Since X-Men and Spider-Man launched the millennium of superheroes, there’s been an unspoken cap that all movies conclude in a trilogy.
Hot off an invincible opening weekend for Iron Man 3, a new installment in the Iron Man series might be the first to challenge the rule of 3.
The Superhero Trilogy Rule
The trilogy tone may actually have been set by The Lord of the Rings, which kicked off the 2000s by shattering money-making and attendance records in three parts.
Of course, in the case of LOTR, the films are based on an actual trilogy of books. There’s a pretty clearly defined reason for the triumvirate; namely that the story has been told in full by the end of book 3.
As De La Soul would attest, though, 3 has always been a magic number.
There are 3 Star Wars movies (and then 3 again). There are 3 Godfathers (sort of). More recently, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movies (apparently) concluded with movie number three. Even Toy Story, one of the all-time standalone greats, came back for round three.
There is always the rare breed of Rocky or Die Hard that continues a series past the three-spot, but that’s an uncommon move, generally defined by the law of diminishing returns.
With superhero movies to date, there has rarely been a situation where a fourth part actually made any fiscal, critical, or emotional sense.
Both Spider-Man 3 and X-Men 3: The Last Stand completely jumped the shark in the final installment, tarnishing any of the goodwill needed to create demand for a part four. In fact, both concluding statements were so poorly executed that the rights-holders decided the only way to carry on would be through a reboot. They were right.
The first possible exception to this rule before now would have been The Dark Knight series. The story-telling makes this unlikely, but if Christopher Nolan came to a comic con with the news that they’d be telling a Batman Beyond style part four, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the reaction wouldn’t be groans and hisses.
Barring that unforeseen and highly unlikely Bat-news, Iron Man 4 might be the best case for a part four that we’ll ever see.
The Case for Iron Man 4
At the rate the film is making money, another Iron Man movie sounds like the most prudent move in the world. It’s incredible when you look back on the state of Iron Man, superhero movies, and Robert Downey Jr in 2008, but Iron Man has become the single most dependable asset in Marvel’s cinematic arsenal. Even Spider-Man looks up to boss-man Tony.
More importantly, Iron Man 3 is a really good movie!
This is really the most relevant argument for an Iron Man 4. Could director Shane Black, Robert Downey Jr, and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige make an argument that Iron Man 3 is the final part of Tony Stark’s story? Yes. But given that we know Iron Man will play a central role in 2015’s Avengers 2, the notion that Tony is off living happily ever after somewhere for the rest of his days just doesn’t hold water.
And again, Iron Man 3 tells a great story! As a movie, it’s a great example of adapting comic book source material into a unique standalone achievement on screen.
As a fan, I have loads of confidence that this cast and crew could pull off a similarly entertaining part 4, and actually I have some very specific thoughts on how it could resolve the developments of Iron Man 3 in a way that relieves a lot of disappointed comic book fans. Spoiler-y spoilers follow, so avoid if you have not seen!
The Mandarin twist in Iron Man 3 was incredibly audacious. This is the type of bold fade from the source material that could completely derail a movie for comic book fans.
What?! They ruined the Mandarin! I’ve been waiting years for a Mandarin and movie and they ruined it! Where are my magical rings!
Amazingly – the move actually worked. Within the Marvel cinematic universe, I was willing to let the film take this liberty, which is a HUGE credit to producer Kevin Feige and director Shane Black. This move does not work if it’s a bad movie. It just doesn’t.
That said, I still feel a twinge of disappointment that the Mandarin was not who we thought he was. There’s really only way to rectify this.
That’s right. Iron Man 4 goes full on Keyser Soze.
For those of you who haven’t seen The Usual Suspects, I won’t ruin what this means. For everyone else, it would be the ultimate Iron Man 4 move, giving us the Mandarin and ten rings we crave.
The Case Against Iron Man 4
The strongest case against Iron Man 4 is simply Marvel’s current movie lineup. They have a boatload of films in production for both Phase 2 and Phase 3, and Iron Man 4 has not been slotted into either.
Now, since the production is totally controlled by Marvel Studios, it seems like they could (potentially) slot in an Iron Man 4 on a whim. Take these fake posters and estimated release dates with a grain of salt, but this Reddited Marvel movie timeline shows a full slate of films.
That said, there definitely won’t be an Iron Man 4 until after Avengers 2, scheduled for release in 2015.
This means we’d either be looking at late 2015, or 2016 for a release of Iron Man 4.
This is essentially the same waiting period between Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3, but it would also mean that Robert Downey Jr remained interested in playing Tony Stark for at least 8 years. The role’s been good to him, and he clearly owns the character, but it remains to be seen if that’s a commitment he’d want to make at 50 years old. As well as a commitment Marvel/Disney would want to make to the star whose negotiating power has never been higher.
Those are the major concerns, and unfortunately they have a lot more to do with contracts and Hollywood bureaucracy than anything.
Some others have made a compelling case that Iron Man 3 is simply the logical resting place for Tony Stark and the Iron Man armor.
Again, the inclusion of Iron Man in Avengers 2 deflates this argument for me. Unless Stark is simply included as a liaison, or consultant of some sort, we’ll be seeing Iron Man armor, and we’ll be seeing Tony Stark inside.
So what do you think? Good odds we’ll see an Iron Man 4? If so, what are you looking for in the story? Or is there no way in Mephisto’s Hell this happens and we should enjoy another trilogy for what it is? Do what feels right to you in the comments.