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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

I’m teaching my Superheroes seminar again this Spring, and Marvel very kindly scheduled Iron Man 3 to fit our syllabus. So my students and I abandoned our classroom and strolled downtown to our smallville theater. Here’s their verdict.

Alejandro Paniagua: “Iron Man 3 was a movie filled with action, violence, and the right amount of comic relief. Eccentric billionaire Tony Stark is portrayed as a more relatable character that suffers from anxiety attacks and is even saved by Pepper who assumes the role of superhero in an exhilarating final battle against Killian who wants to create an army of “ubermensch”. Like in The Dark Night Rises, this movie adopts the idea of portraying an image of evil that society will accept while the real villain remains unknown until the end.”

Alena Hamrick: “It was brilliant how Pepper’s role changed from the previous movies. You see it when, for the first time (even if it is of Tony’s will), Pepper dons the Iron Man suit and saves Tony from falling debris. This was ingenious foreshadowing. She again comes through at a crucial moment and saves Tony’s life; this time, not with the Iron Man suit on her, but with her own super powers. In this sense, Pepper became a superhero. It was a super intriguing role reversal (the fact that Tony Stark needed to be rescued by a woman!!!!).”

Clark Hildabrand: “A cynical melding of the Marvel universe and everyday reality, Iron Man 3 marks the return of the suave and battle-hardened Tony Stark. Rather than the super villain of the comics, the Mandarin is a spokesperson for the alleged villains of democracy: think tanks and PACs. Killian tempts scientists, veterans, and even the vice president with money and the possibility of greater power. Although the boy sidekick from Tennessee may make this film more palatable to younger audiences, the violence of both Iron Man and the antagonists is distressing.”

Sarah Michalik: “Having not seen either of its precursors, I did not know what to expect with Iron Man 3. I heard it was a superhero movie, but this movie did not seem to be a superhero film to me. Tony Stark has no real superpowers, unless you count his ability to build a whole fleet of metal suits. The Iron Man suits are what hold the real power, and in this film, many people wear the suits to help defeat the ‘Mandarin’. In short, the action scenes were exciting, but I do not think it was a real superhero movie.”

Becca Brown: “Iron Man 3 explores to what extent a superhero can act as an independent agent. Before this movie, Iron Man operated as a lone hero, with the exceptions of his alliance with War Machine and his recent team-up with the Avengers. This movie sees Iron Man expand his personal ‘saving the day’ network. He enlists the aid of not only the newly dubbed Iron Patriot and his girlfriend Pepper Potts, but must also rely on civilian strangers to help him complete his mission.”

Lijiang Liu: “The love interest is the key. If Iron Man didn’t hit on the bio girl, he won’t meet the guy who owns the think tank. Kind of ironic that Iron Man said that his sole mission is to protect the girl, yet the girl saved him. More ironically, the girl is “superhuman” when she kills the think tank guy, while Iron man is lying on the ground without his suit. So it seems like the girl is the superhero in this movie. Yet we still have a Hollywood ending, hero and the good girl are together.”

Gray Jones: “In Shane Black’s Iron Man 3, there are spectacular explosions, battles between good and evil, and an underlying love story.  Black is no stranger to action-packed movies as he wrote screenplays for Lethal Weapon 1, 2, 3, and 4, but unlike his previous movies, he artistically weaves in several humorous and heart-warming side plots into Iron Man 3.  In this sequel, the mysterious and formidable terrorist called the Mandarin tests Tony Stark’s strength both as a man and a machine.  Iron Man 3 is heart-pounding sequel and well worth two hours.”

Margaret Felger: “One of the most important points of the movie was Tony’s battle with his identity.  The public knows that Tony is Iron Man and he doesn’t try to hide his identity.  Because of this, it is harder for Tony to keep his lives separate.  This movie, more than the other Iron Man movies or the Avengers, made it seem like Iron Man has eclipsed the life of Tony Stark.  While we see Tony “give up” being Iron Man, the end was ambiguous enough to allow Tony to return as Iron Man in other movies (for example he’s in the next Avengers movie).”

Carissa Steichen: “The film Iron Man 3 presented a hero with many of the same traits and tropes of the superheroes we have read about.  A major element of the film was Tony Stark’s conflict with his identity as a human versus his identity as Iron Man. While the movie was serious at times, there was comic relief throughout the action packed story. The romantic aspect of the film gave it a positive ending, leading to Tony giving up his identity of Iron Man, which brought closure to the plot.”

Scott Mokris: “While Iron Man/Tony Stark is the supposed superhero of the film, I found it fascinating how Aldrich Killian, the film’s supposed principle villain, is also portrayed as a type of superhero. Not only does he have superpowers given to him by Extremis, he also has a pro-social mission, which Peter Coogan finds essential for a superhero, in his attempt to create better humans. Another aspect of Killian as a superhero is his second/secret identity as The Mandarin. This second identity is unique in the fact that, instead of putting on a costume, Killian has another person be the costume and identity for him.”

Ali Coy: “The dual identity between Tony Stark and Iron Man, the superhero, is a prevalent issue throughout Iron Man 3. At the end of film, Stark destroys all of his Iron Man suits, freeing himself of his superhero identity.  However, his final words of the film are roughly, “I am Iron Man.” Therefore, even though his suits are destroyed and he removes the iron heart from his chest, his identity as Iron Man is still a part of him and always will be. Also, the character of Pepper, Tony’s girlfriend, reminds me of Lois Lane, by playing the damsel in distress-like character and having Iron Man come to her rescue.”

Elizabeth Lamb: “Despite the unfortunate mischaracterization of The Mandarin, the epitome of Eastern mysticism and the perfect foible for Western technology’s Iron Man, this latest addition brings to a fiery light the dangers of biotechnology while still gracing fans with irresistibly clever one-liners.  Defying the typical damsel-in-distress motif, Pepper Potts joins in the action, rescuing Stark twice, while still maintaining her delightfully pure charm.  With homegrown terrorists, corrupted good intentions, and a hero struggling to overcome his anxiety, Iron Man 3 reflects the image of a nation in chaos – a vision of present day America.”

Nolan Doyle: “The film concludes with the iconic line: “I am Iron Man”, as spoken by Tony Stark. This is not only a reference to the song “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath, but also a commentary on the character himself. Iron Man is quite different from most superheroes in that he doesn’t care to hide his identity. Such is the unique characteristic of the hero, his singular identity: Iron Man is Tony Stark and Tony Stark is Iron Man.”

Emily Flippo: “Iron Man 3 presented an interesting spin on the way that we’ve been talking about superheroes, specifically the aspect of dual identities. It made me wonder whether you can qualify an iron suit that will attach to any person as a second identity. Also, if Tony does have dual identities as Tony and Iron Man, Tony is extremely open about his identity as Iron Man, when normally it seems like superheroes keep their super identity a secret. Overall, Iron Man 3 was a good movie but I thought the first two were better.”

Iron Man 3 image

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