Countdown to Infinity War: Revisiting Iron Man 3 (2013)

Previously: 2012 passed into our rear-view mirror and 2013 was upon us, and when it came to Marvel movies, we had no idea what to expect. In 2008, we knew the goal for these movies had been the formation of the Avengers, which meant several origin stories and an introduction to SHIELD, and it all culminated in a major financial and critical hit. But now that the team was formed, what was next? 2013 was open-ended, and we were getting the first post-Avengers film that year: Iron Man 3, which had a lot riding on it. Could the momentum be sustained?

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The plot: Suffering from post-traumatic stress in the aftermath of the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark builds several versions of his armor to cope. As he tries to come to terms with the fact that he almost died and that there are hordes of aliens in space who pose a constant threat to Earth, more mundane but no less weighty problems face him closer to home. A terrorist leader known as the Mandarin…

…is staging multiple attacks against the homeland, while an old lover from Tony’s past, Doctor Maya Hansen…

…shows up at Tony’s door asking for help. At the same time, Aldrich Killian, the head of Advanced Idea Mechanics and a rival with a grudge against Stark…

…seems both willing and eager to disrupt his life. Can Tony keep his head straight long enough to stop the Mandarin and uncover the conspiracy that has enmeshed him?

I wasn’t looking forward to watching Iron Man 3 again. I had only seen it once before back in 2013 in the theater, and I left the movie decidedly underwhelmed. I think part of the reason is I had wanted Armor Wars, and instead we got something very different. To be fair, at no time did Marvel head Kevin Feige promise me Armor Wars; that was an unrealistic expectation on my part, so the disappointment is partly laid on my own shoulders.

The rest is on writer/director Shane Black and screenwriter Drew Pearce.

I originally took issue with the many different armors Tony had cranked out, but Maya Hansen says in the second act that this movie is taking place 13 years after the prologue, which makes it Christmas 2012. Honestly, I had missed this the first time around, and with the way everybody keeps talking to Tony about New York, this film feels like it takes place only a few months after The Avengers. But knowing that Avengers took place in 2010 throws that all off, so if this movie takes place more than two years later, then the number of armors isn’t a problem, seeing as how he knocked out two suits in as many weeks in the first Iron Man. And as far as Tony doing a lot of tinkering to deal with his PTSD, and how making more suits is no longer helping him in that regard, well, I don’t have a problem with that either. It’s like an addict who requires more and more of his drug of choice to get the same buzz; Tony has self-medicated with work rather than address the problem, and now it’s become a serious issue.

All that being said, Pepper comes across as being pretty dim for not noticing that for over two years her lover has had a serious mental problem. I realize she’s running a major corporation, but we’ve seen ample evidence of her intelligence in the first two films; for her to simply miss the fact that the man she lives with needs help really doesn’t say a whole lot for her character.

I think you can see the problem with the messed up timeline. There’s no reason why The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Thor all had to happen in the same week in 2009 (and if you’re thinking maybe Iron Man happened later, hence pushing things forward, a single line from the Vision in Civil War debunks that notion). And there’s no reason The Avengers had to happen a mere year after those films. Am I reading too much into this? Probably. But it’ll get worse when we look at Thor: The Dark World and how it means Thor and Jane Foster have been apart for four years and are still in love. After knowing each other for just two days.

Okay, back to the armors. I don’t have an issue with the technical aspects of Stark building so many. No, my issue is with how they were used. Back in the day, artist Bob Layton and writer David Michelinie had a couple great runs on the Iron Man comic. They were the pair that gave us Demon in a Bottle, where Tony Stark came to realize he was an alcoholic. Among the things best remembered about those runs were Layton’s creation of alternate suits of armor, such as the space suit…

…the stealth suit…

…and the deep sea suit.

It was the creation of these suits that would pave the way years later for the epic Hulkbuster armor that would be seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The point is, each of these suits were a big deal; they were created as a solution to a problem that Tony was facing at that particular moment in the comics, and it was cool to read how sometimes they didn’t work right due to them being untested prototypes, or having limited functionality because they were purpose-built and not meant for generalized use like his baseline armor. So when the suits of armor from Iron Man 3 were leaked before the movie came out, I thought we were going to see Tony in situations where he might have to don specialized suits to handle different problems. Look at ’em:

No, I wasn’t expecting Tony to wear all of them, but the idea of him facing situations where he had to wear different suits to handle various threats sounded exciting beyond belief. Instead, what did we get?

Why, are those robots fighting faceless minions, with shades of the Star Wars prequels, Iron Man 2, and Avengers? Why, yes it is! Instead of Tony creating some sort of heat-resistant suit to counter the Extremis threat, we get this. As finales go, this one sucks. Especially when Pepper turns out to be head and shoulders more competent than our hero, and is able to bust out moves and think tactically on the fly in such a way that you’d think it was Black Widow who had gotten dosed with Extremis instead.

The finale, with Tony blowing up the suits and getting the long overdue heart operation to remove the shrapnel, just feels hollow. We know there would be at least another Avengers movie, and that somehow Iron Man would be back. It was a meaningless ending meant to make us feel good and make us think that Tony and Pepper would live happily ever after. Even without looking at what happened to the pair in later movies, nobody believed this ending for a second.

