So I’d like to apologize in advance that it’s going to take me a little longer than usual to cover it. Let’s not waste time, then. I’m here to tell you exactly why I love this movie so much… and why that’s not exactly an opinion everybody can agree with.
|How appropriate that a movie that features literal flame wars has created so many flame wars.|
Tony Stark (voiceover): “A famous man once said, ‘We create our own demons.’”
There we go.
Tony Stark (voiceover): “Who said that?”
Nobody, as far as I can tell. The closest thing I’ve found online is “We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell,” which was said by Oscar Wilde.
Tony Stark (voiceover): “What does that even mean? Doesn’t matter. I said it because he said it. So now, he was famous and now it’s basically getting said by two well-known guys.”
You know, it’s very rare that the pretentious voice over calls itself out over the pretension.
Tony Stark (voiceover): “I don’t, uh… I’m gonna start again.”
Sounds like that bit got away from you.
|“It got away from me, yeah."|
The year is 1999, but not for very much longer. As such, everybody around the world is partying like it’s 1999. A younger Tony Stark is in Switzerland for a tech summit…. Well, I say “younger.” This movie’s solution for making Robert Downey, Jr. look younger is to stick him in those sunglasses from his introduction in the first movie. As for making Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) look younger….
|I’ll say this: with that Vincent Vega hair, he does look like he belongs in the 90’s.|
Tony Stark: “I finally meet a man called ‘Ho.’”
So, if Tony introduced him to Thor dressed up as Santa Claus, would Thor say, “Ho, Ho! Ho ho ho!”?
....Yeah, I’ll admit I reached pretty far for that one. Sorry.
|The next time these two men see each other, they will be in a cave with a box of scraps.|
Life is funny sometimes.
|Not that Dr. Wu, unfortunately.|
After goofing off a bit more, Tony heads off with his galpal to check out her research on something. On the way to her hotel room, they run into a skinny, limping, stuttering dork named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce).
|I'm sure we'll see very little of this guy.|
|This panel is, like, a quarter of his time on page.|
|Which is just precious.|
When they go over Maya’s research, it turns out to be so amazing that Tony’s impressed even while completely drunk. Maya’s very close to finding out a way to hack the brain’s repair center to essentially supercharge it. Despite the human brain’s lack of a “repair center.” Hogan fiddles around with one of her plants, breaking off a leaf for basically no other reason than spite when Maya tells him not to as she and Tony go into the other room. We also get to overhear what she’s named this procedure. Extremis.
The leaf Happy broke off miraculously grows back with a bit of a glowing sizzle, then explodes. Happy panics and tackles Tony to the ground in an attempt to save his life, while Maya explains that this is the one problem with Extremis so far. Explosions.
Outside, the assembled crowd count down from ten to one, signifying that the ball has dropped. After some “happy New Years,” Happy leaves the two brainy lovebirds alone together. Up on the roof, Aldrich Killian is just plain alone.
Tony Stark (voiceover): “So, why am I telling you this?”
Don’t look at me, I didn’t write the script.
Tony Stark (voiceover): “Because I had just created demons. And I didn’t even know it.”
The next morning, Tony scribbles something on his nametag, leaves it for Maya, and leaves.
Tony Stark (voiceover): “After a brief soiree in an Afghan cave, I said goodbye to the party scene.”
|Except for, you know, that big party you threw.|
In the present day, sometime around Christmas, you-know-who is sitting in his work area, implanting devices beneath his skin.
|A joke about RDJ’s past would be too easy.|
Tony Stark: “Which I will.”
And after Tony yells at his robots some more, JARVIS tells him that he’s been awake for 72 hours. But Tony’s too preoccupied with recording the activating of his latest armor. More importantly, he’s testing those arm implants. Remember when the Mark VII armor from The Avengers locked on to his bracelets and automatically put itself on by wrapping around him? Well, hopefully, those implants he just injected himself with will let him improve the process.
