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Gwyneth Paltrow: “You Can Only Be the Damsel in Distress for So Long”


Will we ever get tired of hearing Gwyneth Paltrow talk about suiting up for Iron Man 3? Probably at least not until we get to see the movie this weekend.

While Marvel hasn’t exactly been leading with images of Pepper and the suit in its marketing, it hasn’t been playing coy, either: Pepper Potts suits up at least once in Iron Man 3. Paltrow herself has been upfront about it in interviews, and a clip of her in the suit has even debuted in international trailers. But it’s great to hear her frame the plot point not just as something that’s cool visually, but as a subversion and necessary refutation of the damsel in distress trope; an important framing of Pepper as Tony’s equal, not just Tony’s girlfriend. In a different kind of story the framing that Pepper has already received as Tony’s assistant, advisor, and runner of his company might be sufficient for them to have an equal standing in the narrative. But in the superhero genre I think that such a reframing does indeed call for some interaction with the superpowers (or devices that confer superpower-like abilities on mere mortals) that so define the lead heroes and villains of superhero stories

Paltrow told MTV News:

I was really hoping that Pepper would be more engaged in this movie… We had talked about Pepper being in the suit in the second movie and then for a series of reasons it didn’t end up happening. So I was really happy, not only that she was wearing the suit, but that you see her really on equal ground with Tony in their interpersonal dynamic, and as a ceo, and then she’s got all this action… I think in order to move things forward and keep it fresh, you can only be the damsel in distres for so long, and then it’s old.

The folks behind Iron Man 3 talked about wanting Pepper to suit up last summer, as Marvel Entertainment was making its first official announcements about their post-Avengers Phase 2 plans, it was mentioned again as a definitive in an international event in November, and confirmed multiple times in the publicity lead up to the movie’s release this weekend. So far, box office and reviews have been positive… so it seems like Pepper’s superheroic debut isn’t the only enjoyable thing about Iron Man 3.

(via MTV Splash Page.)

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  • foolish tree films

    It HAD to happen. Well, maybe not, but I’m sure glad it did (will). After “Rescue” in the comix, it was certainly time. (What’s “Rescue?” Go read Fraction and Larocca’s “Invincible Iron Man” from the start.) ;)

  • Anonymous

    While I’m excited to see Pepper in the suit….I couldn’t disagree more with Susannna’s comment. In fact, I think she’s dead wrong.
    I’m sorry but I reject this idea that human beings have to have some kind of “”costumed hero” experience of some kind in the superhero genre in order to be the “equal” of their partner. in fact, I actively feel offended by that assertion.
    The very basis of these hero narratives is often built upon the idea that humanity is powerful, inspirational and worth saving. To imply that only those with superpowers of some kind are true “equals” casts the strengths that are inherant in all of us right out the door.
    Is Jim Gordon not Batman’s equal just because he’s a cop and not a superhero? How about Lois Lane? Lois Lane is often the voice of the people and the heart and soul of the Superman mythos. Her power is ROOTED in her humanity. A Superman story in which Lois Lane gains superpowers, while fun temporaraily, MISSES THE ENTIRE POINT of the character as it is the very FACT that Lois does what she does without the privilege of superpowers that makes her so heroic.

  • Anonymous

    I think it had to happen for THIS character eventually because it’s part of her comic history. But I think it’s dead wrong to assert that the ONLY way for relationships to be “equal” in a superhero setting is if one party contributes as a “superhero.”
    Pepper was already Tony’s equal as the head of Stark Industries. To imply otherwise is a really insulting view of alot of men and women in this country who serve different roles while their partners/spouses go off to war/serve on the streets as cops etc. It’s a terrible view of what equality means.

  • Anonymous

    She’s in the suit for like a minute, and Tony is the one that puts her in it, then remotely pulls it off her so he can save himself from danger. Everyone keeps clinging onto this image of her in the suit as an example of progress of women in film, and they have no idea that she actually kills the bad guy at the end of the movie while hopped up on Extremis. That’s a bigger deal.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nicole.e.currie Nicole Elizabeth Currie

    You read the part where they said they won’t get to see the movie until this weekend, right? Because holy crap, you just spoiled the ending.

