On Iron Man 3

Continuing from Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and The Avengers, Iron Man 3 sees the return of Tony Stark as Iron Man. Notably, there are two scenes in which Pepper Potts momentarily plays a larger role, as according to Nerdy Feminist‘s “Iron Man 3: A Mixed Bag“:

I love Tony Stark as portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. I understand that both the character and the man have their real flaws, but there’s just something intoxicatingly charming about him and needless to say, I was looking forward to Iron Man 3.

As a superhero action flick, overall, it did not disappoint. Stark was humanized more than ever before, as we learn that he is struggling with anxiety attacks, insomnia, and nightmares (when he can sleep) after his experiences in New York with The Avengers. So it’s no surprise that Stark’s latest version of his suit allows him to control it not only from the inside, but also remotely so this his physical person is not always in harm’s way. This more relatable side of Stark is interestingly paired with his usual “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist” attitude and there is still plenty of “in suit” action, humor, and suspense. So all that is to say that in a general way I liked the film. But let’s take a look at the gender side of things.

The series overall contains one constant female presence–Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who begins as Stark’s assistant in the first Iron Man, but by now has risen to the top of Stark Industries and runs the business side of everything. Stark and Potts gone from two people who clearly care about each other but aren’t together into an official relationship. Potts plays the “better half” role. She serves to ground Stark in reality, knock down his inflated ego and remind him that he is only human. She also has a quick wit which matches his every step along the way. She tends to serve as his moral compass (which is not an uncommon role for female characters to play in TV/movies.)

In general, Potts is saved by Stark in the classic superhero’s girlfriend kinda way. OK, whatever. I get it. He’s Iron Man. But Potts’ tendency to be in the wrong place at the wrong time ended up getting on my nerves more than once in rewatching the other films in preparation for Iron Man 3. The same thing happens in this one, but there is a twist. (As fans have been geeking out about since the news dropped online) at one point, Potts dons the Iron Man suit and saves herself and another character. Sure, the suit ends up on her because Stark controlled it to do so…but I guess it’s better than nothing?

Potts also plays a critical role in defeating the super villain Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Killian has taken Potts captive, and literally refers to her as his trophy (ew) who he biologically mutates (I guess so she’s more like him?) When Stark comes to rescue her, things don’t go as planned for him and Potts, uses her new power to ultimately work with Stark to defeat Killian. While Stark weakens Killian, it is Potts who has to close the deal (thanks to her new mutation.)

There’s another female character new to the Iron Man franchise who plays a critical role in the film. Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall, whom I adore!) is an old one night stand of Stark’s who also has created the biological mutation that Killian uses to weaponize himself and a whole host of other people to create his evil forces.

Hansen is interesting to me because she is positioned as a scientific genius almost equal to Stark (which no one except Bruce Banner has really achieved in the movies.) She wants to do good in the world by helping people with injuries regenerate their damaged bodies, but her creation has a side effect which is used as the aforementioned weapon by Killian. Despite seeming like she has good intentions deep down (she comes to Potts and Stark to report Killian) Hansen has not always done the right thing. She has, after all, been working for Killian for 13 years and when Stark is captured by him, she doesn’t really try to help Stark. She seems to be happy that he’s in captivity so that he can help her fix the dangers side effect of her genetic work.

Big spoiler here…the most disappointing thing to me about the gender portrayed in the film is how quickly and unceremoniously Hansen’s life ends. Killian shoots her in the chest to show Stark that he doesn’t care about her…and that’s it. She’s gone. They build her up as this interesting new character, who made a huge scientific discovery. She’s extra interesting to me because we can’t quite peg as “good” or “bad” (think how rare that is in superhero movies!) and then BAM she’s gone without another mention. It made her feel just so damn expendable. It’s just not sitting right with me. So like I indicated in the title, I consider this film a mixed bag. There’s clearly some good stuff going on but it’s tempered with disappointing choices like this.

I would mention I think the movie does technically pass the Brechdel test as Potts and Hansen privately discuss what Hansen was trying to warn Stark about–but maybe not since she was reporting her boss (Killian) and that technically counts as “talking about a man.”

