11 Days of Marvel: Iron Man 3


Day 7 of 11 Days of Marvel is here! In this project, Bill and Erin go through every sin­gle extant film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and write their reac­tions to them! The project start­ed here, with Iron Man, or you can click here to see all the arti­cles in the project so far. Today is about:

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Iron Man 3 (2013)

Erin’s Response: Does Iron Man Actually Need Redemption?

Let me start by say­ing that I real­ly enjoyed this movie the first time I saw it. I enjoyed the inter­play between Tony and the Kid (his name is sort of irrel­e­vant). Most of the action sce­nes in this movie are well-filmed and inter­est­ing, espe­cial­ly because the Iron Man suit is either per­form­ing badly, only halfway on Tony’s body, or, in sev­er­al very tense sce­nes, absent all togeth­er. Tony has been reduced to human pro­por­tions in this movie and proves that his money isn’t the only rea­son he can be so smart and inven­tive. The whole refrain of this movie is that Tony Stark is Iron Man, but I couldn’t help but think that it was actu­al­ly the reverse: Iron Man is Tony Stark. If you love Iron Man, you need to love and trust Tony Stark.

That is why, for all there is to rec­om­mend this movie, I dis­liked the notion that Tony need­ed to some­how move on, grow up, and search for redemp­tion. Perhaps this is my non-religious bent com­ing out, but I have never felt like Tony was bro­ken. He is flawed, but most of the time those flaws don’t stop him from doing his job and doing it well. The tics they added to him in this movie (mak­ing a mil­lion suits, never sleep­ing, using the suits in a very Dr. Manhantten-esque scene with Pepper, and even his panic attacks) were attrib­ut­able to his trip through the worm­hole, but never actu­al­ly attrib­ut­ed to that event. That is because this movie wasn’t about a solider’s PTSD, it was about how a cap­i­tal­ist needs to find his inner human. The prob­lem with this sto­ry­line is that Tony has been too well fleshed-out in all the other movies to make this believ­able. Unlike the other Avengers, Tony has starred in 4.1 of the 7 movies of the fran­chise so far. We have now seen him bat­tle for Earth count­less times, and have grown accus­tomed to his snark, bril­liant mind, and the care he offers to oth­ers. He has already shut down his ord­nance busi­ness, given his com­pa­ny to a woman, and start­ed work­ing on clean ener­gy. Tony Stark doesn’t need redemp­tion, he needs a god­damn medal.

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Best Moment: Tony’s assault on the Mandarin’s com­pound sans suit. It show­cas­es just how brave and inven­tive he real­ly is.

Worst Moment: Everything with Maya Hansen, who is, once again, anoth­er non-badass female sci­en­tist. Sigh.

Best Barrel of Monkeys in Modern Cinema: The chain of peo­ple Stark res­cues from Air Force One.

Erin’s Rankings:

1Captain America: The First Avenger

2Iron Man

3The Avengers

4. Iron Man 3

5. Thor

6The Incredible Hulk

7Iron Man 2

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Bill’s Response: But I Liked This Movie, You Jerks

I can’t help but get defen­sive about this movie. I walked out of the the­ater think­ing I’d seen a pret­ty good Iron Man movie, one which was will­ing to actu­al­ly devel­op the char­ac­ter and take risks, and which gen­er­al­ly did a ton of smart things with the fran­chise and with its most famous vil­lain. Yet Iron Man 3 fre­quent­ly shows up as a punch­ing bag in arti­cles and blog posts about the MCU, or some­times even in arti­cles about whol­ly unre­lat­ed things, like this one about the Supergirl trail­er which mis­cel­la­neous­ly states that Iron Man 3 “sucked.”

Sucked? It sucked? Not “it wasn’t great,” or “I didn’t like it,” but it “sucked?” In a movie fran­chise which includes Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World, you pick Iron Man 3 as the movie that “sucked?” So, in that con­text, as some­one who most­ly real­ly likes this movie, I get defen­sive and ranty.

What the liv­ing hell is wrong with you peo­ple?

In fair­ness, I think part of the rea­son folks were dis­ap­point­ed with this movie is that it came out after The Avengers, but feels noth­ing like The Avengers. I hap­pen to think this is a good thing: as I’ve said repeat­ed­ly, super­hero movies get bor­ing if they all work exact­ly the same way. But if you were to go into Iron Man 3 look­ing for two hours just jam-packed with explo­sions and witty one-liners, you would walk away dis­ap­point­ed. Instead, Iron Man 3 is about what The Avengers did to Tony Stark.

