Tony Stark was the original hero of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He kicked everything off with 2008’s Iron Man, introduced the wider world of interconnected characters and stories in 2010’s Iron Man 2, and became the first MCU hero to complete their solo trilogy with 2013’s Iron Man 3. Tony starred in three solo movies before Steve Rogers or Thor had even had two.
While the original Iron Man movie that the entire MCU was built on remains one of the franchise’s finest entries and a perfect example of a comic book movie done right, the generic second entry paled in comparison and the third one divided audiences almost as much as The Last Jedi. This trilogy has plenty of both disappointing and satisfying moments.
10 Most Disappointing: Tony Gives The Mandarin His Home Address
In Iron Man 3, after Happy is hospitalized by a guy with the Extremis virus, Tony goes in front of a bunch of TV cameras broadcasting to the world and gives his home address to the Mandarin, supposedly to show that he’s not afraid of him.
The whole thing seems out of character for Tony because it’s really dumb and appears to only exist to force a connection between two plot points that Marvel wanted Shane Black to include.
Lo and behold, minutes after broadcasting his address to the terrorist who wants to kill him, Tony’s house is blown up by helicopters. In this movie, Tony is supposed to be paranoid, constantly building new suits of armor to protect Pepper, and yet he has no security system installed in his house to prevent terrorists from blowing it up.
9 Most Satisfying: Tony Escapes From The Cave
Although the Mark I armor would pale in comparison to every subsequent Iron Man suit, it was a strong start, especially considering that Tony and Yinsen built it in a cave with a box of scraps.
The tragic death of Yinsen is immediately followed by Tony’s triumphant escape from the cave, in which he turns the tables on his terrorist captors. Paramount allowed this scene to be way more gritty and violent than Disney would ever allow.
8 Most Disappointing: Tony Creates A Whole New Element In An Afternoon
Tony Stark’s MCU character arc required a lot of suspension of disbelief on the audience’s part with regards to the absurd heights of his genius. In Avengers: Endgame, he finds it easier to invent time travel than to wash a plate.
In Iron Man 2’s muddled second act, there’s a huge leap in logic as Tony is inspired by an old video of his father implying that he cares about him to knuckle down in his lab and create a whole new element in an afternoon.
7 Most Satisfying: Whiplash Arrives On The Monaco Racetrack
Whiplash is widely regarded to be one of the MCU’s worst villains, but Ivan Vanko gets a heck of an introduction on the Monaco racetrack as his electrified whips rip cars in half and Tony Stark desperately tries to get his Iron Man armor on in time to fight him.
From Happy driving onto the track to Tony using a briefcase to suit up, this sequence is filled with memorable character moments — and the tension is consistent as Whiplash’s threat grows.
6 Most Disappointing: Ivan Vanko Is Arrested
Whiplash gets a great introduction in Iron Man 2, but after the Monaco set piece, Ivan Vanko is arrested and his dynamic with Tony Stark ceases to exist. Tony visits Vanko in prison, then spends the rest of the movie under the assumption that he’s in his cell, blissfully unaware that Justin Hammer has broken him out.
Thanks to this plot point, there’s no tangible hero-villain dynamic in Iron Man 2. And Hammer being a Stark wannabe doesn’t count.
5 Most Satisfying: Barrel Of Monkeys
The most mind-blowing set piece in the Iron Man trilogy is the “Barrel of Monkeys” sequence from Iron Man 3, in which there’s a huge tear in Air Force One that ejects all the passengers into the sky and Tony remotely pilots a suit of armor to save them.
He links them all together in the sky before gently dropping them into a river. Dazzling visual effects and immersive camerawork made this sequence a nail-biter.
4 Most Disappointing: Tony And Rhodey Defeat Whiplash With A Fluke
In the final battle of Iron Man 2, Tony and Rhodey suit up and effortlessly destroy robots in a park for a while. Then, when Whiplash shows up, Tony randomly decides that he and Rhodey should fire their repulsors at one another as a kind of desperate Hail Mary pass.
And hey-ho, it just happens to work. After Tony fails to develop a palpable dynamic with the villain, he defeats him with a total fluke.
3 Most Satisfying: “I Am Iron Man.”
A lot of the dialogue in Iron Man was improvised, as the cast and crew began shooting with a solid story outline but an incomplete script. Robert Downey Jr. reportedly ad-libbed the movie’s iconic final moment, in which Tony Stark goes out in front of a press conference and says, “I am Iron Man.”
Originally, Tony was apparently supposed to stick to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s lie about Iron Man being his bodyguard, but Downey didn’t think Tony could bring himself to relinquish credit for something so cool. This ending introduced the crucial notion into the MCU that superheroes wouldn’t have to hide their true identities.
2 Most Disappointing: The Mandarin Twist
Without a doubt, the most disappointing moment in the Iron Man trilogy is Iron Man 3’s revelation that the fearsome terrorist leader the Mandarin is actually just a face for the Ten Rings played by an actor named Trevor Slattery who does nothing more than drink and watch soccer.
In the comics, the Mandarin is Tony Stark’s arch-nemesis. This twist was certainly unexpected, but it was unexpected in the way that a Batman movie depicting the Joker as a baseball-loving couch potato would be unexpected. Thankfully, Marvel is fixing this mistake, as Tony Leung will play the real Mandarin in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
1 Most Satisfying: Tony Destroys His Suits And Removes The Arc Reactor
While Shane Black’s juggling of the Mandarin fake-out, the Extremis storyline, and Ike Perlmutter’s controversial demands made Iron Man 3 a mixed bag, the writer-director did give the Iron Man trilogy a perfect ending as Tony frees himself from his PTSD by blowing up his suits and having the Arc Reactor removed from his chest.
The threat to Pepper’s life was a wake-up call and Tony finally changed as a result of it. Unfortunately, due to the demands of the MCU’s wider world, he had a bunch of new suits by the time he returned in Avengers: Age of Ultron, negating this cathartic closure.
NEXT: 10 Most Important Ways Iron Man Influenced The Rest Of The MCU Movies
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