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  • Alternate Character Interpretation:
    • While Killian admits it's a flimsy excuse on their part to justify the assassination, exactly how responsible was the President in keeping oil barons out of prison after they caused a major oil spill? Especially seeing how, if anything, he actually seems surprised that Killian doesn't care enough about the spill to want him dead.
    • A popular theory about the Mandarin is that Trevor Slattery was all just an act so he would get a reduced prison sentence, and that he used the mind control ring on Killian to have him say he's the real Mandarin. Of course, this was later Jossed in All Hail the King, where it was revealed that there is a real Mandarin who is upset that Slattery impersonated him.
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  • Author's Saving Throw: In All Hail the King, it's revealed that the real Mandarin is still out there and is neither Trevor nor Killian, thus saving the character for those who did not like the twist. Ironically, while it did lampshade the negative fan reaction, Word of God is that it was already planned during production of the movie, explaining the plot holes in the first Iron Man film that would be created if Killian was the real Mandarin.
  • Base-Breaking Character:
    • Harley. Either he's an Ensemble Dark Horse whose chemistry with Tony Stark compliments the movie or is only there to pander to the kids. Though Tony's own apathetic and non-stereotypical treatment of him does make him more well-liked than most Tag Along Kid characters.
    • Trevor Slattery also gets this treatment — he's either one of the funniest characters in the movie, or a disgrace to the Mandarin's character. Or both.
      • With All Hail the King, fans are a bit kinder to Trevor, knowing that there actually is a real Mandarin, and he's not happy.
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  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: Chinese audiences jeered at Fan Bingbing and Wang Xueqi's cameos in the Chinese-only cut of the film for being this on top of an Enforced Plug.
  • Broken Base: The movie could write books on how much it divided people, and is easily the most divisive film of the MCU thus far. Opinions tend to be very enthusiastic in either direction, with few in the middle.
    • The Mandarin's Race Lift. People tend to either be understanding of it or refuse to watch the movie entirely because of it.
      • Of course, the real Mandarin is now set to appear in the upcoming Shang-Chi movie, played by an actual Chinese actor.
    • The reveal in All Hail the King of the "real" Mandarin, who is a separate character from the two present in the film. Good that they're going with one closer to his comics incarnation or just a sop thrown out to appease fans who are upset about the Race Lift?
    • Related to the Mandarin twist, there is the question of whether or not the Mandarin should be depicted at all in an Iron Man movie: those who defend it argue that it wouldn't fit the realistic, tech-oriented tone and theme of the movies to suddenly introduce a villain as surreal as a Yellow Peril alien-powered Evil Sorcerer. Meanwhile, those who disliked it tend to point out the "we need to keep it realistic" argument doesn't work anymore when the universe these movies take place in is confirmed to have things such as aliens, beings from Norse Mythology and a cyborg talking racoon with a rocket launcher.
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    • The fact that Tony doesn't spend much time "suited up", and vice versa (the Mark 42 and other suits get a lot of screentime without Tony actually inside). While some enjoyed seeing how badass Tony can be without the suit, others wanted to see Iron Man spend more time as, you know, Iron Man (and the suit as his armor rather than a remote-controlled robot or a JARVIS-piloted drone).
  • Captain Obvious Reveal: It's not particularly difficult for a viewer to guess that Killian is the real Big Bad of the movie, or at the very least The Heavy for the Mandarin (and, for a sharper eyed viewer, it might also be clear that something is off with the whole "Mandarin" thing). The film spends a lot more time on Killian than Ben Kingsley's Mandarin, with the former being established as a villain fairly early on and shown having a connection to both Pepper and Tony's past. By contrast, the Mandarin doesn't actually get that much focus, and mostly just drops by in the middle of everything else that's going on to say he's committing acts of terrorism. By the time Trevor is unmasked, there's no real question who the real villain is.
  • Contested Sequel: The reactions towards this film have been quite divisive. Some think it's a great film as good as or even better than the first installment, some that it's a good movie despite not living up to the first one or The Avengers, and some say it's a typical disappointing superhero threequel, with some even claiming it to be the absolute worst MCU film.
