If one thing is sure of Iron Man 3 and the rest of the Marvel Studios movies, it's that the accompanying toy lines are surprisingly accurate. While that's good news for children and collectors, it also means that large parts of the film's plot and cast are being regularly spoiled by outside manufacturers.
The newest Iron Man 3 details on the enemies Tony Stark will face, and what larger repercussions they may have on the following movies may still just be speculation, but they hint at a formidable fight for the Armored Avenger.
Rather than revealing new suits of armor, the latest news comes from Minimates (courtesy of CBM), having to do more with the Mandarin's forces - and where Dr. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) - will be fitting in. And yes, the Extremis Virus - or some version of that concept from Warren Ellis' "Extremis" miniseries - will be playing a role.
The figurine of Tony Stark partially suited up, summoning the Mark 42 armor to himself (as seen in the latest trailer) isn't shocking, but the miniature version of the 'Extremis Soldier' seemingly puts some longstanding rumors to rest.
It's been expected for some time that Tony Stark's 'Iron Legion' wouldn't just be used to take on a single enemy in the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), but an opposing army, and that Aldrich Killian and Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) will play instrumental roles in granting Tony his new ability to interface with technology, control his armor telepathically, and operate dozens of suits simultaneously. Thanks to the description of the 'Extremis Soldier' Minimate spotted by Art Asylum, we're able to guess where Dr. Killian and the Mandarin cross paths:
"The second [figure] is an Extremis Soldier, who comes packaged with Iron Patriot and will be available at comic shops and specialty stores as well as at Toys "R" Us. These super-strong operatives are shown receiving the Extremis treatment in the trailer, and the Minimate will come with a removable vest, a pistol, and interchangeable hair pieces to create different looks."
We pointed out the Extremis injection scene in our Iron Man 3 trailer analysis, and this description backs up our assertion of the virus being used to supply the Mandarin with soldiers. What wasn't featured in the trailer was a look at Dr. Killian himself receiving the treatment, which still might be a key part of the film's climax.
For now we'd say it's just as likely that Killian finds himself double-crossed by the Mandarin, not imbued with super-strength. And lest anyone think that the 'super-strong' description is official, we'd remind all that Minimates has not provided the descriptions themselves, as both of these figures are likely the ones still 'under embargo' on the company's website. That being said, it's hard to think that the virus could produce any other results in multiple non-Stark patients.
If that is the case, and the Extremis Virus injected into the subjects seen numerous times in the Iron Man 3 trailer turns regular people into super-strong soldiers, then the presence of Stephanie Szostak in Killian's laboratory raises even more questions. Whether she's playing Wasp, or a female War Machine, or Ellen Brandt as a 'Man-Thing' tie-in, then her reasons for enlisting in Killian's research are a total mystery.
There is a shot in the trailer of an unidentified figure wearing a lab coat and using a cane; could this be Szostak, or even Killian himself suffering from an ailment only Extremis can cure? Director Shane Black's take on Extremis as not nanobots, but a means of taking human beings to the next step would be attractive to anyone, especially if they had a physical handicap. Super-strength would also help explain the trailer's shot of Szostak forcing herself on Tony, but we don't expect he'll be interested.
Assuming the soldiers blessed with Extremis are super-strong (even if the procedure renders them minions of the Mandarin/Dr. Killian), then Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) being seen strapped into the same machines could have massive ramifications for Iron Man 4, 5 or 6.
Tony makes it clear in the trailers that his desire to keep Pepper safe quickly becomes his top priority, assuming someone else in his life falls victim to his super-persona. So if Pepper does become equipped with heightened skills and strength, it would bring that fear to a fitting - and promising - close. If Iron Man 3 was also a story of Pepper Potts going from being a target for her boyfriend's enemies to a superheroine, it would help explain what Marvel's Kevin Feige meant when saying this movie was "all about" Pepper.
Such a story twist would open up the future for the Iron Man franchise, and guarantee one of its biggest names a larger role in 'Phase Two' and beyond, since the comic book version of the character eventually suits up and fighting alongside Tony and the Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle). Gwyneth Paltrow is the odd man out when it comes to blockbuster enthusiasm, though, so we would bet that if special effects and her character are going to collide, it'll be in Iron Man 3's climax.
Perhaps more curious than either the 'Extremis Soldier' and partially-armored Tony Minimates comes the incredibly promising (but likely totally misleading) 'Tony Stark (Cowboy Disguise)' figure. It seems like a long shot for Tony Stark to travel west and try out gun-slinging with a threat like the Mandarin roaming, but our extended look at Iron Man 3 did show that Tony would be spending some time relatively incognito.
Our money is on the 'cowboy disguise' being useful in that same portion of the movie, since a cowboy hat is one thing we'd never expect to see billionaire genius tony Stark sporting in public. You know, the clothing on this figure does bear a resemblance to that being worn by Tony when Szostak's character seems to ambush him. Ambush him in a rustic-looking kitchen, more specifically.
Could this be a case of a new-and-improved Szostak tracking down a de-powered Stark, acting on impulses that many women in the movie's universe share? The evidence supports the idea, but her role as a villain or Extremis-fueled soldier makes almost all of the previous rumors of her character's identity seem suspect.
With the number of super-powered enemies and Extremis running rampant, the storytellers are going to have plenty of loose ends to tie up by the film's end. So once Tony gets the point about what being a hero really means, perhaps he realizes that Extremis isn't the path forward, and erases it from the world. Whether it will leave its mark on Pepper - or Szostak, since she won't be pleased with Tony's rejection - remains to be seen.
We won't know the answers to these questions and others until the movie arrives. Or, apparently, until the next batch of Iron Man 3 toys are released. What do you think of the mounting evidence for a colossal finale? Do any of our theories seem more promising or likely than others? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
Iron Man 3 is directed by Shane Black based off of his and Drew Pearce’s screenplay, and stars Robert Downey Jr., Ben Kingsley, Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Jon Favreau, Rebecca Hall, William Sadler, James Badge Dale and the voice of Paul Bettany.
Iron Man 3 releases May 3, 2013.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.