*Dedicated to the underappreciated and underpaid Mental Health services around the world. You deserve better* TW: Panic Attacks *
From what I can recall, there are a vast number of people who don’t like Iron Man 3. However, as I researched opinions for this piece, I found that many of those who disliked it at the time had softened to it over the years. Personally, I’ve always thought that Iron Man 3 was good, and have defended it to friends who disagreed, although I’ve never had to put as much effort into defending this as I have Iron Man 2. I think the threequel is the best in the trilogy, and it would appear that this opinion has gained some traction within the fanbase lately. When it comes to “bad” MCU films, I think this is the one that people have come around on the most.
The plot follows Tony Stark as he struggles with PTSD and panic attacks after coming close to death during the Battle of New York whilst attempting to foil a terrorist leader known as The Mandarin, without the aide of his mechanical suits. The film focuses on the elements of Iron Man within Tony Stark , much like the Dark Knight trilogy focuses on the Batman within Bruce Wayne. I’ve seen this levied as a criticism of the film because “you can’t have an Iron Man movie without Iron Man” but that is literally the central theme. Captain America once asked what Stark would be if stripped of his toys and, as this film shows, he would still be a genius capable of holding his own in a fight, and whose sole aim is to protect people. The suits are simply an extension of him, and that only becomes more true the further into the timeline we get with his nano-suits.
I also feel like this film does an excellent job of handling his PTSD and panic attacks. Mental Health is something that the MCU has attempted to handle on several occasions, with mixed results, but I think that Iron Man 3 gets it right. As somebody with a history of panic attacks, I can assure you that they are terrifying to experience. You can attempt to find various triggers, but even then there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to avoid them. In my experience, there is no knowing how long they will last, and the best you can really hope for is that you don’t breathe too quickly and pass out. It’s no joke, and this film never plays it like one, which is greatly appreciated. They also do a decent job of demonstrating that children might not fully comprehend what is happening, and that they may inadvertently trigger an attack without knowing how. Let me reiterate that panic attacks suck, and if it’s happening to someone you know, the best thing you can do is provide whatever they need. They may want space, reassurance, fresh air, or silence, and it’s important that you give them that.
The second complaint I’ve seen is the one that the most people seemed to get hung up on. If, as a fan of Marvel, you were angry with Iron Man 3, then there is a good chance that it was their depiction of The Mandarin. Throughout the course of the film he has been committing terrorist attacks and hijacking the television airwaves to lecture President Ellis of the United States about the lessons he can learn from these attacks. As we enter the third act, it is revealed that The Mandarin is being portrayed by an actor named Trevor Slattery with the “real” Mandarin being Aldrich Killian-CEO of Advanced Idea Mechanics. It’s a hell of a plot twist that I don’t think many people saw coming, and I think that some felt like they had been lied to. I can understand the frustration, especially given Sir Ben Kingsley’s stellar performance, but it feels like a sign that the plot twist did what it was designed to. I also saw some saying it was disrespectful to the original comic book character and I can understand that too. Whitewashing is a very real issue in Hollywood and Marvel has played it’s part in that, but it seems to be something that they were aware of. Neither Slattery or Killian are really The Mandarin, it is simply a title that they stole. The co-writer for Iron Man 3-Drew Pearce- also wrote a Marvel One-Shot titled All Hail The King.
The short film takes place shortly after the events of Iron Man 3, with Slattery in prison for his crimes. Here he is interviewed by an amateur documentarian who is secretly a member of The 10 Rings, sent to break him out on behalf of the real Mandarin. It is often presumed that this short was created as a response to the backlash faced by Marvel for botching The Mandarin, but this isn’t really the case. Plans for this short were already being discussed during production of Iron Man 3, and only a few lines were altered due to backlash… though I have no idea which ones. It left open the door for The Mandarin to one day make his first appearance, and he will finally get that chance, 8 years later, in Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It’s genuinely exciting to me and I wouldn’t be upset or surprised if Trevor Slattery gets name dropped.
In terms of continuity, there’s more closure than there is set-up. Obviously, there is the return of The 10 Rings who made their first appearance 8 films ago in Iron Man. It’s worth noting that they aren’t really The 10 Rings, and are only appropriating their existence, but this group is a decent threat nonetheless. War Machine returns in a supporting role with a brand new paint job for his armour, and a new less-impressive name: the Iron Patriot. Neither of these remain going forward. There’s only one character cameo in this film, bar the end credits, which is Yensen from the original Iron Man in a flashback, and it’s genuinely lovely to see him again. Probably the biggest continuity introduction is the removal of the bomb shrapnel from Stark’s chest, which was a divisive decision as some felt like this should have happened sooner. Personally, I never had an issue with it because it marks a brand new chapter in his life and provides him with emotional closure. He may be present in practically every MCU film, but his trilogy is where most of the character progression takes place so it’s nice to put a little bow on it.
Iron Man 3 is all about closure. It’s the final instalment in the Iron Man trilogy, and the last time that we’ll see Tony Stark take on a threat without a team surrounding him. After this it’s mostly team-up ensemble movies and, whilst that isn’t inherently a bad thing, there’s something special about solo adventures. As solo adventures go, this may have the most heroic score which has been masterfully composed by Brian Taylor. Much like the theme from The Pirates of the Caribbean, I feel hyped listening to it, and I think that this hype is something Iron Man 3 provides. I’d list this as one of the most underrated films in the entire MCU alongside The Incredible Hulk and I’m glad that people are finally feeling the same.