  • Critical Dissonance: The film has a strong 80% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes but is much more polarizing among the fanbase.
  • Epileptic Trees: There are theories that Trevor was actually the real Mandarin all along and he was fooling and manipulating everyone, including Killian or that the true Mandarin is neither Killian or Trevor and is still out there. Even Ben Kingsley himself thought the first theory was possible, according to the an IGN interview, but it was the latter theory which got confirmed as of All Hail The King.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
  • Evil Is Cool: The Mandarin. Until the reveal, that is, but Trevor does seem to be going for this trope in-universe for his portrayal of "The Mandarin".
  • Evil Is Sexy:
    • If you ignore the Glowing Eyes of Doom and Power Glows while her blood runs hot (or not, if you're into that sort of thing), there's something pretty hot and sexy about Brandt.
    • And Killian is played by Guy Pearce. Imagine Leonard's shirtless scene in Memento but with tattoos of dragons instead of reminders and more muscle.
    • Eric Savin is also rather attractive in that policeman's uniform.
  • Fanon: Most fans greatly prefer to believe that "Trevor Slattery" is actually just another fake identity for the real Mandarin and he's manipulating Killian to think he's in charge, or that he's just a body double used by the real Mandarin to throw off his trail, and he's out there somewhere. All Hail the King confirms neither. Turns out there is actually a real Mandarin out there, but he's pissed that Killian and Slattery were trying to impersonate him.
  • Genius Bonus: Dr. Maya Hansen mentions that Wernher von Braun wanted to send human beings into outer space, but instead had to create the V-2 rockets. What they don't mention is that von Braun started working for NASA after World War II, and developed the Saturn V - the rocket that brought man to the moon. That being said, the subtext was that idealistic science only progresses through militarism before it can be used for good, since von Braun being forced to work for the Nazis was how his work was first brought to the attentions of the Americans, who recruited him to work on the space-program after the War. The same way that Hansen's work on Extremis was meant to help amputees, but was now being used to create psychopathic super-soldiers. Hansen clearly believes that the technology will eventually be perfected and used to benefit others as she had hoped.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • Maya being present in Tony's house when the Mandarin's attack takes place means that Killian's Dragon pretty much just tried to kill his head researcher — and on his boss' orders. It's not 100% clear if Killian knew she was there at the time, but we could imagine some pretty harsh words being exchanged when she got back to HQ. Of course, he does shoot her later..
    • The film ending with Tony eagerly planning his next big project. From the looks of Avengers: Age of Ultron, his newest vision is going to do a lot more harm than good.
    • Tony's line "We create our own demons" refers to how his jerkass tendencies in the prologue toward Killian ultimately push the latter to villainy, and how he had a hand in the development of Extremsis. However, this line will become much more literally true in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
    • Tony and Rhodey suggest that Killian is planning to give the President a Viking funeral. Such a funeral is witnessed in the next MCU movie, Thor: The Dark World, and later Tony himself would receive one in Avengers: Endgame.
    • A key part of the plot of the movie is a series of explosions, one of which is at a theater, which a terrorist takes credit for in light of the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 2015.
    • A common argument to defend this movie's take on the Mandarin and the changes compared to the source material was that comic book Mandarin was a Yellow Peril villain making him too much of a caricature to be adapted nowadays. A few years later, Another MCU installment would actually get criticisms for giving this treatment to its Asian villains.
  • Heartwarming in Hindsight: In an attempt to get Tony to take him with him on his adventures in this movie Harley Keener tells Tony they have a connection between them. Clearly, that connection was strong enough for him to come to Tony's funeral in Avengers: Endgame.
  • He's Just Hiding!: Brandt and Savin. Tony's last line to the latter does sound like Tempting Fate. Also, some believe Maya could be alive, too, due to the theory that she secretly injected herself with Extremis, even though the cut on her forehead was still there up to and after her death.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • The Mandarin's "You'll never see me coming." line becoming prophetic due to the twist. And, of course, his advisors telling the people helping him with his messages not to look at or talk to him are rather reminiscent of crew and extra strictures for his real profession.
