Friday, May 17, 2013

Season Of Terror: Iron Man 3 & the Sand Creek Massacre

Problem solving.
The difference between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is how they see problems, solve problems and what they do with it. Killian has a great idea in developing Extremis to aide those with severed limbs and regenerate damaged tissue; it's the way Killian intends to employ this knowledge for his own gain which presents the problem; like GI Joe: Rise Of Cobra (2009), Shane Black's Iron Man 3 examines the threat of one-world rule through monopoly on creating and fighting war and the ability of regeneration (GI Joe incorporates nanotech while Iron Man 3 uses viruses, which we will also be seeing in The Wolverine with Hugh Jackman). Tony Stark has grown, matured, suffered and won, and he accomplishes this primarily through game theory. As always, this post contains spoilers so, if you haven't seen it and you want to be surprised, please, stop reading now and come back when you are ready. 
So, is there no originality in Iron Man 3 since it borrows such important themes from GI Joe: Rise Of Cobra? No, that's not what that means. "Originality," as most people think of it, including the critic of the New York Times, is highly overrated. It's far more productive for films and viewers when film makers build off what other film makers have previously said--even just validating it with reminding viewers of important lessons because it creates a consensus and consensus creates unity. The next time we are scheduled to see Tony Stark/Iron Man is The Avengers 2; after that, what is being described as Phase 3, it is possible there will be an Iron Man 4. On a different note, in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, we learned that Tony doesn't like to be "handed things" and we have surmised it's because Tony has been "handed things" all his life: his fortune, his mansion, Stark Industries and MIT education, but the Iron Man weapon Tony created with his "own hands" and why he doesn't want to "hand it over" to the government. This conflict doesn't exist in Iron Man 3 and that signals how Tony has grown out of this psychological pit; another sign of Tony's maturity is in knowing and caring that Harley is bullied at school. Recall, if you will, in Iron Man 2 that Tony bought Pepper a whole flat of strawberries; Tony was very impressed with himself that he remembered there was something about strawberries with Pepper, even though it was that she's allergic to them. That episode demonstrated two things: first, Tony was trying, but two, he had a really, really long ways to go in building bonds and connecting with others by pulling himself out of his state of conceit. When he meets Harley, Tony asks him, "What's his name?... The name of the kid who bullies you at school?" Such a demonstration of "putting himself in Harley's shoes" could only be possible if Tony has rid himself of the conceit and self-centeredness he was so famous for in earlier shows (even The Avengers). This is further substantiated by Tony being at Happy Hogan's bedside when he has a coma and having Downton Abbey playing on TV to comfort Hogan in spite of Hogan not being able to "enjoy it," because Tony knows Hogan will come out of the coma and he wants something Hogan loves (Downton Abbey) to be there when he wakes up; Tony could not have anticipated such needs in Harley and Hogan if he wasn't maturing and growing as a person (more on both these subjects below).
Game theory provides many philosophical outlets, however it's when it's set in the context of "play" that we can understand Iron Man 3. "Games" are characterized by a certain set of rules; in a game of basketball, for example, since the rules require a team to get the ball into the basket of the other team, players who are tall hold an advantage over players who are short, being that they are closer to the basket; a team with shorter players, in order to win, must figure out a way to make loopholes in the rules, or interpret their own advantages, in a way that they can maximize their potential to have a chance at winning (this is "play," or the absence of rules); causing the taller team to commit fouls to increase the free throw advantage is one strategy demonstrating "play" (play and re-inventing baseball is the foundation of the Brad Pitt film Moneyball). Tony Stark appears to be a genius with a fabulous garage for making things, but when all these things are taken away from him (as we saw in Iron Man when he was a hostage in the cave in Afghanistan) he relies on his wits to use what resources he has available to maximize his potential in the game his enemies create for him.
But it's not that easy,...
We discover at the end, in the post credits scene, that the entire story we have been given is strictly from Tony's perspective as he relates it to a sleeping Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, the Hulk in The Avengers). The scene is imperative for a number of reasons. One, we know that the narrative of the film is how Tony sees himself, not the film makers, or fans, or his enemies, but Tony seeing Tony Stark, his anxiety, his relationship with Harley and Pepper, what happens to Happy Hogan and why Tony does the tings he does. This is important when we remember the scene with Gary with the van of TV equipment who helps Tony get the power he needs to search Mandarin's file. Gary worships Tony and has a tattoo of Tony's face on his forearm; why? Is this purely for comic relief? No, remember, we are seeing Tony through this narrative as Tony sees himself, so now--with Gary--we have an outside perspective because we are very much like Gary (if we didn't like Iron Man and Tony Stark, we wouldn't go see the film, right?). The image of Tony on Gary's arm is the image we have of Tony in our own minds: idealized and idolized. It's awkward for Tony because he has arrived at a position of maturity to know that he "doesn't look like that," he's not worthy to be idolized, because he has faults and he sees himself in a truer, more accurate light than he did in Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. What Tony experiences, however, is real love from someone he doesn't know. Break: towards the end, Killian tells Tony he could have made Pepper perfect, and Tony retaliates that Pepper was all ready perfect; Gary, with his tacky, kitschy tattoo tells Tony that he thinks Tony is perfect to him, because only the power of love--the greatest force in the world--has the strength to overlook and forgive the faults in the other person, in this case Gary forgiving Tony his faults to see only his good qualities, that is what we the audience have done with Tony (it's easier to do because Tony suffers and goes through conversion processes, overcoming his really bad traits) and Tony becomes a source of strength for us, a hero (that's why Tony's tattoo is on Gary's arm, arms symbolize our strength, and Tony's example has "strengthened" Gary). Who else has a tattoo in the film? Killian who has dragons on his body. We will discuss this more thoroughly below, however, we do know from other art, like Reign Of Fire, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Beasts Of the Southern Wild (the "lizard" was the alligator), the music group's name Imagine Dragons, the upcoming Godzilla film (Godzilla is just a big, walking lizard, and he was referenced in The Amazing Spider Man and there was a giant lizard in Journey 2: the Mysterious Island) and The Hobbit: Desolation Of Smaug, that dragons symbolize the ancient, unnatural adversary the devil (a morphing on the serpent in the Garden Of Eden; it's also possible there will be a dragon in next summer's release of Maleficent with Angelina Jolie if Maleficent turns into a dragon at the end as she does in the animated version; on a totally different but equally important note, we can't ignore that the dragon is the traditional symbol of China); given the film takes place during the religious holiday of Christmas, and there is an enormous symbol of Easter in the giant bunny as well (please recall that we see both symbols of Christmas and Easter in Rise Of the Guardians; more on this topic below, and, please don't forget that the name of the weapon being demonstrated in the first Iron Man was called Jericho after the Biblical story of the falling of the walls of Jericho), that the "devil" would appear as the "mark of the beast" on a man breathing fire (more on that below as well) is not a stretch; in other words, either we can be marked with the sign of a hero like Tony who now upholds love, friendship and country as his defining characteristics, or we can be marked with the beast of the dragon like Killian and be consumed with only our self; the choice is ours.
There is Tony's long-term creativity that aides him like Tony realizing he needed to make multiple Iron Man suits with different capabilities, remotely activated and remotely controlled; these examples all illustrate Tony's understanding of what is necessary to have an advantage when he doesn't have the advantage, and realizing there are times he won't have the advantage is a sign of humility many of us might not have expected from Tony Stark a few years ago. Putting dog tags in the microwave and turning on the gas to create the explosion, going to the hardware store and creating fertilizer bombs from Christmas ornaments, seeing past the kitschy, little-girl oriented facade of the digital watch to stripping it down to its essence and still being able to use it for a timer to have his suit find him, all demonstrate Tony's "Macgyver-esque" solutions to battling the evil facing him and the world in Killian, and why is this important?
For at least two reasons.
