Christology has always been a point of heretical caution for the church. In seminary our professors would stress the importance of Christ’s humanity, divinity and the unity between the two. Whenever his divinity is given too much emphasis, we downplay his humanity and vice versa. Little did I know, Tony Stark must have been in on some of those lectures because of his statement, “I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one.”, in the 2010 sequel to Iron Man.
Even though Christology might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Iron Man 3, superhero movies always provide parallels for us in this sphere of theology. Bruce Wayne is also Batman, Clark Kent is also Superman, and, in this case, Tony Stark is Iron Man. We have the human and the “divine” in a single person. Two natures, one being. However, one of the best lessons we learn from all of these superheroes is how they fall short of the true Hero, Jesus Christ. But, before I get ahead of myself, let’s look a bit more intently at Iron Man.
It has been three years since we last saw Iron Man flying solo. Yes he battled alongside his super-friends in The Avengers, but before that he was fighting off the revenge-seeking villain, Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2. As if Stark didn’t already have a god-complex, Vanko affirms this by saying, “If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in him.” Vanko did indeed cause IM to bleed, leading to a symbolic death and resurrection for him before coming back and conquering his foe.
Fast-forward to 2013 and over $340 million at the box-office, it is easy to see that audiences were curious to see where the story-line would take this high-flying hero. Even though this is the third film in the IM franchise, the story picks up after Iron Man’s adventures from The Avengers story-line At this point in Stark’s life, he has battled many formidable foes, a fair share of criticism from the public, and various humbling scenarios, but has victoriously conquered each of them; leaving him to be the same arrogant billionaire audiences have a certain likability for.
However, if anyone could break through the pride of the “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.”, it would surely be The Mandarin; Iron Man’s toughest villain yet. [Note: There will be major and minor spoilers ahead.] Although Stark isn’t lacking in confidence, there is a certain level of humility he is walking around with in this film. He begins by talking about the “demons” he’s created in his life. The demons he created are rooted in the unloving ways he’s treated others, and this isn’t simply something the audience realizes but Stark also. He even apologizes and admits wrongdoing throughout the film, proving that he has attained some level of humility.
Most of his humility comes from the mixed gift and curse of Iron Man. In this third installment, one of Stark’s biggest foes is insomnia and panic attacks. To cope with his lack of sleep, he spends time in his lab building new machines. At the end of the film we get an idea of how much time Stark has spent in the lab by the dozens of machines that arrive for backup against The Mandarin and his crew of radioactive human soldiers. These soldiers are from a program referred to as Extremis, allowing them to recover from crippling injuries. One side-effect of Extremis, however, is that it causes people to explode (they should have read the fine print). It is discovered that The Mandarin isn’t exactly who you think he is and he and he and his army have all been participants of this Extremis program rendering each of them nearly invincible to Iron Man and his fleet.
While Iron Man 3 was better than the sequel, it wasn’t that much better. It makes for a fun kick-off to the summer and decent beginning for Marvel’s “phase 2″ production of superhero films – Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are two more in this phase. But, if your expectations are on a super-level, I would bring them down a notch or two.
An interesting theme of the story is Tony Stark’s struggle with his calling as Iron Man. One could easily assert that this film should be called Tony Stark 3. I would be interested to know how much time Stark actually spends in the IM suit. He very rarely appears as IM and even when he does, the suits are so banged up and malfunctioning, he is forced to fight sans suits. Therefore, it seems that IM3 brings us to the conclusion that the man makes the suit and not the other way around.
However, the movie ends by Stark’s own testimony that there is no separation between the two. His Malibu mansion is destroyed, most of his fancy cars, all of his IM suits, even his chest arc reactor [!], but he claims that even without all of this, “I am, Iron Man.”
Which brings us full-circle to the introduction of this article. Superheroes are fascinating to most of the culture, because of the hypostatic union of the human and divine. Just as the heretical assertions of Nestorius and Eutyches plagued the early church, we still see those in varying degrees through superheroes. There are times in this film where we could draw parallels to the Nestorian controversy. Just as Nestorius attempted to create two Christs by separating his humanity and divinity, there are times when Tony Stark is simply being Tony Stark and his Iron Man suit is flying separately from him. However, there are also times we could say that Stark/IM are so “fused” together that the human and divine have created a new nature, like Eutyches claimed.
The helpful parallel for me is how these heroes highlight the beauty of Christ through their inadequacies. Stark, at times, just like every other superhero, cannot handle being a hero. In his case, his body is always under physical duress because of the shrapnel near his heart. Not only that, but his insomnia and panic attacks are too much for him to bear. These do, in some ways, help us grasp the similar sufferings of our true Savior. We may think of the times when Christ was in Gethsemane, as well as, the constant accusations from the false teachers. However, the weaknesses of these heroes show us the great strength of Jesus Christ. He did not waver, he did not fail. While he suffered greatly in his humanity, his mind never deviated from the love and desire to do his Father’s will. He is the Hero that stands above all others.