As “Jingle Bells” plays, Tony flicks his wrist and summons his gauntlet. After a few tries. Luckily, the other pieces get the hint and eagerly rush towards everything in the lab, which eventually includes his body. A little too fast in the case of the crotchplate, and upside down in the case of the faceplate. But that’s nothing a quick little flip won’t solve.
|Wouldn't be Christmas without an opportunity to make a nutcracker joke, huh?|
And because he tempted fate, a piece lodged in the armory smacks into him from behind, knocking the whole thing off of him.
JARVIS: “As always, sir, a great pleasure watching you work.”
Tony Stark (voiceover): “Didn’t think it could get any worse.”
And because Tony’s voiceover is also tempting fate, things get worse.
Those of you who have seen the movie are all thinking the same thing, which I will address in time. At length, believe you me. But for now, let’s focus on what exactly the Mandarin though was so important that he hijacked America’s airwaves.
Mandarin: “Some people call me a terrorist…. I consider myself a teacher.”
He tells the unfortunately true story of the Sand Creek massacre, where a 700-man militia straight-up slaughtered a whole village of Cheyenne women and children while the men were away. So the man might be a terrorist, but he’s not a bad teacher of U.S. history. Unfortunately, he attacked a U.S. Air Force base in Kuwait, which I don’t think is a good part of any curriculum. And in a perversion of poetic “justice,” his people slaughtered the families of the soldiers while they were out on maneuvers. He goes on to send a threat to President Ellis, who I can only imagine won the 2008 election over Barack Obama by leading the search to find Tony Stark in Afghanistan. You can’t prove that he didn’t.
Mandarin: “You know who I am. You don’t know where I am. And you’ll neverrrr see me coming.”
|"Deal with it."|
|No, really, this guy interrupted “Horror of Fang Rock” in order to get his butt smacked on camera.|
As Rhodey and Tony have breakfast in a diner, he tries to explain the change.
Rhodey: “It tested well with focus groups, alright?”
Apparently, “War Machine” was a bit too aggressive-sounding. Maybe they should have called him “Police Action Machine.”
Tony wants to know what’s up with the whole Mandarin thing. In fact, he’s more than a little insistent that they talk about it. Of course, the Mandarin and the Ten Rings are a bit of a sore spot for Tony Stark. It’s because of them that he spent a little time in a cave with a box of scraps. Even though it’s classified information, Rhodey spills a few beans. There were nine bombings, six of which are being kept secret. And the weird thing? They don’t know how it’s being done. No bomb fragments or anything. Tony launches into a list of all the new stuff he’s developed, but Rhodey knows that something’s wrong with his buddy.
Rhodey: “When’s the last time you got a good night’s sleep?”
Tony Stark: “Einstein slept three hours a year.”
|“I might be making that up. I’m not sure; I’m a little out of it and might be mildly hallucinating.”|
|“Em eb t’now ti, niaga em ees uoy nehw.”|
|“You’re right, I’m probably fine.”|
Tony Stark: “I loved you in A Christmas Story, by the way.”
|“And thanks for being an executive producer for my first movie.”|
|And it’s not just the fact that Erin here drew Iron Man in the Mark VI armor instead of the Mark VII.|
Not-Ralphie: “How did you get out of the wormhole?”
Sweating and scared, Tony runs out of the diner, steps into his armor, and tells JARVIS to figure out how he was poisoned. But JARVIS has a different answer.
JARVIS: “My diagnosis is that you’ve experienced a severe anxiety attack.”
Tony Stark is a man with an underlying problem. He hides from the world. In his youth, he hid behind his company, claiming that he wasn’t responsible for those killed by his weapons. But in the Middle East, he crawled inside a suit of armor. And he never came out.
Tony Stark channeled his very soul into his armor. Any problem he comes up against, the suit is always there to save him. Iron Man rescued Tony Stark from a cave, gave him something to build beside weapons, gave him a way to atone for his sins, protected him from many a villain. Tony Stark described the suit as a high-tech prosthesis, which isn’t far from the truth. Iron Man is Tony Stark’s crutch. It’s his way of hiding from the world when the going gets tough. Remember his plan of attack in The Avengers?
Iron Man: “I have a plan: Attack.”