Let's take a moment for psychoanalysis. A perfect example of art making the intangible, tangible. We think Tony is in the suit when Pepper comes home because he's interacting with her, but it's not until Pepper goes down into Tony's garage that she (and we) realizes she has only been talking to him "remotely" (you can view a clip of the scene here); the suit being there symbolizes Tony's own facade indicating he's there, but not there, (what we will hear Trevor--Ben Kingsley--say of the Mandarin) in other words, we could say Tony is on auto-pilot when he talks to people (and, also remember, all this is being related to us by Tony as he relates it to Dr. Banner via the post-credits scene). We could say the same is true even in the post-credits scene because Tony has only been describing the events--not really how he felt or how events effected him, so even when Tony thinks he's emptying his soul to Banner, he's just giving the facade we are used to; Tony IS improving, don't get me wrong, but Tony on the couch talking to Banner is more like accomplishing the first step; next, Tony needs to learn to reflect on what an event has done to him, instead of just saying that he experienced the event, like what happened in New York. Just as we are "seeing Iron Man" the suit, we are not seeing the man who makes the suit, the same way in which we see the Mandarin but we don't see the real terrorist Killian. Such a dichotomy reveals deeper villainy within--even villainy we ourselves could be accused of (like when we only pretend to be listening to someone we really don't care to listen to; I am certainly guilty of this)--because Tony is not participating in the "act of love" of welcoming Pepper home, he's tinkering instead, and so, in Killian's words, Tony is becoming anonymous by having his suit there but he's not, the way Killian becomes anonymous by having the Mandarin make threats while he stays in the background; such a structuring in the relationship between hero and villain deepens our understanding of both, but also our very self: we might not go around killing people like Killian, but if we aren't "present" with others when we are supposed to be--like Tony not being present when Pepper got home (and we should consider the word play on "present" as in "being there" and the "present" as in the "gift of the rabbit that Tony made such a big deal about, but Pepper made a big deal about Tony not being "present" when she thought she was talking to him--then we, too, have committed this "crime" because our "presence" is the "present" to those who love us and need to know we love them [and this definitely came through in the father-son relationship in A Good Day To Die Hard]). What takes place in this scene pictured above is probably the reason why, when Pepper is hanging and about to fall to her death, Tony tells her, "You've got to let go. I'll catch you, I promise," but he can't reach her and she falls. Now, we have all seen, in other films, the impossible rescue of the hero pulling up the victim on a hanging cliff, or just in time before they are smashed, etc., etc., and there is a reason for this: it's not that superheroes are like video games in always getting extra lives, rather, it's that video games are apt reflections on the progress of the soul, and when the soul has survived temptations and battles, it becomes stronger and as it becomes stronger it can survive greater threats; as the soul becomes stronger, it is then capable of saving other souls, and this is the model upon which the vast majority of hero films are based. Tony can't reach Pepper because he didn't do the little things like wait to have dinner with her, be there to welcome her when she got home; he didn't perform the little "labors" of love that would have strengthened him so he could--emotionally and psychologically--have reached her when she needed him the most. Tony is right about protecting the one thing he can't live without, but his strategy, we could say, wasn't complete on how to accomplish that.
For one thing, it demonstrates how America has grown as a country; consider in Oz the Great and Powerful how Glinda and Oscar employ the poppy field to put the flying monkeys to sleep and so neutralize any advantage the wicked witches had over them; that is something that doesn't exist in the original 1939 version of The Wizard Of Oz. Likewise, in Iron Man 3, Tony doesn't rely on just brute strength the way Killian does in his Extremis soldiers (who can't defeat the army of Iron Man suits Tony has built, so they are out-strengthened). Two, finding the "creative approach" to a problem keeps Tony's mind strong yet agile--the reason he can figure out the problem to Maya's (Rebecca Hall) equation on DNA regeneration that has a self-destructive glitch even while he's drunk from the 1999 New Years party--and that makes him intellectually superior to all others. These are imperative qualities that have been attached to Tony because what is true of Tony Stark, we can say is true of America: if we rest on the advantage we gain from the rules of international political games we are in trouble, and that is the foundation of the Mandarin being able to fight against America (more on this below on terrorist).
Why does Tony get Pepper a custom-sized rabbit for Christmas? Where else have we seen a large rabbit recently? Silent Hill Revelation. Just as a decorated tree invokes Christmas (and it is Christmas time in the film, there is a lighted Christmas tree in the background of this image above), so a rabbit invokes Easter. How does that fit in? Christmas is the birth of Christ, and Easter is the Resurrection, or the rebirth, of Christ and there is the theme of resurrection and false resurrection throughout the film (rather like what we will be seeing in upcoming zombie films): there is the "false resurrection" of the Extremis fighters (taking hits and sustaining injuries that would kill anyone else and then coming back for more and more and more) and then there is the resurrection of Tony Stark at the end when he has a human heart once more and can ditch the arc-reactor which has been in his chest keeping the shrapnel out of his heart (so Tony is fully human once more) but there are also two resurrections for Pepper. The first time she is resurrected is after her 200 foot fall into the fiery inferno, and--because of the Extremis treatment she was forced to receive--she survives; secondly, Pepper survives--like Tony--the treatment to undo the Extremis procedure (which could have killed her). We can further say that both Maya and Killian are "resurrected" from the 1999 New Year's Eve party in Bern and show up at a time Tony wasn't expecting (his demons, but also his angel, because this is also the night Tony meets Ho Yinsen [Shaun Toub] who saves him in the cave in Afghanistan with hooking him up to the car battery, and this is a connection also "resurrected" from Iron Man). The events of The Avengers and the battle for New York are constantly resurrected throughout the film, much to Tony's regret (more on that below). It's not surprising that Pepper doesn't like/want the giant bunny: no one wants to be resurrected (in the Christian sense) because we don't want to die and face the suffering we are called to face (Pepper would prefer, like most of us, that life continue on a nice, predictable, secure path, rather than be throw into the plot of a madman) this is why Pepper packs their bags to leave town when Tony has threatened the Mandarin: "This is what normal people do," she tells Tony, but Tony has ceased to be "normal," or--to employ a different, but more precise word--"mediocre." Tony Stark is a super-hero, not a mediocrity, nor a "normal" person, hence he knows he can't run or leave town because he has to face the Mandarin because he is the only one who has the strength and skills to do it. This is why the Iron Man remote suit threatens Pepper when they are in bed sleeping and Tony experiences nightmares: Pepper is a threat to Tony (more on this in the next caption).
Yet there is another issue at stake: Tony stays alive and expounds his full potential (a theme for Killian and one we also see in Pain and Gain) through the creative outlet of "play" but Tony also has to learn the rules of the game in order to win, excelling at play isn't enough. Remember the brash and arrogant, self-centered and conceited Tony from Iron Man and The Avengers? "Tony needs Gary," and it's a young boy named Harley that aides Tony the most. Tony doesn't say, "I need Gary," but the "Tony" the Iron Man super hero billionaire Gary knows is in need of Gary who just works at a TV station and probably doesn't have much of a life but has completely stylized his self after Tony Stark; Tony completely humbles himself with Gary and director Shane Black permits us to feel how deeply awkward the situation is so we can see how gracious and humble Tony is becoming. Why should we care about this? What's the big deal about Iron Man and Tony Stark? Because it's a direct commentary on how America should become as well.
