Episode 253: Iron Man 3: Bitten by a Radioactive 1980s

The Overthinkers tackle Iron Man 3.

Matthew Belinkie, Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, Jordan Stokes, and Matthew Wrather overthink Iron Man 3, focusing on the allegorical, philosophical, geopolitical, military, cultural and interpersonal allegories at play in the film.


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16 Comments on “Episode 253: Iron Man 3: Bitten by a Radioactive 1980s”

  1. Nick Nutter #

    Overthinkin’ It (OTI-OTI-Oh)
    O-Ver-Thinkin’ It (OTI-OTI-Oh)


  2. Gab #

    Whoa, amputees becoming terrorists because they lost their limbs? Attempts to “cure” the condition? Sigh… Just one, big, fat sigh. I just submitted a proposal about disability and Disney to y’all, but THAT stereotype, the one about curing disability, is worthy of another submission, too.

    I’d REALLY like to hear the “feminist” opinion from a woman who saw it, too. Not to say you gentlemen can’t be feminists, nor that one can speak for all, but at least one female’s opinion. I too don’t think that simply declining to do something bad makes it feminist, though, and if that’s really all that happens, then, well, no.

    But I haven’t seen the movie, so meh. As I’ve said before, I try not to comment if I haven’t seen it because I usually end up tasting my foot.

    I think the fact that Jarvis is voiced by Paul Bettany is pretty telling. But, then again, the same actor also played one of the hallucinations in A Beautiful Mind, so perhaps he’s actually an aspect of Tony, after all- maybe what he wishes he could be?

    Also, IMDB-ish tie-in. Bettany is married to Jennifer Connelly, who played the main squeeze in the Ang Lee Hulk, another Marvel movie.


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      Definitely recommend see the movie before you get too worked up about it. It’s very good.


      • Gab #

        Kay, just saw it. I did enjoy it quite a lot- I liked it much more than Iron Man 2.

        Feminism? Not really PRO-feminsim, but not really anti, either. I liked the detail of Pepper on the cover of Forbes magazine, too.

        The disability stuff, I’ll rant about it at length on my personal blog (been gettin’ a bit too political here, lately, sorry), but I’ll say it definitely went to the extremes with the “supercrip” stereotype- but that’s problemetized, too, since the supercrips are all baddies, save Pepper (who gets “cured” in the end).

        Also, definitely agree with the character comparisons between Guy Pierce and Sam Rockwell.


        • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

          We love politics. We just don’t love the trolls in our Unusually Civil Comments Section and I’d rather not bait them.

          Not sure Pepper is really a supercrip — though she’s associated by Extremis with the gang of misfit supercrips. She is “cured” of death, not disability.

          In fact, I think “curing disability” is not quite the right description for what happens to the Extremis subjects. They’re injured veterans, right? Imagine that doctors had been able to reattach limbs and such in a battlefield hospital — that wouldn’t be “curing disability”, it would be trauma surgery. Evil plot not withstanding, isn’t Extremis an attempt to do the same thing ex post facto? Within the universe of the story, why would one be politically acceptable and not the other?


          • Gab #

            Oh, heh, I didn’t mean Pepper was a supercrip, but yeah, all the vets. They’re pretty much caricatures of it, because they don’t just “go back to normal,” so to speak, and in spite of their anomaly, but they go beyond and have capabilities that “normal” people wish they had, i.e. regeneration and f***ing flame breath.

            They never use the word “cure” explicitly that I recall (although I find that kind of hard to believe), but the way the Extremis works is it changes anomaly to fit the able-bodied ideal by reversing any effects of disability. Since it works to “rewrite their DNA,” my guess is it would thus remove any genetic anomalies in addition to regrowing body parts (although yeah, that’s totally conjecture). And even if not, a serum to reverse disability is quite easily interpreted as a “cure” for disability, even if the word “cure” isn’t blatantly used.

            Example from the movie: The reason we’re led to believe the VP was in on the plot was because he had a daughter in a wheelchair, and we’re shown very explicitly that her right leg either developed without a foot, or somehow ended up losing that foot. That leg of hers was focused on for more than a second, and with the danger music in the background. The implication there is he was willing to betray his president and country because he wants to make her “normal” or “fix” her, i.e. “cure” her. Extremis itself is a super-concentrated and over-exaggerated example of the urgent societal need to remove disability/anomaly because it doesn’t comply to the ableist paradigm of what constitutes an acceptable (in this case) body (and in other cases, we can bring in the mind).

            Now, as for the reattaching of a limb in the middle of battle, I’ll say I’m personally totally for that sort of thing. But if in the end, the limb is unattachable, then that person has become someone new. The problem is that that newness is viewed by society in a negative way, and society is physically, culturally, and hierarchically designed to devalue that difference- so persons with that sort of difference are stigmatized and internalize those negative reactions. Hence the supercrip stereotype and the notion that persons with disabilities somehow have something to prove- as if they did something wrong. I suppose if there really was a way to regrow limbs, it would make life easier for persons that have somehow lost theirs; I just worry that if society is constantly trying to “cure” disability, there will never be a change in how it’s interpreted, and so it will always be viewed as something to eradicate and fear. So yeah, within the world of the story, sure, Extremis is “just trying to do the same thing ex post facto,” but it serves as a catalyst for the desire to eradicate disability in all its forms within the culture that created said world.

