Hi there! You may notice that I am not Blackout. Nope, Saika here—I was arm-twisted into trying my hand at disability studies since someone still hasn’t seen Iron Man 3. Fake geek guys, amirite?
Anyway, Tony Stark. Even going from the trailers, you can tell that Tony is not the same following the events of The Avengers. He’s haunted by what happened—it was a paradigm-shifting, at the least, and he still hasn’t come to terms with it.
Throughout most of the movie, just a mention of the words “New York” is enough to send Tony spiraling into an anxiety attack. The actions he took in the heat of battle, most especially the suicide run into space with the nuke, seem terrifying outside of the adrenaline rush, and he just can’t reconcile them with the sort of person he wants to be and who he thinks he is. It affects even his day-to-day life: he runs out on a bro-date with Rhodey, and he nearly sics his prehensile suit on Pepper in his sleep.
Tony Stark is a superhero, but he’s also a regular person—he’s not an alien or a genetically-altered superhuman or a god, and he wasn’t trained to deal with the stress of battle the way Natasha or Clint have certainly been. It’s totally understandable that, after surviving such a traumatic event, that he would experience stress and struggle with the consequences of his actions. It’s believable within the context of the film and the character that, for Tony, “New York” has become a phrase that requires a trigger warning, that inspires panic attacks that he has to be talked down from or coaxed through.
The issue I had with this movie is that it doesn’t follow through on this. It builds up these anxiety attacks as a real and crippling problem for Tony, and then discards them when it’s convenient for the plot. At a certain point, Tony basically says to himself, “I’m stronger than this; I will not have anxiety any more,” and then… no longer has anxiety. That’s just not how it works. Things that are triggering require time and counseling (whether personal, from friends, or professional) to work past, and you can’t just flip a switch and make it better.
I’d rather see a Tony who is learning to live with and control his anxiety with the help of his friends over one who just rallies and gets over it. The post-credits scene with Bruce sort of hinted at this—Tony is reaching out to the one other non-combat-trained member of the team, trying to open up about his problems, but the scene, because of its necessary briefness, is instead played for laughs.
Blackout’s post on Wednesday dealt with comics!Tony’s struggle with alcoholism and how seeing a high-profile superhero admit that he has a problem that requires outside help was inspiring to readers suffering from the same problem. Iron Man 3 has a much wider audience than any paper comic book storyline ever will. What kind of message does it send to viewers, especially anxiety sufferers, when a storyline that could spread the message that anxiety is a complex issue, instead discards it as a black and white problem?