1. Iron Man 3 (2013)
In the years since Phase 1, Marvel have started placing lighter features in the slots immediately following the Avengers movies. Ant-Man followed Avengers: Age of Ultron, as did Ant-Man and the Wasp for Avengers: Infinity War, and Spider-Man: Far From Home, in which Peter goes on a school holiday to Europe, will be hitting theaters in July, less than three months after Avengers: Endgame. In 2013, however, Marvel wanted to maintain momentum after the first Avengers, and struck while the iron was hot with their most bankable star with Iron Man 3 in May of that year. It was a smart move, Downey Jr. became even more of a cinematic superstar and kicked off Phase 2 in style.
The Shane Black-directed threequel is a controversial part of the MCU canon and pick for best Iron Man film. There's not a lot of suit action in it and the Mandarin fake-out is a turn that doesn't sit well with a lot of fans, but it's these choices that make the movie great. Coming into Iron Man 3, audiences had watched three films that were heavy on Iron Man blowing stuff up with lasers. Tony was starting to play second fiddle to his persona. Iron Man 3 re-focuses on the man we met in the first scenes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the incomparable genius, now struggling with a bout of PTSD, obsessively building suits while his marriage to Potts and his life around him deteriorate.
Shaken and unsure of himself, Tony is sent into a tailspin when Happy is caught in an attack from the ominous Mandarin. Enraged, Tony gives out his address and challenges the Mandarin, a move that almost gets him and Pepper killed when his house is blown apart by missiles. What follows is Stark, alone in rural Tennessee with a brokedown suit and no JARVIS, learning that he doesn't need all that armor and fancy gadgets to be a hero.
The movie doubles down on this with the reveal that the Mandarin is a front. The audience and Tony thought that the Mandarin would be the sinister rival to Iron Man from the comics. Everybody expected this brilliant martial artist who could outwit Tony at every turn. What we got was a regular guy who was being paid to put on a voice by the real villain; fans and Tony were confronted with someone having tricked us the way Stark was tricking himself. Tony Stark is just a mortal man with a heightened intellect and a very lucrative family business. On his best day, he's like those Mandarin propaganda videos except he can actually show up, but on his worst, he's just like that actor, disappointingly human.
Which is what makes the real antagonist, Aldrich Killian, a more story-appropriate match for Tony, because he's the result of just one of many terrible decisions Tony has made. Killian was snubbed by the rockstar scientist at a New Year's party and nearly took his own life, instead moving on to eventually build his own empire working on Extremis, a highly volatile enhancement drug that causes users to explode. Killian is an enemy Tony created, and defeating him using wits and cunning is the catharsis for Tony understanding that he's Iron Man with or without any fancy suits.
Iron Man 3 may not be the trilogy-ender everyone wanted, but it's the one Tony Stark needed, and that's why it's the best Iron Man movie.
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019