            Also, and this may come as a surprise to you (it did to me when first I encountered this sort of thing), but within disability studies, there are myriad scholars that would probably say reattaching a limb in battle shouldn’t be done. They’re the extremists (hah) in the field, though, and make normative assumptions about what should be without considering the pragmatic implications of what already is. So sure, it’d be great if we could live in a world where reattaching a limb wouldn’t matter because nobody would care if a person was missing a leg, and physical structures would be as such that it wouldn’t make a difference in terms of mobility- but we’re nowhere remotely near that sort of utopia, so some middle ground is necessary in order for anybody to be able to live a life with as little anxiety and unhappiness as possible.

            Okay, well…

            Tl;dr version: Extremis is a serum. That’s a cure. BAM.

          • fenzel OTI Staff #

            Well, right, but the Vice President is a bad guy. All the people who seek out quick physical or pharmacological fixes to injuries that require deeper emotional healing are either bad guys or tragic “suicides.” The movie hardly comes down on the side of people who stigmatize disability.

        • iexist #

          I took that scene to mean that his daughter had diabetes, or sone other deadly illness, and he wanted to cure her so she wouldn’t die. Also being able to walk is important especially to a child, it is key to socialization and playing. If I had a kid missing a leg/foot I’d want to get them cured so they could run jump and play.


    • Gab #

      Also, I liked the relationship with the kid- because Tony didn’t really treat him like a kid. Sure, he called him “Kid,” but he put him to work and trusted him probably more than he’d trust someone working at his own company. Rather than finding a grown-up to help him, he stuck with the kid. Maybe that’s a sign of his fragile emotional state, but I think I prefer to see it more as Tony just doesn’t really care about status or hierarchies when it comes to others- if he has use for you and can trust you, you’re golden. Sort of like he’s extremely non-discriminatory, to the point where he’s such an equal-opportunity kinda guy, he’d hire a dolphin to type his notes if he felt like the dolphin would do what he wanted. So then yeah, it’s also as if he’s using the kid, but I don’t think there’s any effort to hide that. And besides, he makes up for it by that SWEET makeover of the garage at the end.


      • fenzel OTI Staff #

        The writer/director of Iron Man 3 also wrote “The Monster Squad” — so he knows how to make endearing but credible — or at least not insipid — child characters.


  3. BastionofLight #

    I am not certain, but this is my best recollection of some of the events of the movie.

    Tony Stark sends his former bodyguard, who left his service because he was so tough he did not need a bodyguard, to watch over his girlfriend, the bodyguard becomes suspicious of the handsome male visitor, and, despite the fact that Pepper appears to handle the situation like an adult, the bodyguard has his suspicions proven right.

    Maya dies because she overestimates her value to the actual villain, who is the one is set to profit from the regeneration serum, despite the fact that it does not appear to have progressed much from the version she had 13 years ago.

    Pepper Potts gets superpowers at the end, but one, this causes her to be treated as an enemy by the up until now startlingly competent JARVIS, two, her empowerment threatens to kill her, and three, the empowerment is quickly undone.

    Also, Pepper Potts is CEO of Stark Industries, but all I know about Stark Industries is that in the first movie it was a weapons company that no longer makes weapons. What does it do now?


    • JosephFM #

      IIRC from Iron Man 2, they’re primarily in the energy business now, based on the same “Arc Reactor” tech as the Iron Man suits. And I assume they still make things like supercomputers and robots, also based on Tony’s inventions, so basically they’re in the Super Science business.

      I still haven’t seen the movie, but I’m one of those people who doesn’t care about spoilers, so I listened to the podcast anyway. But I’ll save future comments for when I have.


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      Well, Maya threatens to kill herself, and then Killian murders her. She definitely overestimates her value to Killian (and probably overestimates how much Killian even wants to progress the Extremis projet where it currently is) — but does she die _because_ she overestimated her value to him? He could have called her bluff without murdering her. He basically did it for fun and for theatricality.

      So it seems like Maya dies a little bit because she underestimates her value to Killian and a lot because she underestimates how much of a murderous sociopath he is.


      • BastionofLight #

        Meta-narratively, I would propose that it could be interpreted as having a very negative role for women.
        Maya is declaring that she still has say in how the narrative is to progress. It was her serum to begin with, and they can fix in and do some old fashioned capitalistic profit-seeking.
        Killian asserts the comic-book nature of the narrative, preferring comic book levels of villainy to any sort of reasonable villainous behavior. He then kills Maya himself, rather than letter her commit suicide, obviating her last piece of agency, and ensuring that the only female character with a role to play in the rest of the story is the Damsel in Distress.


  4. lofgren #

    I’m glad that one of the overthinkers explained that Maya has a thematic role as a symbol of Tony’s toxic past come back to haunt his present relationship, because her narrative role was nonexistent. You could have removed every line and action that she took, and the storyline of the film would have unfolded in exactly the same way. Maybe her complete inconsequence has some meaning, but honestly I suspect the only reason her character didn’t end up on the cutting room floor is because it cost slightly less to go ahead and pay Rebecca Hall than it would have to get the writers to go ahead and get rid of her entirely.

    As far as feminist themes, I think making the one of the main two female characters somebody of utter and total irrelevance and the other somebody who only managed to save the day because she had super powers inflicted upon her against her will by a man completely counter any possible cookie points the movie might have gotten by avoiding the nosy dame in distress comic book trope.


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