Marvel unveiled Tony Stark's gold-heavy Mark 42 armor at Comic-Con last summer, and it wasn't long before rumors leaked the big news that he'd be commanding an army of unique and distinct suits we know as the Iron Legion. Among them are armors of different styles, even different colors (see: Deep Space Armor) but the Iron Man 3 armor that may arguably stand out the most is the new War Machine.
Iron Man 2 saw James "Rhodey" Rhodes take Stark's silver Mark 2 armor and with the help of Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) turn it into the heavily armed War Machine. For Iron Man 3, Marvel Studios took some ideas from the comics and used them to drastically change the appearance of Rhodey's duds into the Iron Patriot.
What lays ahead are specific plot details that can be viewed as mild spoilers so be cautioned if you're looking to avoid learning more about the story of Iron Man 3.
In a series of Q&A transcripts with the cast and crew of Iron Man 3 shared to us by Disney, Marvel Studios President of Production Kevin Feige explains:
"When last we saw Jim Rhodes, played by Don Cheadle, he was flying away from Tony at the end of Iron Man 2 wearing the Mark 2 suit that he had taken from Tony’s house. What we learn in the beginning of Iron Man 3 is that they've made an arrangement. Tony has let Rhodey have this suit; he’s using it in conjunction with the US Government. So, at the beginning of Iron Man 3, we see that the President has asked Rhodey as War Machine to get a new paint job and take on the new moniker of the Iron Patriot in order to do American business and be the American hero as opposed to The Avengers or Iron Man himself, who is sort of a separate entity. Rhodey, being a Military man, does step into that, proudly. But he’s still best friends with Tony, so he’s always giving information to Tony behind-the-scenes and I think has been doing that since he got the suit in Iron Man 2."
Rhodey was noticeably absent during the Battle of New York in The Avengers and that's because he was on a mission for Stark during that time that put him at odds against the Mandarin's forces. This story was told in the (in canon) Iron Man 3 two-issue prelude comics where it ended with Stark and Rhodey discussing the Iron Legion. For The Avengers 2, Don Cheadle is hopeful that he'll have a role to play.
For now, the relationship between Stark and Rhodey is played up big time in Iron Man 3 as is the continuing idea that Rhodey acts as "Tony's conscience" in a way. For the first time in the franchise, Feige explains that fans will finally see how and why they're best friends, and Shane Black couldn't be a better writer-director for that oft-referenced "buddy cop" genre film (see: Lethal Weapon).
"In a way it becomes a buddy action film, in the third act, where they team up. Neither of them have a suit at a certain point in the movie and they really team up in a great, sort of old- fashioned action movie way and Don and Robert have such an amazing rapport. Don can keep up with all of Robert’s adlibs in a way that almost always ends up in the movie in the perfect fashion. So, seeing Don back is a huge pleasure and he brings a level of authority to that part; you just believe everything he says and in keeping up with Tony, it gives us that great Shane Black banter."
Robert Downey Jr. adds,
"We really wanted Rhodey to be more dynamic and have a gun in his hand and really be able to match Tony in his kind of bravado and his wit, and we've done that. As for the Tony/Pepper storyline, we wanted to show what happens four movies later in the course of a relationship, because as Kevin Feige [producer] reminded me, Tony Stark is the only Super Hero who has cultivated and maintained a relationship with one woman over time that doesn't go south entirely."
When unofficial photos first revealed the blue, red and white Iron Patriot armor on set, fan speculation ran rampant, drawing connections to Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man movies (Norman Osborn wears this armor in Marvel Comics) and potential armored villains, but the most obvious guess was the correct one. The Captain America-inspired design, coupled with new weapons and a thumbs up from the government represents the new and improved War Machine. Feige explains how the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Iron Patriot came to be:
"A few years ago in publishing, they created a suit called the Iron Patriot, which was an advanced Iron Man suit painted red, white and blue with a star on it. In the comics it’s a different character that wears it and utilizes it. But we really loved that image; we thought it was a striking image. And coming off of The Avengers where you have Captain America and Captain America is such a symbol for The Avengers, we thought it would be fun if the United States wanted to have their own version of that. Of course, Captain America works for the United States, but as he’s more of an Avengers hero the US Government said, 'We want our own,' which is why they take War Machine and rebrand him as the Iron Patriot.
Now over the course of the film we learn that there was a nefarious purpose behind that. It's a great example of how sometimes you take and stay true to a character as pulled from the comics, and sometimes the comics can be the kernel of an idea that you then flesh out and build into something else. One of the best things about being a part of Marvel Studios is that you have the house of ideas; you have the publishing division that comes out with dozens of books a month and we flip through almost every one of those books every month and just pull things and don’t know where they could be used. But you know, a few years ago we pulled out the Iron Patriot and said, 'That’s cool. Wouldn't that be fun to play with that someday?' And you'll see it in Iron Man 3."
Against dozens of Stark's suits (read our unofficial Iron Man 3 armor guide to see many of them), Rhodey needed a suit that stands out and compliments Iron Man (and sells toys) and the Iron Patriot - especially after the world has accepted Captain America's return - is a logical path to pursue. Also, it looks awesome - check out the Iron Patriot poster to see for yourself.
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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, Stephanie Szostak, Jon Favreau, Rebecca Hall, William Sadler, James Badge Dale and the voice of Paul Bettany.
Iron Man 3 releases May 3, 2013, Thor: The Dark World on November 8, 2013, Captain America: The Winter Soldier on April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014, The Avengers 2 on May 1, 2015 and Ant-Man on November 6, 2015.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes if you're a fan of War Machine!