    • Apparently when Tony was fourteen years old, he still needed a nanny. Fastforward to 2014 and we're introduced to Hiro Hamada, a fourteen-year-old robotics genius who has a nurse bot for a nanny.
    • Ellis being made up to heavily resemble Jeb Bush becomes this when Bush's 2016 campaign for the presidency ultimately crashed and burned when he was considered a strong contender for the White House at the time of this film's production.
    • Happy Hogan complains in this movie that people would laugh in his face when he revealed that he was Iron Man's bodyguard. 10 years later during the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home, Happy claims to play a similar role towards the titular superhero, and ends up being taken completely seriously by everyone.
    • The second suit Tony uses during the fight against Killian looks so much like the Arkham Knight suit from Batman: Arkham Knight that you'd be forgiven for forgetting that this came out first.
    • This is the first time Guy Pearce played an oddball billionaire who's got a revolutionary new technology for the hero of a superhero movie. Bloodshot (2020) is the second. They even share the twist that he's been the real villain the whole time.
  • Iron Woobie: Tony, in every sense of the word. Special mention must be given to his anxiety attacks that Robert Downey Jr. made look completely real.
  • It's the Same, Now It Sucks!: The movie in itself is very different compared to the previous two, but some people have complained about the fact that, Killian ended up essentially a rehash of everything we already had seen with the previous villains.
  • Jerkass Woobie: Aldrich Killian certainly turned out to be quite a petty, sadistic villain, however at the start of the film (during New Year's Eve of 1999), it's very hard not to feel sorry for him when he is stood up by Tony- who says he would meet him up on the roof. Not to mention the fact that Tony was very dismissive of him and his ambitions in the elevator, when all he wanted was to be recognized by the ever-popular Tony Stark. Both of Tony's actions almost caused poor Killian to end his life.
  • Like You Would Really Do It
    • Yeah, like they're really gonna kill off Pepper.
    • Yeah, like Tony's really retired when the credits show otherwise.
  • Memetic Bystander: The giant plush bunny amidst Stuff Blowing Up when Eric Savin and the Ten Rings attack Tony's Malibu home.
  • Memetic Mutation:
  • Narm: See here.
  • Narm Charm: The Mandarin's speech eccentricities, while perhaps not on the same level as Nolan!Bane, may elicit a chuckle even as he's being menacing. Kind of makes sense, in hindsight.
  • Narrowed It Down To The Guy I Recognise: Miguel Ferrer, later revealed as a supporting villain.
  • One-Scene Wonder:
    • Gary, the Iron Man-obsessed cameraman that Tony runs into.
    • The one guard that has the sense to surrender to the frigging Iron Man.
      Guard: [surrendering] Honestly, I hate working here. They are so weird.
  • Replacement Scrappy: Killian taking the spot of the Big Bad from the fake Mandarin halfway through the movie was not well received.
  • Rescued from the Scrappy Heap: Rhodey was not particularly well-liked in previous films, either for being too whiny in Iron Man 1 or too dour and unpleasant in Iron Man 2. His demeanor in this film strikes a better balance of serious but affable, and he has a lot more scenes of friendly banter with Tony, winning over a lot of fans.
  • Retroactive Recognition: A young Jenna Ortega plays the Vice President's daughter.
  • The Scrappy: Aldrich Killian is one of the most hated characters, let alone villains, in the entire MCU. Not only is he a boring and derivative villain with an incredibly weak motivation, but he also infamously stole the film's Big Bad role from the eagerly anticipated Mandarin, the Joker to Iron Man's Batman, and added nothing meaningful whatsoever to Tony's story or character growth. What makes this worse is his extreme case of Ascended Extra: his only role in the comics was to commit suicide before ever making a physical appearance, and never being mentioned again after that arc. And yet somehow that makes him deserving of being the main antagonist of Iron Man's final solo movie after teasing his actual arch-nemesis for years.
  • Surprisingly Improved Sequel: The movie may be divisive, but most fans and critics alike agree that it's a definite step-up from Iron Man 2, with a better-written screenplay, more effective action sequences, and a more clearly defined arc for Tony.
