Transfiguring Adoption’s Overview:
Iron Man 3 (2013) takes place shortly after the events of The Avengers and is part of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). While it can be viewed as a standalone film and still be an enjoyable action flick, it will make the most sense to viewers who have seen (at the very least) the first two Iron Man movies as well as The Avengers. The recommended audience would be older teens and adults, though some younger teens/pre-teens would probably do okay with it. The violence, language, etc. are in line with a typical superhero or action movie.
In this movie we see Tony Stark dealing with the aftermath of fighting in The Battle of New York – not only the fallout from fighting in a warzone, but having to deal with the realization that aliens are a very real threat. We also see him in a committed relationship for the first time, and has a fear of not being able to protect her from these increasingly dangerous threats.
** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **
How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?
Iron Man 3 does not directly relate to foster care or adoption. However, though it’s not addressed in this movie and he is now an adult, Tony Stark did lose his parents suddenly when he was a teenager. That loss, and a theme of trying to live up to his father’s legacy impacts many of his choices and behavior which is something that children in care may relate to.
One concept in this movie that is particularly relevant is that Tony is dealing with severe anxiety and PTSD following the events of the previous film in the series, The Avengers, where he essentially fought a war in New York against Loki and an alien army. While Tony had been in war zones and other conflicts before he’d never experienced large-scale combat in quite the same was as he did in the Battle of New York and its effects are still very much impacting him. And seeing someone like Tony: a rich, strong, masculine, superhero dealing with panic attacks on screen goes an incredibly long way in normalizing those feelings and reactions that our kiddos are dealing with. He also struggles to trust others, something youth in care are likely able to relate to as well.
- Dealing with PTSD and Anxiety
Tony is dealing with severe anxiety and PTSD following the events of the previous film in the series, The Avengers. We see Tony have several panic attacks on screen that are triggered by others mentioning the battle or conversations around his ability to protect others. Seeing this strong, confident superhero character dealing with these issues is likely to be something that children who have been through trauma really relate to. This can be a great lead-in to talking about what triggers Tony’s attacks and how he deals with them and then translating that into how you can best help your kiddo(s) when they experience similar feelings. Something to bear in mind, however, is that panic attacks and anxiety symptoms can look different in one person from another so it may not be exactly the way your child experiences it. But it can still open a dialogue about how these feelings can be very crippling, that it can happen to anyone (even a superhero!) and how to develop strategies for how to work through them when they happen.
- Connecting Actions and Consequences
One of Tony’s inherent character flaws is that he acts rashly and doesn’t do a very good job of thinking through how his actions might impact those around him, or even his own future. One example of this we see is with Aldrich Killian. At the start of the movie, we see Tony treat him poorly at a party, something that turns out to have spawned years of hatred and a desire for revenge that we see play out years in the future. Later, in a fit of anger, Tony gives out his address on national television, daring The Mandarin terrorist to ‘come and find him’ not thinking through the ramifications of that, which results in his home being bombed while he and Pepper are inside and puts her in danger. It’s important to be careful here – while Tony did make mistakes we don’t want to fall into victim-blaming. The responsibility for these events is still on the people who carried them out. But it could be a great starting point for a discussion on the importance of thinking through decisions and the potential consequences of them, which is a skill many people who have experienced trauma struggle with. When you’re in constant survival mode, you don’t have time to plan ahead or think things through; acting quickly keeps you alive. So now that they are no longer in that constant struggle for survival, children need to practice building up their skills in this area.
- Emotional Regulation
This topic is only briefly touched on in the movie, but draws an interesting visual parallel that kids might find helpful. The Extremis serum that allows limb regeneration also has a component that reacts to a person’s emotions. When they are upset and lose control they literally explode – like a bomb going off. For many children who have PTSD or other trauma in their past, they may often feel like their own emotions are like a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. Seeing this visual representation might help them give language to that feeling and you can work together to start to identify the signals in their body that indicate an ‘explosion’ is coming and how to regulate and self-soothe to avoid that.
Tony makes a number of sexual innuendos throughout the movie. He also uses a fair amount of mildly foul language (and let’s be honest, most of the time Tony opens his mouth one or the other comes out). Most of the innuendo will go over younger children’s heads, however, as they are things like ‘going to town on you’ and ‘she’s going to need a cardiologist’.
There is a scene early on in the movie where Aldrich Kilian approaches Tony at a party and Tony tells him he will meet him shortly, though he has no intention of doing so. Aldrich is left waiting on the roof alone most of the night, on New Year’s Eve, no less. While this is something that is quickly brushed over, kiddos who have been in care are often familiar with feelings of rejection and feeling excluded and might relate to Aldrich and feel bothered by the way Tony, the hero, treats him.
- Scenes of Terrorism
We see several broadcasts and news coverage from ‘The Mandarin’ making demands of the United States government, and showing violence in what appear to be Middle-Eastern areas, talking about violence committed against women and children. These clips show machine guns being fired, explosions and fire. While the violent images are likely to be disturbing to all, this may be especially triggering to children who have been in war-zones or were fleeing violence, such as refugee and immigrant children or those who have been victims of terrorist attacks themselves.
- Anxiety Attacks
We first see this happen to Tony when he is autographing a drawing for a little girl and a few other times during the movie. These realistic portrayals of struggling to breathe and feeling out of control might be upsetting to watch, especially for children who have experienced such symptoms themselves.
- Unsupportive Family Member
There is a scene where Pepper is (understandably) frustrated by Tony’s workaholic tendencies. Tony opens up to her and explains that he is ‘a bit of a mess’; he isn’t sleeping and is having a lot of anxiety about what happened in New York. She initially reacts with understanding and love. However later, Tony has a nightmare and accidentally threatens Pepper with one of his suits when she tries to wake him up. He immediately apologizes and asks her to give him a minute to catch his breath but instead she snaps at him and says she is going to sleep downstairs. Now, I personally love Pepper Potts and having seen all the previous films, know that she puts up with a LOT from Tony as a partner, including an extremely self-destructive tendency that ends up putting himself and her in danger repeatedly. So, within the context of all that, her reaction here makes sense. It’s also important to remember that family members have their own feelings and needs and don’t have to put up with being mistreated just because a loved one is dealing with trauma or mental illness. However, if a child simply sees Tony open up about his anxiety and then to turn around in the very next scene and see him being rejected because of something he can’t control (anxiety, nightmares) it may be hard for them to process and upsetting to them. Especially if they have had a friend or family member reject them because of trauma or anxiety-related behaviors.
Those who are infected with Extremis will explode if they lose control of their emotions and the result is similar to a bomb being detonated: leveling buildings and injuring/killing people in the surrounding area. If children have experienced natural disasters involving fire, or been a victim or witness to a bombing or combat, these explosions might be especially triggering, beyond the fact that there is just violence/danger. Later, Tony’s home is attacked by missiles while he, Pepper and Maya are inside.
- Character Injury/Death
Happy, Tony’s best friend and head of security, is injured in an Extremis bombing. We see him rolled out on a stretcher and later hooked up to a ventilator and other machines in a hospital room. We also see a somewhat shaken Tony sitting in the room with him. While this scene is very brief, it may be upsetting for children who have dealt with their own hospitalization or the serious illness/injury of a loved one. Especially if that incident resulted in a bad outcome or death. Later, we also see Tony’s suit, JARVIS, malfunction and cease working. While JARVIS is technically artificial intelligence and not ‘real’, he is personified in a very real way and in many ways is Tony’s closest friend and confidant. When the suit malfunctions JARVIS says, “I think I need to sleep now” before powering down and Tony responds saying “don’t leave me.” This occurs while Tony is crash-landed in an unfamiliar place and already feeling very alone after Happy’s hospitalization and being separated from Pepper so he definitely responds to this as if it is a very real loss which may be upsetting (but thankfully JARVIS ends up being put back together and okay in the end!)Later, Maya is shot and killed by Aldrich after attempting to save Tony. Pepper falls into a fire from a great height and Tony briefly believes her to have died (she lives). But all of these incidents are in situations where Tony feels like he is at fault which contributes to the feelings of self-destruction, helplessness and anxiety he is experiencing.
- Self-destructive Behavior
Tony tends to react in very self-destructive ways when he is faced with stress or anger. While not a focus, we do sometimes see him tell JARVIS to skip certain safety checks in order to get something done faster. The big example in this movie is when, right after Happy’s injury, Tony gives out his home address on national television and tells the Mandarin to come and find him. While there are consequences to these actions Tony always ends up being okay in the end so it could send a message of glorifying or justifying this type of behavior, especially for kids who are already prone to this type or behavior.
There is a brief scene where Tony falls into the ocean after his home is attacked. He is wearing his Iron Man suit, however, and JARVIS is able to quickly get him out of the water, but the scene may be triggering for those who have experienced trauma in or around water.
This is a PG-13 action/superhero movie so there is inherently a fair amount of this. As listed in the above cautionary point, those with Extremis serum can explode causing bomb-like reactions. Tony’s home is attacked causing it to collapse. There are numerous scenes where characters shoot one another or threaten others with guns.
- Cavalier Reference to Parental Loss
When Tony first meets Harley, the young boy who helps repair JARVIS, Harley mentions that his dad left six years ago and never came back. Tony responds with “Dad’s leave. No need to be a p**sy about it.” If you know Tony, this statement is more of a defense mechanism, as he’s still bothered by the loss of his own father years earlier. But hearing the statement itself may be triggering and feel cold/callous for kids who have lost a parent, especially if they are still processing that loss.
Harley is taken hostage when he is trying to help Tony. He gets away again very quickly, but the scene may be triggering to children if they have been kidnapped or restrained in abusive situations before. Later, Pepper is taken by Maya and Aldrich, restrained and tortured with the Extremis serum as way to lure Tony in. Tony is also kidnapped and tied up in a basement with cable ties. War Machine is tied up with chains around his neck and tortured for his armor. If children have experienced abuse or situations where they were confined, restrained, etc. these scenes may bring up bad memories for them.
- References to Suicide
One of the ‘accidental explosions’ caused by Extremis gone wrong was explained by the media as a suicide bomber. This is mentioned in several scenes. Later Aldrich references a time when the thought about ‘taking a one-step shortcut to the lobby’ alluding to some suicidal ideation. Maya threatens to kill herself to keep Aldrich from using her to further his agenda. These are all brief, but might be triggering for those who are having or have had suicidal thoughts and feelings.
About the Author: Jenn Ehlers
Jenn is a central Virginia native who received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2012. Since then she has worked for a local mental health agency and the Department of Social Services in various capacities and has been involved in her community’s efforts to create a Trauma Informed Network. Currently Jenn works in vocational rehab and mentors youth in foster care. When she isn’t working, Jenn enjoys writing stories, anything and everything Harry Potter, and spending time with her niece and nephew.
**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.