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Phyleology: Iron Man Is More Than Skin Deep

Third installment in the franchise redefines the face of superheroes

The following feature may contain spoilers for “Iron Man 3.”

By now you’ve heard the rumors, you may have even seen some footage, or maybe you’ve read the reviews coming out from the overseas market where “Iron Man 3” has already premiered.

But don’t be fooled into a false sense of calm; because however much you think you know about the plot and twists, something in this film will take you by surprise.

To start with, IM3 has taken a bold step into the realm of — gasp — psychological fallout. We are greeted with the reality of a Tony Stark suffering from nightmares, insomnia and post-“Avengers” fueled panic attacks that, though he disavows having post-traumatic stress disorder, mimic the condition rather well.

But really, who is surprised that Tony might be having a rough go of it? Really, the entire Iron Man film trilogy has been nothing but one personal crisis after another, featuring time as a POW, palladium poisoning, and now a vengeful ghost from his past. The only far-fetched element of this plot line is that he hasn’t cracked before now!

Yet cracked he has, and as a result his life is falling apart at the seams. The sequence where we see Tony implanting more tech into his body to better summon one of his suits, followed by the suit essentially attacking him as it suits up, and we have a nice metaphor for the man who is clinging to his alter-ego as a lifeline of distraction from his “real world” problems and being further wounded by his avoidance mechanism.

As superhero movies go, it’s a beautiful and almost subtle allegory.

But Iron Man has never been about subtlety, and the film doesn’t forget to include plenty of action and derring-do. Add a dash of romance, a formidable enemy, and a minimally annoying precocious child, and you have the recipe for a Marvel-verse home run.

What I found most intriguing about the plot resolution was Tony’s decision to have the shrapnel removed from his heart. The argument can be made that heretofore all of his decisions as a post-kidnapping man and a superhero have been built around fear and reactionary thinking. The arc reactor, the suits, even the continued development of IM tech have all been geared toward protecting Tony from demons within and without.

For a brief moment the melancholy was overwhelming. Tony without his reactor? His suits self-destructed in a brilliant fireworks display as a symbolic gesture for Pepper? Surely this must mean the end of Iron Man! (Or at least the current Robert Downey Jr version we all know and love).

But with one single line, the reaffirmation that “I am Iron Man,” and that strange unease is swept away. In fact, having shed the gauntlet of his past, one wonders if there are any limits to what *this* Tony Stark can accomplish.

That is, I think, what sets Tony apart from some other comics icons. He’s not a “good” man, he hasn’t lived a noble life, but he never stops striving for better. And while better parties, better cars and better toys may not be the stuff from which heroes are made, Tony’s drive to better himself makes him the perfect post-modern poster boy.

As with all MCU films, you have to wait until the end of the credits before departing. The revelation that Tony’s bookend narration has been aimed at Bruce Banner (even though he tells Tony he’s “not that kind of doctor”) in what appears to be Stark tower allays any residual fears you might have regarding whether Iron Man is still a part of the Avengers superhero team.

He’s a genius, billionaire, philanthropist, playboy, but he’s also a stand-up guy.

And while in this care the suit does do a lot to make the man, this franchise leaves no doubt that the man is pretty awesome in his own right, that you don’t have to be a hero to be heroic, and that valor is more than skin deep. It may sound cheesy, but that is exactly the kind of message that modern superhero movies strive for but often fail to reach.

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Could they be a Rut-ro! Shaggy
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