Iron Man is the easy way out; just blast all the problems, and you’ll be fine. But when Tony Stark passed through the portal, he came face to face with the true scope of a problem that was too big for him to solve alone. And though he shrugged it off with jokes about shawarma at the time, that experience has left his mark on him.
So how does Tony deal with his PTSD? The same way he always does. He hides in his armor. And his dependency is growing. He’s not showing off, he’s scared to be without it. I mean, the guy took his Iron Man armor to eat at a diner. And now, he’s using it to fly away from the diner.
Over at Stark Industries, Happy Hogan, sans 90’s-mullet, is going through the hallways telling people off for not wearing their badges. And then he takes another level in jerk by suggesting to Pepper Potts that they replace the janitors with robots like the ones Tony has in his workshop.
|And now you know his origin story.|
|“I like the way this guy thinks.”|
Happy: “Thank you.”
Pepper: “It’s not a compliment.”
Happy: “It is- it is a compliment. Clearly, somebody’s trying to hide something.”
So, yeah, Pepper’s having a bit of a bad day. Luckily, she can now ditch Happy to go to her 4:00 meeting. Unluckily, said 4:00 meeting is with Aldrich Killian, who she used to work with. Apparently, the little dweeb used to ask her out a lot.
|Apparently, he has since turned into a not-unconvincing Brad Pitt impersonator.|
Aldrich: “After years dodging the president’s ban on ‘immoral’ biotech research….”
Yeah, you kids these days might not know this, but we had to put all sorts of laws in place after the Eugenics Wars back in the 90’s. It was a pretty rough time to live through.
|Some Mexican guy from India ruled, like, a quarter of the Earth.|
|“Can creating a superior race of genetic supermen to cleanse the Earth really be considered ‘immoral’?|
I mean, come on.”
Aldrich: “It’s an idea we like to call… Extremis.”
He shows her a hologram of his own brain in real time, mainly as an excuse to pull her close and show her cool stuff. The gist of his explanation is that Extremis plugs into what he describes as “an empty slot” in human DNA. I’d correct him, but his spiel on how humans are destined to be upgraded reeks of persuasive vagueness, so he probably knows he’s spinning a web of bullcrap. This is backed up by the way the brain hologram goes haywire with “pain signals” when Pepper pinches him. Honestly, a little pinch should have only barely registered. It’s pretty likely that he’s fudging the data to make Extremis not look like the mad science that it is.
As he spin doctors away, Tony has arrived back home to Skype with Happy, who is simply glad that people aren’t laughing at him for being “Iron Man’s bodyguard.” He also tells Tony that Pepper meeting with some guy who looked familiar, so he ran the credentials and discovered that he and Tony had met before in the movie’s prologue. He tries to show Tony the brain hologram, but can’t quite get the hang of the button that switches to the camera on the other side of the iPad. Happy contents himself with a vow to run the plates on Killian’s pal’s car, and tells Tony that he’s not a fan of how weird the world has been getting lately.
Over with Killian, he’s sugarcoating his plan to rewrite human DNA for… y’know. Reasons. Pepper, being the smart cookie she is, instantly recognizes the potential to weaponize the idea.
Pepper: “As in enhanced soldiers, private armies….”
Ah, I see she’s taking the Bruce Banner approach of doing “the basic science for everyone.”
She mentions Tony’s reluctance, so he tries to spin things by talking about how Tony’s so closed-minded for snubbing him all those years ago and that a certain young, hot, female leader at Stark Industries wouldn’t make such a mistake. But she still says no.
Aldrich: “And as my father says, failure is the fog trough which we glimpse triumph.”
Pepper: “That’s very deep. And I have no idea what it means.”
Aldrich: “Me neither, he was kind of an idiot, my old man.”
He departs as Happy comes up to take her back home. When she goes to get her things, he snaps a picture of Killian’s plate. Sometime later, Pepper arrives home to find a large-breasted bunny waiting in the driveway.
|I know they’re supposed to be arms, but you can’t unsee them as breasts once you see it.|
|You know. Just chilling.|
Iron Man: “Uhhh, yeah. Something like that.”
