The Road to ‘Endgame’ Part 5: Now What? A Look at ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘Thor: The Dark World’

In the lead-up to the highly anticipated conclusion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s epic “Infinity Saga”: Avengers: Endgame, we’re taking a look back at the decade-long road it took to get to this point. After The Avengers came out, we didn’t know where things were going, but anything seemed possible. But would people still be interested in smaller solo movies after the biggest crossover event of all time? Today we’re examining Marvel’s 2013 releases, Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World.

To answer the aforementioned question, the box office results of Phase 2’s first movies proved that yes, audiences were still interested in seeing the heroes on their own, even after watching them team up together. Iron Man 3 surpassed the billion dollar mark, while Thor: The Dark World managed to beat the amount Thor earned and made it into the top 10 highest-grossing films of the year. It was clear audiences were eager to see the aftermath of the Battle of New York and how everyone would move on from that event.

Both of these movies have gotten a lot of backlash from MCU fans. I feel one earns it, while the other is one of the most criminally underrated installments of the franchise. It’s a testament to the quality of Marvel Studios that even their worst movies aren’t really “bad” by regular standards, but Thor: The Dark World feels somewhat like a waste of a movie, or at least a waste of an opportunity. Most of the characters are bland, the sets are still drab compared to what they could have been, and the non-Loki villain was yet another throwaway. Apart from a few plot points such as Frigga’s death and dealing with the fallout of that and the events of The Avengers, the movie feels like it was made out of obligation rather than passion. Once again, as par for the course when it comes to the Thor franchise and its characters, nearly all the redeeming factors of the film involve Loki, who at that point was still the only truly top-notch and memorable villain in the MCU.

Okay, maybe the latter is a bit of a stretch of the truth. The villain in Iron Man 3, released six months before Dark World, is still one of the most talked about elements of the film to this day, though that’s clearly due to being controversial rather than beloved. But, like it or not, the way the Mandarin was handled showed that Marvel Studios wasn’t afraid to tackle political topics even deeper than before, and that the MCU was decidedly a separate entity from its comic book counterpart.

The Mandarin storyline wasn’t the only bold movie that came from Iron Man 3. Despite the criticism over the villain twist, one thing the film has received near-universal praise for it’s realistic portrayal of mental illness. This movie was the first to portray the effects of Tony Stark’s PTSD after going through the wormhole back in New York, not shying away from discussion of things like medication and anxiety attacks. We don’t see very much of this in cinema, so for it to be incorporated into one of the arcs of the most integral character in one of the biggest franchises of all time was and is a HUGE deal. The movie focused on Tony Stark as a character more than Iron Man as a hero, and while it’s definitely reasonable for people to have taken issue with that – this is a superhero movie, after all – it allowed for us to get to know the main character even more. While the Iron Man trilogy was wrapping up, Tony Stark’s story in the MCU was just heating up.

Ultimately, Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World demonstrate the difference between a sequel made with care, love, and passion, and one made out of obligation, apathy, and lassitude.

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