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Ah, December. The last month on the calendar is a holiday bonanza as Christmas fills the air and our TV screens. Joyous carols, tidings of great joy and heartwarming classics are all on the menu, as we celebrate being halfway out of the dark. Of course, it’s also a time to fight about what constitutes a Christmas movie, and I’m putting my gloves on not only to confirm that director Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 is a Christmas movie, it is in fact a secret remake of Charles Dickens’ beloved classic, A Christmas Carol.
Yes, you heard me right, Robert Downey Jr’s third solo outing as Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is indeed a story of redemption through the ghosts of the past and threats of a doomed future. And the similarities are so off the charts, you can even draw some direct parallels between the two stories rather easily. So make some cocoa, turn on your Christmas tree, and gather around the fire, as I tell you why Iron Man 3 could really be called Iron Man’s Christmas Carol.
The Key Elements To A Christmas Carol Adaptation
In order to create an effective adaptation of A Christmas Carol, you need to have several key bedrock elements that Charles Dickens himself laid out in his holiday masterwork. In particular, you need a long term problem that requires your subject to change their ways in order to solve. This problem is ultimately solved by the presence of three “ghosts,” which in the case of Iron Man 3 are far from deceased.
Most importantly, there are three important figures in Ebenezer Scrooge’s life you need to find equivalents for in order for your version of A Christmas Carol to carry any real stakes: Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchit and Scrooge’s long lost love, Belle. The keystone to all of this is that your flawed protagonist needs to make this journey at Christmastime and emerged a changed person.
Tony Stark’s Problems
After the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark has PTSD from the Battle of New York. Who can blame him, as the man almost died saving the world and saw some really weird stuff while doing it. As such, Tony’s become obsessed with his suits in Iron Man 3, and is finding it hard to be human at Christmas.
Throughout telling the story of Iron Man 3, Mr. Stark lays out a direct path from the antics of his wilder youth straight through to the present day Shane Black’s film depicts. And everything is about to come to a head, as specters of the past are going to influence his path to the future and everything that he holds dear. Cue the three figures in Tony’s life that start him on this path!
Jacob Marley – Ho Yinsen
In the framework of Iron Man 3’s story, just as Jacob Marley starts Scrooge on his path to change his ways, Ho Yinsen (Shaun Taub) is the ghost that serves as a reminder of Tony Stark’s troubled past. Seen via a flashback to that fateful New Year’s Eve party Tony attended in 1999, Yinsen was also the key to forcing Tony to change his ways.
As the two shared a cave as captives of The Ten Rings during the first Iron Man movie, Tony and Ho ultimately create Iron Man together, with Ho cluing Tony into the fact that his legacy as an arms manufacturer was doing the world more harm than good. Ho Yinsen wouldn’t make it out of that cave, and his presence at the beginning of Tony’s Iron Man 3 narrative is made all the more poignant, casting him as the Jacob Marley figure in this tale.
Bob Cratchit – Happy Hogan
With every would-be Ebenezer Scrooge, there’s the humble employee whose way of life is directly threatened by the boss’s actions. Iron Man 3 reveals the Bob Cratchit in the world of Tony Stark to be, unsurprisingly, loyal bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) as the Cratchit-like figure in this specific instance.
Happy definitely qualifies as Bob, and probably Tiny Tim Cratchit too, as the supposed terrorist attack on the Chinese Theater in Iron Man 3 leaves him in the hospital for the latter two-thirds of the film. Tony’s investigation into the activities of The Mandarin and his henchmen raises his profile among those who would do him harm, and Happy Hogan is the first potential casualty when things start to get serious.
Belle – Pepper Potts
In every variant of Ebenezer Scrooge's tale, there’s the love of his life that he lost at a crucial juncture in his live: the lovely Belle. Though, like most other aspects of Iron Man 3’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol, there’s an interesting twist in this factor, as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts hasn’t been lost just yet. However, their relationship is strained to a breaking point, with the ultimate choice being presented to Tony Stark: change his ways or sacrifice the woman he proclaims he can’t live without.
