(Welcome to Great Moments in MCU History, where we fondly recall great little bits that made us fall in love with the MCU.)
Normally, the scenes in this column are chosen for their thematic significance or because they briefly display an example of why the MCU has been a gift that’s kept on giving since 2008 (excluding this year, of course). The point is, I usually pick big, obvious, and singular scenes. This week’s entry, however, is not that.
Instead, this is more an opportunity to broadly look back at Iron Man 3, Marvel’s Christmas movie. The clip is filled with adventure, excitement, jokes, and a full fleet of Iron Men fighting villains. Really, it was chosen because it features a lot of Christmas talk.
But hey, while we’re gearing up to bid 2020 adieu, might as well take the opportunity to examine what makes Iron Man 3 such an interesting entry in the MCU.
This is essentially the end of the film. Tony Stark and James Rhodes approach a shipping yard (honestly, I’m not sure what it is) to apprehend the film’s villain – Guy Pearce and NOT Ben Kingsley. In typical Iron Man 3 fashion, both heroes are bloody, both are armed with traditional guns, and neither wear their IP-friendly suits. Iron Man 3 is strange.
Our boys will eventually get in on the action, but at first that job belongs to Stark’s army of remote Iron Men. It’s a long, complicated climactic battle, and this clip only captures the beginning, concluding right when Stark gets into a suit to personally help out. If it makes you immediately want to rewatch Iron Man 3, you are not alone.
So the scene as presented here feels a little incomplete, offering more a tease of a larger sequence than a self-contained moment of Marvel bliss. But it features Tony Stark telling his pal “Merry Christmas” so it had to be this week’s pick. I hope everyone has the happiest holiday possible.
Why It’s So Great
Iron Man 3 came out in 2013, following up the generally disliked Iron Man 2 but also the triumphant Avengers. The film focuses on, and seemingly resolves, Tony Stark’s PTSD from the Battle of New York. Yet Age of Ultron’s continuation of that arc two years later makes Iron Man 3 feel less like a stop on a continuous journey and more like a parallel treatment of the same issue. In other words, it’s almost as if Ultron negates this film. Iron Man 3 feels like an early outlier as a result, but a highly distinctive one thanks to the authoritative voice of writer-director Shane Black. So when ranking Marvels, it’s far from a loss.
Shane Black knows what he likes: buddy action scenarios, precocious children treated like adults, Christmas… Iron Man 3 has it all, lacking only Shane Black’s love for R-rated language, violence, and nudity. The film aims to put Tony Stark at his lowest point by robbing him of his precious tech, and strengthens the character by witnessing him bounce back using just his heroic noggin. Which he does. Ironically, the film has both the most Iron Men and least Iron Man. It’s not an incorrect knock against recent Marvel films that things are a bit too convenient and easy for its characters. That was not the case yet when Iron Man 3 came out. Stark struggles and earns his triumphant ending the old fashioned way.
It seems unlikely that Marvel heroes will have multi-film emotional arcs in the future. Iron Man benefited the most from such plotting. The Avengers showed him the universe was bigger and more dangerous than he imagined, and fear of that unknown nearly drove him insane. By the time Marvel lost interest in themes, Thanos had already arrived and just needed to play out Tony’s fear and sacrifice to bring the character’s story to a satisfying conclusion. Iron Man 3, the last time we got to focus on Tony as a main character, probed deep into Tony’s terror and inability to cope with a threat he knew was coming but could not fathom enough to specifically strategize against. The film ends with him dismantling his Iron Men, but his drones still exist in Age of Ultron, indicating his big gesture was just that. Furthermore, he still aims to protect via control, leading to him becoming an authoritarian in Civil War.
What if all these various remote Iron Men got to stick around the MCU? That’s sort of the implicit question of Iron Man 3 anyway. Is Tony Stark necessary if he has an army of mechanical drones capable of solving a wide variety of specific problems?
The film proposes that, yes, there still needs to be one suit driven by the main guy. In reality, though, I’m not sure the point is all that convincing. Maybe they’re each half as useful as the primary Iron Man. That’s still a lot of firepower and aid without him in a costume. They could have been pretty handy on Titan, for instance, if only to keep Star-Lord from screwing up the sleepy Thanos plan. Obviously, such power throws the MCU a bit out of balance and couldn’t remain. But still. Those suits were too cool to blow up.
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