It's not just that they are looking different directions, but that their hearts are moving in different directions (that doesn't mean, however, that they are moving apart, but--as in all our relationships--they have to grow in different ways to grow closer together). This shot summarizes the differences between Pepper as wanting a "normal," middle-class life as she looks to the TV screen showing the missile approaching Stark's house (and experiencing the imminent danger in a "removed, sanitized way,") vs. Tony looking at the danger directly and realizing he is living the danger immediately and in real-time reality.  This is how Pepper poses a threat to Tony, in keeping him from moving forward and into the danger which actually gives Tony life even as Pepper thinks it will kill him. We have seen this same principle at work in another Robert Downey Jr film, Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows and our infamous (or at least slightly infamous) "orange scarf discussion."  In the film, for no apparent reason, Holmes wears an orange scarf around his shoulders as his team tracks down clues. I argue that orange is the color of life because it's the color of vibrancy, and the shoulders refer to the weight or burden (spiritual or psychological) that we are carrying, so, wearing an orange scarf on his shoulders relates to the viewer than in spite of the burden of having to find and stop Moriarty, Holmes is alive with the challenge he has been presented with (please remember in Sherlock Holmes of 2009, after the Blackwood case is solved, Holmes falls into depression and wants a challenge and the stimulation of a good case to solve; please see Blitzchess & Chaos: Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows for more). It's not that we have to make the connection because RDJ was in both films, but because we are likely RDJ fans (the implied viewers), we have seen A Game Of Shadows and are familiar with the concept so it can easily be used again for Iron Man 3. Let's just consider: how super would Batman be if he never fought anyone, if there weren't villains to overcome? He wouldn't be super, he would be a couch potato, and the same with Tony Stark and Iron Man. Pepper only sees the danger posed to Tony, she doesn't see the life (the strengthened inner-life he will gain) to be won by Tony battling the Mandarin/Killian. Likewise, Tony doesn't see Pepper being resurrected when she falls 200 feet to her "death," nor does he see her gain new life when she defends him from Killian and protect herself from the heat signature of Extremis and the remote Iron Man suit attacking her; this time, however, instead of posing a threat to Tony as she did when he was having nightmares, Pepper is aiding Tony by "walking in his footsteps" (more on this below).
Class warfare and the Occupy Wall Street movement has rocked the country and the world. We can't ignore that Tony Stark is a billionaire and in a romantic relationship with a women who worked for him. IF Tony failed to convert himself into a better person, and the events happening to him in Afghanistan (Iron Man) didn't make him re-asses the role Stark Industries were contributing to international politics (leading to the clash with Obadiah [Jeff Bridges]) his relationship with Pepper could not have happened; Tony's wake up call to reality was realizing innocent people were being murdered with his weapons made to protect Americans and civilians but were being used against us (the same way our weapons are used against us in Olympus Has Fallen) the same way American soldiers are used against Americans in Iron Man 3 (as human "bombs"). The reason we should care about Tony Stark and Pepper Potts is because their relationship informs us about the relationship of the 1% to American society, of the business owners to the labor force, of the country's leaders to the country. Just as Tony Stark undergoes resurrection and his continuing transformation, so Pepper--as both the labor force and a symbol for the motherland of America itself--must also undergo (even against her will) the resurrection and transformation to protect and defend the country as well as the labor-class (more on this below).
The house is the symbol of the soul because we dwell in our home the way the soul dwells in the body. Tony was at a high point in his career as he managed to code the Iron Man suit to him and suit up remotely; to a degree, in one facet of the definition, that is what makes Tony Stark a hero, and we can say with the same confidence that is also what makes America a great country, our ability to innovate and improve upon technology and products for our welfare and protection. The other part of defining a hero applies to America just as much as Tony Stark: the ability to bounce back from apparent defeat. The destruction of Tony's Malibu home not only illustrates the damage to Tony's soul, but also the damage done to our home, America (I mean, I believe America to be a Malibu mansion compared to Iran, or Chile, or Cuba: I would far rather live in America than any other country in the world just as many would probably rather live in Tony's Malibu home than their little apartment or bungalow, or Iran). Why was Tony's home destroyed? This goes back and re-enforces the theme of resurrection in the film: just as there are many chambers to a home, there are many chambers to the soul, and while we see improvement in Tony's character from the previous expositions of Iron Man, he still requires a lot of work. Whereas Tony was remotely sitting on the couch in his mansion (pictured above), the suit and the man have been separated to reveal the cracks and damages done to both in this image.  In other words, the attack on Tony by the Mandarin/Killian (symbolized by the attack on his house, which in turn symbolizes the general attack on America and the upper-class) is a blessing in disguise. Tony has to learn the truth about himself: the suit doesn't exist without him, he is greater than the suit will ever be; it's a truth everyone else knows except him, and that's why it's so important that he learns it. Likewise, we can say the same about America: this country is great because of its people. In the image above, seeing Tony "separated" from the suit, he can see the situation more clearly and we know that because of all the places where he could be, he's in Tennessee, "the volunteer state," where he himself volunteers to defeat the Mandarin because he knows he can, which leads us to Tony's own "state of mind" at this point in the film. Tony has lost the Malibu mansion, so this garage doubles as the "chamber" of Tony's soul where we can see his spiritual state, the state of his soul, the inner-workings of Tony's mind (this is in conjunction with Tony telling Dr. Bruce Banner about the experience contained in this narrative; Tony has, in essence, become a story-teller and this is a perfect example of the story-teller (Tony) employing symbols to "show" instead of "tell" what he's experiencing and going through (the odyssey from mansion to garage, from Malibu to Rose Hill, Tennessee, from Iron Man to empty, broken pile of steel on a sled). When Harley walks in, Tony has "shed the skin" of the Iron Man suit (like Harley breaking off the finger) so he can be "reborn" in Harley (recall, please, that all of this info is coming to us as he tells it to Banner in the end scene, and--like all stories--Tony invests himself in certain characters and divests himself of certain other characters.
But this leads us to ask the question, why is all this possible? Why are these acts of terrorism by "the Mandarin" even being committed? In a "lesson" televised to the world, the Mandarin reminds the President and the US about the horror of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre when a US Calvary unit murdered women and children on a Indian reservation while the braves were away; what Iron Man 3 does, however, is take this terrible incident in our history and reminds us--and the world--what really happened; several investigations were conducted into what happened and Colonel Chivington's behavior as they record:
As to Colonel Chivington, your committee can hardly find fitting terms to describe his conduct. Wearing the uniform of the United States, which should be the emblem of justice and humanity; holding the important position of commander of a military district, and therefore having the honor of the government to that extent in his keeping, he deliberately planned and executed a foul and dastardly massacre which would have disgraced the verist [sic] savage among those who were the victims of his cruelty. Having full knowledge of their friendly character, having himself been instrumental to some extent in placing them in their position of fancied security, he took advantage of their in-apprehension and defenceless [sic] condition to gratify the worst passions that ever cursed the heart of man. Whatever influence this may have had upon Colonel Chivington, the truth is that he surprised and murdered, in cold blood, the unsuspecting men, women, and children on Sand creek, who had every reason to believe they were under the protection of the United States authorities, and then returned to Denver and boasted of the brave deed he and the men under his command had performed.
In conclusion, your committee are of the opinion that for the purpose of vindicating the cause of justice and upholding the honor of the nation, prompt and energetic measures should be at once taken to remove from office those who have thus disgraced the government by whom they are employed, and to punish, as their crimes deserve, those who have been guilty of these brutal and cowardly acts. (Wikipedia, Sand Creek Massacre, Official Investigations)
Sadly, in spite of all this, no charges or punishment of any kind were brought against any of the men participating in the massacre; Iron Man 3 knows this, because when Killian has the president, he reminds him of an oil spill where none of the executives responsible had charges brought against them. It doesn't matter, Killian explains to the president, the oil spill is just a good excuse for public execution. This is what Stark means by the phrase, "Creating our own demons," we have set ourselves up for others to mete out justice to us since we haven't done it ourselves.
On a different note, let's discuss a quick quip Tony makes when he meets Rhodie and Erin the little girl comes up and wants Tony to sign the picture she has drawn of him; just as the drawing of the Iron Man suit by Erin is an artistic depiction of Tony (artistic as Erin sees hm flying in the sky), so Tony turning to the little blond boy with glasses and saying, "I loved you in A Christmas Story," is Tony's artistic depiction of himself (because A Christmas Story is a major, mainstream film ). Why does Tony say this? This moment juxtaposes Erin seeing Tony and Tony seeing himself (in other words, just as Tony looks at soldiers' records and only sees MIA until he turns it around to see the name of Killian's company AIM, we are supposed to turn the film around in the same way to see Iron Man on one side and Tony Stark on the other; I have a feeling the magic film Now You See Me will be similar). The young hero of A Christmas Story, Ralphie, wants a BB gun, in spite of what everyone tells him about shooting his eye out, which nearly happens. What's the point? A Christmas Story is Ralphie narrating his fondest memory, the desire to get a BB gun for Christmas, an important part of his life and personal history, the same way that, Iron Man 3--taking place at Christmas--and being related to us by Tony Stark as he talks to Dr. Banner, isn't just a Christmas story (an anonymous Christmas story) but Tony's Christmas Story. This is why it's so important to catch cultural and artistic references in a work of art and how it can deepen and widen our understanding of what is taking place. Further, however, is the role "memory" plays in the film: just as Ralphie remembers getting the gun and all the events around it, so Tony remembers getting his real heart back and all the events leading up to it. Iron Man 3 is the story of the birth, death and resurrection of Tony Stark just as the symbols of the film relate to us the audience (the Christmas tree for the birth, the newspaper article given to him by Harley, "Technically, you're dead," and the resurrection at Easter symbolized by the giant bunny). Why are these themes important? We will definitely be seeing them in Star Trek Into Darkness and The Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and most likely in Thor the Dark World as well. 
