Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective: Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 sucks and I’m as surprised as anyone about it. After The Avengers re-wrote the rule book, Iron Man 3 was tasked with beginning Phase Two of Marvel’s grand plan and it arguably made some of the most unexpected choices for continuing the story of Tony Stark in this new world of gods and aliens. By, for better or worse, completely ignoring these new additions to the MCU in favour of another character study of the effects that Tony’s increasing heroism has on his mental health.

Let me get this straight: I love the idea of investigating Tony’s psychological wounds, especially with how frustratingly resilient the other heroes are in comparison. This makes sense though as, out of all of them barring Bruce Banner, Tony is the least battle-trained out of the Avengers. Warfare is second nature to Thor, Black Widow, Captain America and Hawkeye, as they’re all soldiers of one type or another. Tony is merely a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist (just rolls of the tongue), and he just made a suicide run into another dimension with a fucking nuclear bomb. That messed me up just watching it. So yeah, post traumatic stress storyline, go for it Shane Black. That’s another thing, Shane Black is one of my favourite directors, never mind the fact that he created Riggs and Murtaugh, he also loves to deconstruct neo-noir stories and neo-noir is firmly where I pay my movie rent.

All of this made me excited to watch Iron Man 3 again. I’d only seen the movie once when it was released in theatres, and I remember liking it very much, especially Black’s signature tone. Which only further proves how important that second viewing is. It took a second viewing for me to unlock the pleasures of both Civil War and Guardians of the Galaxy, two movies that left me a little disappointed on the first watch. Iron Man 3 proves that this principle goes both ways because I hated it the second time round.

Where to begin? While Tony’s PTSD was reasonably accurately portrayed for the genre and the Iron Man suit acting a symbol of his damaged psyche was great, there is no satisfactory pay-off to what this set up. Sure, Tony blows up his suits in the end, but it’s an empty gesture thanks to the inevitable second Avengers team-up. If this movie was solely about Tony’s dark night of the soul it would have been great, but just like Iron Man 2, when you add in everything else that by necessity makes this a superhero movie (such as the story’s continuation after this, with Tony required to fulfil his previous Iron Man functions once more), it blows up in your face. Just like those suits.

Ticking the Romance Box

Let’s get to this section quickly because Pepper is supposed to means something in this movie. Iron Man 3 tries to tie everything to Tony and Pepper’s relationship, one that we have only officially seen being healthy in two scenes of The Avengers. The problem here is that much of Tony and Pepper’s romantic turmoil doesn’t feel earned, although her relationship with the suits is always a recipe for an arresting visual. Instead of Pepper feeling like a real character, she feels like a symbol of Tony’s best health, which is good in terms of main character motivation, but not for Pepper in terms of her characterization.

The Wasted Villain Corner

How many corporate supervillains must one guy face? The villains of Iron Man 3 are a handy way of investigating the movie’s core failings. First, The Mandarin. I’m aware that this famous villain’s treatment in this movie has been the cause of some very fair criticism. The fact that he is really an idiot actor is great for a laugh in the cinema, but it represents the movie’s main problem: it can’t commit to a tone. Imagine if Tony actually had to face off against the Mandarin. For one, it would be a change of pace from the empty suits he was fighting in the last two movies, and with the Mandarin’s status as the terrorist’s terrorist, he’s a fitting symbol of the actions that cause the kind of destruction that has psychically wounded Tony. Instead Shane Black goes for the empty joke, with Guy Pierce’s ridiculously anonymous villain (he is the Mandarin! Good for you mate, it’s nice to have goals) making absolutely no impression at all. Oh, and Rebecca Hall was completely wasted, a grudge that I will carry against Black to my grave.

I’ll give Iron Man 3 something, it does have one of the MCU’s best action scenes as Tony saves the crew of Air Force One, but that’s caused by Rhodey’s suit getting tampered with, again. Despite another great performance from Robert Downey Jr, Iron Man 3 is too afraid of fulfilling its potential to be a good movie. Also, the kid isn’t funny. Lose the kid. Always lose the kid.

If you enjoyed this article and want to see more stuff like it, please check out the rest of our MCU retrospective, and consider supporting us on Patreon!

By Kevin Boyle

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