“Big man in a suit of armor. Take that off, what are you?”

“Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.”

I must admit, despite the smug with which Tony Stark has always made the audience feel sure of him, this famous exchange from The Avengers has got me thinking. Of the team, he is the only one whose “ability” relies on something beyond him. Sure all of them, save Thor, can thank comic book science for their abilities but at least the others always have that ability with them, unlike a full-body smartphone.

(More case in point, the race track encounter in Iron Man 2 where Stark was just useless until he got his armor from Pepper and Happy. “Just give me the case!” cried Stark. Pardon the pun.)

So, it was with curiosity that I looked forward to Iron Man 3. The trailers showed a Tony Stark who has to react to another surprise attack, this time bigger in scale than Whiplash in Monaco, while not in his armor. Really, what could a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist do against surprise incoming missiles? It seemed to me that the people behind IM3 knew how to address Captain America’s jibe against Tony Stark.

I’ll save you my arguments for the next paragraphs but the film didn’t fully live up to the expectations the trailers set. I did not find it as bad as how others would make you believe—overall, it went as Marvel superhero movies are supposed to—but still, I found it lacking. And in those times where it could have made a point, it throws you a sucker punch, pun intended (again!).

Another thing the trailers made sure you didn’t miss is the fact that Tony Stark is troubled. A trailer starts with his voice over of an apology. Tony Stark does not apologize; he’s always right. And when he’s wrong, he’s always got an alibi to make a case that, at least, he’s partially right. Tony Stark doing an apology is like Tim Cook apologizing for Maps.

And Tony Stark is having nightmares. He can’t sleep well at night.

I found it interesting that they are integrating a plot point from The Avengers to IM3. Who would’ve thought that Stark’s daredevil stunt for a finale would haunt him way afterward. Interesting as it is, I found the execution poor and lacking, as if all this I’m-troubled-from-New-York drama was a last-minute addition to give IM3 more continuity from Avengers. Stark’s panic attacks just go at random points in the narrative, bearing no total weight on the film’s plot. Shame, as it could’ve integrated well with the film’s you-create-your-own-demons opening.

I think the film is trying to build-up Stark’s human element more than the previous three films which featured Iron Man. I think this is crucial in answering Captain America’s jibe. I can get all philosophical about it but take away the armor, the intellect, the money, and the ladies and Stark is just a man [1 ]. And their main point of attack is in pitting Stark against super-powered humans.

And I’m quite pleased at how they did it. Though I said earlier that IM3 plays as any Marvel superhero film is expected to play, there are huge chunks of the film where it doesn’t feel like a superhero movie at all and I found that good. Tony Stark fights—and wins the fight—without his armor. And he’s fighting Extremis-enhanced enemies at that. Totally badass. Finally, here’s what Stark is worth as an Avenger without his armor.

The set-up for the final fight sequence is excellent: Extremis-enhanced Killian versus Stark with his legion of Iron Man suits. We see Stark, jumping from suit to suit, trying to get the best of Killian as Killian trashes each [2 ]. Stark ultimately resorts to a surprise move involving the prodigal Mark 42 and yet that is not enough. If you haven’t seen the movie but have read to this point, pardon the spoilers (you should’ve expected them), but you should see what a tight plot corner Stark has been written into here. Iron Man suits are no use. Smart moves are no use. Hell-bent super-powered foe wanting to kill Stark.

But here comes the sucker punch (I’ll warn you: more spoilers ahead!). You know how Stark manages to live through that tight spot for Avengers 2? Help comes from his Extermis-enhanced lady love, Pepper Potts. And for a scene, Potts is the more powerful character; when an Iron Man in autopilot goes after her (having identified her abnormal heat signature for a possible enemy), she punches a hole through the armor’s chest, effortlessly sending it to kingdom come. There you have it. Pepper’s fist > Thor’s Mjolnir.

You can go all feminist about it, say how, at last, Potts is not just a damsel in distress but still, it totally ruins the set-up at how Stark could conclusively prove that he can be Iron Man without his suit. Granted, it’s a really tight corner they put Stark in and I’ll admit that even me, while watching the film, could think of no way it would end well for Stark without the involvement of Extremis (or equivalent) on his side.

Overall, if you’re in for a more logical-take on the comic books and yet retains that comic-book feel, Iron Man 3 will be an enjoyable two hours, if not a bit rushed. Maybe, it’s just the case that I’ve been expecting a Nolan where Nolan is not involved. Maybe, the people behind Marvel’s Cinematic Universe just raised questions for which they have no adequate set-up to provide satisfactory answers. It’s a fact that superhero movies are meant to be enjoyed with quite a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief—Iron Man 3 is no different. Maybe, if you just take the whole thing by face value, you’d find that it plays along finely.

  1. Take away the iron from Iron Man and he’s just a man. Okay, sorry I even made the joke but I can’t help it. []
  2. At this point, I find it funny how the Iron Man suit was able to withstand impacts from the Mjolnir, wielded by no less than Thor (cf. The Avengers), and yet they tear like paper against the  Extremis’ fire power. []