  • They Changed It, Now It Sucks!:
    • The Mark XLVII having more yellow plating than red.
    • The Mandarin not being Chinese. This was possibly not to piss off the Chinese, due to them being major sponsors of the film. A Yellow Peril character also doesn't play well with modern audiences in general.
    • Upon seeing the trailers and reading pre-release materials, a few people complained that the Mandarin wouldn't be Asian, not have the ten super-powered rings, and more resemble a shadowy behind-the-scenes villain than the character who could go toe-to-toe with Iron Man in the comics. After seeing the movie, more people complained about Killian being the Mandarin.
    • Rhodey suddenly using Norman Osborn's Iron Patriot codename and armor raised quite a few eyebrows from fans, who saw it as an unnecessary replacement for his established War Machine identity. Tellingly, Rhodey is back to being War Machine by Avengers: Age of Ultron and hasn't used "Iron Patriot" since.
  • They Copied It, So It Sucks!: Some detractors believe that The Dark Knight Trilogy did it better when it came to grittier storytelling and having a fake ultimate villain as a twist.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character:
    • The appearance of Iron Man's greatest foe on the silver screen being reduced to being a washed-out actor angered many after The Reveal. While Word of God confirmed Killian to be the true MCU version of the Mandarin, many still feel he's far too different (having none of his powers, motivations or even ethnicity) from his comic book counterpart. Of course, it probably doesn't help that the fake Mandarin was played by Ben Kingsley, a highly decorated actor, while the true one was played by Guy Pearce — who's also a good actor in his own right, but not the one fans were expecting. May be undone in the future, as All Hail the King reveals that the Mandarin is a real person that simply hasn't appeared yet, and Killian was lying about being the Mandarin.
      • Also, the filmmakers' insistence that the Mandarin is too much of a Yellow Peril stereotype to actually try and update to be less offensive blatantly ignores the fact that previous comic writers (notably John Byrne and Warren Ellis) have already done so in the comics, including in Extremis, the storyline this movie claims to be adapting, making the Mandarin less of a Fu Manchu-type and more reminiscent of Ra's Al-Ghul. This makes the claims come off as the filmmakers just being lazy and not bothering to do their research on the source material, thus robbing fans of the opportunity to see Iron Man confront his arch-nemesis on the big screen. Especially given Tony's death in Avengers: Endgame, meaning he will never get the chance to go up against the real Mandarin, forcing the latter to instead go up against Shang-Chi in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. To put this in perspective for non-comic fans, this would be like if The Dark Knight Trilogy ended without Batman ever encountering the Joker, and the latter insteads ends up fighting some obscure DC character.
    • Maya Hansen, the creator of Extremis, ends up being unceremoniously killed off. She also was originally intended to be the true Big Bad of the movie, like she was in the comic, before half-way through production the producers decided the villain should be a man to sell more toys. Yeah, don't you remember all those Aldrich Killian toys they made? Those things were everywhere, sold like hotcakes, they did.
    • The Mark 42 armor was designed to be made of individual pieces that join together and it replaces the classic red and gold design. Yet it wasn't made to look anything like the Modular Armor. Though, given how well it performs throughout the movie, that could be seen as a good thing.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot:
    • Tony's panic attacks get a lot of build-up, but don't interfere with fights, especially the finale. Though it's implied that he gets over them in the middle of the movie, when he understands he doesn't need his suit to be Iron Man. Later installments however, do show that Tony isn't fully over his PTSD and in fact, his paranoia and fear drives much his character for the rest of the MCU.
    • Extremis; in the comic, this was considered one of the best story arcs, and led to Iron Man getting an upgrade. The movie version is never used on Tony, instead used to give the villain and his goons superpowers. What really makes it a waste is how the film has all the set-up of the arc that leads to Tony's decision to make the upgrade: he's currently unable to sleep due to mental troubles, he's upgrading his suits but can't make them as pragmatic as he wants them, and he nearly gets demolished in a fight with Extremis-users to show how out-matched he is by them. Instead, however, they resolve the arc by having Tony choose to actually get a downgrade, which wastes the set-up they could have used for adapting the arc.
