Be warned: Extremely minor spoilers for Iron Man 3. No spoiler warning for Avengers. That was last year. You should have seen it already.
So, here in the United States, Iron Man 3 was released last night. Being the nerd that I am, my wife and I saw one of the first showings. The revenue was already over $307.7 million in international sales, so I was pretty sure it was going to be a good movie as I went in. Much like everyone else in the theater, I enjoyed the effects, the humor, the twist and the finale, but what stuck out to me as the most memorable part of the story was the establishment of Tony Stark's character in the beginning of the film.
"Everything's changed since New York", is one of the first things we hear Tony say in the Iron Man 3 trailer, referencing the events of The Avengers. "I can't sleep" is another line in the same trailer. From these few lines, we can already tell that the events in New York left something with Tony, or rather, took something away. The Avengers brought aliens, gods and monsters to Earth. Tony Stark, for all his genius, is still a man in an iron suit. Compare that to Thor, The Hulk, and Loki (not so much to Hawk-Eye and Black Widow), and you can see how Tony Stark has developed a complex, anxiety attacks, and a sort of PTSD, in the first act of Iron Man 3.
Here's a guy that, no matter what he can create, is already somewhat out of his league, and the range of villains he has to fight went from a quite literal hostile takeover in Iron Man 1, weapons manufacturer and another mechanical genius in Iron Man 2, to a race of aliens and gods in Avengers. The stakes suddenly surpassed him, and no matter how smart he is, Tony isn't a god.
So what does he do? In Tony Stark fashion, he overcompensates. At the end of Avengers, he's using the the Mark VII armor. At the beginning of Iron Man 3, he's just finishing up the Mark 42. So, Stark has built, (almost obsessively) 35 suits of armor between Avengers and Iron Man 3, to compensate for the fact that for once, just being Tony Stark may not be good enough to protect who he loves.
No matter what the cause of the anxiety attacks, Downey Jr plays the part well. As someone who used to get anxiety attacks for a period in my life, there was an odd familiarity with Stark losing his cool, not being able to breathe, and needing to escape. So why did I like this aspect of the film the most? The Iron Man franchise asks you to suspend quite a large amount of disbelief as it is, but this brings something very human to the table.
This is what made the most impact on me. Tony Stark is human, and while he still wears multiple suits of armor, the events of The Avengers left him somewhat psychologically wounded, or at the very least, bruised. And like anyone who has suffered psychological bruises knows, even a suit of armor can't protect you from yourself.