Hmm. Strange how it’s stamped with “MK 42,” then. Iron Man starts making chit chat, giving shoulder rubs, and asking if she liked the giant rabbit. She deflects the question by suggesting that he take off the armor and give her a kiss. His refusal to open the facemask gets her suspicions all up in a dander, so she heads downstairs and finds Tony Stark remotely controlling his armor while working out. And to make matters worse, he ate without her on date night.
Tony Stark: “I didn’t know if you were coming home or if you were having drinks with Aldrich Killian.”
|“After all, he owns that beer company, right?”|
Tony Stark: “I’m a piping hot mess. ‘S been going on for a while, I haven’t said anything. Nothing’s been the same since New York.”
Pepper: "Oh, really? Wow, I didn’t notice that. At all.”
Tony Stark: “You experience things. Then they’re over, and you still can’t explain ‘em? Gods? Aliens? Other dimensions? I’m just a man in a can.”
He tells Pepper that she’s the reason he hasn’t lost it yet. But even with the love of his life by his side, he still can’t sleep. Instead, he’s been tinkering in his lab, building suits.
Tony Stark: “Threat is imminent, and I have to protect the one thing that I can’t live without. That’s you. My suits, they’re….”
Tony Stark: “They’re part of me.”
Pepper: “A distraction.”
Tony Stark: “Maybe.”
She holds him close and tells him that she’s going to take a shower.
Tony Stark: “Okay.”
Pepper: “And you’re gonna join me.”
Tony Stark: “Better.”
That night, Pepper lies in bed, sleeping soundly. In the same bed, Tony tosses and turns, dreaming of the Battle of New York. Reliving the events. And as Pepper is unable to wake him up, Tony’s usual savior arrives to help.
|"Come with me if you want to... Oops! Sorry, I thought you were Tony."|
Meanwhile, at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, a man with dog tags reading “Jack Taggart” sits (near the handprints of Robert Downey, Jr., incidentally) and waits for Killian’s shifty buddy from earlier. Shifty Guy asks Taggart if he can regulate, whatever that means, and Taggart insists that he can. As they talk, Happy watches from a distance. Shifty Guys hands over a briefcase with… something inside. Metal things, apparently. Happy finds this out firsthand by “accidentally” bumping into Taggart, knocking them all loose.
After taking the opportunity to pocket one, he stares at Taggart’s face, which is beginning to glow red. As Happy tries to leave, he runs into Shifty Guy. It’s at this point that Happy decides to act like a complete idiot and brag to Shifty Guy that he has one of the metal things, meaning that whatever the game is, it’s up. They scuffle, and Shifty Guy quickly ends up with a broken nose. And just as quickly, it glows red and fixes itself. As Shifty Guy proceeds to knock Happy across the sidewalk, Taggart inhales from one of the metal things and begins to glow a firey red. He begs Shifty Guy (who he calls “Savin”) for help, but Savin gives the red-hot man the cold shoulder. In response, Taggart explodes, taking out the theatre, leaving only a shadow on the sidewalk. Happy, who was caught in the blast, points at the dog tags on the ground before losing consciousness as Savin simply chews some gum and walks away while his injuries heal.
Sometime later, the Mandarin hijacks the airwaves yet again to explain why he decided to have his men blow up the theatre. He does this by smashing fortune cookies.
Mandarin: “True story about fortune cookies. They look Chinese. They sound Chinese. But they’re actually an American invention. Which is why they’re hollow, full of lies, and leave a bad taste in the mouth."
Speak for yourself, I love fortune cookies.
He explains that his “disciples” destroyed another “cheap, American knock-off” and taunts the president a bit more. Happy Hogan is in critical condition, surrounded by monitors. Most of them show his various medical readouts, but the TV in the corner is playing Downton Abbey, Happy’s favorite show. Tony, in the other corner, turned it on for him.
