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Iron Man 3 Is the One of the Best Explorations of the Emotional Turmoil of Being a Hero

Tony Stark in Iron Man 3

There has been a renewed conversation surrounding the Mandarin since he will truly be making an appearance in Shang-Chi and with that, I’ve been thinking more and more about 2013’s Iron Man 3. A movie that focused on Tony’s turmoil with the aftermath of The Avengers, Iron Man 3 was an interesting exploration of what it meant to be a hero and how the role affects those characters that we love.

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Focusing on Tony Stark’s near-death experience when trying to close the portal from space in The Avengers, the movie shows that he isn’t fine with what happened and continues to lock himself in his lab without talking through his emotional turmoil with Pepper. Throughout his guilt and fears, he focuses on the fact that, yet again, he’s dying. The device that helps make him a hero, that helps him tick, is killing him. In Iron Man 2, we watched as he was poisoned by palladium and could barely cope with that and now, in Iron Man 3, he has to deal with almost dying and what it means to be Iron Man if he doesn’t have the arc reactor.

It doesn’t help that every villain Tony Stark faces throughout Iron Man 3 is someone from his past, come back to throw his actions in his face and making Tony reflect on everything that happened before he tried to rectify his life’s mistakes by being a hero. It is through these ghosts-of-his-past instances that we actually get to see Tony coping with his life falling apart around him and watching as he struggles to continue to be a hero even if he doesn’t see himself as one.

To me, Iron Man 3 is probably the best of the trilogy because it shows that behind all the bravado that Tony Stark shares with the rest of his team, he’s not a man who doesn’t let things get to him. If anything, it makes his actions in Captain America: Civil War make a bit more sense. There is something in this story, watching him fight for Pepper Potts and try and fix his past mistakes, that makes it a great movie to turn to when you want to get to the dark root of our heroes. Iron Man 3‘s narrative was somewhat overshadowed by the success of the Avengers greater world, but it’s an important addition to the MCU timeline.

There are so many movies out there that try and make superheroes “dark and moody” (looking at you The Batman) but in a hugely dramatic fashion that can be difficult to connect with. Seeing a movie like Iron Man 3 drives home that you can tell that struggle without changing the entire fabric of a character, and I think that’s beautiful. Tony Stark never stops being Tony Stark and he still comes to terms with the fact that he almost died saving the world during the battle of New York.

I think that Iron Man 3 doesn’t get the due it deserves, even outside of its treatment of the Mandarin storyline and that character’s twist and overall reception. The film has also received rightful criticism in regards to its feminism and choices like rewriting a female villain to be a man for merchandising, which should be considered upon viewing. But I hope that people who skipped it give it a chance and explore the hero that Tony Stark was learning how to be while experiencing acute PTSD and being made to confront his past. It’s an important chapter in his development and in how we view modern superheroes. It also is the start of him just straight up adopting random children, so there’s that for foreshadowing.

(image: Marvel Entertainment)

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Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh.