In this edition of RVA Comics X-Change, our own Ash Griffith tackles the burning question on everyone’s minds: Is Iron Man 3 a Christmas movie?
The Case For Iron Man As Santa Claus
Could beloved fictional blowhard Tony Stark be, in fact, the next Jolly Saint Nick? Well, maybe not exactly. However, there is a lot of debate taking place across the internet regarding whether or not Iron Man 3 should be classified as a holiday film.
Should it be? That’s what we’re about to find out on today’s very special edition of RVA Comics X-Change.
Iron Man 3, which was released in 2013, is the seventh installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and takes place about seven months after the Battle For New York (which occurs during The Avengers). Poor Tony is already dealing with severe PTSD because of this, but now he has to deal with a terrorist known only as the Mandarin. After a battle with the Mandarin sends him crashing into a rural Tennessee town, Stark has to figure out how to stop him without his trademark armor, and get back to California – all in time for Christmas.
This time of year is ripe for the return of the popular debate – does film x qualify as a Christmas or holiday film? Usually the main target of this annual debate is Die Hard, but in the last year, Iron Man 3, of all things, has slowly shown its head as a new contender for discussion.
To kill the argument extremely quickly, Disney+, Disney’s new streaming service, which also features Marvel properties, does currently have it listed under the Holiday category. It sits pretty comfortably between Home Alone and Home Alone 2 (but not Home Alone 3. We try to forget about that one). But just because something is labeled a Christmas film, does that necessarily mean it is?
While your family is still debating where Die Hard falls on the holiday calendar, I’m going to firmly submit my argument, after a recent rewatch this weekend, that it most certainly is a holiday film. This means that not only is Iron Man 3 the first holiday film in the MCU, it is currently the only one.
Before we go any farther, let me state that one of my biggest pet peeves is when people throw the “holiday/Christmas film” label on random films and other media simply because there happens to be snow on the ground, or there is a Christmas tree in the far background in one scene, to indicate the passage of time. That is also the opening to my argument that the Harry Potter film franchise will never qualify as Christmas films, but we’ll entertain that debate next time.
That being said, how often are we exposed to holiday media in Iron Man 3, exactly? Well, quite frankly, we’re all but smacked in the face with it roughly every ten minutes. The film itself opens on a flash back to New Year’s Eve 1999, before swinging us back to present day, which opens with a nice shot of a six-foot-tall white Christmas tree in Tony’s lab. Tony dances to a rock cover of “Jingle Bells,” because of course he does, and makes various non sequitur jokes to children, all of which reference true Christmas films (“I loved you in A Christmas Story”).
Various other visual and direct verbal Christmas references are made throughout the film. From Christmas trees in every shot to Tony giving Pepper a huge rabbit for her present, to the film itself ending on Christmas Day. There is even a questionable Christmas-themed bikini contest we see very briefly in passing, along with two Christmas songs being played.
Would the film be able to retain the same story without the Christmas presence? Eh, yes and no. The overall plot of Tony having to defeat the Mandarin with Rhodey while struggling with undiagnosed PTSD could stay intact, but we would watch an entirely different film if the holiday elements were missing. Christmas is so deeply woven into this film that without it, and its significance to Tony and his life in this moment, the movie would give us a completely different story.
As Tony says right before a battle with Aldridge’s drones, “What do you want? It’s Christmas. Take me to church.”
Even without the overt visual and verbal references to the holidays, there is still a strong moral argument to be made for this film’s inclusion in the Christmas media lexicon. Tony’s story specifically is what drives this film to be included in the holiday canon.
He goes on one hell of an emotional journey throughout this film, one that is way too appropriate for a coming of age style Christmas film. The most glaring theme throughout the film is that of rebirth. From the opening scene centered around the edge of New Year’s to Tony’s journey struggling to overcome and grow with his anxiety, to the scene in which he quite literally pulls Pepper Potts out of the flames, rebirth is the name of the game for this chapter.
When Rhodey returns in his original War Machine suit, Tony even says, “The prodigal son returns.”
But Iron Man 3 is also about Tony realizing that he is no longer that billionaire party playboy he was in the flashback from 1999 that opens the film. He understands, finally, that he is too far from that person and, for so many reasons, he can’t go back. He is now at the point where he must decide which way is he going to go: is he going to continue to live in denial that he has weaknesses despite being Iron Man, and continue to try taking hold of everything? Or is he going to accept the new Iron Man he is reborn into, who not only acknowledges he has PTSD and his love for Pepper as potential vulnerabilities but is also just human, embrace that reality, and use it to make himself stronger?
There is the Iron-Man-as-Jesus reference you didn’t know you needed.
All in all, Tony is the Christmas Spirit. As Pepper walks out of the ashes with Christmas lights in the background, Tony understands not only what he needs to do, but embraces what he is so grateful for. It isn’t just Pepper or the Avengers, but quite frankly is the gift of being alive.
In the end, much like The Grinch, Tony Stark really does have a heart after all. And that is the true point of the film, and what makes for a great Christmas film in the end.
Images via Marvel Studios