Tony Stark: “He thinks it’s elegant.”
|“Then again, he also thinks that Benedict Cumberbatch is the best Sherlock Holmes. No accounting for taste."|
Tony Stark: "…is that what you want? Here’s a little holiday greeting I’ve been wanting to send to the Mandarin. I just didn’t know how to phrase it until now. My name is Tony Stark and I’m not afraid of you.”
|“Portals to space, on the other hand? Terrified.”|
And then he grabs the guy’s phone, asks him if that’s what he wanted, and smashes it. You might be thinking that Tony’s behavior is stupid. And you’d be right. But Tony is mad. Panicky. And you know what? He is scared. And he reacted with the only plan he’s ever had: confront the problem head on. Plus, he’s probably naturally cocky enough to think that the Mandarin can’t touch him. After all, the Mandarin is just yet another terrorist leader hiding in a cave, scraping out random attacks here and there.
Speaking of random attacks, once back home, Tony goes over the data on the theatre explosion, recreating the crime scene in 3D. He sums up everything he knows about the Mandarin, all conflicting. His name, ethnicity, tactics, Baptist preacher-like voice…. It doesn’t actually make any sense when put together. Unless it’s all for show somehow. So instead, he focuses on the suspiciously hot explosion with no bomb residue.
He spots Happy’s body in the hologram, notices where he’s pointing, and enhances the resolution of the dog tags CSI-style until he gets a name: Jack Taggart.
Tony Stark: “When is a bomb not a bomb?”
|"When it's a jar!"|
|"Precisely, Robin! And what is one of the nicknames for Marines?"|
|"Precisely! Now put it together, and what do you have?"|
|"Members of the U.S. military are blowing up!|
Holy spontaneous combustion, Iron Man!
How are we ever going to figure out who’s behind this?"
|"To the Starkcomputer!"|
Of the few locations left, he sees that Rose Hill, Tennessee had a big boom that predated any Mandarin attack. It was chalked up to suicide, and involved a U.S. veteran named Chad Davis. Tony has JARVIS create a flight plan for Tennessee as the doorbell rings.
Tony’s miffed that people can still ring the doorbell, what with that threat he issued to an international terrorist and all. As the news chopper hover around, Tony suits up and lets in Maya Hansen, who he claims to not remember.
Tony Stark: “Don’t take it personally; I don’t remember what I had for breakfast.”
JARVIS: “Gluten-free waffles, sir.”
Tony Stark: “That’s right.”
Maya urgently needs to talk to Tony, but inevitably goes through a little awkwardness as she meets Pepper, who has packed her bags and is in the middle of fleeing the house.
Tony Stark: “Please don’t tell me there’s a twelve-year-old kid waiting in the car that I’ve never met.”
Maya: “He’s thirteen.”
Luckily, she’s joking.
|“Seriously, Maya, I’m not in the mood. The last kid I saw triggered a panic attack.|
Next kid I see, I'm done not being a dick."
Tony Stark: “It’s a big bunny, relax about it!”
Pepper and Maya want to get out of Dodge before somebody shows up to blow the place up. Unfortunately, some helicopters, led by Savin, arrive to do just that. As the house begins to explode, Tony flicks his wrist and activates the suit. Not to protect himself, though. To protect the one thing he can’t live without.
|JARVIS’s Christmas stocking and the giant bunny, however, can burn.|
JARVIS: “Sir, the suit is not combat ready.”
Which makes sense. Not only was this suit mostly built to test out the new suiting-up method, but he built it while sleep-deprived. But he manages to come up with a few tricks to take out the helicopters. But he doesn’t have enough tricks to keep himself from sinking into the ocean along with his living room. The helicopters leave him for dead, and it seems like his death is imminent, as he’s stuck under some rubble. So he thinks fast and decides to use a visual metaphor to save himself.
|Iron Man is literally lending Tony a hand to save his life.|
And like after the fight with Stane and the Battle of New York, Tony is lying on the ground, battered and beaten, five miles away from Rose Hill, Tennessee. Tony, alarmed for Pepper’s safety, tries to eject, but JARVIS isn’t doing too well. He manages to get Tony out into the snow, but shuts down.
JARVIS is gone.
Iron Man is dead.
Tony Stark is alone.
Big man in a suit of armor. And now it’s been taken away. What’s left?
Coming up in Part 2! Tony Stark builds stuff in a garage! With a potato gun!