      • Not to mention Extremis' wide variety of abilities and effects from the comic is dumbed down to generic burning-stuff powers here.
    • Maya Hansen was originally intended as the real Big Bad as in the original comic and the movie started filming with that twist in mind, only for the executives to half-way through production eventually decide on Killian.
    • A post-climax Plot Twist where Slattery revealed himself as the real Mandarin having outwitted all the freaking cast of the movie wold have been incredibly in-character for the comic book villain, and it was so intuitive that many people stayed for The Stinger only to see if it showed Trevor doing exactly that. However, even although Ben Kingsley himself believed it might have been the case even if it wasn't shown on the movie, it was later Jossed by the producers in favor of a real Mandarin, who it turns out won't even be played by Kingsley.
    • On a related note, fans were excited to finally see Iron Man face his greatest foe on the big screen, aided by plenty of foreshadowing towards him in the previous two movies... only to have that cruelly ripped out from under them for the sake of a cheap twist. And now, with Tony's death in Avengers: Endgame, we will now never see Iron Man, or at least Robert Downey Jr's beloved take on the character, face his archfoe in a major motion picture.
  • Unfortunate Implications: For as hard as the filmmakers worked to make sure the Mandarin's identity wouldn't offend anyone (which, ironically, ended up greatly offending fans of the character), it never seemed to occur to them that his henchmen all being disabled U.S. Military veterans empowered by Extremis who, for the sake of job security, eagerly and willingly carry out terrorist attacks against their fellow Americans and even attempt to assassinate the U.S. President just might be extremely offensive to a lot of people. This did not go unnoticed by Noah Antwiler of The Spoony Experiment.
  • Visual Effects of Awesome: Multiple instances:
    • CGS details exactly all the work they did, and on a shorter deadline to boot!
    • Tony's home blown up and falling into the ocean looks amazing. Special kudos to the people that managed to make the Mark 42 armor latch onto Tony Stark as he's climbing and doing rolls during the entire attack look almost flawless.
    • As always, the armor's animation itself looks sleek and impressive. Take that up several notches with an entire legion of Iron Man armors and you've got something that's beyond impressive.
    • Credit also has to be given to the Extremis soldiers, whose organic glowing bodies are rendered just as well as the armors themselves.
    • Even beyond all of that is the Air Force One sequence. The only CGI in that entire set piece was the plane itself, the compositing, and drawing in Iron Man over his stand-in actor. Everything else was done practically; real people jumping out of a real plane, grabbing each other in the air, and so forth. It all culminated in a massive zip-line rig, dropping each one into the water in sequence.
    • The crowner though, would be the flawless CGI double created for RDJ, impossible to distinguish from the original.
  • What an Idiot!:
    • After the explosion at the TCL Chinese Theater, Tony Stark personally declares war on the Mandarin and dares him to attack Tony, and then goes home.
      You'd Expect: Tony to take precautions and ready his house for defense at all times, and put on a fully operational and perfected Iron Man suit (i.e The Mark VII), in case there's the off chance the enemy suddenly attacks. Either that, or at least get Pepper Potts out of harm's way. If anything, just relocate to another place as soon as possible.
      Instead: Tony sits around and waits for the attack, and the only precaution he takes is going into an ineffective lockdown.
      Just To Add the Icing on the Cake: It turns out J.A.R.V.I.S. is capable of controlling all of the Iron Man suits at once. Meaning Tony could have had an army defending his house but decided to keep all of them in storage.
    • Rhodey gets captured by Aldrich Killian's men, and is forced out of the Iron Patriot suit by Killian's Extremis Heat. They then knock him out unconscious.
      You'd Think: Killian or one of his goons would either:
      a.) Tie him up so that he can't escape the mansion.
      or...
      b.) Since he was a trained soldier, and a potential enemy, shoot him in either the heart or the head and kill him, so that he won't wake up.
      Instead: They just leave him there (assuming Tony's not an Unreliable Narrator, that is), and he eventually regains consciousness and links up with Tony, who also has escaped captivity as well.