Another big difference is the increased danger factor, as Pepper is almost lost to the experimental drug known as Extremis. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) then forces Tony to make a choice between saving the President of the United States or an ailing Pepper Potts. Ultimately, it’s his obsession that saves Pepper, as Tony unleashes all of his suits to aid in rescuing both Pepper and President Ellis (William Sadler), and he destroys them afterwards as a gesture that he’s a changed man.
The Ghost of Tony Stark Past – Dr. Maya Hansen
Now we come to the next, and possibly most important factor: the Ghosts of Tony Stark’s life. The first is the Ghost of Tony Stark Past, which comes in the form of Iron Man 3’s Dr. Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall.) Previously a one night stand who Tony had hooked up with on New Year’s Eve 1999, Maya actually returns in Tony’s life just as things are starting to get stressful.
Much like the Ghost of Christmas Past, Dr. Hansen is a reminder of who Tony was up until Iron Man and Iron Man 2 put him on the path to becoming an Avenger. Much like Tony, Maya used her scientific abilities to aid some rather shade interests, compromising herself as “something pure, something exciting,” much like Tony did when he became the head of Stark Industries.
The Ghost of Tony Stark Present – Harley Keener
Acting as the Ghost of Tony Stark Present in Iron Man 3 is none other than young Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins). The boy who helps Tony confront his trauma, and to a certain extent is a reminder of that “something pure” he once was, Harley is a budding tech genius that reminds Tony of himself on his best days.
Grounding the story in the here and now, Harley’s youth and skills help Tony Stark in his darkest hour, and help him survive in a mostly suitless portion of his adventure. He has to rely on his brains, as well as his willingness to work with a teammate, and in the end Tony rewards Harley for his efforts with a tricked-out lab. While he didn’t know it at that time, Harley Keener’s gratitude for their time together in Iron Man 3 was something so strong, he’d eventually show up to Tony’s funeral in Avengers: Endgame.
The Ghost of Tony Stark Future – Aldrich Killian
We now arrive to the harshest of the ghosts in Tony Stark’s Christmas Carol journey: the ghost of Tony Stark Future. As such, this is a vision of what could have happened if Tony not hadn't changed his ways. And in the case of Aldrich Killian, he’s the man Tony totally could have become if he hadn’t gone through his entire hero’s journey.
Had Tony Stark continued to be a self-centered technical genius, with no one to care for or put him in check, he more than likely would have become just like the man he spurned at that fateful New Year’s party. Without the friendship of Happy Hogan or the love of Pepper Potts, Tony Stark would be free to further compromise his soul as an arms dealer, and ultimately his gifts would be used by both sides in a game of mutually assured destruction; with Tony counting his profits as a solitary man.
Tony Stark, A Changed Man
With Dr. Maya Hansen, Harley Keener and Aldrich Killian all representing Tony Stark’s past, present and potential future, Iron Man 3 ends with Tony destroying his extensive collection of suits in a light show that rivals the best Christmas display. Pledging himself as a changed man, Tony even the shrapnel removed from his chest, allowing him to be rid of the arc reactor he depended on to live.
Delivering a big monologue that sees him learning the lesson that he created his own demons, much as Ebenezer Scrooge created his own chains in the potential afterlife, Tony Stark learns that he was Iron Man without the suit all along. Happy Hogan recovers, Pepper Potts eventually becomes his wife, and at least until Avengers: Age of Ultron, he puts his anxieties to rest and lives a normal life.
At this point, all you’d need is for Happy to awaken in his hospital bed and say, “Stan bless us, everyone,” and you’d have a pretty spot on version of A Christmas Carol. As it stands though, in an unconventional, yet reasonably defined context, Iron Man 3 is definitely a Christmas movie that takes Ebenezer Scrooge’s traditional journey of soul searching, and puts it in one of Tony’s suits of super-powered armor.
Of course, as with any newly minted Christmas movie, you’re free to disagree and counter this argument with your own thoughts. In addition to adding this to your list of Christmas dinner table topics, please take the poll below, and don’t forget to leave some comments explaining why you feel the way that you do. Even better, you can watch Iron Man 3 again on Disney+, so as to help you build your case.