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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?
    • 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.
    • Killian, especially after he claims to be the true Mandarin. Fans either treat him as a cliché villain with poor motivations and characteristics that are exactly the same as in the two previous movies and bears no similarities to the Mandarin from the comic, or see him as a much cooler (and still faithful) version of the character. Even a number of people who defend the Slattery twist have argued that Killian is nonetheless a Replacement Scrappy compared to what the Big Bad could have been.
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    • 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 kinder to the previous two characters, knowing that neither of them were the real Mandarin.
  • 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.
    • 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?
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    • 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 as 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.
    • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment: Both of the two previous films showed Tony's Malibu home getting wrecked which, aside from his altercation with Rhodey stealing the Mark II armor, can be Played for Laughs. But here...
    • For this movie, Tony's enemies are basically Super Soldiers. Years later down the line he would be facing off against none other than THE Super Soldier.
  • 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.
    • Any of the interviews about the Mandarin before the movie came out. It's not just limited to Ben Kingsley, either. Robert Downey Jr. gets in on the act too.
    • Guy Pearce was originally considered for the role of "Henri Ducard"/Ra's al Ghul from Batman Begins, before they ultimately got Liam Neeson. Amusingly, the plot twist involving Killian is similar to the plot twist from Batman Begins involving "Ducard".
    • After the whole business with the Hammeroids, the 'House Party' Protocol looks rather hypocritical.
    • Rhodey being able to kick ass without the Iron Patriot or whichever suit shouldn't be surprising since he once fought Jackie Chan to a stalemate.
    • Combined with an Actor Allusion; Happy repeating "Badge" to Savin in the Stark Industries office becomes even funnier once we get to the end credits and see that actor James Badge Dale played the role.
    • 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.
    • Back when The Avengers debuted at movie theaters, Charges.com.br character Tobby guessed that their biggest foe would be the Green Goblin. Without the movie rights to the Spider-Man franchise, the closest thing that could be used was Norman Osborn's other alter ego Iron Patriot.
      • Additionally, the inclusion of anything Spider-Man related before Spidey himself made his debut in the MCU.
    • Tony telling a kid who wears big glasses "I loved you in A Christmas Story, by the way," because the kid reminds him of Ralphie Parker. Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie Parker in ACS, has a small role as a scientist/engineer in the first Iron Man. Even more so considering that same scientist (still played by Billingsley) makes a reappearance in Spider-Man: Far From Home as The Dragon to Mysterio!
    • In the film Without a Clue, Ben Kingsley played Dr. Watson who created the fictional character "Sherlock Holmes" so that he could solve crimes incognito and hired a washed-up womanizing drunkard actor to play the iconic fictional character. Now Ben Kingsley played the washed-up womanizing drunkard actor for another character in Iron Man 3, but the reasons are more sinister this time.
    • Tony driving off without the kid who helped him seems a bit cruel but obviously practical. And then you remember that Stan Lee wasn't big on kids sidekicks and suddenly Tony's attitude makes alot more sense.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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:
    • The Iron Man Rises, thanks to the Darker and Edgier tone of the first trailer.
    • Mandarin's "Ladies, Children, Sheep" Badass Boast also became quite popular. Also, "they'll never see me coming."
    • The twist where the Mandarin is actually an actor named Trevor Slattery. It's been mocked back and forth and even inserted into other upcoming sequels.
    • "I panicked, but then I handled it."
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • The Mandarin crosses it when he kills a corporate executive on live television, even after President Ellis complies with his request. This is subverted later on when it's revealed that the murder was staged to begin with. Trevor even mentions that he wasn't ever allowed to handle real guns, meaning the one he used was a prop. The end credits briefly show his "victim" getting back up after the cameras stop rolling too, suggesting he was actually in on the whole thing.
    • Killian murders Maya Hansen to further torment Tony after showing him a kidnapped Pepper in agony. Not to mention turning Extremis subjects into unwitting Action Bombs.
    • What he later intends to do to the president, and to broadcast it on live television to send a message to Americans is truly horrific.
  • Narm: Some fans felt Guy Pearce's make-up and performances as a geeky Aldritch Killian in the flashback at the beginning of the movie was way too over-the-top to be taken seriously. Then there is the fact he essentially went full-fledged Diabolical Mastermind and tried to get revenge for Tony skipping a meeting with him once - which didn't even ruin his life in the end, since he still ended up rich anyway.
  • 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.
  • Never Live It Down: Because of the twist with the Mandarin, fans have jokingly theorized that the primary antagonist of any given superhero movie is really just an actor pretending to be the bad guy. Even after All Hail The King reveals that neither Trevor nor Killian were the Mandarin.
  • 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.
  • 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, better villains, 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. Plus, there's the fact that a Yellow Peril character doesn't play well with 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.
  • 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.
    • 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 before half-way through production the producers decided the villain should be a man.
    • 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.
    • 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 lead to Tony's decision to take 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.
    • 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 that we will probably never see onscreen.
  • Unfortunate Implications: For as hard as the filmmakers worked to make sure the Mandarin's identity wouldn't offend anyone, 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.
  • What an Idiot!:
    • Why did none of the security agents check to make sure it was Rhodes in the Iron Patriot suit, when in fact it was Savin (one of Killian's henchmen) in there on a mission to kidnap the President? Especially since Rhodes had been AWOL for half a day.
    • Tony daring the Mandarin to attack him can be understood with the emotional strain he was under. Not so much his sitting and waiting for the attack afterwards, as he turns out to have no real plan ready for it. At the very least, he could have gotten Pepper out of harm's way.
  • 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.

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