or, conversely, don't click away. This is a systematic deconstruction of one specific line in the film. When Agent Coulson tries to hand Tony Stark a file containing intel on the various superheroes slated to join the Avengers, Stark refuses:
I don't like being handed things.
On the surface, of course, this is a funny little allusion to Iron Man 2. LOL! Remember the strawberries! Ha ha ha. Classic moment. That's all there is to it, right?
As I made a sugar-free vanilla latte this morning, I realized that there's actually a lot more to this line than meets the eye.
For starters, this line reinforces Stark's individualism. His clout--economic, innovative, etc.--has made him used to getting his own way. This isn't a request; it's not a "hey bro, could you give that to my secretary plz?" The request, which is more like a command than anything else, is implied. He's stating his preference, and he expects others to accommodate that preference. Even the sentence structure emphasizes Stark's self-prioritization. He is the subject of the sentence, and the action of the hander is nothing more than a gerundial direct object.
But wait, there's more! In his previous appearances in the Marvel Film Universe, Stark has been established as a hard worker, unwilling to rely on others' inspiration or handiwork. He saves his own life in terrorist-controlled caves. He adapts the arc reactor technology to fit his vision. He figures out the secret code in his father's expo design by himself, after transporting the layout boards in his convertible. The line in question can be interpreted to re-emphasize this almost-paranoid reliance on his own brainchildren. Stark does not take. He gives. He creates, and hands (the benefits of his miniaturized arc-reactor technology, his company, strawberries) off to people who need. Tony Stark is a fountain, not a drain, and "not being handed things" is part of being a fountain.
This could be linked to Stark's subtle quest for respect in The Avengers. A close viewing of the film reveals that Tony Stark wants to be more than just an Avenger. Stark's first appearance suited, as an Avenger, is Stuttgart, where he makes a grand entrance by co-opting the transport's PA system, and then proceeds to save the day. Later, when Thor takes Loki, Stark storms in to try to win the battlez all by himself. On the helicarrier, he stands at Nick Fury's post on the bridge, a probably-unconscious attempt to establish himself as In Charge. As tensions rise between the Avengers, Stark's subconscious need for attention and accolade lead him to (literally) try to prod the Hulk out of Bruce Banner.
Steve Rogers' sermon to Stark about laying down on the wire shows Stark what Iron Man has to do, to win the respect of these people. It's no longer good enough for him to be a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist, because among the Avengers, he's just another freak. He has to do something special. So he does, but he waits for the right moment. He defers to Rogers' tactical expertise, consenting temporarily to be a pawn, a tool, part of the team. But, when the moment is right--when death by nuke approaches--Stark sees the opportunity. In one move he can win the battle, distinguish himself from the rest of the group, and capture their attention and respect. So he does. It's a risky move, but it pays off: when he comes to, the entire team is grouped around him, anxiously awaiting signs of life. He has earned their respect, and their loyalty. Consciously or not, he is in charge.
Because that's who he is. Working with the Avengers is too much like being handed something. Leading them, though--taking charge, molding them into his own creation--that's more Tony Stark's style.
Long live not being handed things!