If you're a nerd like me, you have expectations for Marvel movie post-credit scenes. This makes the cap of Iron Man 3 rather peculiar. After two hours of sardonic '90s-style action that blows us back into our seats, Marvel fans know to stick around and silently pay respects to the eight billion visual effects artists who brought the whole thing to life, and to catch a thrust of fandom that ends the geek fest on a high note. We do get that in Iron Man 3 — but not in a way that lines up with the past. Change, in this case, is unsettling.
When Marvel Studios went independent and produced 2008's Iron Man, they made a bold move. After two hours of Robert Downey Jr. owning the character and a frenzy of comic book action, they set the tracks for an endless future of Marvel movies. Sam Jackson dropped the ultimate fan service bomb: "I'm here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative."
Since then, every Marvel movie has boasted a post-credits cap that pushed the story forward. The Incredible Hulk tied Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark into the universe; Iron Man 2 saw the discovery of Thor's hammer, Mjolnir; Loki returned after the credits rolled on Thor; Captain America served up a direct Avengers lead in; and The Avengers itself threw in an out-of-nowhere glance at a fan favorite villain: Thanos, the big, purple, scary dude. We also saw the gang grab a quick post-Battle of New York bite at a local shawarma joint. A nice dash of Joss Whedon humor.
Now we have Iron Man 3, which knowingly passes on teasing the upcoming Thor: The Dark World or Captain America: The Winter Soldier in favor of pairing Tony Stark with his Avengers sparring partner, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Turns out, all that neo-noir voiceover we were hearing throughout the film? That's Stark's couch session with Banner, who reluctantly hears him out despite not having any background in psychology.
Early rumors suggested that the movie would be our first introduction to the world of Marvel's August 2014 film Guardians of the Galaxy. A particular armor design had fans wondering if Stark may leave Earth at the tail end of the film, flying off into space to confront Thanos. Or as savvy comic book readers speculated, cross paths with the Guardians.
But that didn't happen. Instead, we got something like the shawarma gag. The Stark/Banner therapy session is played mostly for laughs, and the "Hey, I remember him from Avengers!" factor. On a story level, it's perfect. Writer/director Shane Black has always embraced the voiceover technique in his past work, most prominently used in his previous Downey Jr. collaboration Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. In Iron Man 3, it's given a purpose. For Marvel fans, the Ruffalo cameo is enough to elicit a laugh. But in true Black fashion, it also works on a second level as a self-referential dig at the screenwriter's body of work.
Sticking with a short burst of comedy might be Marvel's way of reeling in the world-building. After the success of the Sam Jackson/Nick Fury Iron Man bumper, Iron Man 2 spiraled out of control with Avengers build up. Utilizing established characters in the Iron Man 3 bumper reels in the mythology expansion and keeps anticipation tempered. The Marvel Movie Universe is becoming more and more complicated with every installment. To make it digestible to casual fans (and avoid any false promises that they can't keep to watchful comic book obsessives), they need to be smart with the post-credit scenes.
Whether Marvel shot themselves in the foot by setting a precedent or separated themselves from the pack with a unique hook, every Marvel movie until the end of time will have an after-credits scene. As the beginning of "Phase Two," Iron Man 3 departs from the beaten path.
Was it for better or worse?
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches