MCU Daughter Order – Iron Man 3
I’m rewatching the Marvel Cinematic Universe with my daughter in whatever order she feels like. We followed 2012’s The Avengers up with 2019’s Captain Marvel. Now, we’re ready to start Phase 2, with the divisive Iron Man 3.
Our Progress So Far
We’ve dipped back and forth between Phase 1 and Phase 3 on our journey, going from The Incredible Hulk to Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Black Panther, Thor, Captain America, The Avengers, and finally Captain Marvel.
Like this blog, we took a bit of a break before diving into Phase 2, the only phase she hadn’t seen any movies from. Part of that was because Phase 3 introduced new characters in their own movies she was instantly invested in, but Phase 2 mostly built on Phase 1. Another part, I remember this phase being a bumpy ride, with some of the MCU’s highest highs and lowest lows.
Where did Iron Man 3 fall?
Iron Man 3 And Me
Going into Iron Man 3, I remember being unreasonably upset about the design of the Mk 42 armor. Inverting the ratio of red and gold made some part of my brain mad at the posters. Watching the movie, it didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I really liked this movie. And you don’t have to trust my memory.
Trust Facebook’s memory.
This week marks my 10th anniversary of seeing this movie. Which feels like a long time, but Iron Man 3 is the seventh installment in what is a 32 film series as of this weekend’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3. That’s a 25 film difference (or 23 or 24, depending on how math works). Even at the unheard of rate Marvel churns these out now, two dozen movies takes at least a decade to produce.
Revisiting Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 gets a lot of complaints, and I think a lot of it is justified. Despite that, I enjoyed it again. In fact, I think it addresses a lot of what people complain about post-Endgame MCU movies.
How can this be?
Not mine. Tony’s.
Iron Man 3’s emotional journey follows Tony dealing with, well, a lot. He doesn’t have a monolog about realizing aliens exist and they’re out to destroy the Earth, but what he went through clearly weighs on him.
Granted, I might be giving Shane Black too much credit for subtle and subtextual directing choices. The MCU was still juggling how much Avengers content to cross into its solo movies and vice versa. Black might have been mandated to only allude to the events of The Avengers. But, considering how much of the middle of the film feels like an Iron Man/Lethal Weapon crossover, I suspect Marvel would sooner had to mandate Black to include more future tech or super powers, not less.
Regardless of the reason, Iron Man 3 explores the protagonist’s mental state more than any other MCU film, and I think it’s stronger as a result.
Despite what I just said about the stretch with a lack of future tech—”too much Tony Stark, not enough Iron Man” is a common complaint about the movie—when Iron Man 3 does use the armor, it’s never looked better.
Not only does the Mk 42 have physical weight, its battle damage tells its stories. Contrast that with Iron Patriot, whose glossy paint job looks great but lacks character. Iron Patriot is design by committee, whereas Mk 42 is design through experience. And that’s actually a plot point. It’s wonderful when the words and the visuals line up like this.
The other suits looks great, too. Even though if you blink, you’ll miss most of the designs, and colour scheme separates a lot of the armor from the main suit, the ones that get moments to shine have fun design built around a clear function. The bulkier suits also hint at the upcoming Hulkbuster design.
Even when Tony wasn’t in the suit, he had access to his Iron Man powers. Early in the movie, he injects nanosensors that allow him to call the suit onto him. It’s a step above the lazier later tap-the-ear style of suiting up because the movie regularly revolves around Tony dealing with the logistic issues of implementing unpolished technology. When it works, we get clever uses of the Iron Man powers. When it doesn’t, we get funny scenes of Tony improvising and trying to keep his head above water while fixing the issues.
MCU threequels haven’t been kind to the support cast. Peggy Carter in Captain America: Civil War. Aunt May in Spider-Man: No Way Home. All of Asgard in Thor: Ragnarok. Between shaking things up and raising the stakes for the final instalment (eyes Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3 nervously), support characters tend to land on the chopping block by the third film in a series.
However, despite teasing Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan’s deaths, both characters survive Iron Man 3. Heck, even Dum-E and U, Tony’s pneumatic drone assistants, look like they die only to be saved in the last scene. Even if the character death copout has become an MCU cliché, and hitting that same trope three times in one movie stretches it thin, all four are beloved enough characters to forgive the hit to the movie’s credibility. Pepper and Happy were bit players outside of Iron Man movies at this point, but they go on to be major MCU NPCs.
Now, there are a few elephants in the room when it comes to the Iron Man 3 cast: Harley Keener, Aldrich Killian, and Trevor Slattery.
Harley is “The Kid”. He’s only in the movie for a few scenes, but apparently those 15 minutes were torture for some. It’s the only reason I can guess that “What did you think of The Kid” is such a talking point about this movie. I think Harley is a fun character, and he and Tony have great chemistry. My favourite Harley moment is when Tony talks about Iron Patriot and, as the idea’s in-universe target audience, the kid’s face lights up. I will say that Harley’s scenes kick off the part of act two that feel like they were written for a different movie. Despite this, I think Harley works.
Killian and Slattery on the other hand…
Despite liking the movie then and now, there are a few issues with it.
The Mandarin Bait-and-Switch
I can understand Marvel’s hesitation to use the yellow peril version of The Mandarin from the comics, and they were still years off of thinking of hiring a director of Japanese descent to write a character of Japanese descent. I’ll even give them credit that Jarvis points out that Mandarin’s speech doesn’t correspond to any known accent during Tony’s investigation (in a foreshadowing way, not a lampshading way). But ultimately, they needed to make so many big before landing on “The Mandarin, but not really”.
My main qualm about making Killian the real villain is that it made the movie feel smaller. Instead of a bombastic villain based on the hero’s main villain from the source material, it ends up the villain is the least interesting of the three evil business men Tony faces in his movies. And fire powers are all fine and good, but by then the majority of the movie’s fight scenes had been against some kind of fire good.
A twist only works when what we get is better than what we expected.
Plot/Act 3 Disconnect
A lot of MCU movies operate on one assumption for the majority of the movie, then throw that assumption out the window in favour of a big fight scene at the end. Often it’s turning a nuanced villain into a rampaging killer, or making major threats disposable foot soldiers.
In Iron Man 3, Tony struggles for lack of a suit for a solid hour in the middle. Until the final battle. Apparently, he had 40 suits on standby the whole time, waiting for the block party protocol. It made for a compelling analysis of what makes Tony a hero, followed by a fun action sequence that you could only get in an Iron Man movie. Unfortunately, like the Riggs and Murtaugh of movie scenes, they don’t work well together.
Iron Man 3 doesn’t fit smoothly into MCU continuity. Tony quit the super hero biz at the end of the movie. No MCU movie addresses this until Infinity War. He shows up three times as full-time Iron Man first, with no explaination. His next appearance, Age of Ultron, is the most egregious. Not only is he still Iron Man, he’s using drones again, and he’s designed the ultimate Iron Man suit.
Cutting Tony quitting and self-destructing the suits from the end of Iron Man 3 would have helped a lot, but we’d still be left with enough outliers that Iron Man 3 is destined to be a misfit.
My Daughter’s Thoughts
I thought she might find this one boring. She did not.
By now, my daughter was firmly invested in Iron Man. She saw him as Tony Stark first, the suit second. So Tony spending the least amount of time in the suit in this movie didn’t both her. Even though the humour skewed more mature and subtle, she found Iron Man 3 funny.
She also really liked the giant bunny.
On the flipside of movies she didn’t find boring, 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier