Countdown to Endgame #8: Iron Man 3 is a Real Mess

As The Avengers: Endgame approaches, Team Midnight has committed to watch all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released to date in chronological (story) order: 22 films in 8 weeks. Follow along with us.

In Iron Man 3, we see how the action of The Avengers shapes Tony Stark, after he returns to his billionaire genius lifestyle.

Hero: Tony Stark / Iron Man

“We create our own demons.”

Still a billionaire genius – though in this installment, he also has anxiety.

Other heroes:

  • Lt. Colonel James Rhodes / War Machine
  • Pepper Potts

Villain: Aldrich Killian

“The early bird gets the worm, but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese. ”

CEO of AIM, a think tank that is meddling on the edge of socially acceptable science.

©Walt Disney Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Villain Complexity Rating: 0.2/5

Aldrich Killian is the Guy Pearce of superhero villains – he’s rich, successful, white, and handsome. No one’s really sure why he keeps doing what he’s doing, but I guess we can’t stop him? Mandarin, his villainous avatar, is at least funny.

“What’s at Stake” Rating: 1.5/5

It’s a bit unclear. We think he wants to start some sort of “War on Terror” by kidnapping the president AND killing Tony Stark AND stealing his girlfriend. Yes, really. Then his company will get the military contracts blah blah another super soldier formula that makes people get hot hands and then explode blah blah wait isn’t this the plot to Iron Man 2?

What did our hero(es) learn?

Tony goes Macgyver. Pepper Goes Hulk. War Machine gets a wack ass paint job. Nothing to see here.

AP Photo/Marvel, Zade Rosenthal

Heroism Rating: 2/5

Despite suffering from severe PTSD and extreme insomnia, Stark buries himself in the important work of creating a new suit every 3 seconds. Seems like therapy would have been the truly heroic route here. I’m sure S.H.I.E.L.D. offers excellent mental health services to combat veterans.

Anyway, he also develops an abusive, predatory mentorship with a 12-year-old kid who definitely has attachment issues and eventually saves the day by allowing his GF to get dosed and murder Guy Pearce.

Visual Aesthetic/CGI Rating: 3.5/5

It’s Christmas, I guess? That’s pretty much the distinguishing mark of this Iron Man. CGI is up to snuff, visuals are flashy, action sequences are way over the top. Scores points for the gritty Mandarin infotainment segments and Ben Kingsley in general.

Heroic Cinema Saturation Index

Betsy Rating: 1.5/5

Taking a note from The Avengers’ success, Marvel hired another auteur, Shane Black, to take on Iron Man 3 (a move that would become key to their future success with writer/directors like James Gunn and Taika Waititi). On paper, Shane Black is a great choice for this franchise – at his best, he’s a master of slick, stylish adult comedy: see The Nice Guys, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. He also has worked with Robert Downey, Jr. before, so presumably understands how to set him up to really be funny – something the original Iron Man did so well. Well… it just doesn’t work at all. This movie isn’t at all funny, and I’m still kind of confused about why. It really should be.

Maybe it’s because there is SO much going on here. This movie has, like, 9 acts: the 1999 flashback, the post-Avengers PTSD struggle, the Mandarin terrorism wave, the Tennessee period, the Macgyver in Miami epoch, the Rhodey team-up, the corrupt Vice President/Air Force One raid, and the climax on the oil rig. And maybe something else, because I’m pretty sure I fell asleep for a little bit. Any one of these could’ve been a movie on its own. The movie I really wanted to see was “Tony the Mechanic grapples with his PTSD,” but it feels like that story just gets lost in waves of inexplicable plotting. Guy Pearce’s villain, Aldrich Killian, is super familiar, essentially an even split of “Tony sucks”/Ivan Vanko and “I want to be Tony”/Justin Hammer from Iron Man 2 – and yet when you actually try to piece together what he wants to achieve through his convoluted and labor-intensive villainy, it’s oddly difficult to do so. It also really bugs me how a super-powered Pepper Potts, who apparently has had combat training, saves Tony’s ass in the end. Not because Pepper Potts saves Tony – because she does that in a lot of ways throughout all these stories – but because Pepper’s way of coming to the rescue is through competence and common sense and love, not by flying and power-punching them into the ground.