Sigh.

Ah well, it’s Marvel, ya know? I really do want more, but I guess I have to be thankful for what it does have.

According to the CinemaBlend review:

With The Avengers, Marvel Studios completed the first phase of one of the most ambitious franchises in film history, and they did so in spectacular fashion. The Avengers is a tough act to follow, but rather than faltering under extreme expectations, Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 does the exact opposite: it soars higher than its title character.

Different from any previous superhero movie, Iron Man 3 is essentially a massive-scale, high-tech detective story that has Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) investigating a series of attacks that link to his past, leading him to go toe-to-toe with The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley), the leader of a terrorist group known as The Ten Rings. Leaving behind the suit vs. suit formula and the excessive world building that hurt Iron Man 2, the new sequel delivers a fresh, fascinating look at the hero, an exciting, original adventure that’s 130 minutes of pure entertainment.

It’s impressive to watch Downey Jr. hop back into the character, who is very much a changed man in Iron Man 3, deeply affected by the alien invasion and destruction featured at the end of The Avengers. Everything we love about Tony Stark is back, from his tremendous ingenuity to his smartass attitude, but Black layers in Stark’s changed perspective, altered values (particularly as they pertain to his relationship with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts), and surprising vulnerability. A mere mention of the events in New York is enough to send him into a hardcore panic attack that has him rushing for his armor, and you have genuine empathy for him, both because of how much we’ve seen him go through and Downey’s fine performance, his best in a Marvel movie yet.

Paltrow also shines as her character’s relationship with Tony reaches deeper levels than we’ve ever seen before, and she even gets her chance at some kick-ass action. Same for Don Cheadle’s James “Rhodey” Rhodes, who finds a story beyond Tony Stark by serving the U.S. government as Iron Patriot. Without saying too much, as the layers to their characters are best discovered on the big screen, both Kingsley and Guy Pearce, as rival industrialist/genius Aldrich Killian, are excellent antagonists for Tony all levels – personally, professionally, and heroically. If there’s any actor that gets the short stick it’s Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen, an old flame of Tony’s who invents a revolutionary medical serum called Extremis that winds up being an integral part of the plot. The truth is, however, that her character serves her purpose in the story and can’t really be called underwritten – it’s just a small part.

Iron Man 3 is the first movie that Black has done in eight years and only his second in 17 years, but is proof positive that true talent doesn’t go away. The writer/director’s greatest strengths, honed by decades in the action genre, flawlessly match the pre- established world and tone of theIron Man franchise. His impressive ear for witty dialogue dials the sharp-tongued Tony Stark up to 11 and makes the film regularly laugh-out-loud hilarious. His long-evident appreciation for winding detective stories keeps the audience guessing at every turn and results in wowing twists. His lengthy history with buddy movies keeps all of Tony’s relationships fresh, meaningful, and fun, from time spent with Pepper and Rhodey to a random kid (Ty Simpkins) he meets while investigating a possible terrorist attack in Tennessee. The film succeeds simply by being a Shane Black film.

Black’s a newcomer to the large-scale, CGI-heavy action sequences, but what he presents in the field is without question the best of all the Marvel Studios solo films. While Joss Whedon certainly raised the bar high with his 30-minute-long battle between superheroes and aliens at the end of The Avengers, Iron Man 3 is stunningly comparable. From a missile attack on Tony’s palatial Malibu home, to a strike on Air Force One, to a firefight at a dockyard, the movie is littered with massive setpieces, with smaller-scale action sequences in between just to keep movie-goers’ hearts racing at all times.

Iron Man 3 is the rare sequel that feels like it’s grown out of a perfect understanding of what worked and what didn’t in the previous films. It embraces the universe it lives in without exploiting it or letting it weigh down the story, and offers its hero a personal, dangerous challenge without ever losing its popcorn charm. Beyond the pressures of being the follow-up to The Avengers, the movie is the first film in Marvel’s Phase Two plans and has the responsibility of setting the pace for what’s to come. We can only hope that what they come up with going forward is even half as incredible.

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3 thoughts on “On Iron Man 3

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