  • http://twitter.com/sarasakana Sara Sakana

    Thanks for the spoiler, asshole.

  • Anonymous

    Are you freaking kidding me with this? What is WRONG with you?

  • Anonymous

    No I didn’t. You don’t even know who the bad guy is.

  • http://twitter.com/sarasakana Sara Sakana

    Except… nobody is saying the ONLY way for relationships to be “equal” in a superhero setting is if one party contributes as a “superhero.” Please go compost your straw man.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000327677376 Suzanne Larsen

    spoilers, man……. unless you’re trolling a fake spoiler. in which case, still jerky move.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nicole.e.currie Nicole Elizabeth Currie

    Really, that’s your arguement?
    Fine. I’ll give you that- but you sure as hell did spoil two key points for absolutely no reason (especually since North America doesn’t get the movie until this weeked).
    It was a douche move.

  • Anonymous

    All I can say is that even the prospect of subverting the damsel in distress trope is not justification enough to subject us to more Gwyneth Paltrow screen time. I will save my feminist fist bump for Black Widow’s role in Winter Soldier.

  • http://www.lawlessgentile.com/ Ali Miller

    Oh, don’t even attempt to deflect that, pal. The least you could do after spoiling a major unexpected event in the film for many of us is edit your post to omit it, but no. :|

  • Anonymous

    What a jerk comment. Yes.. Susana actually did say that. In her post.

    “In a different kind of story the framing that Pepper has already received as Tony’s assistant, advisor, and runner of his company might be sufficient for them to have an equal standing in the narrative. But in the superhero genre I think that such a reframing does indeed call for some interaction with the superpowers (or devices that confer superpower-like abilities on mere mortals) that so define the lead heroes and villains of superhero stories.”
    Susana says here that Pepper running the company wasn’t enough for her to be his equal in this narrative. Maybe you didn’t read it? I’m saying I appreciate Pepper in the suit but disagree that it’s necessary in all superhero narratives to under all circumstances and it’s dangerous to imply otherwise.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t like Gwyneth Paltrow as a person. I’m not a fan of her personally. But she has done a good job with Pepper Potts and i’ve had to remove my dislike of her personally to acknowledge that she plays a good character. I think you can separate the actor from the character here.

  • foolish tree films

    Well, I’m a Gwyneth fan (although she hasn’t been given much to do with her screen time thus far), so I can’t agree with you there. However, I’ll join that feminist fist bump only if Black Widow’s role in “Winter Soldier” doesn’t involve her being the only character to nearly lose her sh*t in the face of an overwhelmingly powerful foe. I am a Joss Whedon devotee, but that was one of the weakest parts of “Avengers” for me. I’m not saying it’s not necessarily realistic – it’s the HULK, for cripesakes! – but why did it have to be the only woman on the team? Natasha Romanov is a *badass.*

  • Anonymous

    I disagree that Natasha’s emotional reaction made her weak in any capacity. If anything, Natasha was the only one of them who was truly BRAVE enough to face The hulk. She had emotional courage that the men lacked. I agree it’s a problem she was the only woman on the team but women experiencing realistic fear and emotion is not a problem in such circumstances.

  • Andrea S

    there are spoilers in the comments, don’t scroll down if you haven’t seen the movie.

  • foolish tree films

    I hear what you’re saying – sure, she gets to have the reaction, and then crawl – even leap – out of it. Yes, it shows her strength – but I still don’t dig it. Doesn’t work for me. If we’re going to have someone peeing their pants – and then coming back from it – why can’t it be one of the guys? Why does the woman – the only woman – have to be the displayer of emotions? Hell, she’s a spy – someone trained, and with a LOT of experience hiding her true emotions. Not against the Hulk, granted – but still.