I had issues with other parts of the plot, like AIM just happening to be the corporation that upgraded War Machine to Iron Patriot. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Stark to have been responsible for the upgrades? Last time somebody tinkered with the Mark II armor, we got the “ex-wife” missile from Justin Hammer. I would think Rhodey wouldn’t want anybody other than Tony messing with the armor. It’s this plot device that allows Tony to conveniently hack into AIM’s database, and for AIM to equally conveniently disable Iron Patriot for their diabolical plan. I also found Extremis itself to be a weak plot element, but maybe that’s just me being reminded of the story that inspired it.

Written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Adi Granov, Extremis was a six-issue tale where Ellis ignored the part about Tony Stark’s identity being public just so he could write the story the way he wanted, and because he was a comic book rock star, the editors let him. It was also the story where Stark gained super-powers, because Warren Ellis doesn’t get what makes Iron Man awesome. I’ve heard people say this brief run laid the groundwork for the first Iron Man film, and I’ll grant that some elements from the six-part series inspired the look of the movie’s first act, but for the most part, it’s overrated. Ellis is a writer who seems to get bored easily, and he’s better suited to limited series. Frankly, I’ll be shocked if he completes all 24 issues of DC’s The Wild Storm.

Getting back to the movie, I have to say I had no problem with the one thing that caused so many people to hate it: The Mandarin. In the comics, the Mandarin is a Chinese man who possesses vast scientific knowledge and employs alien technology in his quest for world domination. Employing ten rings, each with its own unique power, the Mandarin is one of Iron Man’s oldest and most persistent foes. When the first Iron Man told us of a terrorist organization called the Army of the Ten Rings, I and a lot of other people got very, very excited. It implied that if the movie did well that we could soon be seeing a Mandarin/Iron Man face off. Instead, we got this:

And honestly, I had no problem with this concept. Killian is what Justin Hammer should have been: Tony’s opposite number, a man employing technology for nefarious ends to further his agenda. I loved the idea of him prizing his anonymity, having realized early on in his life the value of being dismissed as unimportant and not worth anyone’s notice. What I did have a problem with was his master plan, which was to replace the President of the United States with the Vice President, who was being bribed with the promise of Extremis being used to restore his daughter’s missing leg. All well and good, but then Killian goes and executes his plan before getting Extremis to work properly. He’s already used it on himself and he knows there’s always the possibility it will overheat and kill him. So what does he do? He kills Maya Hansen without knowing for sure Stark can fix Extremis, so he’s got a potential death sentence hanging over his head. As master criminals go, Aldrich Killian is unique in that he’s both great at and sucks at his job. All the same, I do like Guy Pearce; he’s charming and menacing here. I just wish we didn’t know from the minute we saw him on the roof of that hotel that he was going to be the real bad guy.

What other plot holes did I see? Well, when Tony discovers where the Mandarin is hiding, why doesn’t he call in SHIELD for support? He’s aware the Mandarin is employing super-powered minions, and he doesn’t have a suit of armor, so why not call in the authorities? Or why not wait for the Housekeeping Protocol to kick in so he has a legion of suits on hand to deal with the situation? Instead, we get Tony Stark employing makeshift gadgetry and kung-fu on the perimeter guards, all of whom conveniently haven’t been exposed to Extremis.

This whole segment felt weak to me. I realize that Tony has a personal grudge against the Mandarin for hurting Happy, and maybe he wants to prove that he’s more than just “a man in a can”, but I couldn’t buy for one second his so effectively laying out those guards.

Don Cheadle as Colonel James Rhodes/Iron Patriot is good, but that comes as no surprise.

Cheadle is a fantastic actor and it helps that he’s given solid material to work with here. He comes across as intelligent, competent, and frankly more badass outside of the Iron Patriot armor than inside.

Gwyneth Paltrow is alright, save for the whole missing Tony’s PTSD thing, and Rebecca Hall is fine in her role of a scientific genius who gets in over her head. Jon Favreau was okay as comic relief, and it’s a testament to his acting that when Happy gets hurt, I truly gave a damn.

Brian Tyler’s soundtrack is top-notch, and Iron Man’s theme is especially strong. He’s worked on various TV projects like Sleepy Hollow and Scorpion, and his work on motion pictures has been extensive as well, including some of the Fast & Furious movies, the Expendables franchise, and Law Abiding Citizen, among others. He’s even scored video games like Call of Duty. Of the three Iron Man films, Tyler’s music is head and shoulders above the other two works, and it helps to elevate the movie.

So, what was up with Iron Man in the comics at the time? During this period, the Mandarin did make a return and became one of Tony’s principal enemies. Later, Tony decides to go into space and joins up with the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Gee, it’s almost like there was a Guardians movie coming out the following year and they wanted to promote it.

Tony returned to Earth in time for the latest and “greatest” crossover event: AXIS, where heroes become villainous and vice-versa. Tony became the “Superior Iron Man”, and set up shop in San Francisco, where all his worst traits were magnified.

This helped pave the way for the Avengers’ massive meltdown where Tony would fight Captain America… again. Because by this time, Marvel’s editors seemed to think the only thing readers wanted to see were heroes fighting each other rather than the actual villains.

Next time: The God of Thunder returns. Will it go over better than Iron Man 3? Wait and see!

Tag: Countdown to Infinity War

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