With The Avengers, the so-called Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe came to a close. A group of heroes teamed up to save the world, and then went in separate directions because the actors are expensive and we can’t have all of them cameoing up in every movie, no matter how much it would make sense that someone would show up when an teammate needs help. Oh, no, they’re just doing some important thing off screen. Trust us! Welcome to Phase Two and welcome back to MCU March. Let’s wrap up the Iron Man trilogy.
Back in 1999, a pre-Iron Man pre-character development Tony Stark meets and sleeps with Maya Hansen (Ms. Rebecca Hall), the creator of the gene editing program Extremis. He also meets and spurns geeky loser Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), founder of Advanced Ideas Mechanics (AIM). In the present, Tony is dealing with anxiety attacks and possible (probable) PTSD related to almost dying in space. Like you do. Pepper is running Stark Industries and meets with a now conventionally attractive Killian who is pitching something that sound very much like Extremis. Meanwhile, the leader of the Ten Rings has revealed himself as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) and has been making videos to go along with his terror attacks. One such attack blows up a Chinese theater, but there’s more going on. Happy–formerly Tony’s bodyguard, now security for Pepper–didn’t trust Killian and followed his bodyguard, Savin (James Badge Dale) to the theater where he sees a soldier start glowing before exploding. Happy’s in a coma from the blast and Tony’s mad enough that he threatens the Mandarin on live TV. Maya shows up asking for help, but everything is pushed back when Savin and his men blow up Tony’s house. Tony Stark dies in the attack.
…or that’s what the world thinks. He managed to get out and heads to Tennessee to investigate an explosion similar to the one Happy was in, but not credited to the Mandarin. He gets help from a little boy named Harley (Ty Simpkins) and realizes that Extremis is being used to create volatile and fiery super soldiers. Doesn’t hurt that some Extremis goons attack him, hammering that idea in. Pepper is betrayed by Maya when it’s revealed she’s still working with Killian. Aldrich then kills Maya and takes Pepper hostage, because he’s a dick. Tony–minus his armor as it needs to charge–sneaks into Killian’s residence and finds the Mandarin. Or, really, he finds actor Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley), a loser Killian hired to take credit for accidental Extremis-related explosions. War Machine–now wearing the red, white, and blue Iron Patriot armor–joins the main story and the two go after Killian. He’s working with the Vice President to capture President Ellis (William Sadler, AKA Brayker from Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight) and kill him. Tony activates House Party Protocol which brings all his suits into battle under Jarvis’ control to fight off the Extremis soldiers. Tony finds Pepper, but she’s been injected with Extremis and falls to her death. Just kidding, she’s got regeneration and super strength going on, so she’s the one who kills Killian. Trevor is arrested–we find out in the Return of the King short that the real Mandarin is fucking pissed that this loser impersonated him–Pepper has the Extremis removed, Happy recovers, Tony has the shrapnel removed from his heart so he no longer needs the arc reactor in his chest, and he also destroys all the Iron Man suits. That last one can probably be ignored, because Iron Man is definitely not done suiting up.
Yeah, turns out I like this one better than Iron Man 2. It’s nice to see Tony MacGyvering up makeshift weapons when he’s without a suit, because the real weapon is his brain. I mean, sure, the armor has all the actual weapons, but you get the idea. His relationship with Pepper felt more real this time, with the conflicts between them being some serious stuff. He’s extra flakey because of PTSD. Okay, she can work with that. But when he has a nightmare and his mentally controlled suit of armor attacks her in the middle of the night, that’s a bit much for a normal person to deal with. The movie still has some of the comedic timings of the previous Iron Man films, but I didn’t tag it “comedy” because it’s more of a political thriller with occasional quips. It is a little sad that this is the last solo Iron Man film, but RDJ is hella expensive so keeping him to cameos and supporting roles in other movies makes sense from a financial view. That’s one of the benefits of comic books over their adaptations: you can put Iron Man wherever you want because he’s a character, not an actor.
COMIC BOOK FUN FACT! No surprise, Extremis was a comic book storyline that had a big impact on Iron Man. It started in Iron Man #1-6 (2005) where a domestic terror group got ahold of Extremis and turned one of their own, Mallen, into a nearly unstoppable killing machine (Savin was the movie equivalent of Mallen, but in the comics Savin was the enhanced mercenary named Coldblood). Tony gets involved when Maya Hansen calls him for help, and he nearly dies during a confrontation with the incredibly strong and resilient Mallen. A modified version of Extremis is injected into Tony, allowing him to interface with the Iron Man armor with his mind. Mallen is defeated but Tony realizes that Maya was involved in selling Extremis and has her arrested. Aldrich Killian is also in the story, but in a surprisingly small role. He helped develop Extremis and was involved in selling it to terrorists, but felt so bad about it that he shoots himself in the head. He was in two pages total. Gary the cameraman is in just as many pages in the same issue. Just sayin’.
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