  • foolish tree films

    “Up with Humans!” :) It’s a good point. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    I’m torn on this one. When I first watched the scene, I had the same reaction as you, foolish tree. Later, though, I read a defense of the scene (maybe here?) along the lines of what Mary229′s saying, and I found it persuasive. Can’t really make up my mind one way or the other.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I wish I could do that. For some reason, Paltrow just gets under my skin, and I can’t seem to enjoy her characters even when they’re well-written and well-performed. *shrug* Not sure what it is; just a gut reaction, I guess.

  • Penny Marie Sautereau

    Without spoilers, I loved Pepper’s bits in this movie, but somehow I even more loved how they deconstructed the Mandarin to get around the inherent racism of the character.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    I think it’s extrapolating a bit much to think that Susanna feels or is even implying that this should apply to all circumstances.

    It would be upsetting to see if say, Superman injected Lois Lane with his Kryptonian blood so she could get powers fueled by Earth’s Yellow Sun as well. Lois Lane does not need to be his equal in abilities to be an equal partner.

    In THIS case, it’s a necessary evolution for Potts’ character to demonstrate to Tony that she is beyond capable(it’s sad that the Air Force One rescue scene was Tony instead of Pepper, b/c then she could demonstrate to Tony the OTHER purposes the suit could be used for, and a call out to her comic story), and maybe for Tony to realize that what Cap said was true. He’s just a man in a suit. He may have invented the suit, but that’s what makes Iron Man so interesting, that the suit has opened up a way for everybody to be a superhero. He’s a lot like Syndrome, IMO.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    It’s been removed, FYI.

  • Mr. Blulrich

    I’m not entirely sure this isn’t some kind of spoiler, so let’s just say Pepper is much more of a badass in the end… without the suit. Paltrow wasn’t kidding when she taks about action scenes.

  • Anonymous

    Hey! You’re obviously free to disagree with me. I 100% agree about the importance of diversity in methods of “being a hero” in comics. It’s probably my favorite thing in the genre and I get disappointed when there isn’t enough of it. But I would also argue that there’s a clear line in superhero narratives between superheroes and not-superheroes, despite the common theme in the genre that “anyone can be a superhero.” Gotham Central is probably one of my favorite Batman series ever, and makes you love and root for Gotham’s cops over Batman, but in strict terms of “genre of story” it’s really a police procedural set in a universe with superheroes rather than a “superhero” book.

    I didn’t intend my point to be about what’s “right,” really, but what’s occasionally inferred or assumed by a broad, perhaps (reasonably) not very critical (and I mean this in the academic sense not the “negativity” sense) audience watching the umpteenth superhero movie of the summer. So I don’t mean to imply that a character whose spouse is a firefighter, for example, can only be presented as “equal” to that character if they, also, spend some time fighting fire.

    But I think the way movie makers treat superheros in film, and the way a movie’s fictional setting/society treats them is important, and different, than the way they treat characters who do not have superpowers (or use devices that essentially give them superpowers). And I don’t simply mean in marketing, though that’s up there. The characters who don’t have superpowers don’t get movies that are just about them. A War Machine, Black Widow, or Warriors Three spinoff movie, while unlikely, is far more likely than a Pepper Potts, Howling Commandos, or Jane Foster spinoff, and the audience knows this. They know that the characters who don’t fly around punching bad guys are less important and have less power, literally and figuratively, and while they know that they might play a role in saving the world, or there might be a twist ending where their actions save the world… It’s more likely that the character with superpowers is going to save the world, be active in the action sequences and the climactic battle, and have their name in the title. Despite the fact that an underlying theme of many superhero stories is that anyone can be a hero, or that even heroes need regular people to support them.

    What I’m trying to say is that while it probably should be different, superhero movies usually place much more value on characters who do superheroic things rather than heroic things, due to genre conventions, and that’s why I think it’s a big deal to see Pepper in the suit. It’s not a fix for the underlying problem (if, indeed one considers it that and not simply a characteristic of the genre, something I’m not sure about even in my own opinion), but I still see it as mitigating improvement. I’m admittedly very brain dead today, and that may not have come across. Hopefully something I’ve put here makes sense.

