Robot 6

The Fifth Color | The inner demons of ‘Iron Man 3′

my momma told me there'd be days like this...

my momma told me there’d be days like this…

Not too long ago, Comic Book Resources talked to director Shane Black about Marvel’s Iron Man 3, which arrives in theaters today. When asked about David Michelinie and Bob Layton’s infamous “Demon in a Bottle” storyline, considered the darkest and deepest Tony Stark of them all, and its potential adaptation to the big screen, Black said, “No, because if we go there — it’s part of Tony’s character, but I think the ‘Demon in a Bottle; aspect, if you go there, you really have to go there. The film then becomes about that, because the journey that involves recovering from alcoholism is an entire movie. I mean, I want to keep it dark and interesting and edgy and spicy and all those things, but I don’t think we want to go as far as to deal with Tony’s descent into alcoholic madness. That’s maybe not where we want to be.”

This turned some heads, triggering accusations that Disney demanded sobriety, that Black forswore any alcohol in Iron Man 3 and insistence that it was a big deal that this issue wasn’t going to be addressed at all. I can see where the director is coming from on this: Iron Man has a lot on his plate already with four films’ worth of continuity and troubles following him, and to stop in the middle of all of that to take that turn down a dark and lonely path isn’t where we want to be in our Marvel movie medley.

Believe it or not, Iron Man 3 deals with a lot with demons, just not the particular demon of alcoholism. There are demons that are spawned from poor decision-making and from being a bit of a bastard in one’s younger years. There are demons that terrify us but, at heart, are completely manufactured from insecurity and doubt. And there are even more personal demons than that, ones that drive us into the night and can slowly crush you from the inside.

Seeing Iron Man 3 last night taught me something very important about myself and heroism, and those great, grand concepts I love to take from comics about dudes punching each other. Because, while the spectacle is fantastic, the effects and details are dead on, the acting is challenging and sly, it’s those message moments done just right that make viewers realize they just might have seen a different movie than everyone else.

WARNING: Iron Man 3 will be discussed below! I’m keeping out as many details as possible, but if you’re remaining spoiler-free, you might want to bookmark this one for later. To the brave, read on!

Tony Stark has post-traumatic stress disorder. That’s where the weight of this movie lies; there may be villains and Extremis-riddled soldiers and the Mandarin’s machinations, but this is about how Tony handles the knowledge he should be dead. At the end of The Avengers, he takes a bomb into unknown space through a wormhole pretty much as ready to die as anyone ever is. He knew the risks, he faced them, and then … he fell back to Earth. Stark has survived something beyond anyone’s imagination and now has to live another day, and one after that and after that, just like everyone else. When you face something like that, a truly traumatic experience, and don’t expect to live, it can really mess you up. Doubts and fears dog your heels as you wait for the other shoe that didn’t drop. There’s no real “after” plan to help you cope with events that big, whether you’ve faced a gigantic space army and a mad god, or a car crash that took the lives of your passengers and not you. That’s why there’s post-traumatic stress disorder listed in the DSM-V and there are therapists and agencies to help our veterans. Stark self-medicated not with booze but with work, throwing himself into a state of constant vigilance. He makes armors and stores them. He doesn’t sleep. He, like many with PTSD, copes by diving into the one thing that distracts or even feeds that gnawing fear; narrowing down to one task brings some clarity but it can easily make you lose sight of the rest of the world.

Stark’s world comes crashing down around him, literally, as his Malibu home falls into the ocean, trying to bury him in prototype armor in the process. When you survive something that should have killed you, there’s an ugly feeling that this is “it.” That was your one chance and you used it, so now all bets are off. Good luck not slipping in the tub and killing yourself now! Surviving that traumatic experience means no more second chances, there’s no escaping death now. There almost doesn’t seem to be a reason that you survived at all. I mean, why Tony Stark? Why not anyone else from the New York battle? Was this millionaire playboy really worth it?

iron-man-3_handThe beauty of seeing all of this unfold, and the blessing of being an omniscient audience, is that the solution to these inner demons is played out in glorious 3-D surround sound. Tony tells Pepper Potts early on in the film that the suits are a part of him, so when he’s being crushed by the weight of his own crumbling home, he pulls himself out of the wreckage to escape. When he collapses in the snow and his armor is all busted and out of power, he drags himself to safety. And in the climactic battle (see, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to avoid all spoilers), he sends an army of himself to the rescue. He sheds armors as each one is destroyed and puts on a new one and keeps fighting.

That’s who Tony Stark is. The closing words of the movie clearly explain that you can take away all of his gadgets and toys and money and trappings, but he is Iron Man. It’s not the miracles that save you or luck or second chances, it’s self determination. The ability not to drink, the ability to survive, the ability to design a suit of armor that shoots missiles and omni-beams, all of that comes from the triumph and heroism of the human spirit. And like the movie says after the end credits, Tony Stark will return.

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Comments

9 Comments

I’m only an Iron Man fan by way of the films, but I understand how “Demon in a Bottle” cast a shadow over this story, and I appreciate you articulating that the movie successfully replaced alcoholism with Tony’s addiction to work. The scene where (SPOILERS) an Iron Man armor grabs Pepper in bed shows how dangerous his addiction can be. When I see the movie again, I’ll have this in my mind and probably dig the film a little more.