What it did is mess him right the heck up, which makes a ton of sense: he was almost killed by aliens from outer space. That would shake me up, too. So he has panic attacks, and he can’t sleep, and he obses­sive­ly works on cre­at­ing more and more suits of armor so he can pro­tect Pepper. Then, when some ter­ror­ist harms his friend Happy Hogan, he blus­ter­ing­ly calls him out on nation­al tele­vi­sion, because what the heck, he’s fought aliens, right? What’s some guy with a beard? When that unsur­pris­ing­ly bites him in the ass, he finds him­self strand­ed far away from most of his tools and gad­gets. He’ll have to face the Mandarin with lit­tle more than his own intel­li­gence, and the stress of that reminds him who he is: a bril­liant mechan­ic. This, my friends, is called “char­ac­ter devel­op­ment.” Anyone who said “I don’t want to watch Iron Man have a panic attack” is a Philistine, and should not be trust­ed to oper­ate any­thing more com­pli­cat­ed than a dig­i­tal watch.

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This movie has the best action sequences of the entire Iron Man tril­o­gy, because they all exist to show­case just how smart and resource­ful Tony Stark real­ly is. He fights his way into the Mandarin’s Miami com­pound with gad­gets he cob­bled togeth­er from mis­cel­la­neous Home Depot pur­chas­es. After he’s cap­tured, he takes out fif­teen guards wear­ing only a few parts of a heavily-damaged suit. When his suit mal­func­tions in the attack on his house, he destroys heli­copters by chuck­ing pianos at them and man­u­al­ly throw­ing his mis­siles. He takes out a super-soldier by cob­bling togeth­er a makeshift bomb in the kitchen of a greasy spoon diner. The movie reminds us that the super­hero is not the suit, it’s Tony Stark. Anybody could go to war in a tin can, but only Tony Stark is Iron Man.

And how can you not appre­ci­ate this ver­sion of the Mandarin? Rather than a tired, Orientalist car­i­ca­ture, this ver­sion tries to actu­al­ly engage with real­i­ty. The Mandarin, that per­fect, hor­ri­fy­ing ter­ror­ist who strikes fear into the hearts of Americans around the coun­try and jus­ti­fies tons of mil­i­tary spend­ing, doesn’t actu­al­ly exist. For all that Killian shouts that “he’s the Mandarin” at the very end of the movie, he’s not, because there is no Mandarin. The Mandarin is a pro­duct, sold to the American peo­ple like so many ten­nis shoes.1

And yeah, I get that it’s dif­fer­ent from the comic books, and that maybe you real­ly liked the comic book Mandarin, and that’s fine, okay? But the Mandarin, like every comic book vil­lain from the ‘60s, has been rein­vent­ed by the comics and var­i­ous videogame and TV and ani­mat­ed movie spin-offs about a zil­lion times. Nobody should want these movies to be slaves to the comic books.

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No, the movie is not per­fect. The stuff with the kid goes on too long, I’m not real­ly sure what Maya Hansen con­tributes to the story, Pepper is damseled just because they couldn’t fig­ure out what else to do, and Aldrich Killian is insuf­fi­cient­ly fright­en­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly since he’s in the shad­ow of Ben Freaking Kingsley. Yes, the last fight isn’t as good as the rest of the movie’s action sce­nes (though I do like the way Tony is con­stant­ly hop­ping in and out of dif­fer­ent suits), and his Big Romantic Gesture in blow­ing up all the suits is a lit­tle silly. But there is so very much to like about this movie that I real­ly don’t under­stand why peo­ple seem to hate it so much.

Also, this movie marks the first time that peo­ple will start to ask “But where are the rest of the Avengers?” as though they have encoun­tered some secret flaw in the solo movies. They seem so very proud of them­selves, amazed by their own rapier wit and pierc­ing insight. These same peo­ple go on to say “Why didn’t they just take the Eagles to Mordor” and argue all night about whether or not the top quit spin­ning in Inception. Look upon these peo­ple with pity, dear read­ers, but never let them out of your sight, for they are the Ancient Order of St. Oblivious, patron saint of Tired Arguments and Missing the Goddamn Point, and they are legion.

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Favorite Moment: When Tony only has about a third of his suit but he has to fight his way out of the com­pound any­way. Everything about this scene is per­fect, but I par­tic­u­lar­ly love the guy who drops his gun and leaves rather than being the 800th per­son for Tony to kill that day. Top marks for self-preservation and rudi­men­ta­ry pat­tern recog­ni­tion, Random Henchman #8.

Least Favorite Moment: “I am the Mandarin!” No, you’re not, Guy Pearce, the whole point was that there wasn’t a Mandarin. It’s like you’re not pay­ing atten­tion.

Least Subtle Critique of American Foreign Policy in the Middle East: When Iron Patriot breaks down the door of the sweat­shop and all the women cheer and he says “Yes, you’re free, uh, if you weren’t already.” Boy, I won­der what Shane Black is try­ing to say with this moment?

Bill’s Rankings:

1Captain America: The First Avenger

2The Avengers

3Iron Man

4. Iron Man 3

5Thor

6The Incredible Hulk

7Iron Man 2

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And Now, A Conversation

Bill: I’m not sure this movie was about the “redemp­tion” of Tony Stark — as you say, that kind of already hap­pened a lot. I thought it was more about Stark com­ing to grips with the ever-expanding size of the MCU and the fact that he’s no longer the biggest badass in town.

