Note: Here there be spoilers for Iron Man 3 and minor spoilers for other Avengerverse movies. Read on at your own risk. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Let’s face it. Iron Man was great. Iron Man 2 could have used a little something more. The Avengers was pretty darn awesome. So, of course, fans of Tony Stark everywhere were excited for Iron Man 3, hoping for a movie that was at least as good as the first. I personally didn’t have particular expectations for the third Iron Man movie – all I wanted was some sexy supersuit action, some badass new tech, Tony Stark being Tony Stark, and a clear, concise plot that wasn’t too contrived. To my surprise, Iron Man 3 turned out to be so much better and so much more than anything I expected.
Iron Man 3 picks up a short while after the events of The Avengers. A very human Tony Stark, who has saved the Earth by flying a goddamn nuclear missile into a goddamn alien rift into an alternate dimension THROUGH SPACE and then falling back to Earth is now suffering from anxiety attacks and PTSD (although he says he isn’t). He can’t sleep and he has nightmares when he does, so he just ends up making tons and tons of suits for a variety of situations. Perfectly normal response, one supposes – even a man who flew out of a desert hideout in a tin can would end up with PTSD at some point after dealing with Loki, no? Except, of course, there’s a new villain in town – a threatening, trigger-happy terrorist who goes by the monicker The Mandarin, and there’s a good looking guy who’s interested in Pepper and might be slightly nefarious, nbd.
As I watched Iron Man 3 unfold on the screen before my eyes, I heard Captain America’s words echo in my head. The movie isn’t about the flashy tech or the suits or Iron Man’s world of glitz and glamour. It’s about Tony Stark, the man inside the suit. It’s about him dealing with the aftermath of things that no regular human being had any business being caught up in the middle of, while a new adversary and a new crisis swallow him up. There ain’t no rest for the wicked, but there ain’t no rest for the superhero either. Iron Man 3 took Iron Man and his suits of armor and took away everything that made him Iron Man in the eyes of the general public, leaving Tony Stark with nothing but his wits and his own human abilities in the face of an oncoming shitstorm. And you know what? It was beautiful.
Yes, Iron Man 3 was far, far away from yet another shootout between bad guys and the man in the armor. It had a compelling, character-driven plot with clever social commentary and unexpected twists aplenty. This definitely isn’t a movie for the typical elementary school kid who just wants to see fast cars and rockets and flying and things going boom. The movie poses the question of, Is Iron Man still Iron Man if he’s got no suits, no money and no allies to turn to? Is it still an Iron Man movie, an Iron Man story, if Iron Man hasn’t got a suit and needs to struggle physically and mentally to survive and save the day? Unequivocally, I have to agree with the conclusion Tony himself comes to by the end of the movie.
I loved the road they took with The Mandarin. Eerily appearing as an omnipotent, omnipresent threat that could make even the President of the United States bargain with a terrorist, the Mandarin’s hijacks of the worldwide television streams are opened up by the same ten-rings logo as the one that appeared on the backdrop of the first Iron Man‘s terrorist-made videos. (Can anyone say Iron Man 4?) The Mandarin appears to be a vengeful force of destruction and chaos, opposed to the modern-day imperialism and capitalist greed, with oil and Afghanistan featuring heavily in his agenda of things the USA – nay, the world – needs to atone for in a baptism of holy fire. In this day and age, when Al Qaeda and jihadists send the public into a frenzy of patriotism and blind fear, The Mandarin is an all-too-realistic depiction of the bogeymen that grace the front pages of the New York Times each morning. An image that hits too close to home, of a superpowered terrorist who wants to destroy the West for their capitalist ways – except, get this Dean, there’s a plot twist – The Mandarin is nothing but a construct, an actor playing a role all too well. In this case, Moriarty really was an actor all along, and the real villain is a corporate entity, in alliance with a highly-ranked government source. Their aim isn’t justice of any sort, nor is it done in the name of the holy war. Their aim is to control the war on terror, raising the prices as they go, and they seek to seize the figureheads, the images of the defenders as well as to control the images of the villains they themselves invented. Fairy tales at their best all around.
I also got a good laugh out of the War Machine being rechristened the Iron Patriot – a joke that would definitely fly over the heads of the newspaper-reading majority.
About the most unexpected plot twist? Pepper. I mean, everyone loves Pepper Potts, right? She’s sassy, smart, courageous, and she don’t take none of yo’ shit, Mr. Stark. She’s far from being a damsel in distress that needs to be rescued every five minutes, despite the fact that she is human, does not have any sort of special spy training (like Hawkeye), Russian spy training (like the Black Widow), or magical super-soldier serum in her bloodstream (like Captain America). However, being the Iron Man’s main squeeze is an especially hard place to be in this movie. Sure, we expected Pepper to be awesome and handle things really well while she waits for Iron Man to come rescue her. What we did not expect is Pepper to get actual f*cking strength, actual f*cking power, and beat the holy crap out of the villain with her own strength and whatever she could get her hands on while Tony Stark, wiped out and beat, sprawls out on his ass amidst bits and pieces of his super-suit. Pepper’s role in the movie gives me hope that we are moving past the days when a woman’s only role is as a trophy; she outright refuses to be the trophy and is the one to win the final battle outright. I’m sorry, but I am having a serious Pepper!boner right now, I can’t.
Overall, I’d have to say that Iron Man 3 is about as close as it gets to absolutely flawless. I do feel that there could have been something more done about Maya, her general role in the film leaving me just a little bit dissatisfied. I appreciated War Machine greatly. And I like that the movie hints that there is more to this that we have yet to see, things we cannot begin to imagine – clearly evil has gotten very, very good at branding and social media marketing. I think my greatest fear at this point is that the next Avengers movie and the next Thor movie will not be as good as this one. Iron Man 3 has set a high standard for what I expect of the upcoming Marvel movies, and the disappointment will be great when they inevitably fail to live up to it.