In terms of reality, we can say the Sand Creek Massacre was the decision of a few individuals who were not acting with the authority of the US government, so we are not guilty of that crime; HOWEVER, because the US government failed in its responsibility of justice in punishing the individuals, we all become guilty of the massacre in our failure to punish the guilty ones (there was a similar theme in Safe with Jason Statham and his taking money for a rigged fight, but--even more to the point--is the guilt of James Barr in Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise: undoubtedly, the killings committed by Barr in the war were murders, but that doesn't mean he is guilty of the murders he was framed for, or he should be punished for crimes he didn't commit, and this is the ultimate point being made by Iron Man 3 as well). Which reminds us of another public execution in the film: Thomas Richards.
Please click on the image to expand for easier viewing. On the far left is Jackson Pollock's Alchemy from 1947, currently in the Guggenheim Museum, New York; to the right of that is a detail of Alchemy.  Why are we discussing this? For two reasons. First, somewhere in Iron Man 3, Alchemy is in the background (I am not sure which part, I just saw it in the credits; I haven written to the Guggenheim Museum asking for their help but I don't expect an answer; if you know, I would greatly appreciate some help; I suspect it's in Pepper's office at work because she is a fan of Pollock, but I am probably wrong). In Iron Man, Tony and Pepper have a discussion about Tony purchasing Spring by Jackson Pollock; Tony tells her that--regardless of her thoughts about its value--to buy it, wrap it and store it. In Iron Man 2, Alberto Giacometti's L'Homme quiche marche 1 (pictured above with gray background, originally cast 1961) can be seen in Stark's home; Giacometti modeled his sculpture from Rodin's L'Homme quiche marche (far right) which shows a far more robust human anatomy and framework (just for comparison). Why are these important? First, in Iron Man, there is no single work by Pollock called Spring; there is a collection of paintings Pollock did he entitled the Spring Collection, but Tony and Pepper have a conversation about a fictitious work of art; why? First, few people in general admire Pollock's work, so on one level, it demonstrates Tony's lavish lifestyle to "blow" millions on a painting few people would like, then just stash it in storage (instead of displaying it). On a deeper level, it shows how the view/image we are developing of Tony Stark is just as fictitious as the make-believe work by Pollock (this can be re-enforced by the opening song of Iron Man 3, Blue about "a little guy who lives in a blue world, and all day and every night and everything he sees is just blue, like him, inside and out," because most people--myself included--don't consider the world of the Rich and Famous to be "blue," but we have another example of art being used to communicate Tony's vulnerabilities and emotional weakness rather than focusing on having the rock song "I am Iron Man," playing and celebrating his strength; on another level, however, it's easy to see the "messed-up" Tony Stark being drawn to a "messed-up" work of art like Pollack's drip paintings (Alchemy pictured above is a good example) because Tony is "messed-up" and it's not until he has to take a stand for something does he start getting "sorted out" (Tony wanting the painting Spring to be wrapped and stored away can be said of Tony's own emotions and feelings, he wants to store them away, too; for more on how to understand and interact with Jackson Pollock, please see That's Not Art! Craftsmanship & Quality In the Plastic Arts). We can see "Tony's progress" expressed in the art from a work like Pollock's in Iron Man, to the figure of a human in Iron Man 2, although not totally human and not completely convincing. After Iron Man, Tony finally emerges as a human, like a phoenix rising from the embers, in Iron Man 2 but the events of The Avengers plummeted Tony back into a mess again with the appearance of another Pollock (Alchemy) in Iron Man 3; but that's okay, because what does "alchemy" mean? It's the pursuit of turning an ordinary material into gold so, we can also see the ordinary Tony being turned into the gold of a super hero by the process of cleansing his heart of his conceit and selfishness and making it a "heart of gold" where he loves others more than himself (Pepper and Happy, Gary and Harley). Tony getting his real heart back at the end, his vulnerable, human heart, is like the alchemical process completed, although we all are always undergoing conversion and it's a never-ending process to fulfill our potential. This concept of conversion and alchemical gold isn't just with Tony Stark: we will also see this with Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) in Star Trek Into Darkness. As we have all ready discussed, of all the things they could have changed in Star Trek, why didn't they give Kirk a more flattering, appealing wardrobe update? Because that ugly mustard-yellowish brown symbolizes gold unrefined, Kirk is destined--like Tony and America itself--to become the "gold standard," but his trials and experiences have to teach him the most valuable lessons to purge away the bad and strengthen the good. 
(You can view the clip here at YouTube). Thomas Richards, "good strong name," good job for the oil company as an accountant and a good man. The Mandarin tells the president he is going to shoot Richards if the president doesn't call him in 30 seconds; how does the Mandarin's phone number get into the president's cell phone? It was probably put there by his corrupt vice president who plans on taking over after the president is killed (like what we saw in Red). In spite of one of the president's officials telling him they don't negotiate with terrorists, the president calls the Mandarin; the Mandarin's phone rings but he doesn't pick up; the Mandarin executes Thomas Richards in the head on public television; what lesson have we learned about terrorism from the Mandarin? 
It's rather infuriating--although understandable--that trailers and released clips don't always reflect what is actually placed in the film; the creative process isn't easy and, as film makers decide against certain sub-plots and throw out material, they try salvaging the costs by using the scraps in trailers and clips. It is what it is. Anyway, the Mandarin is a British actor (more on that below), used by Killian as the face of his own "war machine" to own both the terror and the war on terror (more on that below); and it's not that Mandarin's threats in some way invoke socialism or capitalism, but the lifestyle of free drugs and sex given to Mandarin (Trevor Slattery in the film) by Killian to perform his dirty work reflects the practice of the Democrat party to lure voters to their ranks through the promises of health care, jobs, food stamps, cell phones, citizenship, homosexual rights, etc., and what happens--when everything is provided like this--the person becomes addicted to having a constant supply of life's necessities without having to work for it, just like a drug addict. We have seen drugs play important roles in films as of late, and we can mention Dredd, The Bourne Legacy and Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters as depicting drugs in the same way as they are in Iron Man 3 (remember, Tony asks Mandarin if Killian was going to help Mandarin get off drugs and Mandarin replies, no, he promised me more! What kind of system does that indicate?). What Iron Man 3 appears to be doing, however, is even as they introduce the well-known theme of socialism into its narrative, it's being subverted by a far greater threat and this is where the film makers have really created a powerful film: socialism is merely a vehicle to better control us, but the terrorism is a vehicle as well. It's the lack of justice administered in the country that has put us in this position (and we know this: where are all the crooks who triggered the 2008 economic crash? In their luxurious offices, carrying on, in spite of laws they broke to save themselves and their deep pockets; we have all suffered because of their actions and lawlessness, but they have not paid back their debt to society for damages rendered; why not? Politicians who make deals, and Iron Man 3 makes this point as Killian talks to the president).  On a different note, when the Mandarin enters the studio where Killian will have him make his next broadcast to the president, Killian reminds his staff not to look the Mandarin in the eyes (and some other instructions); where have we recently seen this? Emperor with Tommy Lee Jones, the instructions given to MacArthur when the Emperor of Japan was coming into the room to meet with him. There is also the clear reference to last year's Oscar darling, The Master (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Joaquin Phoenix) because that's what Killian calls the Mandarin. We have all ready discussed why the villain is called "Mandarin," and I think our pre-conceived brain-stormed ideas were surprisingly accurate: as the most-spoken language i the world, the villain Mandarin embodies the language of American hate most spoken by terrorists targeting this country. Everything Mandarin says, other terrorists/critics of American culture have said of us as well. Why does Mandarin wear predominantly green clothing?  Green is both the color of hope and the color of decay: terrorists appear as beacons of hope to those who hate the US, but they are in fact rotted and decayed because only hate and envy (also symbolized by green) motivates them to act against us, usually against civilians (Boston Marathon) or unarmed government officials (Benghazi attacks or as we saw in Argo, the attack on American Embassy in Iran).
