MCU Fans Explain Why ‘Iron Man 3’ Is the Weakest of the Trilogy

Iron Man 3 just can’t catch a break. Just when it seems like there’s a movement afoot to redeem the much-maligned closer of the Iron Man trilogy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there are still some sections of fandom that can’t get behind it. 

In other words, Iron Man 3 has become probably the most polarizing movie of the MCU. Either it’s an underrated adventure that fascinatingly explores PTSD, or it’s a crime against the Mandarin

Why did ‘Iron Man 3’ upset people?

Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. | Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

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It’s hard to argue against Iron Man 3‘s financial success, according to The Numbers. It made more than $400 million here, more than even the first movie, which most agree kicked off the MCU in grand style. Critics were kind too, leading to a 79 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes where the consensus read, “”With the help of its charismatic lead, some impressive action sequences, and even a few surprises, Iron Man 3 is a witty, entertaining adventure and a strong addition to the Marvel canon.”

When the movie came out in 2013, it was something of a new coat of paint on Tony Stark. Whereas Jon Favreau had directed the first two Iron Man movies, Shane Black took the helm on the third. He had directed Robert Downey Jr. in the 2005 film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which some people saw as a significant stepping stone to Iron Man and the resuscitation of Downey’s formerly troubled career. 

Most of the fuss around the third movie revolved around its ostensible villain, the Mandarin. Among comic fans, the Mandarin is a big favorite, and Ben Kingsley looked to be having fun chewing scenery.

Some fans were aghast, then, when it turned out Kingsley was playing an actor pretending to be the Mandarin, while the real villain was played by Guy Pearce.

Some fans just can’t get into the third Iron Man

Some fans on one Reddit forum were kind to the movie, with one saying, “This movie re-grounded the MCU after there was a giant alien battle for the fate of the world (in the first Avengers). I didn’t grow up reading comics, so I wasn’t as invested in bringing the Mandarin to the MCU. I get why people were disappointed to find out he was just Trevor, but I thought it was a really fun twist!”

However, despite some outward appearances, fans don’t think with a hive mind. On another Reddit forum, one fan said, “Probably my least favorite MCU film of the bunch. The Mandarin twist was especially terrible. Ben Kingsley as the mandarin was great. Swapping him for Guy Pearce in the way they did really weirded me out when I saw it back then.”

Another fan pointed out that this movie made it look like this would be the last we would see of Iron Man. That obviously turned out not to be the case, and he got the key redemption in Avengers: Endgame by sacrificing himself. But in hindsight, the ending of Iron Man 3 can be read as a goodbye that didn’t stick. 

Isn’t ‘Iron Man 2″ the weakest link?

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Fans generally love the first Iron Man, while their opinion on the third Iron Man is divided. However, even if one doesn’t like Iron Man 3, it’s possible to read it as an interesting misfire. The movie took chances. Not every fan agreed that those chances paid off, but that’s more than can be said for Iron Man 2, which is the least commercially and critically successful of the iron man trilogy. 

Many sequels to Marvel movies improve upon their predecessors. Iron Man 2 did not, with its final gross approaching but not quite meeting the $312 million gross of the first movie. Some people somewhere love it, but in many other minds, the chief benefit of Iron Man 2 isn’t Downey but Scarlett Johansson, who made her first appearance as Black Widow there.

Some may argue that’s more entertaining than a botched Mandarin, but Kevin Feige has promised the real Mandarin will show up in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, due out in May of next year.