Be careful, this post mostly discusses Tony and Pepper's relationship in Iron Man 3, however it IS a review of the movie. While it is not intended to contain spoilers, if you have not seen the movie yet you may not want to read this review before seeing it.
SOME SPOILERS AHEAD! Read with caution!
No one ever said being a superhero’s girlfriend was easy.
Even Lois Lane, laboring under the mystifying delusion that her alien crush and her identical-except-for-corrective-lenses, never-seen-in-the-same-room colleague were actually separate people, must have realized that dating Superman would be a tougher gig than dating regular ol’ Clark Kent. The constant cries for help always interrupting dinner, the supervillains with their axes (and, indeed, death rays) to grind, the secrecy, the power disparity, the thinking he’s dead on a regular basis, the always coming in second to the Greater Good. Ugh.
But in Iron Man 3, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) has even more to deal with. Not only is her man traumatized following the harrowing events in New York (see: The Avengers), but he’s also, well, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), former playboy of the Western World and unapologetically arrogant erratic genius. That would be difficult to deal with even without the fact that he just played a significant role in saving the planet from space aliens eager to destroy us all.
Well, “unapologetic,” except here – in what will be many a shipper’s favorite scene in the film – Tony sets aside his trademark snark to tell Pepper in heartfelt tones just what she means to him, how only she has kept him from falling apart following the complete shift to his paradigm that the aforementioned space aliens brought about, and we get to see how the two of them have developed a functioning, adult relationship in a truly dysfunctional setting.
Alone of many superhero sequels, or indeed of any sequels I can think of at this instant, what Iron Man 3 is truly about is what happens next; it’s about the next stage in a fully-fledged romance. Oh, sure, it’s also about explosions and kickass action sequences (Barrel of Monkeys! Definitely a highlight) and defeating ultimate evil and (cleverly) the War on Terror – plus, it’s very funny and features one hell of a cute kid – but Tony and Pepper are at this movie’s heart as much as the arc reactor is at Tony’s, and it’s terrific to see the human element playing such a big role in what is definitely a superhuman story.
In the first movie of this franchise, the Tony/Pepper possibility was suggested (in contravention to all known comic book canon). In the second, it was made manifest. In The Avengers, it was rather adorably continued, and here we have them cohabiting and bickering like any other committed, loving couple—though admittedly a committed, loving couple who are also the target of some seriously souped-up terrorists. There is no uncertainty here as to what they feel for each other, no question as to whether each fight might be their last – they are no Peter Parker and Mary Jane, neither ever quite sure that the other is in this for the long haul. Of course, there is romantic tension, because what would a movie be without it?
But even when Pepper is at her most frustrated with her self-centered superhero’s peccadilloes it never seems like she might just walk away; even when she undergoes frightening changes by film’s end, it never seems for a moment that he thinks her less than perfect. (Another moment destined to send the shippers into alt.) There is a solidity to them that makes their fractious liaison more than merely tacked on to keep the chicks happy, as in too many forgettable action flicks to name. They love each other. It is who they are.
A lot of this is down to the flawless performances of both Downey Jr. and Paltrow, who are simply riveting in this film. If Iron Man 2 humanized Tony, giving him a drinking problem (ripped straight from the comics) and a troubled conscience, then Iron Man 3 goes even further: we see here a freaked-out Tony only barely holding on to his already-questionable sanity, and Downey Jr. plays it perfectly, always hovering somewhere between the sardonic wit we’ve come to love and a fragile vulnerability we can’t help but understand. Paltrow has been in the press a lot lately, and not much of it has been complimentary, but say what you will about her cookbooks or her presumptuous advice or her bizarre self-aggrandizement, man, the woman can emote – and has killer abs.
Indeed, the trainers on this film are to be highly commended; both the seemingly ageless RDJ and his almost-undetectable stunt double move with a lithe grace , and Tony’s agility even out of the suit makes him almost worthy of entrance into the Xavier Institute. Guy Pearce, as our villain (not a spoiler; you pretty much know that from his first moment on screen), is looking none too shabby here, either, and Don Cheadle is handsome as ever. Basically, this movie is a beautiful person bonanza, coupled delightfully with a bunch of couple stuff and some utterly exhilarating calamitous craziness.
If you’re a comic movie fan, Iron Man 3 won’t disappoint. If you’re only in it for the ship, you’ll also be pretty happy. If you’re not into either of those things, I have no idea why you’re even reading this, but take my advice and see the movie anyway. I mean, Barrel of Monkeys! I can’t remember the last time I was so breathless in a theater – no, not even in The Avengers.
Just make sure you stay for the after-credit’s sequence. At last, a voiceover conceit that actually makes sense! (Sorry for the cryptic, but I’d hate to spoil the surprise.)
Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.