First, it doesn't matter what we (as Americans) do, the terrorists will carry out their own agenda anyway (the president calling and Mandarin executing Richards regardless), that's why it's pointless to "negotiate" with terrorists. Secondly, those who hate America, hate America; the crimes we have committed are real crimes, but our enemies don't care about our crimes because they would hate us regardless (demonstrated later in the film by Killian just needing an excuse to execute the president). Thirdly, when our government fails to execute justice, it has failed to protect us and it's the "natural leaders" in society (like Tony Stark) to whom people turn for help and protection (all the reporters asking Tony, "What are you going to do about the Mandarin?" instead of just knowing the government would take care of it; that's called a "loss of faith"). The scene illustrates another controversial point I have been making--well, at least controversial to feminists--and that is the attacks aimed at white males (whom Thomas Richards is). We saw this especially in Skyfall and it is important because it reveals part of a socialist agenda to vilify the dominate ruling party of a country and, in the case of the US, that happens to be white males. Did Mandarin really kill Thomas Richards? If all the guns are fake, and Mandarin later tells Tony no one got hurt (as in Wag the Dog with Dustin Hoffman), did Thomas Richards actually die? Yes, even if Thomas Richards got up and walked away (which we don't see him do) Mandarin intended to stage a public execution and he did.
But now, it's time to talk about Killian.
Why does Killian breathe fire? It's a simple question, but if we go through the stages of exploratory logic, I think we will yield some rich results from the hidden nuggets of information placed throughout the film. In the scene above, Pepper has had an awkward, uneasy meeting with Killian about his AIM corporation and what he intends to do with it (Killian needs Tony because his Extremis is still unstable and self-destructs). As he parts, he gives Pepper a kiss on the cheek. Fast forward to Pepper arriving back at Tony's and thinking she's talking to Tony but she's only talking to the suit (possibly a reference to Zack Snyder's awful film Watchmen (2009) when Dr. Manhattan sends duplicates of himself to make love to his girlfriend Laurie Jupiter as he works on something else). Pepper wants Tony to take off the mask and give her a kiss but he tells her the mask is stuck so she tells him she is going to go get a crowbar to pry open the mask and that's when she discovers she has only been intercoursing with the suit, not Tony. That is unnatural. We can say, knowing what disdain Pepper expressed to Happy before meeting with Killian, and her expression afterwards, that Killian is an "unnatural" acquaintance because Pepper owes him a favor but what he requests of her is also unnatural (weaponizing the Extremis virus). Killian gives Pepper a kiss (on the cheek) that she doesn't want, but Tony (as the suit) can't give her the kiss she does want.
Killian is a scientist turned businessman. His AIM company can be turned around--as we see Tony do in the film--to spell MIA instead. Like Cobra in GI Joe Retaliation, Killian symbolizes all that we know is bad in capitalism with the intention of financially and politically dominating the world. Why is this an issue? The highly controversial Agenda 21 sponsored by the United Nations and first agreed to by President George HW Bush and his son George W Bush, but appears to have deeper, more sinister implications under the Obama administration, and appears to be picking up speed towards a one-rule world where there are no countries or democracies, just a world-wide socialism controlled by the most elite and wealthy. There's nothing like that mentioned in the film; we are used to seeing villains who want to control the world all on their own (like Gene Hackman's Lex Luther of Superman) but we are seeing villains wanting to control the world through the guise of offering some "ultimate good" to humanity as a facade (I think we will be seeing this in Star Trek Into Darkness) and for Killian, that control is through re-generation. But in the person of Killian himself, we discover where that leads,...
In this scene above, Brandt, one of Killian's Extremis experiments, has come looking for Tony in Rose Hill, TN because he's on the trail and is about to figure out what is going on; in the bar where Tony sets up a meeting with the mother of a veteran who supposedly killed himself and several others, Brandt comes in arresting him using the identity that she is Homeland Security; fortunately, the sheriff who just happens to be there, doesn't buy it and that aides Tony in avoiding capture. Brandt--being a murderer but claiming to be from Homeland Security--is one part of what makes this an important character; another aspect is her name: Brandt. Where have we seen that name recently? Mission Impossible 5: Ghost Protocol played by Jeremy Renner. This is a legitimate connection because in MI5, Brandt was the exact opposite of Iron Man 3's Brandt, there to actually protect Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) instead of  killing him as was feared; with IM3's Brandt, she pretends to be there to protect but she intends on killing Tony Stark. Another aspect to this comes at the very end of the film, with the post-credit scene (of which I discuss further below): Tony talks about how, in 1983, he was 14 and still had a nanny; that means Tony Stark was born in 1969, the same year (among other things) that Willy Brandt won the West German election to become Chancellor and implement his radical and controversial politics of reconciliation with East Germany; at this time, the West (the Allied Powers who had won World War II) were block aiding and isolating the communist Soviet Bloc, including East Germany, in an attempt to isolate and contain communism by rendering it unsuccessful. Willy Brandt, however, bucked that in supporting policies that sought to integrate communism ideologically and commercially (he ended up resigning from office when it was discovered one of his closest aides was actually an East German spy). Why--if at all--would Iron Man 3 take time to invoke a Cold War political figure? Willy Brandt symbolizes a high-profile figure who, counting himself smarter than his contemporaries, sought to appease communists and it ended up costing him dearly for it, not to mention damages done to West Germany as a whole and the West by watering-down the united front against communism.
Killian has a unique,... "talent" in that he can breathe fire; why (in addition to the reason provided above in the caption)? It accentuates the tattoos of dragons on his body. As we mentioned before Iron Man 3 was released, the location of the dragon in the film would be utterly important (and Killian's body was the last place I expected to see it). In the east, the dragon has a more positive connotation to it than in the west, but dragons have always clearly been linked to the serpent in the Garden Of Eden and Original Sin. Now we can understand why Killian breathes fire: fire either destroys or purifies. Killian intends to destroy when he breathes fire on someone, but--like Pepper rising up from the fiery inferno she fell 200 feet into--she rises from it stronger and feel of her own impurities (impurities "peppered" throughout her personality and soul); the same is true of Tony. Tony endures the fire of Killian's attacks and injuries and becomes a stronger person for it (this is why he doesn't give Harley a ride when it's cold outside, the cold acts as the fire to harden Harley and make him self-reliant that he will need in life).
So, what about Harley?
Extremis is important to the film for two reasons. First, as you know, men symbolize the active principle of the economy; for Extremis--a regenerating experiment--to be used on men refers to GI Joe 2009 and GI Joe Retaliation, Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters (there is the springs where Hansel gets healed) and  we could also mention The Bourne Legacy and the general drugs Aaron Cross is on (the doctor looking at his hand, "Oh, that has healed nicely,"), we could mention the Hulk in The Avengers because he hasn't been able to die and of course The Wolverine with Hugh Jackman and his character's ability to regenerate after an injury. The heroes regenerating in the film accentuate what is NOT regenerating in reality: the economy. Always, heretofore, the economy in America has been able to "bounce back" from whatever after a year or two, and prosperity would be back, except that it hasn't under the Obama administration, and it seems that Obama's policies are intentionally prolonging the recession rather than aiding in economic turn around. On a different note, we need to consider the ethical implications of Tony undergoing Extremis operations. Having Extremis technology, Tony is able to have the arc reactor removed because his heart can now heal from the shrapnel attacking it due to the attack in Afghanistan in Iron Man. Like the admission in Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters that some "socialist" programs are beneficial and good, so Iron Man 3 states that the programs/technology in and of itself is not bad (Extremis), what's important is how it's used, and there is someone, somewhere, who isn't using things to the greatest benefit of Americans.
