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‘Iron Man 3’: Marvel’s Underrated Christmas Gem

"Merry Christmas, buddy."

By Jonathan SimPublished 3 years ago 7 min read
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The holiday season is upon us, and it is the time of year to bake cookies, be with family, and in my case, watch a bunch of Christmas movies. I always go through all the Christmas classics—Home Alone, Elf, Die Hard, It’s a Wonderful Life, and, believe it or not, Iron Man 3.

What do you mean, Iron Man 3?! Yes, Iron Man 3. While many have placed this film as one of the worse installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it has always been one that I appreciate. So I’m going to tell you why I love Iron Man 3 and why it is undoubtedly a Christmas movie.

First, let me tell you something; I am not a fan of Iron Man 2. I found it to be an actionless bore with very little memorability in its story or villains. But this movie was a return to the form for the trilogy. Shane Black co-writes and directs this movie, and we see his touches in the film’s cold open.

"A famous man once said we create our own demons. Who said that? What does that even mean? Doesn’t matter. I said it ’cause he said it. So now, he was famous and that’s being said by two well-known guys. I don’t — uh…*sigh* I’m gonna start again. Let’s track this from the beginning."

This is such a great opening quote. It establishes the theme of this movie that we create our own demons. It does that while also being very funny, with Tony messing up his narration, similar to what Robert Downey, Jr.’s character does in another Shane Black film, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

After a flashback to Switzerland in 1999, we find out what Tony Stark is like after the events of The Avengers. We see that he is building dozens of Iron Man suits and is getting very little sleep. He puts on Mark 42 while listening to “Jingle Bells,” leading to a really badass superhero landing.

But the fun and games take a turn when Tony and Rhodey are sitting together, and upon being reminded of going through the wormhole in The Avengers while signing an autograph, he writes “HELP ME” instinctively and breaks down. JARVIS diagnoses him with an anxiety attack, and this is what I love about the movie.

Tony Stark isn’t always a very likable person. He usually acts like a self-centered asshole, and as a self-described “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist,” there isn’t much for audiences to relate to. But this movie humanizes the character.

No other superhero film, to my knowledge, deals with PTSD and anxiety. But this movie depicts that, and it’s easy to understand how being a superhero and evading death can lead to these frightening episodes. Downey Jr. portrays this perfectly, and this makes Stark vulnerable.

We immediately have a more sympathetic version of the character than the asshole in Iron Man 2. He has something that we can relate to, and we feel bad for him because he is dealing with inner demons. And as the plot kicks in, we see the outer demons he will face.

There is a theory in screenwriting that we should torture our characters. Iron Man 3 does this very effectively. Stark’s security chief, Happy Hogan, is put into a coma by an attack from the Mandarin. Soon after, the Mandarin blows up Stark’s house, and Stark finds himself cold and alone in Tennessee.

I love this. In 1999 Switzerland, Stark seemed like a man with everything. But on this Tennessee night, he is a man with nothing. Happy is in a coma, his home is destroyed, he’s miles away from Rhodey and Pepper, JARVIS loses his power, his suit isn’t working, he has PTSD, and everyone believes he is dead.

Our hero is alone; he doesn’t have a suit to save him and the Mandarin is at large. So while Stark begins the story in 1999 as a selfish drunken billionaire who ditches one of his fans on a roof, this moment where he has nothing left opens up his opportunity for change.

This is when Stark sees the error of his ways and begins to improve himself. He takes it upon himself to find the Mandarin, willing to do so even without an Iron Man suit. Stark sends a heartfelt apology to Pepper and finds himself with a kid, Harley.

Everything about Stark’s interactions with Harley is hilarious. Stark gives him a little tool to deal with bullies, and then suffers another anxiety attack after Harley mentions the wormhole. It’s heartbreaking to see our hero like this, and we root for him to overcome these battles.

After a scene with Christmas music in a Christmas-decorated bar, Stark fights Ellen Brandt and I love this fight. Most Iron Man action scenes involve Stark firing at people with the suit. Stark’s armor is usually the only thing that protects him, but this movie puts that on its head.

Stark fights Ellen using ingenuity, using her skin to break his handcuffs, starting a fire in the kitchen with oil and the burning cuffs, and killing Ellen with a microwave explosion. It’s a very unique fight scene for a Marvel movie and it’s very exciting.

This is the movie that taught Stark that he could be Iron Man without the suit. It leads to the lesson he gives Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming, when he tells him, “If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it.”

Stark’s discovery continues when Harley suggests that he build something. And that’s what he does; after finding the location of the Mandarin, Stark makes some Christmas ornament grenades and makes some of his own gadgets, getting through the Mandarin’s henchmen without a suit or a scratch.

We have our Mandarin twist, which I don’t mind at all. It was a bold move, and I like when Marvel takes risks. And a more subtle change for Stark is how he deals with his fans in much more respectful ways than he did with Killian; Stark is nice to Gary, and he gets his help.

But the movie does have some incredible Iron Man action, with Stark fighting off bad guys using only parts of his suit, as they all fly to him from Tennessee to Miami. And we then get an absolutely thrilling action setpiece where Stark rescues thirteen people who fell out of Air Force One.

With Pepper and the president kidnapped, we move into our final act on Christmas Eve. Stark and Rhodey arrive at the Mandarin’s base and he calls in the Iron Legion — every single suit he built to distract himself arrives to take down the Mandarin.

Everything about this scene is amazing; Brian Tyler’s fantastic musical score, Stark telling Rhodey, “Merry Christmas, buddy,” and the emotional weight behind this. Stark mistreated Killian at the party; he created his own demons. And now, Stark uses everything he’s used to cope with his inner demons to beat the Mandarin.

Everything about this final action setpiece gives me chills. There are so many amazing moments with the Iron Man suits and it is undoubtedly the greatest final battle of any film in the Iron Man trilogy.

Our film ends with Tony blowing up all of his suits. This confused me when I first watched it because it seemed as if it meant Stark was going to stop being Iron Man, which never ended up being the case. However, blowing up the suits has nothing to do with that.

Stark called it the Clean Slate Protocol. Because all of those suits that he built were cocoons to hide from his demons. He only built them to cope with his anxiety and fear. Now that the Mandarin is dead, he can overcome his demons and begin with a clean slate, destroying all of his suits because they are in his past.

Iron Man 3 isn’t just a superhero movie with cool action and explosions; it’s a movie about a man who has created his own demons. He learns to recover from them during the Christmas season, righting his own wrongs, and changing for the better.

“And so, as Christmas morning began, my journey had reached its end. You start with something pure, something exciting; then, come the mistakes. The compromises. We create our own demons.”

Stark’s demons are all in his past; the Mandarin, his fears, and everything he’s done to hide from them. He confronts his demons and learns to begin a new chapter in his life, removing the shrapnel from his chest, finally getting a good night’s sleep, and at the very end, throwing his Arc Reactor into the sea, as a final goodbye to his past.

In Iron Man 3, Stark learns how to be a better partner to Pepper, a father figure for Harley, and a hero without a suit. And that’s what Christmas is about; loving people and learning about ourselves. We create our own demons, and during the days leading up to Christmas, Stark defeats his demons, becoming a changed man.

“So if I were to wrap this up, tie it with a bow, or whatever, I guess I’d say my armor — it was never a distraction or a hobby. It was a cocoon. And now, I’m a changed man. You can take away my house, all my tricks and toys. One thing you can’t take away? I am Iron Man.”

Iron Man 3 is now streaming on Disney+.

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About the Creator

Jonathan Sim

Film critic. Lover of Pixar, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Back to the Future, and Lord of the Rings.

For business inquiries: [email protected]

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