‘Iron Man 3’ Burning Questions: What Is ‘Westworld’? How Does Extremis Work? And What’s Next for Tony Stark?

We had more questions leaving the theater after seeing Iron Man 3 than Tony Stark has mechanical suits. Some just can’t be answered. Like, how did Guy Pearce‘s Aldrich Killian get the funding to fuel and equip a fleet of helicopters, commandeer a shipyard, stage faux terrorist attacks, and maintain a Miami pleasure palace? Wasn’t the fact that he didn’t get funding from Tony Stark a catalyst for his vendetta? And why the heck didn’t Marvel decide to make Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts their first female superhero? We’re not even going to attempt to tackle those particular headscratchers. Luckily, there are still eight juicy questions we very much can answer. Consider this your obligatory SPOILER warning, because we’re taking on major plot points from Iron Man 3, including the ending and the future of the franchise.

1. How Does Extremis Work Exactly? Considering just how central it is to the plot and its primary villains, it’s a little disappointing how nebulous a concept “Extremis” really is. The idea was introduced by comics author Warren Ellis in his 2005 Iron Man: Extremis series, the Iron Man story that’s credited in large part for reviving interest in the character and establishing the aesthetic template of the three movies. In that comic, as in in Iron Man 3, frustrated bioengineers Aldrich Killian (Pearce) and Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) developed a medical treatment, involving injections that would require the test subject to be strapped-down Frankenstein-style, to “hack” into an individual’s Body Recovery Center in the grey matter of the brain and artificially increase the body’s rate of repair following incurred traumas. Theoretically, it could render the test subject invulnerable to any harm, much like a synthetically-induced version of Wolverine’s rapid-healing mutation. (A shame that Fox has the rights to the X-Men property or that connection could have been made explicit.)

However, Extremis proved extremis-ly dangerous and not every test subject was capable of withstanding the transformation it offered. Some apparently just exploded, and so, in the movie, Killian and Hansen tried to deflect attention away from the faultiness of their product by creating a fictional terrorist, the Mandarin, who would assume responsibility for the blasts. Extremis is pretty conceptual and its logic isn’t entirely consistent. There doesn’t seem to be a formula for why some people adapt to it and others so violently reject it. Not to mention there’s no explanation whatsoever for why it allows Killian to breathe fire.

Credit: MGM

2. What Is Westworld and Why Did Tony Stark Make a Joke About It?  Westworld was a 1973 thriller written and directed by Jurassic Park scribe Michael Crichton and starring Yul Brynner. It was about a dystopian amusement park geared for adults in which visitors are menaced by animatronic cowboys. So when Tony Stark called one of Killian’s henchmen “Westworld” he was basically saying that he found that guy to be wooden and personality-lacking, yet indestructibly formidable as an opponent.

3. How Is It That Robert Downey Jr. and Guy Pearce Are So Incredibly Buff? The answer is pretty simple. They don’t just train for each individual movie they’re in, but rather they maintain a high level of physical fitness at all times. (Or maybe those green health shakes Tony Stark is always drinking in the movies have something to do with it.) Pearce actually entered bodybuilding competitions as a teen. “I was quite a thin kid, so if I put on any muscle, you can see it…I entered [a bodybuilding competition] and I won,” Pearce told Muscle Works Magazine. “I don’t think I would’ve really followed a bodybuilding path. But I was actually fascinated in a creative way, the fact that you can change the shape of your muscle was fascinating to me; it was like sculpture.” Hence why Pearce has amazing definition in almost every movie he’s been in since LA Confidential.  

4. What Was Up With That Christmas Story Reference? Iron Man 3 executive producer and director emeritus Jon Favreau (who played the mostly comatose Happy Hogan in the movie, and directed the previous two films) was childhood friends with Christmas Story star Peter Billingsley. When Tony Stark turns to a bespectacled kid and says, “I loved you in Christmas Story,” they’re just making a family joke. In fact, Billingsley even served as a producer on 2008’s Iron Man and had a cameo in the film. Since much of Iron Man 3 was set at the holidays, what better time to include a Christmas Story hat-tip to his friend? 

By the way, in case you were wondering, that version of “Jingle Bells” that Tony Stark danced to while first summoning his Mk. 42 Iron Man suit was the Bombay Dub Orchestra’s Remix of Joe Williams’ bluesy take on the carol.

Credit: PBS

5. What Episode of Downton Abbey Was Jon Favreau’s Happy Watching? By our reckoning this was Episode 4 from Season 2 when the Irish-revolutionary chaffeur, Branson, redeclared his love for Lady Sybil, then working as a nurse in the final months of World War I. Who knew Happy was such a romantic?

6. How Did They Shoot Iron Man‘s Aerial Rescue?  Think that scene of Air Force One‘s passengers getting sucked into the stratosphere was all CGI? Think again. Stunt performers trained in skydiving actually jumped out of a plane to simulate the freefall, except that, unlike their characters, they actually were wearing parachutes. Multiple parajumpers, like stuntwoman Sarah Farooqui, who was the first person Iron Man plucked out of the sky, jumped at once and attempted to link arms Barrel-of-Monkeys-style in the sky above Oak Island, North Carolina, which subbed for Miami.

7. How Many Different Accents Has Ben Kingsley Had In His Career? Just keeping it limited to his movie career, Kingsley has demonstrated at least 10 different accents: Indian (Gandhi/The Love Guru), Arabic (Harem), Russian (Testimony), Yiddish (Bugsy), German Jewish (Schinder’s List), Italian (Parting Shots), Iranian/Persian (House of Sand and Fog/Prince of Persia), French (Hugo), Cockney (Iron Man 3), Baptist Preacher (Iron Man 3). And the last two are while playing the same character!

Credit: Marvel

8. What Is the Future of the Franchise? As of right now, there isn’t an Iron Man 4 in the works. It makes sense, really. Iron Man 3 wrapped up Tony Stark’s four-film arc (including The Avengers) pretty neatly, with him accepting the transformation of his values that had come with being Iron Man while rejecting the idea of being a superhero because of how it endangers his loved ones. He blew up his suits, finally had that shrapnel removed from his chest cavity, and seemed poised to embrace the good life.

But don’t expect to see Tony Stark out of the suit for too long. In an interview with SuperHeroHype, Marvel Studios Head of Production Kevin Feige said, “We’re not developing Iron Man 4. Currently, as you may imagine, Iron Man is a big part of Avengers 2 and that’s what we’re focusing on and what Joss (Whedon) is focusing on. So where we go after that remains to be seen, but certainly, Avengers 2 being the next appearance, the next storyline for Iron Man. Do I think there will be another Iron Man movie? Of course I do. Who will be in that movie and who will be a part of that movie? Who knows? And how far down the line will it be? Will it be right after Avengers 2, will it be a few years after Avengers 2? Who knows?”

Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt

What Was Up With that ‘Iron Man 3’ Post-Credits Scene?
Between ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘Avengers 2’ Should Newbies Even Bother With the Marvel Movies?
Marvel Screwed Up By Not Making Gwyneth Paltrow in ‘Iron Man 3’ Their First Female Superhero
‘Iron Man 3’ Is Marvel’s First True Action Comedu

From Our Partners:
What Happened to 33 Child Stars (Celebuzz)
40 Most Revealing See-Through Red Carpet Looks (Vh1)