As we have said previously, children symbolize the future and--with a name like "Harley"--we know he is meant to symbolize the future of the active principle of the vehicle of the economy like Tony. Harley's dad went off to buy "scratchers" that means the type of lottery ticket you scratch off to see if you won a prize, and Harley tells Tony, "I guess he won because he never came back." Harely's dad symbolizes one type of economic model, the "I hope I strike it rich without working for it" attitude (and this doesn't say anything about the lottery, just the attitude being highlighted in the film). Tony doesn't want Harley to end up like that; why? Why does Tony even care about Harley? Harley thinks it's because they are "connected," but there is even more to it than that: Tony actually respects Harely.
Maya is actually at the intersection of several important aspects of the film. For example, when Killian threatens Tony, Maya threatens killing herself  by stabbing herself in the throat. What does the throat symbolize? What we are lead by, what "yoke" we wear, what leash holds onto us. Killian has Maya's leash, in other words, and she's threatening to cut that leash off if Tony is hurt; why? The film wants to illustrate for the audience how tyrants--in this case Killian--behave towards those who have been loyal to them: they, like Killian, kill them, like Maya, when they have no need for them any longer, and we are supposed to juxtapose that image against the image of Tony and Happy for example, when Tony goes to the hospital and sits with Happy in his coma and makes sure his favorite TV show is on for when he wakes up. That is radically different from how Killian treats those who work for him. Maya is linked to Tony in another way in the film. How does Killian "imprison" Tony? The way Tony imprisoned himself: bed. If Tony hadn't been intent on sleeping with Maya at the New Year's Eve party, Tony wouldn't have gotten himself into this mess, because that was the night he created the demons (and when Maya shows up and Tony asks if there's a son of his in the car outside, there is not a "son," there is a demon, however, and it was spawned that night). Tony's sexual habits, like all bad habits, and we became familiar with Tony's promiscuity in Iron Man, has tied him to the bed the same way Killian has; the bed holding Tony is stripped, or "exposed," just as Tony is stripped of Iron Man (the suit) and Tony is exposed for his weakness; in fact, we can say that Killian can only tie Tony to the bed because Tony tied himself to it (by sleeping around so much) which may present the reason Tony "can't sleep" now because it's his penance for what he did earlier in life. But there's another dimension to this, one I particularly like. As Tony is tied to the bed, and he believes his Iron Man suit will remotely find him, and he threatens the guards watching over him, he calls one of the men with long hair, pulled back in a ponytail, "Ponytail Express," after the famous and daring early American mail delivery system,  the Pony Express. The Pony Express was popular just before the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 and both these historical events have in common that they occurred during the Civil War, which maybe possibly could be a commentary on the state of America today, that we are, once again, in a Civil War (consider, for example, that Lincoln was about the Civil War). A different aspect of this "Ponytail Express" is the combining of the masculine and feminine: the Pony Express is the masculine symbol of the active principle of the economy, whereas "ponytail" is traditionally a female hairstyle--as we see Pepper wearing in images above when she is in her white dress suit--linking to the traditional symbol of the passive motherland; why is this important? Well, looking at the scene, it's Tony Stark who is passive, tied to the bed, and we know--because the camera shows us--that the Iron Man suit doesn't come to Tony because it's locked in Harley's garage so, we have to ask, what part of Tony is locked up that he can't summon (because the suit is like a psychoanalytic double for Tony, so what happens to the suit we can say also happens to Tony as he tries to separate himself from it throughout the film)? Tony's "active principle"--the Iron Man suit--is locked up because he is passively tied to the  bed; it's not masculine to be addicted to sex, in other words. This is how Tony Stark has to fight the "boy with the dragon tattoos" in Killian, because sex is commonly linked with Original Sin as is the serpent, so Tony not only has to overcome Killian by force, by psychologically and spiritually, too.
When Harley first comes into the garage and meets Tony, Tony criticizes the physics of Harley's gun, basically telling him that it doesn't have any power to threaten Tony because Harely didn't properly construct it; Harley then demonstrates the power of the gun when he shoots at something and proves the great Tony Stark wrong (remember, I think it was in Iron Man, Tony says to someone, "If my math is right, and it's never wrong," well, Tony's math was wrong when he attempted to correct Harley's perfectly good gun, and that's a first). Harely, then, hasn't won Tony's respect, he has earned it, and this is what Tony wants to instill in Harley and the good Tony wants to "foster" (like a foster parent). Tony is in a position to do this because--like Harley--Tony's dad wasn't around for the opposite reason, Tony's dad was always working at Stark Industries. In a caption above (the one of Tony and the suit sitting on the couch together) we discuss Tony psychologically breaking away from the suit ("the cocoon" as he describes it to Banner at the end) and finding the "new Tony" in Harley but listen to how Tony subjectives Iron Man, giving him human feelings of pain and emotion:
Let's talk about a minor but important detail: the poncho of the wooden Indian Tony takes to help him stay warm. We know it's ridiculous for a wooden Indian to be wearing a poncho--as ridiculous as Tony telling Harley about the physical pain and beatings Iron Man has taken--but the poncho is there and Tony puts it on; why? Where else in the film have Indians been mentioned? In relation to the Sand Creek Massacre, so--at this point in the story--Tony putting on the poncho to "stay warm" could be him psychologically relating to the Indians in the story because he, too has been under attack (when the Malibu mansion was attacked, Tony was "naked" without his armor) and Tony might be seeking solace in his victim hood to keep him warm. Tony takes this off, however, and we don't see him wearing it again, because Tony knows he has to fight and to do that, he has to fix Iron Man and he has to re-invent himself, and Harley being there to remind Tony that Tony's a mechanic and builds things is exactly what Tony needs, which leads us to Tony's anxiety attacks.
This seems like a simple question to ask, but I think it will yield us rewarding results: why does Tony give Harley that awesome garage at the end of the film? For numerous reasons: one, Tony is giving gifts at the end of the film. Tony gives Pepper that heart necklace because, now that he has a real heart again, he has given that to Pepper; who else have we seen giving gifts at the end of a film? Oscar in Oz the Great and Powerful, including when Oscar gives Finley the gift of his friendship; like Oscar, Tony Stark has learned--slowly and painfully--the importance of relationships and valuing the people in your life and he wants Harley to know that he not only values Harley, but Tony wants Harley to work at his talent and have the means for developing his passion; in other words, Tony is very much giving Harley the gift of the American Dream, making a living at doing what you love to do and being able to do what you love and are good at. This leads us to another important reason why Tony gives Harley the garage: it's the right thing to do. Two other films support this: The Amazing Burt Wonderstone and Pain and Gain. In Burt Wonderstone, Burt (a highly successful magician who has achieved his own American Dream) is going to sleep with some female fan from his show that night and he goes through the routine of asking her to tell him her dream, which is to have her own salon someday. The morning after, Burt is gone and there's an envelope left; she thinks it's the dream of her salon but it's only a photoshopped picture of the two of them together. Obviously, Burt is being, literally, un-American: when you have made it, you owe it to the country and yourself to do the right thing and help someone else out in achieving their dreams as well. In Iron Man 3, Tony does that with Harley, which reminds us of Pain and Gain. An important goal for Mark Wahlberg's character is to leave America a better place; he thinks he's trying to do this with his neighborhood projects, but what he did to get that house and money has made him such a bad person, he only spreads his own "badness" around rather than spreading good around; Iron Man 3 knows the risk of this because there are times when Tony's arrogance and ego seem to be filling up the screen, and that's natural, i.e., that is what happens to most people; what does not happen to most people, is their ability to let that part of them die and be born again as a better, stronger person for everyone, and I think that's probably the real meaning of Tony getting his human heart back. Tony has been "hard" on Harley in several instances of the film, and letting Harley share in the hard work Tony is doing, even if that is only making him a sandwich--is a big step for Tony and good life lessons for Harley, because life is hard.