  • Anonymous

    No no, I understand your point. I’m just sure it applies across the board. Alot of this comes down to storytelling and cultural power. What we need for one character we don’t need for another.
    Lois Lane may not have a movie about just her but she has, at this point, been the co-star of a narrative several times over now. Her name has come FIRST in a show watched by 20 million people. In most modern Superman stories ( that aren’t the new 52) the narrative ALWAYS presents Lois as being equally important to Superman and the soul that drives the story. So I think she’s maybe a rare but important example of the ways in which the traditional narrative of the guy in the suit can be completely subverted and where it’s imperative that the woman is not powered.
    Now, Pepper Potts? She may be a different story. She doesn’t have the same cultural power at this point and it WAS the right thing to to for THIS story to give her the suit. It suits who SHE Is. And I agree that we don;’t have enough female heroes across the board. I just think it’s a conversation you have to have…carefully.

  • Anonymous

    I honestly DO agree that this was the right thing for Pepper in this movie. I don’t dispute that at all.
    I just think it’s a conversation that can be interpreted the wrong way if you aren’t careful.
    And yes, Lois was one of the first people I thought of. I don’t want Lois Lane with superpowers. Her humanity is part of what makes her the soul of the narrative. That said, Lois is a special case and most of the other female love interests in comics have not been given what Lois has been given over the years. Lois has been the co-star of the Superman narrative on TV. Her name has come first.So she ::is:: a special case in that regard. She has been given power the other women have not had.

  • Anonymous

    I work very hard to forget who she is as a person when I watch her act. She’s the opposite of Amy Adams who I like so much as a person that I like her even more when she acts.

  • Emily Neenan

    I think the non-superpowered half does need to do or save or protect or defend, though. They don’t necessarily need to do so in a superpowered way, but they can’t just be helpless, and in a superpowered world, sometimes it’s the only way it works.

  • Emily Neenan

    I love that Pepper is so much less of a damsel in this one! Her primary battle-engagement of screaming and running around in really high heels was never something that spoke to me. I like her a lot more after this film.

    I also like that Gwyneth Paltrow has acknowledged that it’s important that a character not just be a motivator for someone else and that that passivity becomes old. I thought it was old halfway through the first movie, but, y’know… :P

  • Anonymous

    I really liked Pepper in this film. :)

  • Robert Paske

    Spoiler comment was deleted before I got here, so I don’t know what was spoiled. I have seen the movie (one of the rare few that came out in Japan before coming out in the US, I had to wait months for the Avengers and Cabin in the Woods just came out here last month), but will refrain from spoilers. There is a part of me that wants to say re: everyone’s reaction to the spoilers here: Now you know how I feel with just about every other movie that’s ever come out when y’all start talking about it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/liam.shiels.1 Liam Shiels

    Without giving too much spoilery stuff away: The trailers are misleading if you think they show a subversion of the damsel in distress trope.

  • Ted Hobgood

    On the same day this post went up, I got home and discovered the latest Lego Club Magazine in my mailbox, with an Iron Man cover. Inside was a comic strip featuring Lego Tony Stark screaming for Pepper to bring him a new suit. She went one better and showed up in her own armour! Nice to see a kid’s comic voluntarily exploring this sort of issue.

  • foolish tree films

    Yeah, it’s a tough one for me too. But I’d still like to see more of such emoting coming from the men. I appreciate your analysis, Mary229 – makes the part I disliked the most about the film more palatable – but let’s see some of it from the menfolk next time. All I’m askin’. ;)

  • foolish tree films

    Oooh! That sounds exciting. I wasn’t sure about the presentation of the character (although if anyone can pull off a real human beneath the jingoism, it’s Ben MuthaF*ckin’ Kingsley), but to hear that they directly addressed the issues – that’s *cool.*