Iron Man 3’s saving grace is Ben Kingsley as Trevor Slattery/The Mandarin – which, for its 5 minutes of screen time – is genuinely very funny. It’s too bad that even Ben Kingsley can get lost in this cyclone of ideas, and that Shane Black let his interest in weaving a tangled web of intrigue override his ability to tell a good story.

Justin’s Rating: 1/5


“It’s a mess. It’s a real mess”

– Betsy Midnight

Iron Man 3 is a gratuitous exploration of a character we already know better than we want to. In the wake of The Avengers, which successfully dilutes Stark’s megalomania, the placement of this film is a real head scratcher. By now I’m just so tired of Tony and Pepper’s antagonistic, cutesy relationship I honestly want one of them to die. And why must we continue to have Jon Favreau? The dude gets more grotesque with each appearance. In this film we’re treated to a tour of Happy’s hyper masculine side, complete with antiquated ideas about gender roles. Charming/Funny! I swear that dude’s head weighs 30 pounds. I could digress further, but let’s save some of that for his forthcoming appearance in Spider Man. Fuck.

So there are some foundational issues, but let’s not get stuck there. This script is as problematic and messy as a white dude’s dreadlocks. Aldrich Killian is essentially a wounded gamergater/incel with cool tech and deep pockets. His plot to start an endless conflict with a spectre terrorist state reveals a puzzling cognitive dissonance on behalf of the writing team. Is this meant to be a new take on this idea, or are we to believe that this variant of reality doesn’t include the US war on terror? But so anyway he also wants to steal Pepper cuz he used to be ugly and have bad hair and rickets but now the tech he developed in concert with Maya Hansen, who is a scorned former hookup of Tony’s, has made him look like a kind of discount Brad Pitt but with an accent. But also the tech he created turns people into rage monsters that explode except for some people don’t and some need like medicine so they don’t. I think it’s his plan to market these people/weapons to the Department of Defense (except not really cuz he’s secretly down with the scummy Vice Pres) once he’s finished killing Tony Stark. So he FLIES ATTACK HELICOPTERS RIGHT TO TONY’S HOUSE AND BLOWS IT UP and almost kills everyone except no one dies except the giant bunny which was a really weird joke. Wait, what the fuck? That was an option? Where in fuck is anyone? Autonomous suits? Security? S.H.I.E.L.D.? The fucking Avengers? Utter nonsense.

It’s hard to track but I think then Tony loses power in his only(?) remaining suit and goes Macgyver to find the Mandarin, who is really just a guy Killian hired to scare everyone. This is honestly the only salvageable piece of this twisted wreck. Ben Kingsley adds a hilarious and pleasant dash of actual humor to this film as one of Marvel’s more culturally problematic villains. This treatment of Mandarin turns a harmful, racist caricature into a punchline/resolution for at least one of the threads here. Speaking of threads, there’s a real weird one running concurrently with Mandarin’s that involves a kid in a small town that Stark buys a Mustang for later on. Yeah man I dunno. The president gets kidnapped and War Machine gets hacked and there’s a big, boring fight on a freighter where Pepper, who previously gets injected with the terror sauce kills Killian by tearing out his heart with her hot hands (not as cool as it sounds). I feel like I’m leaving stuff out -Oh yeah Tony has surgery at the end to remove the shrapnel from his chest for some reason and also his PTSD gets resolved through combat which is how they do that I’m pretty sure. Wow what piece of shit I’m tired.

OVERALL: 1.6

Iron Man 3 is available to rent online through Vudu or the Google Play/iTunes app stores, though to be honest, we don’t really recommend it.

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