It has to be said at the outset that Iron Man 3 had incredible potential. Set after the events of The Avengers, it had the opportunity to showcase the great Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) having to grapple with his own mortality. Perhaps too much to ask of a Marvel movie, it was an opportunity to show a hero having to wrestle with the trauma of being faced with world-ending forces.
This is among the most flustered we see Tony Stark throughout his tenure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). In Iron Man 3, we see him in all his humanity, behind the veneer of the genius, playboy philanthropist he fancies himself. He’s forced to return to his roots and rely mostly on his wits and people around him whose help he remains too stubborn to admit he needs. He continues to push away those he loves most, and yet continues to struggle to do right by them in everything he does.
Iron Man 3 was a great outing for Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and fans got to see him finally take his place as a beloved fixture of the MCU, and be upgraded from a driver in the background to a man we and Tony Stark can rely on. An argument can be made that Iron Man 3 tried to give Gwyneth Paltrow something to do as Pepper Potts. At least being upgraded from a love-interest only, there was at least an opportunity for her to wear the Iron Man suit even if it didn’t totally come to fruition. The secondary character that really stole the show was Ty Simpkins as Harley Keener. We got an early glimpse of Tony as a father, and it was incredibly well worth it.
It’s impossible to talk about Iron Man 3 without talking about the plot twist around who the villain was. It caused so much rage among Marvel fans, but did it really deserve all the hate? Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings did a fantastic job of fixing this particular plot point, and gave us a loveable, relatable character in Trevor (Sir Ben Kingsley). What started as a near-perfect capturing of what Americans fear most of all in a modern day terrorist turned into a game of smoke and mirrors. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings would have us believe that there’s a game of 3-D chess being played with this character and an even greater plot at work. While that may be giving Marvel a little too much credit, it certainly makes for an exceptionally creative and compelling story.
Again, there was great potential for the villain to be a commentary that resonated with a modern audience. A generic white man, in this case Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), the head of a faceless company doing extremely shady things and essentially amassing his own military is incredibly topical given our current social and political climate. Again, perhaps slightly too much to ask of a Marvel movie, but one can dream.
There was another opportunity to make a poignant political commentary in the character of Colonel James Rhodes played by Don Cheadle. There was talk throughout the movie of re-branding his alter ego, War Machine, into the more appropriate or palatable Iron Patriot. There was a lot that could have been delved into there, including the United States’ post-9/11 equation of patriotism with war.
Ultimately, Iron Man 3 remains one of the top grossing superhero movies of all time, so it can’t be so big of a loss. Especially since Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings gave a reason for what many fans was perceived as a terrible bait-and-switch, it can be viewed as an essential foundation to what came after in the beloved franchise that is the MCU. It deserves a re-watch simply to re-capture the incredible work Downey Jr. in creating such a memorable character. It still make not reach Marvel’s top tier, but there are so many elements and fragments of a good story it just may be worth revisiting.
Iron Man 3 is currently available to stream on Disney+.