When it first came out, Iron Man 3 received generally OK reviews. Fans were mixed, but after 10 years, the third Iron Man movie has seen a bit of a reevaluation. As we now stand in the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s Phase 5, let’s dive into the unique sequel for Iron Man 3’s 10th anniversary.
Iron Man 3 starts with a flashback to 1999 — nine years before Tony Stark’s life-changing abduction by the Ten Rings and the subsequent birth of Iron Man. We see Stark being his pre-hero self as he wanders a New Year’s Eve party with scientist Maya Hansen. The character was actually supposed to be the primary villain of the movie, though this was changed because higher-ups said toys of a female villain “won’t sell as well.“
There’s a fun little cameo from Ho Yinsen — the man who was in captivity with Stark and inspired him to change his ways — that sees him blown off by an inebriated and uninterested Tony. I could understand seeing this part of the flashback as a little convenient, but it does a good job of establishing Tony’s personality at the time.
This sequence is great for showing that the beloved Avenger was definitely a jerk prior to the events of the first movie. As the opening narration mentions, Tony made a future enemy that night by sending Advanced Idea Mechanics founder Aldrich Killian to wait alone on the rooftop as a cruel prank. Of note is that Killian’s group — A.I.M. — created M.O.D.O.K. in the comics, though his origin would differ in the MCU.
Iron Man 3 builds on the events of 2012’s The Avengers better than any other Marvel Studios movie. Throughout the whole movie, Tony faces anxiety and PTSD as a result of his trip through the wormhole at the end of Marvel’s first big crossover film. He experiences multiple panic attacks that leave him debilitated — an uncommon scene is something as bombastic as a superhero movie. It absolutely works though, because nobody would be able to sleep the same after learning firsthand that there are other worlds, hostile aliens, and world-ending threats out there.
The panic attacks are also surprisingly accurate in their portrayal. Stark becomes easily agitated, overwhelmed, and unable to process simple conversation until he’s able to anchor himself and calm down. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish has received a good deal of acclaim for its portrayal of the intensity that comes with a panic attack, but Iron Man 3 deserves similar credit as well.
The Man Under the Suit
A memorable line in The Avengers was when Captain America clashed with Tony Stark, saying, “Big man in a suit of armor. Take that off, what are you?” It’s a valid question — Tony has no powers but plenty of confidence. Iron Man 3 makes the bold decision to have Tony outside of his suit for a good portion of it, and in doing so, it answers Cap’s question. Even outside of the armor, Tony is an impressive and heroic individual.
Whether he’s jerry-rigging weapons in a tiny Tennessee town or sneaking through a gunmen-filled compound with only homemade non-lethal tools, Stark manages to come out on top using only his ingenuity and wit. This was the movie that proved to audiences that the man in the suit was just as important as the armor itself, which went a long way in further developing his character ahead of the roller coaster of character-testing events that would occur in Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame.
The Mandarin, 10 Years Later
When Iron Man 3 was fresh and new, the Mandarin fake out led to a lot of fan outcry. The comic character version of Mandarin was one of Iron Man’s most known villains, leading to fans yearning to see a live-action version. The marketing made Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin seem incredibly imposing, so the goofier angle caught fans off-guard. In retrospect, however, it really works.
Kingsley gives the role a hilarious earnestness in the way he delivers Trevor’s goofy dialogue. I can fully believe the character is a drugged-up former actor who is way out of his league, which is especially wild given how menacing he is as the fake Mandarin. Seeing “the real Mandarin,” Xu Wenwu, in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings eight years later — alongside Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery, at that — was a delight that finally gave fans both a serious interpretation of the character and a continuation of Trevor’s entertaining antics.
Early Rescue Teasing
Gwyneth Paltrow gets to shine later on in the movie, as Pepper Potts gets some temporary superpowers as a result of being injected with Extremis. The nanotech allows her to defeat Killian herself, taking a more active and combative role in the final conflict. She also uses an Iron Man gauntlet briefly, which might be a hint at how she’ll don the Rescue armor in Avengers: Endgame down the line.
The Christmas Angle
Iron Man 3 also serves as a rather delightful holiday movie, strangely enough. The movie takes place around the holiday season and is filled with festive decorations, music, and even a good deal of snow. Director Shane Black has set a good few of his movies around Christmas, like The Long Kiss Goodnight and The Nice Guys, so it seems to just be something he enjoys doing.
Given the movie follows Tony Stark as he realizes what in his life is most important — the person beneath the suit and the people he loves — the themes fit nicely into a feel-good holiday film. The ending, which shows Tony destroy his suits and possibly softly retire from being Iron Man, gets a bit shortchanged by the fact that he keeps making suits and being Iron Man for numerous future movies, but the fact that those future films are great in their own right softens that blow a bit.
While this wouldn’t be Tony Stark’s final outing, it’s worth watching for its intriguing themes and unique tone — especially now that we’re years removed from this simpler era of the MCU.