‘Iron Man 3’: A Different Kind of Superpower

We all know what a superhero is.

Whether you grew up with the comics, you watch the movies, both or neither – we are all familiar with what makes Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, heroes. They are strong, powerful and brave. They’re here to save us, and we’re just here to watch. We see them all the time, in the comics, tv shows and movies. People love superheroes so much not just because they’re flashy and cool, but because they’re what we dream of being. They give people someone to look up to and the empowerment they need to plow through a reality that is not so magical. We are shown characters like Superman, who look like Gods, act like saviors and represent nothing but endless possibility, and this is what makes a superhero, right? Well, this isn’t what makes Iron Man.

Following the recent releases of Aquaman, Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame, superheroes are definitely the topic of conversation, with one at the forefront: Iron Man. He was the hero who opened the Marvel Cinematic Universe and led The Avengers from their first battle right up until their very last. Whether it was fighting aliens in the middle of New York in Avengers: Assemble, taking on a super powered emotionless machine in Avengers: Age of Ultron, or battling the universally hated supervillain Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, Iron Man was always there to lead The Avengers to victory.

Made up of a God of thunder, a genetically enhanced super solider, two master assassins and a giant green monster, The Avengers are regarded as the saviors of Earth. So, you’re probably wondering why these heroes, so powerful and skilled, need some man in a suit to lead them? The other Avengers got their powers in different ways: some were born with it, some were given it and some had to build it up from scratch, and this is exactly what Iron Man did. I’m not just talking about how he placed nuts and bolts into an Iron suit, but how he undertook a great amount of mental damage and development to become the hero that he ended up as. In order to understand Iron Man and why he is so special, you need to understand that he is a lot more than just the metal and the machine guns. The core of Iron Man, and the very thing that makes him a hero, is Tony Stark.

Made up of a God of thunder, a genetically enhanced super solider, two master assassins and a giant green monster, The Avengers are regarded as the saviors of Earth. So, you’re probably wondering why these heroes, so powerful and skilled, need some man in a suit to lead them? The other Avengers got their powers in different ways: some were born with it, some were given it and some had to build it up from scratch, and this is exactly what Iron Man did. I’m not just talking about how he placed nuts and bolts into an Iron suit, but how he undertook a great amount of mental damage and development to become the hero that he ended up as. In order to understand Iron Man and why he is so special, you need to understand that he is a lot more than just the metal and the machine guns. The core of Iron Man, and the very thing that makes him a hero, is Tony Stark.

In 2008 we were introduced to Tony Stark, a ‘billionaire playboy philanthropist’ who cared about nothing other than himself. We learnt that Tony is incredibly smart and a great engineer, that he makes and sells weapons which are used to hurt people. But Tony didn’t care about that, not until something happens that changes the landscape of his life forever. He is taken hostage by a terrorist group and is backed into a corner, uncertain of how he is going to make it out alive. Being the genius that he is, he makes a weaponized super suit and successfully powers his way out of danger, this being the birth of Iron Man. But this wasn’t the only thing that changed that day; while he was trapped in a foreign country, he got an up close and personal experience of the destruction and danger that came with the weapons and choices he didn’t think twice about making, leading to a brand-new Tony Stark.

Iron Man 2 is when we get to see this new Tony and his Iron Man persona in full gear. He’s still the same Tony as before, but something is different now. He’s still the type of guy who will sit in the middle of a giant donut in an iron suit, but the difference is now he will fight the bad guys before doing it. With his new and improved suit we get to see just how much power Iron Man wields and what he is capable of. Iron Man 3, on the other hand, takes a different route. Instead of focusing on its protagonists’ strengths, it focuses on his weaknesses.

During the Battle of New York, Tony almost died trying to save everyone. Iron Man 3 focuses on the overall impact this had on Tony’s mental health and it is clear he is suffering from some severe anxiety and PTSD that not even he understands. On top of this trauma he is scared of losing his girlfriend, Pepper Potts, the one thing he loves most in the world. While blockbusters are notoriously known for giving the wrong representation of mental illness and sometimes even demonizing it, this film does a great job of translating it to the viewer. There are multiple scenes in the movie where the sheer mention of New York sends Tony into a nightmare where he can’t breathe, and he has absolutely no control over it. We see fear in his eyes that we have never seen before. By this point we’ve watched this character overcome things that we could never imagine doing, but we have never seen this kind of fear. This represents how terrifying an anxiety attack can feel in a way you can understand regardless of who you are and what you have experienced. When Tony experiences his first anxiety attack he doesn’t know what’s going on, he can’t breathe, the sound around him becomes mumbled and he is scared – so much so that he actually believes he is having a heart attack. After he frantically rushes to his suit and finds out that this isn’t the case, he is confused, asking “Me?” as if he can’t believe this is happening to him. I mean, he is a superhero after all, and superheroes are immune to this kind of stuff, right? Well, this film shows us that this is not the case.

We are used to seeing these heroic figures portrayed as if they are not human and do not feel the same way that we do. We are used to seeing Captain America get beat down but then stand right back up and do it all over again. After seeing the heroes that we know and love portrayed this way for so long, you would think that showing the great Iron Man in the opposing light could make him look weak and take away his heroic attributes, but it does the complete opposite of that. Rather than him being presented as a machine who gets back up because of the iron helping him do so, he is a human being getting back up because of his courage and determination. There was never a spider bite or magic serum that made Iron Man; Tony Stark made Iron Man – both literally and figuratively. It is not the weaponized suit that holds the power, but the man behind it, regardless of what is going on in his head. Tony’s anxiety does not make him weak but it is actually what gives him strength.

For multiple movies we watched him fight evil, put himself at risk in order to save the world, and carry the weight of it on his shoulders. This is when he finally breaks, but that’s OK, because this is what makes him a hero. Not only does this film allow us to connect to such a beloved character in a different way, by revealing the issues that he faces mentally, but Iron Man 3 tells us we should not be ashamed of our mental health. Regardless of the problems we face, we are just as capable of powering through as the leader of The Avengers is, no matter how many times we need to stop in the process. Even those who save the world might panic at the thought of it.