Erin: If that was the case, then why did he destroy his arse­nal at the end of the movie? Why is he con­fess­ing to a ther­a­pist? Why is the whole nar­ra­tive arc about reap­ing what you sow?

Bill: I think he destroys his arse­nal to make a Big Dramatic Gesture to Pepper about how he’s going to be more avail­able and com­mit­ted to their rela­tion­ship. It’s def­i­nite­ly not the strongest part of the movie, but that’s what I took away from it. And I think the arc about reap­ing what you sow and what­not is more Tony com­ing to grips with who he is, and who he was, and how there’s a lot of ten­sion between the two. I mean, you’re right, it’s about sev­er­al things at once, which is one of the movie’s weak­ness­es.

Erin: I just can never shake the feel­ing that the MCU was never com­fort­able with who Iron Man is — he is the 1%, he believes in pri­va­tized world peace. He is not the most sym­pa­thet­ic char­ac­ter, and that should be fine. There should be enough room for many dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple under this tent. Bringing them all to the same space, par­tic­u­lar­ly the same polit­i­cal space in this case, weak­ens the project. What if the point was that all peo­ple should be able to come togeth­er, and not have to change too much to still do good things? That is one of the stronger cases for the Avengers as team, and could have been a larg­er point in this and other movies.

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Bill: Well, I think you’re absolute­ly right that Hollywood (and the comics, too, if my rel­a­tive­ly lim­it­ed under­stand­ing is cor­rect) fre­quent­ly doesn’t know how to write these sorts of guys in a way which makes them both sym­pa­thet­ic and self-consistent. You see it with the Batman movies, too: they tend to down­play Wayne’s involve­ment with his com­pa­ny, or put him in oppo­si­tion to what it’s up to. Which, I mean, lis­ten, I’m as skep­ti­cal of Big Corporations as almost every other human being on the plan­et, but it’s kind of bor­ing when they’re all evil, all the time.

Erin: Not only that, but in both of those cases, their com­pa­nies are one of the last ties they both have to their fam­i­lies. They form part of the back­bone of their own self-definitions. When my father died he left me a lit­tle bit of money, and you know how I ago­nized over what to do with it for years. Not just because I didn’t want to waste it, but because it felt like the last thing he entrust­ed me with, and I didn’t want to let him down. Why isn’t that part of the story for these char­ac­ters? Deciding to move to clean ener­gy makes a ton of sense for Stark Industries, but it would have been bet­ter if it was not just for gen­er­al good-doing’s sake, but also for their inter­twined lega­cies.

Bill: Yeah, I do think that it’s inter­est­ing to think about what Stark’s rela­tion­ship to the com­pa­ny is at this point. I’m pret­ty sure most of the rea­son Iron Man 2 made Pepper the new CEO was just so the MCU could avoid show­ing Tony work­ing for a big cor­po­ra­tion any more. Also, as a quick side note, both Stark Industries and Wayne Enterprises like to make a big deal about how they “don’t make weapons any more,” and that plays well on TV, sure, but unless you’re going to do away with the US mil­i­tary, some­body has to make the weapons. So, you know, maybe it would be bet­ter if Stark Industries made them than if AIM or Hammer Industries did? Maybe being an eth­i­cal weapons con­trac­tor is bet­ter than let­ting either of those sharks run the show?

Erin: Exactly! It is just like the world needs eth­i­cal lawyers and stock­bro­kers. The world is a bet­ter place when peo­ple with integri­ty do those jobs. I remem­ber once talk­ing to a good friend of mine, and he said “Really, when you look at the world, why aren’t we all aid work­ers in Africa?” While I under­stand that sen­ti­ment, it seems to miss the point of why we have aid to give in the first place.

Bill: Yeah, that (remark­ably con­de­scend­ing) state­ment doesn’t pass the Categorical Imperative at all.

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Well, that’s it for Iron Man 3 and for solo Iron Man movies so far! That may be the end of solo Iron Man movies forever, though there are rumors they may make an Iron Man 4 at some point. I think we can all agree that they shouldn’t do that, but the MCU doesn’t lis­ten to us, unfor­tu­nate­ly. Come back tomor­row for our thoughts on Thor: The Dark World, which we have both made fun of a whole bunch so far in this project. Maybe we’ll like it more on a sec­ond view­ing? Find out tomor­row, and feel free to com­ment below!

Notes:

  1. Yes, I know that the one-shot All Hail the King implies that there might be a “real” Mandarin out there, but that smacks of back­track­ing to please the fans, which is a Cardinal Sin of Franchise Management. []

Bill Coberly

About Bill Coberly

Bill Coberly is the founder and now Editor Emeritus (that means he doesn't really do anything any more) of the Ontological Geek. He currently studies law at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where he lives with his wonderful wife and a pair of small and snuggly terriers.