Release Date: April 24
As a kid, if someone asked me who my favourite superhero was I’d always answer Batman. “Not Superman?” a curious adult might query. But even as a child I found it hard to idolize someone who was just born great. Batman literally built his abilities, one step at a time. Iron Man 3 taps into that same respect we have for people who have put together the pedestal on which they stand. But in the end what is it that Tony Stark is actually claiming to have constructed?
Iron Man 3 introduces filmgoers to a side of the playboy billionaire we haven’t seen before. Post the events of The Avengers we find Robert Downey Jnr.’s Tony Stark suffering from something similar to post-traumatic stress syndrome. He is tormented by constant flashbacks of the alien invasion that devastated New York and his own near-demise. He can’t sleep and instead whiles away the night constructing dozens of variations of his flying suit of armour. But the insomnia is taking its toll, chipping away at Stark’s relationships and eventually resulting in severe anxiety attacks. When a new villain arises in the form of a terrorist called The Mandarin, and genetically altered soldiers begin stalking the United States, Iron Man finds himself too brittle to cope.
Fans will be happy to see the return of favourites like Gwyneth Paltrow as the feisty Pepper Potts and Don Cheadle as James Rhodes. There are also a range of new inclusions that augment the Iron Man universe, including Guy Pearce as the conscienceless Aldrich Killian and Ben Kingsley as the terrorist mastermind. But one of my favourites for bringing out Stark’s humorous side is Ty Simpkins as the boy Harley who finds the ruined Iron Man and gives him a garage to work in. In the midst of a debilitating panic attack this child also points Stark in the direction of the film’s chief philosophy. Tony is falling apart on the side of the road because he no longer has his suit, leading Harley to remind him who he is:
Boy: You’re a mechanic aren’t you?
Boy: Then build something.
Iron Man is, after all, not the suit but the man who wears it. Tony got himself out of the Middle Eastern cave where he was once held captive, cheated death by installing an electro-magnet in his chest and extricated himself from an alien wormhole. If salvation is coming then the first step begins with him. And without giving away any of the plot twists, that’s the conclusion Tony finally comes to:
“Want me to wrap it up in a bow for you? You can take away my house and all my toys and armour … but I am Iron Man.”
There’s a lot that a Christian can agree with here. Making our lives dependent on what we have at our disposal is a fundamental mistake. Poor and rich people have the same capacity for happiness and the same responsibility to live Godly lives. Likewise, if we are going to be rescued from the evils without or the sin within then – humanly speaking – the first step is ours to make. No one will be able to say when they finally stand before God that someone else stopped them from being saved. Jesus criticized the Pharisees for not taking the steps they could to become God’s children:
“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. … And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe.”
But of course there’s a flaw in Tony Stark’s reasoning. He realizes he has to take responsibility for his own life. However it doesn’t follow that he’s adequate to face every contingency. He’s smart, but not smart enough to evade death. He’s brave, but that only prepares him to face judgment. He’s clever, but he can’t out-think his responsibility to his creator. Like the super suit that empowers him, Tony is someone else’s invention and designed to serve a purpose. Every failure to do so is actually a malfunction.