Why does Tony freak out over the wormhole and New York, and he doesn't want to talk about it? Why is Tony getting anxiety attacks? Sometimes, the cure is an indication of what the ailment is, so when Tony has an anxiety attack and Harley tells him, "You're a mechanic, build something," Tony snaps out of it and pulls it together. We could almost say Tony's "anxiety attack" is really an identity crisis, because--on one side of his personality--no one in the world has ever carried a nuclear warhead, into outer space and ditched it into a wormhole to explode a bunch of aliens; no one has ever done that. So while Tony jokes about "being such a super hero," he also can't come to grips with the what a super hero he is, the challenge that he rose up to meet (expecting to die and not even talk to Pepper again) but did so because it had to be done. Then, Tony goes back to the daily routine where there "aren't wormholes and aliens" and we can see (in the image below) how "divided" Tony has become through the crack in the face mask of Iron Man, that crack mirrors his whole, entire being. To illustrate this even further, we can now talk about Pepper and her own transformation.
Pepper holding an Iron Man mask after the attack on the mansion (remember, a house symbolizes the soul, and this image clearly shows us the damage done to Tony, but, we have to ask, wasn't it always like this, and the events of Iron Man 3 have just brought out from inner-hiding what we knew was really going on inside Tony all this time?). Why does Tony destroy all the Iron Man suits at the end? Jarvis asks, "The clean slate approach?" We have seen the "clean slate" before, specifically in The Dark Knight Rises with Anne Hathaway's cat woman needing to "start over" and erase her past so she could move forward; we can say the same is true of Tony, he needs to erase all the things that he has done or has happened to him that he has successfully grown from but now threaten to hold him back by bogging him down in guilt or regret. Additionally, just as Tony gives up all the Iron Man suits at the end, and the house is destroyed, that, too is like Bruce Wayne giving up everything at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, because both these men are more than what they had, more than what they built. The scene of the suits being destroyed, however, offers a nice counter-balance to the scene in Harley's garage when Harley informs Tony that "Technically, you're dead." Tony was dead but the suits were still alive; at the end, we can say the suits are dead and Tony is fully alive. Additionally, regarding the "clean slate approach," is Fast and Furious 6 when Dom's crew asks for "full pardons all around" to help Hobbs.
Remember in Iron Man 2, when Tony was having problems with his heart and feared dying, so he signed the company over to Pepper so she could run it, and how anxious she was to give it back to Tony at the end of the film because she couldn't handle it? The exact same situation happens in Iron Man 3 with being a super hero. As we discussed in the caption above with Pepper and Tony looking in different directions as the missiles are about to attack them, Pepper holds Tony back in wanting to be "normal" instead of supporting Tony as a super hero and helping him to overcome his problems so he can be the best super hero he can be for everyone's sake. Pepper doesn't intend to do this in a bad way, she loves Tony, but the road of wisdom is rarely the obvious path and Pepper tends to choose common sense over wisdom; Tony has to learn the hard way. This is demonstrated in the clothes we see Pepper wearing, predominantly white. White usually refers to faith, innocence, purity, and we can attribute these characteristics to Pepper, however, given what happens in the film, and the black bra we see her wearing towards the end during the fight, we need to examine this more closely.
To begin with, you have to admit, the styling of Iron Patriot looks an awful lot like Captain America's uniform. What is the difference between War Machine and Iron Patriot? Not much. A war machine is going to be a patriot in defending America, and vice versa, but we can''t overlook this scene when Killian has highjacked Irn Patriot and plans on fooling the president with it. In this case, Iron Patriot is disguised as patriotism but is raping America. Is there someone who was supposed to protect the president but is actually a threat to him? We have all ready seen one example in Olympus Has Fallen, that it's not just the president in person, but the idea of the presidency in general.   
Given what we have deduced about Pepper, it makes more sense that the white clothes we see her wearing actually indicate a state of death (because a corpse turns white as it decomposes, and this symbolizes "spiritual death," when the soul lacks purity, innocence, faith). If Pepper were not in a state of death, she would not "need" (as a character) the purging of the fire when she falls. When she comes out of the fire, she only wears a black bra. Like all the other colors, black has a positive and negative symbolic connotation but both involve death. One meaning of black is that the person is dead in the soul, the other meaning is that the person is dead to the world. After her emergence from the fire, we see Pepper defending Tony with the very weapons and tool she complained about at the start of the film. Recall, please, that Pepper symbolizes both the motherland of America and the working class, while Tony symbolizes both the economy and the upper 1% because of his billionaire status. So what we have is the motherland/working class now defending the very characteristics of the upper-class that was being criticized just a few years ago. Because a bra covers the breasts, and breasts symbolize the nurturing aspect of a woman, we can see how, now that Pepper has been put in the violent position Tony is used to being put in, Pepper's nurturing instinct has gone through a state of death (the fire that burns everything and turns it black has "killed" Pepper's nurturing so it can be reborn just like her) and she will be better able to help Tony in the future.
But will Pepper be spending the future with Tony?
In starting the film in 1999, Iron Man 3 intentionally wanted us to remember what kind of person Tony Stark was like (remember in The Avengers when Captain America tells Tony, "Big man in a suit. Take that away and what are you?" Tony smugly replies, "Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist"). That's not the Tony Stark of today, and--at the end--when he tells Pepper, "I fix things, that's what I do," Tony has finally found, what North from Rise Of the Guardians would call, "his center," his purpose and reason. When Tony tells Banner at the end about the cocoon and getting sick inside, ALL these things we have discussed--including the image others have of Tony and the image Tony has of himself--is probably what he means. Pertaining to this particular image, we have seen this kind of "getting back to basics" before; you can probably think of better examples, but I am reminded of Rocky IV (the one when Apollo dies and Rocky has to fight the Russian): look at how basic and dirty that garage is in the image above; it looks like my dad's garage, except cleaner, and more organized. We can't underestimate the importance of Tony using the word "tinkering" when he tells Pepper he isn't sleeping at night because that is the name of the group of Oz citizens who help Oscar defeat the Wicked Witches in Oz the Great and Powerful. What Tony builds and works on in Harley's garage isn''t great, but it's exactly what is needed to get the job done. This self-identification as a mechanic (a blue-collar worker) invokes another film Iron Man 3 might be taking issue with: The Apparition, wherein, the claim is made that people like Thomas Edison have fooled America and we believe we need electricity when we really don't (please see Entities Of Power: The Apparition & Thomas Edison for more). If you think I am exaggerating the importance of this little word "tinkering" in the film, please check out Alec Foege's book,  The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, DIYers and Inventors Who Make America Great (2013). The last point to be made on this issue, at least by me in this post, is that Tony is able to find himself and hunt down the Mandarin during this distressing time; he's suffering, but that's good. A case is being made in film and public discourse that "suffering is bad," and as we have stated many times, it's not that suffering is good or we should want people to suffer, but good can often come of suffering, strength and determination come of suffering and hardship, and that's exactly what Tony's doing in Iron Man 3: bringing good from his troubles.
This is, once again, a perfect example of the "implied viewer" or audience. Not watching Downton Abbey, I don't know anything about it but what I have read from other sources. We know the two scenes were carefully selected, and both are in the film because Happy Hogan is a fan of the series. Speculation has been that, because Happy was Tony's chauffeur before being head of his security, like one of the characters in one of the scenes had been a chauffeur before marrying up, it's possible that Happy and Pepper end up together after a crisis brings them closer together. None of this is my observation (I hate not knowing what is going on) but if it were me, and I knew exactly which episodes the scenes were from, I would go back and watch them to see if there were historical references being made that would tie in with the film, like the Sand Creek Massacre and Pony Express. There is one other point to be made,...   
