Joss Whedon’s The Avengers can be seen as a great capstone to the work Marvel Studios did in Phase One of their Cinematic Universe, but in many ways it also serves as perfect kick-start for Phase Two. Just about every major character in the film walks in as one person and out the other end as another, ready for further adventures.

Being the next film out of the gate, Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 had the most to gain or lose from comparisons to Whedon’s movie, with the 2012 blockbuster still fresh in everybody’s mind and the buzz still pulsating around the internet. But the truth is that because of what The Avengers did to Tony Stark, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Studios as a whole, Iron Man 3 wound up becoming a better movie than what it otherwise might have been. How, you ask? Well…

It Turned Tony Stark Into A Human
There are multiple instances in Iron Man 3 in which a character expresses how worried they are for Tony Stark’s well-being. Do you know why that is? Because being one of the only people on Earth standing between life as we know it an alien enslavement is kind of a stressful gig. A big part of what we loved about the character from the first movie was his incredible ego and the belief that he is the biggest thing the world has ever seen. The Battle of New York proved that isn’t the case, and it has understandably left the superhero shaken, opening a whole new side to the character.

That’s not to say that those cocky elements are gone completely – the movie is still filled with one-liners and big laughs – but it’s rare to have a third movie take a familiar character and make them feel fresh through natural adjustment and evolution. Naturally, it also has an effect on the character’s relationships, as they have to be stronger in some areas and weaker in others to work with the protagonist. The romantic relationship between Tony and Pepper becomes stronger as a result of his humanization, as does the friendship between Tony and Rhodey.

It Made The Marvel Cinematic Universe Reflective Of Reality
You know who really likes talking about Joss Whedon’s The Avengers? Everybody. When Marvel’s blockbuster was released last summer it quickly became one of the biggest hits in box office history, as fans around the world rushed to see it again and again and discussed it with all their friends. But do you know who else is obsessed The Avengers? Every character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – an element that lends Iron Man 3 a very interesting meta level.

Tony Stark was certainly a known figure in his world prior to joining the superhero team, but the events in New York took his fame to a new level. Much in the same way that kids ask Robert Downey Jr. for an autograph because they love him in the Marvel movies, Iron Man 3’s Tony is regularly approached by children who want him to sign their drawing of the armor or discuss the battle with the Chitauri. While this has a negative effect on the hero in the plot, as the stress of remembering typically sends him into a full-blown panic attack, it lends the movie an interesting authenticity by being a reflection of our own reality. Obviously there is a tilted matter of perspective, as in our world we see him as a badass action hero, while in the MCU he’s more like a billionaire first responder, but the similarities are still fascinating and different than anything we’ve ever seen before in the superhero genre.

Iron Man 3 Poster
It Let The Universe Be A Setting Instead Of A Plot Point
The biggest complaint everybody had about Iron Man 2 was that the movie was too busy working to build the Marvel Cinematic Universe and that it wasn’t focused enough on the story it was telling as a solo film. But the good news is that the studio’s Phase One plans have been completed and they ended with the incredibly successful The Avengers. The bricks have been laid and the mortar has sealed it together, and what’s more, everyone came to watch it. And with those details out of the way Iron Man 3 is allowed to be its own movie.

The success of Whedon’s movie ensured that just about everyone buying a ticket to Black’s sequel would know about Thor and Captain America and S.H.I.E.L.D., so the writer/director of the new Iron Man didn’t have to take time away from the story he was telling. Audiences know that these films take place in the same universe, and that element becomes part of the setting instead of the plot. It’s not to say that the movie doesn’t move the franchise forward in significant ways, but it’s all organic and never beats you over the head with it.

It Literally Helped It Become A Bigger Movie
The success of The Avengers both critically and at the box office certainly helped Shane Black’s movie from a narrative standpoint, but it also supported the new film simply by giving Marvel Studios more confidence to spend money on it. A couple weeks after Whedon’s blockbuster made a record-breaking $207 million in its opening weekend, there was a report that said Marvel’s budget for Iron Man 3 had been given a $60 million boost, going from $140 million to a square $200 million.

And that money definitely shows. As I mentioned in my review, the action in Iron Man 3 is better than anything we’ve seen from any previous Marvel solo movie, and the money shows through large-scale set pieces. More money means that more risks can be taken, and that's an exciting proposition when you're dealing with one of the most ambitious franchises going. Even better, it looks like it's just the start of a pattern, as the new movie is already outpacing The Avengers at the international box office, and is predicted to have a major debut in the United States when it hits theaters this Friday. Who knows what that could mean for the scale of The Avengers 2.

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