With The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special winning over hearts the world over this Christmas, it may be easy to forget that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made a Christmas movie already. In 2013, the franchise made its first holiday-themed movie with Iron Man 3. Set around the holiday, featuring all the trademarks of the season, and telling a very classic Christmas-type story — albeit in a superhero action movie — Iron Man 3, despite its controversial reputation, deserves to become an action Christmas classic, à la Die Hard. It’s worth breaking out for a rewatch this holiday season.
Iron Man 3 follows Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in a follow-up to The Avengers, as he struggles with PTSD and anxiety issues from his experience in the Chitauri portal. The film was notorious for borrowing chillingly realistic terrorist iconography for its interpretation of the Mandarin villain and then featuring a plot twist that left many comic fans angry. However, the intention of that twist was most likely a similar social commentary to Captain America: The Winter Soldier; this Phase of the MCU is in intense conspiracy thriller genre mode. The real heart of the film, however, is the interpersonal relationships and arcs of the main characters.
Why Iron Man 3 Deserves To Be a Must-Watch Christmas Film
There are many reasons why it deserves to be a Christmas classic. First, the film is set around Christmas, with imagery of the holiday permeating every frame of the picture. Christmas trees, lights, snow, carols throughout the soundtrack (a killer score by Brian Tyler) and all the characters preparing for their Christmas holiday; the film never forgets what time of year it’s set. Many certainly agree that a Christmas setting, in some ways, is enough to elevate a film to Christmas classic status — the aforementioned Die Hard is considered as such — but there is more to Iron Man 3‘s Christmas classic status than just the imagery.
Christmas classics tend to follow a surprisingly similar narrative trajectory. Scrooge, the Grinch, George Bailey, Charlie Brown, even most Christmas rom-coms always focus on a cynical, detached central anti-hero who slowly comes to understand the value of family, love, and the holiday throughout the narrative and experiences a spiritual rejuvenation thanks to his (usually) epiphany. Tony Stark, of course, is the perfect MCU hero for this kind of story, being a cynical hero with a redemption focus from the very beginning. And he experiences just such a journey throughout this film.
Iron Man 3 Is Better Than Fans Remember
Tony in Iron Man 3 has grown consumed by his fears of attack, which distances him from Pepper and drives him to neglect his health. When his impulsive, anxiety-driven decisions nearly kill him and Pepper, destroy his house, and leave him stranded, he has to learn to get by without his security. He semi-adopts a kid named Harley and learns the value of his family, friends, and love. The final message, “You can take away my house, you can take away my toys, but there is one thing you can’t take away,” fits right in alongside The Grinch learning “Christmas perhaps means a little bit more” and Charlie Brown protesting aluminum trees.
Iron Man 3 has many of the all-time great MCU moments. Downey’s acting as the PTSD-stricken Tony has been widely praised since the film’s debut; the action scenes include many marvels (no pun intended) of choreography, and the plot builds along with a grim self-assurance toward its astonishing conclusion. The dark material, such as the realistic terrorism and trauma, helped usher the MCU into the more realistic and gritty Phase Two (would Winter Soldier have been able to foray into such territory without this?), and the film’s heartwarming portrayal of its central love story won any skeptics over to Pepper and Tony. On top of that, the movie fits perfectly into the world of Christmas films because of the imagery, the narrative, and the message. Break it out this holiday season and prepare to smile at the finale.