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How Iron Man 3 Got Extremis Wrong

I couldn’t love Iron Man until Warren Ellis came along. Until that point, Marvel didn’t seem to know what to do with him. He lacked a spark, so he was just a guy in a suit. Then Warren Ellis wrote his Extremis storyline. And I loved Iron Man.

Now if you haven’t seen Iron Man 3, look away now. In fact, drop everything and go see it.

To everyone else: wasn’t it a good film? Highlights for me included Tony’s panic attacks, Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin and, as ever, Don Cheadle. Good stuff. But man did they drop the ball with Extremis.

Tony Stark unlocks a door using a chip implanted in his arm. There are people in the world doing this now.I mentioned earlier that Iron Man in the comics lacked a spark. That’s because every superhero character has an identifying core. Captain America’s is patriotism. The Hulk’s is the monster/man, ego/id battle. Iron Man didn’t have one. But Ellis got the premise in five little words: test pilot of the future. Iron Man’s core is cutting edge technology.

That’s something Jon Favreau realised. His Iron Man films were grounded in tech, almost obsessed with it. But Iron Man was created fifty years ago. Today we’re building exoskeleton suits that aren’t miles away from Iron Man.

So Ellis gave us Extremis. The storyline gives us a Tony Stark whose Iron Man suit is reaching its limits. It’s become heavy and slow. And when Iron Man battles an Extremis-enhanced man, he gets his tin can handed to him.

What does he do? He’s outdated, antiquated and broken. So he upgrades. He installs Extremis into himself. Iron Man becomes a techno-biological upgrade to Tony Stark. He is the test pilot of the future. He is Iron Man.

Extremis put the technology in Tony Stark's body, making him Iron Man inside and out.Extremis puts Iron Man beyond today’s science. It lets Tony mentally interface with any wireless technology. It lets him power the suit by thought. It lets him control multiple suits and call them to him. Sound familiar? Barring the first, this is all the ending of Iron Man 3, isn’t it? Only Tony can’t do those things. He has to ask JARVIS to do them.

I like JARVIS. Great idea and I love Paul Bettany’s performance. But JARVIS overshadows Tony; Tony can stay in bed and send JARVIS instead. You can tell Shane Black knew that because he broke JARVIS for a huge portion of the film. JARVIS makes Tony, as a character, weak and redundant. When a computer can fly the Iron Man suit, it makes the notion of a human pilot outdated. Antiquated. Broken.

An Extremis-enhanced Tony Stark could have remedied that and given us Iron Man: test pilot of the future. But where Warren Ellis used Extremis to update Iron Man to 2.0, Shane Black used it to make monsters. And we got Iron Man 1.4. Incremental update.

Am I right? Or am I wrong? Leave a comment, I’m interested to hear what you think.