    • After the above moment, Eric Savin, Killian's main henchman, uses the Iron Patriot suit to pose as Rhodes and infiltrate Air Force One. He arrives at Air Force One as President Ellis gets on board.
      You'd Expect: Before taking off, the Secret Service guys to make the guy take off his helmet to confirm that the man in the Iron Patriot suit is in fact Rhodes, and the exact suit had been commandeered in the previous movie), and find out that it's Savin and incapacitate him or at least blow his cover, thus averting disaster.
      Instead: They don't even bother to check and just assume Rhodes was still in the suit.
      Additionally: This very suit being hijacked was a major part of the plot in the previous movie. And Rhodes had been AWOL for about half a day.
      The Result: Savin manages to attack and destroy Air Force One, and have President Ellis kidnapped in the Iron Patriot suit.
    • The final battle. On Tony's side we have Tony, Col. James Rhodes, and a load of Power Armors much like the ones Tony wears, remotely controlled by J.A.R.V.I.S., while on the Big Bad's side we have a load of superhumans who can regenerate from damage, and make parts of their bodies extremely hot. Tony has encountered them before, so he knows what they're capable of, and he's here to rescue two hostages.
      You'd Expect: J.A.R.V.I.S. to keep the suits out of range of the minions, and bombard them with repulsor rays, in order to keep them distracted while Tony and Rhodes rescue the hostages.
      Instead: The suits controlled by J.A.R.V.I.S. are often seen getting into punch-ups with the minions, and a number of them are torn apart as a result, with only a few memorable ones surviving.
  • The Woobie: Trevor Slattery. He had a very severe problem with alcohol and drugs - however, rather than helping him, Killian took advantage of this to manipulate the weak-minded Trevor into passing himself off as a terrorist mastermind, all while actually feeding his addiction by giving him more drugs and alcohol. Trevor's actually oblivious to the whole thing, and has no idea people are getting killed. Then, at the end, he's arrested for something he wasn't even aware that he was doing. (Somewhat softened by that, while getting arrested, he ends up receiving the fame, publicity, and adoration he'd always sought, so his story ends on a somewhat happy note for him.) But then Trevor gets kicked around even more in All Hail the King, undoing the above semi-happy ending, where his interviewer, actually a member of the Ten Rings, sends him off to be killed by the real Mandarin. So now the poor guy's getting killed (if not tortured before) by a highly dangerous terrorist mastermind just for things he didn't know were wrong. Of course, this might be more Jerkass Woobie if you take the view that he probably did know what was up but was happy to pretend it wasn't happening — plausible deniability for himself. And even if he didn't know that people were dying, he seemed to be aware that he was sending threatening terrorist messages to the President and that he was part of a criminal conspiracy, and as All Hail The King shows, sending threats to the President is something the Secret Service takes seriously and that's more than enough to land you in jail.
    • Harley, a lonely, bullied young boy fending for himself in an old gas station, who wants to help Tony - who in turn brushes him aside - and is even held hostage by Eric Savin at one point. Though in the end, Tony gives him several high tech pieces of equipment, including an advanced potato gun.

For the tie-in mobile game:

  • Complete Monster:
    • Aldrich Killian, after the events of the film, managed to download his consciousness into a new body, becoming M.O.D.O.K.. As MODOK, intending to hurt Tony, he has AIM lead attacks to take over Stark Industries' network, with his ultimate goal being to download himself into the network, start World War III using Tony's weapons, and rule over what's left.
    • Ezekiel Stane is the second-in-command of AIM's forces and the illegitimate son of Obadiah Stane. Resentful over never knowing his father and glad to see him gone, Ezekiel felt entitled to own everything Tony Stark had. Believing himself to be the true heir to Stark Industries, Ezekiel allied himself with AIM and helped them commit a series of terrorist attacks and destroy everything Tony cherished. When he sent the Living Laser to attack Iron Man, Ezekiel kidnapped Pepper Potts in the hopes of having her transfer Tony's assets over to him. When that failed, he hooked Pepper up to an electric chair that would torture her to death and summoned Iron Man to fight him so the couple would hear each other's dying screams.

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