Avengers: Endgame is almost here! We’re continuing our look at each film in the MCU with the final solo venture for Tony Stark, and the start of Phase Two, Iron Man 3!
Iron Man 3 is often looked down on because of the complicated narrative that ends up delivering Iron Man’s greatest comic book villain in a way most fans didn’t enjoy. The Mandarin is Iron Man’s Joker. He’s the biggest bad the hero has ever faced, and some of his greatest battles have seen him go toe to toe with the Mandarin and the Ten Rings. The problem is, most versions of the Mandarin aren’t exactly PC, which makes him a difficult character to adapt to a film. If you can look past the way the film uses the Mandarin, it’s possibly the best film of the Iron Man series.
The third Iron Man does something that the second film should have or could have, but didn’t due to it’s focus on expanding the MCU. The film asks Tony if he truly is Iron Man, or if the suit and the man are two separate things entirely. The second Iron Man film saw Tony claiming time and time again that he is Iron Man no matter what anyone thought or said. But there was never a point where he proved it. If anything the inclusion of Rhodey as War Machine is the antithesis of Tony’s argument.
Iron Man 3 proves that Tony and Iron Man are one in the same by taking Tony out of the suit, and making him fight as Tony Stark. In doing so he realizes that he can take out villains and stop major threats, by just being himself. The third act of the film reinforces this by introducing the dozens of different suits that he jumps in and out of. If Tony isn’t Iron Man, then the suits are all that matter. But nothing is truly accomplished until he puts on a suit and takes action. That’s when he’s in full form, and that’s what makes Iron Man. Later on in the MCU Tony would go on to tell Peter Parker that if he’s nothing without the Spider-Man suit, then he’s not Spider-Man. This lesson is something he learns in this film, and something that he obviously carries with him long after the film is over.
Another highlight of the film is it’s use of Rhodey, Happy and Pepper. For the first time in their appearances in the MCU all three are given more to do than just be used as foils or tools for Tony. They each have an important part to play in the story, and in a way get their moment to shine. Happy’s moments are mostly comic relief, but they’re still important. Rhodey has become a hero outside of Tony’s shadow, and is able to lead his own adventures now. When he does fight alongside Tony he’s just as powerful, and brings even more to the table than he has before. Pepper actually gets to fight at the end of the film, and ends up defeating Aldrich Killian in the end.
Speaking of Killian, even though he manipulates everything to create the facade of the Mandarin, his declaration at the end of the film that he is the Mandarin works. Many fans have overlooked that line, and Marvel did in a sense retcon that by creating a short called “All Hail The King” where Trevor Slattery is told that the real Mandarin is out there and unhappy. But it makes sense for Killian to be the Mandarin. He’s the one that has been the cause of all of Tony’s pain. And the film even lightly implies that he could have been the one in charge of the Ten Rings, and thus responsible for Tony’s kidnapping in the first Iron Man film. That makes him the Mandarin in my book. And unless Marvel finds a way to show us a different Mandarin on screen before Tony leaves the MCU, I’m sticking by it.
Overall Iron Man 3 may be looked down on because of it’s structure and the liberties it takes with it’s villain. But it’s without a doubt one of the best films in the MCU, and neck and neck with the first Iron Man for best film in his solo franchise. It reinforces that Tony Stark is Iron Man and completes the arch we began in the first film of the MCU, with Tony finally being the man we knew he could be when he stepped out of that cave.