I enjoyed the film but it was nowhere near as good as the first one. The PTSD IMO wasn’t convincingly portrayed by RDJ. The kid was grating. And the Tony Stark/ James Bond scenes were just over-the-top. It took him years of training from Cap to become that proficient in hand to hand, but here he’s just way too badass. Still though, overall it was a great film and the Mandarin twist was brilliant. Guy Pearce IMO stole every scene he was in. This guy needs to be brought into the Marvel Universe to portray someone!!

Agreed — the kid was very heavy-handed. Also, I don’t think Pearce’s character is out of the picture yet; I for one would love to see Thanos use AIM in the way Darkseid used Intergang to prepare the world for its undoing. That would give IM3 the connectivity to the overall Phase 2 scheme some folks say it was lacking.

Great article, Carla. Tony Stark in this movie feels more like the self-destructive Denny O’neill Tony than the David Michelinie/Bob Layton Tony. There’s a helplessness at certain points in the movie that reflect what Tony was going through after Obadiah Stane took over Stark International back in the day.

@ Jamie: The Mandarin twist was “brilliant”? Brilliant at taking me right out of the movie, perhaps, but nothing else. That reveal killed whatever enjoyment in the movie I was having at that point, and it was a lost cause from there. I wanted to see Iron Man battle The Mandarin. Not Tony Stark, sans armor, go hunting down a puppet that turned out to be a drunk, unemployed actor.

I agree with you that the PTSD just didn’t click. For once, I didn’t fully believe RDJ as Stark. It seemed like he was paying lip service to these nightmares, and the “panic attacks” came off as phony. The kid was pretty unnecessary (not to mention risky) but he wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting. In fact, the kid was kind of funny. He did seem almost Wesley Crusher, or even Anakin, like, in helping fix to the armor, but I didn’t mind him.

Stark running around like James Bond, and later Stark and Rhodey re-creating Lethal Weapon, was also not what I wanted to see. Late in the movie, I actually leaned to my wife and said “If Tony’s armors fail him one more time, I’m leaving.” That was just ridiculous. The guy with the perfect calculations suddenly can’t make his stuff work properly, and this armor that could stand up to Thor’s hammer and alien assault got ripped to shreads with everyone he fought in this movie. WTF?

The only positive in IM3 is that it actually makes IM2 seem better than it really is. Oh well, at least we have the first IM movie and The Avengers. Here’s to hoping Thor 2 and Cap 2 will be great, and looking forward to seeing Avengers 2 of course.

Carla said: “There almost doesn’t seem to be a reason that you survived at all. I mean, why Tony Stark? Why not anyone else from the New York battle?”

Huh? I don’t recall anyone NOT surviving New York. Apart from all those Chuitari, I mean.

Also, I’m pretty sure Hulk (or Thor, who was about to go save Tony) is the reason Stark survived.

I just didn’t buy into this “gnawing fear” that was supposedly driving Tony to become addicted to his work. It’s the only thing about Stark in these four (five, counting Incredible Hulk) movies that rang false for me in RDJ’s otherwise wonderful performances.

It’s not that I can’t believe Tony could suffer from PTSD after NYC, it’s just that RDJ, or the script or both, didn’t convince me. But then, the script to this movie had far bigger problems: “Mandarin” and armor failures, I’m looking at you.

@ Shaun.
I thought the Mandarin was a brilliant twist on what was shaping up to be a “by the numbers” epic battle with a two dimensional villain. Now let me say I am not a fanatic IM fan but have read many, many IM comics over the years. Apart from a great Kurt Busiek story, in which the Mandarin was portrayed a little more seriously, the Mandarin to me has always been that green guy in armour cackling and threatening vengeance at IM in the 1990′s cartoon, or the yellow peril villain hiding in the shadows before jumping under a spotlight and going “bwahahahahah!”
So Shane Black’s version resonated with me quite well, especially when the big reveal was that Guy Pearce was the main villain. However I can completely understand that if you’re a big IM fan how this would piss you off. As a massive Captain America fan I can imagine how annoyed I would be if it had been revealed that the Skull was an actor and Arnim Zola the big bad guy. I would have been mighty pissed. So my sympathy goes out to yourself if this is your situation. I think this is the key factor in how much people will enjoy the film. It’s very divisive as to whether or not you’re an IM fan and love the Mandarin.

Regarding the body-count in Avengers:

I watched the movie with my friend just the other day… she was seeing it for the first time. As the climactic battle was beginning, she complained “Oh, all this destruction, and all the civilians are conveniently not going to be killed.” She was right. Lots of falling buildings and exploding streets, but nobody died on-screen.

However, when the post-battle montage of news clips followed, there were a few screens of mourners and curb-side memorials. So… technically… there were off-screen human casualties.

Regarding human casualty in these superhero films, I think the viewer is left to assume the extent of the damage. Oftentimes, we see fires or other destruction on the news, and while we don’t see the victims in the footage, we’re told and thus we assume they’re there. Watching such death in these movies isn’t the point; the heroes at the forefront preventing MORE death is the thing — not to mention the source of the entertainment.

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