Ultimately, what is most important to us, is that it's Tony who puts Downton Abbey on the television for Happy, even as Happy is still in a coma, so it will be on when he wakes up; why? Remember in Iron Man 2 when Tony got Pepper the boxes of strawberries because he forgot she's allergic to strawberries? That was a perfect illustration of how horrible Tony was when it came to caring about other people; in Iron Man 3, that has changed. Tony is so intent on caring for Happy, that it doesn't matter that Happy can't know Tony has been sitting in the room, Tony is going to do it anyway, and it doesn't matter that he can't watch the TV, Tony wants it on for him anyway. Perhaps, however, the real reason for the TV being on with a specifically picked show, even as Happy is sleeping, is because we know Dr. Banner is also sleeping while listening to Tony, so Happy's coma mirrors Banner's sleep, and we have to ask, are we, like Happy, also "happy in a coma" and only passively watching the subliminal messages of the film, especially as it pertains to international politics? Most people watch films and TV in "a cultural coma," not acknowleding the bombardment of influences they passively receive (that's why TV is called the "boob tube," you are "suckled" on the breast milk of culture) so by comparing Happy's vigilance in keeping security to his inability to do anything while in the coma, the film once again reflects on the viewer: what type of viewer are you? Are you investigating everything (like what we are doing in this post) or are you asleep and not participating?
We have been witnessing a growing number of films expressing the concern that we should re-think our cultural/political alliance with England because the country has become so socialist, it threatens America, and we can certainly see this point being made in Trevor Slattery, the actor (Ben Kingsley) playing Mandarin. Killian gave Slattery everything he wanted: drugs, girls, a great home, a chance to perform (we could play off his name that, instead of getting a clean "slate" by getting off drugs, as Tony suggests when they finally meet, Slattery wanted to fill his slate clean with everything he could get). Just as the Mandarin is trying to destroy the US, so what Slattery represents is the real killer unmasked. Remember, when Slattery has been arrested and gets out of the police car, his fans cheer for him, because what he is, they support and want to take down America. So then, there is Downton Abbey. Happy likes it because "he thinks it's elegant," as Tony tells his nurse; is it? I don't know. Are the small, petty, mean people, or do they offer a glimpse of what most Americans--like myself--believe the British Empire still to be, noble and honorable? IF Iron Man 3 offers us the two glimpses of England--the way we are offered two glimpses of Tony Stark--then it's an assessment we must continue to monitor and consider (and we certainly will).
Finally, our last point,...
"It's brisk." A big question from the clip of Harley and Tony above is, is Tony being harsh on Harley? When Harley apologizes for breaking Iron Man's finger, Tony asks him if he is sorry; why? Tony sees Harley gratuitously breaking Iron Man's finger as an attack on himself, Tony, because he has been under attack from Mandarin in the film and, as the 1%, he has been under attack because of his wealth (please recall in The Dark Knight Rises when Seline expresses that she's sorry Bruce Wayne has just lost everything and Wayne replies to her, "No you're not." That's this exact same scenario being played out between Harley and Tony in this scene, but Tony catches himself and realizes Harley isn't the enemy, Harley isn't attacking him, so that's why Tony does an "about face," literally, removing himself from the Iron Man suit Harley has just broken, so himself, Tony Stark. There is another film being invoked in the relationship between Tony and Harley: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) has attracted a young boy, Bill, with whom he bonds and then forces away towards the end of the film so Bill won't hero-worship Jim the way Jim hero-worshipped Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) and be led astray; in Iron Man 3, the exact same dynamics are at work. Tony doesn't want Harley to get a tattoo of him like Gary did (the opposite of Killian's dragon tattoo, so Gary isn't "bad" in getting a tattoo, but Tony doesn't want that to happen to Harley, but for Harley to be "his own person") but Tony also doesn't want Harley to become like Killian. So Tony and Harley are "connected," but like John McClane (Bruce Willis) in A Good Day To Die Hard, he cares about Harley enough to dish out the "tough love" of not letting him get soft.  
The post credits scene.
We don't know where we are, or how long we have been there, only that it appears Tony has been narrating all the story, and there are three points I would like to make about it. First, It's possible that Tony mis-remembers things (for example, in the film Wrath Of Khan, I mis-remembered the eels as being fat, white grub worms that ate the guys' brains) and, Tony, too, might be harsh or lenient on himself as he mis-remembers events or circumstances; we only have his side of the story. Secondly, Tony mentions not being able to sleep; Tony says that when he went under to receive the Extremis treatment for his heart, that it was the best sleep he had gotten, and it's possible that he hasn't come out of that sleep "yet" in the film, but all of this film is a dream (and supporting this is the heavy psychoanalysis of identity we have been able to do because dreams are usually involved with us trying to communicate to ourselves who we are or need to become). Thirdly, we have seen a situation like this of a main character telling a story about themselves in Young Adult when Mavis (Charlize Theron) tells the story of getting pregnant and miscarrying Buddy's baby. To throw in one more point, we can say that Banner represents us, the audience, and where Banner stopped listening and went to sleep is probably where we stopped listening, too (Tony getting in the elevator in Bern; the elevator was going up, i.e., a "higher plane of thought," but Banner didn't follow and the audience probably didn't either, sleeping through the deeper meaning of the film, but not you and I).
Soldiers about to have Extremis administered to them for the regeneration of their limbs. If you will, please notice the lights; if you were going to put someone through Extremis, wouldn't you want better lights than what you see in the image above? HOWEVER, those are basically like the lamps Tony has in Harley's garage. In other words, Killian works on humans the way Tony works on the inanimate Iron Man. Why would Iron Man 3 show a villain who has turned American veteran military combatants against the civilians of this country? Because that's what Obama is doing, quite frankly. Obama has "crippled" the military through cutting benefits to their families and demoralizing them, providing troops with only two meals a day and making them pay for them, sending troops away from the US to non-active military zones and, if he gets his way on gun control, he might just send the troops out to enforce the dismantling of the 2nd Amendment. It's something to consider. Given that martial law was declared in Boston after the recent terrorist attack, and we have clearly seen the trailers for World War Z with a little girl asking, "Daddy, what's marital law?" it's possible marital law will be declared in the US; I am not saying Killian is an Obama figure (I think of him as the perfect example of the worst capitalist opposite Tony Stark) but that doesn't mean real events aren't inspiring the film (like the cross-over of historical events into the stories of Downton Abbey). But let's consider the missing limbs of the soldiers in another way for a moment (please, remember, this is the objective world of art, and I honor with all my being and the very deepest gratitude every single person in uniform for the continual sacrifice they and their loved ones make to protect this country and its people, as well as people all over the world!). Recently, we have seen a film where human limbs had to be cut-off in the Evil Dead because the demonic spirit had spread throughout a person and they had to cut the infected member off (please see Cutting Your Face With Glass: Evil Dead for more). This illustration exemplifies socialist thinking in not cutting off businesses that haven't been able to become self-sustaining (look at how the government treated the Auto Bail Out) so we could see Extremis as a socialist type program aimed at re-generating something that has failed; case in point, all the soldiers probably weren't told anything about their faces turning to lava, like Brandt, or self-detonating, and when a company hasn't managed to float on its own and weather economic storms, it self-detonates as well. Another example of this again comes from Oz the Great and Powerful when, in the opening sequence, a little crippled girl and her parents want Oscar to make her walk again (please see Oz the Great and Powerful for more); in Iron Man 3, at the home of the Vice President on Christmas morning, there is a similar little girl in a wheelchair with only part of her leg. Capitalists, like Oscar, know not everything can be done, like Tony Stark, and the little girl probably symbolizes the opposite of Harley: a future America crippled (it's possible that this same theme runs in Oblivion with the painting Christina's World being shown because Christina in the painting was unable to walk because of a polio attack).  
Of all the people Tony could have been pouring his heart out to, the film makers chose Banner because, like Harley, Tony can identify with him as a scientist, and learning who he is, and what he is not, is what makes Tony Stark great, not the suit or his millions or his mansion, and the same lesson applies to us, as Americans. We have seen a lot of material Iron Man 3 has chosen to remind us of to build unity and consensus, and many of these topics, I promise, we will be seeing again. If you haven't seen it yet, why on earth not? Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner