Author’s note: I wrote this last night at 4am. My dedication to this blog is a terrifying thing.
So, my darlings, I’ve just arrived home from the midnight screening of Iron Man 3, and I am here to ply you with my thoughts. Let’s see if we can keep this coherent. All in all? This was a hell of a movie, filled with stuff I never saw coming. I’ll be a little more specific after the jump. Spoilers for everything ahead.
Okay, so a brief summation of the plot. Let’s start with some background: a long time ago, Tony was a dick to a scientist from an organization named AIM. Nowadays, the Mandarin is being a totally creepy dude and blowing up stuff everywhere. Tony now has a suit that comes when he calls, thanks to some computer chip implants he installed in himself.
Got that? Good. Moving on.
The Mandarin attacks again and this time Happy gets caught in the blast, and Tony, livid, calls the villain out on national TV. The Mandarin blows up Tony’s Malibu house, and Tony is lost, presumed dead. He pals around with a cute kid for a while while he works on figuring out what’s so strange about the Mandarin’s bombs—turns out they’re actually people, failed test subjects juiced up with something called Extremis. If their bodies don’t accept the transformation Extremis causes, they just explode.
Things happen, plots progress, and several impressively unforseen twists and turns later, Tony emerges victorious, Pepper and Rhodey intact by his side, and… sort of retires? I’ll get to that.
In general, I loved this movie. I went in perfectly unspoiled, and so each twist hit me with its full, intended weight. I adored Tony’s interactions with Harley, the kid he befriends. I loved the cameo of Yinsen, and the fact that it started out with Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee)”. I’m glad that Tony’s biggest villain is still himself; the biggest issues he has to deal with are his own demons, his own mistakes, and his own past. I thought his New York-triggered panic attacks were an interesting character point, but they sort of disappear after the one where Harley talks him down over the phone, which is a bit of a plot hole—anxiety doesn’t just vanish like that.
But most of all, I loved Pepper motherfucking Potts.
Gwyneth Paltrow has said in several interviews that it’s refreshing that Pepper isn’t a damsel in distress in this story, and so I was excited to see exactly what she meant by that. We saw Pepper suiting up in the trailers, but that isn’t her only kickass moment—late in the game, she is kidnapped and injected with the Extremis solution, and it looks like she is a total goner.
Naw, fuck that. Pepper goes totally apeshit on the main villain as he’s about to attack a suitless Tony and totally kicks his ass. At the climactic moment of the film, it’s Pepper who saves the day. I literally was lost for words watching this in the theater; I can only describe the emotion inspired by watching an awesome lady knock bad guy heads together as a nearly religious sense of joy. I felt like an old-timey lady with the vapors, I fanned myself and everything.
To be fair, this didn’t make the movie perfect—for one thing, Pepper does all this ass-kicking in the sports bra and yoga pants she was put in for the Extremis experiment. It’s not a super-revealing outfit, and she’s impervious to harm at the time, so it’s not like she needs to be covered up for safety reasons, but she still shows a lot more skin than any of the male heroes in the film. Furthermore, a lot of people were excited for Pepper to suit up. Pepper does at one point end up inside the Iron Man suit, but it’s not on her own steam. Tony summons the suit around her to protect her, tells her exactly what to do while she’s in it, and then summons it right back off of her. I think this is part of the reason I liked the final scene so much—I was frustrated with Pepper’s lack of agency in the beginning, and so it was exciting to watch her actually get to protect who she wanted to protect of her own volition.
Maya Hansen’s character, on the other hand, was a bit of a throwaway, although I’m glad she got some character development before her unfortunate demise, and I’m glad she got more sympathetic treatment in the script than a lot of Tony’s other one-night-stands. Other than Maya and Pepper, the only other women in the movie are evil, background characters, or both, which is frustrating, considering I hoped Stephanie Szostak’s character might turn out to be Janet van Dyne.
There were a couple significant deviations from the comics canon in this, the long-range effects of which are hard to quantify. On one side, okay, comics Extremis and movie Extremis appear to be very different things. If I have my Iron Man comics correct, comics Extremis serum is a thing that Tony was injected with, which makes his brain like a computer, allowing him to connect to satellites, the internet, his suit, etc. with his thoughts.
Movie Extremis is some sort of chemical that, if the user’s body accepts it, allows the user to …heat stuff up with their body? Like, it just gives people Wolverine-like healing abilities and the ability to Flame On. According to Wikipedia, this is the basic skill set that comes with the Extremis injection, but making every single person who’s used it have the exact same powers, and to have those powers look awfully like magic for a movie about science-related things? That was… dumb, and although I appreciate that the movie made it so Tony can communicate with his suits because of his own efforts and not because of a hastily-installed brain update, it’s just… it’s sort of a gimmick. I’m not sure if or how this will affect future plotlines.
There’s also the issue of Iron Patriot—in the comics, Iron Patriot is Norman Osborn, but in Iron Man 3 the Marvel Cinematic Universe is co-opting that name for Rhodey as a spin tactic “because War Machine didn’t test well in focus groups”.
On the other side, well, the Mandarin was an actor playing a figurehead; I’m sure there will be plenty of butthurt geeks out there whining about it, but I thought it was a brilliant way to subvert the audience’s expectations of the character. Everyone went into the movie expecting this legendary mastermind, and a lot of people went in (myself included) fearing exactly how racist the character was going to be. To have the real mastermind elsewhere, and to have the figurehead of the Mandarin be just a front built upon Orientalist othering fearmongering intended to hide the real mastermind’s tracks—I thought that was actually very interesting and subversive. Furthermore, from a plot perspective, it would have been too much to have two highly competent and apparently independent villains, so this helped neaten up a story that could have gotten very busy very fast.
Since we’re here, though, let’s chat a bit more about race. First of all, I was actually quite pleased with Rhodey’s portrayal. He got plenty of screentime, some great character-building moments with Tony, and a hefty chunk of the action. Watching it, I could believe that this guy is both Tony’s best friend and a total badass. I was less pleased by the scenes where Rhodey continuously busts into the houses of random brown people across the Middle East on the lookout for the Mandarin. They’re played for laughs, but I’m not sure what’s funny about a literal symbol of American imperialism joking with his buddy on the phone while he points a gun at some innocent Middle Eastern people.
Pretty much my only really large complaint is about the ending. Tony leaves the oil rig with Extremified!Pepper, having just blown up all his suits after promising to focus more on her, specifically on finding a cure for her Extremifiedness. It then cuts to a voiceover, which, in about thirty seconds, drops a series of lazy exposition bombs: Tony cures Pepper; Tony decides to have surgery to remove the shrapnel from his chest; Tony no longer needs the arc reactor because of aforementioned surgery; Tony throws the arc reactor in the ocean. But then he still states “I am Iron Man” as it cuts to credits.
Let’s unpack this. Pepper just got an awesome superpower, and instead of learning to control it, she’s cured of it offscreen. Tony gets rid of the shrapnel and arc reactor with a simple surgery, which totally invalidates the whole ‘create a new element’ thing that was the plot of Iron Man 2. So if you’re keeping score at home, Tony has destroyed all his suits and disposed of his cutting edge technology, and is walking away from the ruins of his former home, but somehow, he’s still Iron Man. For the entire voiceover, it sounds like he’d given it up for good, and then with that one sentence it becomes very unclear.
I am really confused about the ending, and I’m worried that we’ll have to wait until The Avengers 2 for it to really make any sense, since I don’t expect any Stark cameos in the remainder of the Phase 2 movies until then. At least the consistent voiceovers were explained by the post-credits scene, where it turns out Tony has been trying to share the whole story with Bruce in an adorable Science Bros moment.
I did enjoy this movie, and I do recommend people go see it. I think it caps off the Iron Man trilogy very nicely, and it has a lot of really fun character moments, despite some of the weak points I mentioned. I do wish some of the plot threads were tied up more neatly, and that some of them had been left out entirely (cough cough that ending), but all in all, I had a fun time watching it.
What did you think of the movie, my dears? Did I miss anything? Hit me up in the comments!