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July 26, 2013 1:23 am

No, but you don’t understand why I liked Iron Man 3 so much.

In all the other Avengers movies, we see characters going through pain and trauma and heartache.  We see Steve lose practically his whole world and still carry on.  We watch Bruce struggle with trying to figure out just how the Hulk fits into his life and his psyche; it is implied that he deals with depression and tries to end his life.  We hear Clint and Natasha and their angst about the “red in their ledgers”, the things they have done, and we watch as Thor essentially comes of age and deals with the pain of having his brother fall down deeper and deeper.  We KNOW the pain and the issues and the upset are there.

But Iron Man 3 is the first time we actually get to witness—REALLY witness—the aftermath of heroics.

In the first part of the movie we see Tony Stark dealing with real, honest-to-god PTSD.  He has panic attacks, he can’t sleep, he gets reckless and has a harder time taking care of himself, he obsessively spends hours working on suits so he can protect Pepper—even though in doing so he is unintentionally threatening their relationship. Rarely has such a thorough job been done in showing that all the flash-bang-let’s-save-the-world action would, in real life, have some serious psychological consequences.

Then, as the film progresses, we see him laid low.  REALLY low—we see him get taken apart piece by piece.  He loses his home, he loses contact with the people he cares about, he loses his suit—which means, in the context of the past few films, that he is in some ways dead.  “He is Iron Man”, after all, isn’t he?  The public sees him as one with the suit, and in a sense, so does he—a good deal of his self esteem, his sense of being able to defend people, is locked up in what he can do in the suit.  And now he’s stranded in the middle of nowhere—he can’t fly, he can’t fight much, he’s still suffering from PTSD, he’s being actively hunted by the few people who don’t think he’s dead.  All of his real ability is locked up in his brain, a place not everyone would think to look.  We see him almost completely broken down.

And then we watch him build himself back up again, but with one major difference: he does it without the suit.

In most of the second half of the film, in almost all of his major victories, Tony is not in the suit.  He breaks into Killian’s mansion essentially with odds and ends he’s cobbled together.  He saves the passengers from Air Force One with a suit he’s remotely controlling.  He wins the final battle with a whole bunch of suits that he is not in at all.  Rhodes saves the president, and Pepper kills the villain.  Not Tony.  And at the end of the day he blows up all the suits and tosses his mini arc reactor into the ocean.

Iron Man 3 is brilliant and underrated precisely because it lets the hero be a real man—a man, not a man in a suit.  A person who can still work wonders even when he’s at his very lowest, when he’s stranded and battling mental illness.  Someone who can’t operate completely alone, who lets other people have some victories as well—heck, who needs his friends and teammates to win.  And as he says at the end of the movie, while he may not always wear a suit, he will always be Iron Man. 

And personally, I think that is an A-freaking-plus storyline to bring into this franchise.

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    (I would add only that of course IM3 is the first movie to explore that because it’s the first one set post-Avengers,...
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