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Five essential tech lessons I learned from 'Iron Man 3'

Jason Snell | May 9, 2013
Marvel's latest superhero opus, Iron Man 3, opened in the U.S. this past weekend. I liked it, and thought its first 90 minutes were better than its climax, but because this is a tech site, I'll keep my movie criticism to a minimum. Instead, here's a list of some of the most interesting technology takeaways that I gleaned from my glimpse into Tony Stark's high-tech playground. (Warning: There are some spoilers ahead, but I've avoided the biggest ones.)

You're a handsome billionaire. You've got some awesome suits of armor. And you've also got JARVIS, an artificial intelligence who speaks with the educated English voice of Paul Bettany. (You may remember Bettany as the man who played another talented guy's imaginary friend.) So if you're Tony Stark, why put yourself at risk at all?

In Iron Man 3, we see that while Tony sometimes takes command of his suits himself, he can also let JARVIS do the work--without Tony inside at all. In the film, this serves the purpose of getting Robert Downey Jr. out of the suit and forcing Tony into situations that would seem much less dangerous if he was packing Iron Man's heat.

But there's a larger point here, too; Computers exist to serve us, though sometimes it feels like it's the opposite. The whole point is that technology should be working for us. We send robots to other planets. We use them to defuse bombs. Why wouldn't Tony Stark let JARVIS and his suits do the work for him?

Let's strike a cautionary note: You can't let the tech do everything for you, as Tony learns when he sends a suit of armor to welcome Pepper Potts back home after a hard day at the office. Bad move, Tony. Some events require a personal touch.

The Mechanic beats the playboy

When Tony Stark ends up in Tennessee with his armor's power drained, he breaks into a workshop that's guarded by Harley, a 10-year-old boy. Tony doesn't connect with the kid by telling him about being Iron Man--in fact, he's so scarred from his experiences in The Avengers that he's having panic attacks. Instead, he explains to Harley that he's just a mechanic.

It's easy to focus on Tony Stark and see the glamor, the billions of dollars, the cliffside Malibu retreat (oops). And the suggestion all long in this film series is that Tony, when he's at his worst, focuses on those things too.

But this film never lets us forget that, at his heart, Tony Stark is an engineer. When he's in his darkest days at the beginning of Iron Man 3, where does he retreat for comfort? He goes into his workshop and "tinkers." The act of creation, of engineering, is where he truly finds comfort--not drinking or socializing or (problematically) spending time with the woman he loves.

Granted, this also points out that Tony has a bit of an addictive personality and (like many geeks) can kind of overdo it with whatever his current enthusiasm happens to be. It also says something about who the real Tony Stark is. And that's why he signs his final note to Harley at the end of the movie, "The Mechanic." That's the real Tony Stark.


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