Short answer: yes.
First, we have to define what makes a movie a ‘Christmas movie’. Does it just have to be set during Christmas, or does it require specific moments, themes or mood to make it Christmassy? Do all Christmas movies need to have certain tropes, like heart-warming moments, the spirit of giving, precocious children and a Christmas miracle?
Fortunately, Iron Man 3 passes all those tests. Some unconventional Christmas movies might just have a holiday setting, but Iron Man 3, in between all the sarcastic one-liners and bad guys breathing fire, actually has many of the beats from a traditional Christmas movie. It passes the Christmas test:
Is it set during Christmas?
You better believe it! Like all of Shane Black’s films, Iron Man 3 has a distinct Christmas setting. While the film opens on New Year’s Eve, 1999 (with one hell of a music cue), most of the action takes place leading up to Christmas in ‘present day,’ aka 2013.
There’s plenty of references to the time of year, too. Tony gives Pepper a giant bunny as a Christmas gift, stockings are hung in the Stark mansion, Tony listens to Christmas carols while working on his suits, the Mandarin tells the president he will set off another attack “before Christmas day.” We spend most of the movie in Malibu and then Miami, but a brief foray to Tennessee gives the movie the wintry, quintessentially Christmas look with snow falling softly in front of colourful lights. So that’s a major checkmark in the “setting” box!
Are there heartwarming moments?
Listen, it’s an action-comedy so it’s only going to get so heartwarming. But yes, there are! Tony’s relationship with Pepper is at the centre of this movie, and we see them as a loving, compassionate and somewhat functional couple. The ending of the film wouldn’t work if we didn’t believe that they truly love each other and want to continually work on their relationship.
The ending, of course, is where Tony destroys all his Iron Man suits as a gift to Pepper. His obsession with the suits created tension between them as Tony used them as a crutch for his PTSD. Despite spending the whole movie thinking he needed his suit — or a new, better suit — to function, he finally decides to let go. The Iron Man suits self-destruct as fireworks while Tony and Pepper embrace.
Another heartwarming moment in the film comes after a particularly bad one. One of the Mandarin’s lackeys attacks Air Force One, and about 12 people are plummeting to their death. Jarvis says Iron Man can only carry four, but with quick thinking and a stubborn refusal to lose anyone, Tony makes everyone hold hands like a ‘barrel of monkeys’ and saves them all. It’s the kind of action sequence that makes you want to cheer! It’s all about cooperation and saving as many real people as possible, what’s more heartwarming than that?
(Happy waking up and crushing on his nurse falls into the happy ending category too, so we can count that as a bonus).
Is the spirit of giving there?
Tony Stark is a billionaire, so giving isn’t that much of a stretch for him. But yes, it’s there! He gifts Pepper with a giant stuffed bunny, for some reason, and decks out Harley’s garage with all the gadgets a techie kid could want. Speaking of Harley…
Any precocious kids?
Oh boy, is there. When Tony lands in Tennessee, the first person he encounters is a kid named Harley. If this were any other movie, the pair would bond, Harley would be a sidekick of sorts and Tony would be a father figure of sorts. But this is Shane Black’s Iron Man, so their relationship is much more snarky camaraderie than anything else. But regardless, we have a ten-year-old kid with a tragic backstory who’s wise beyond his years and helps Tony through a tough spot, and Tony returns the favour with outrageous gifts. Tell me that’s not a Christmas movie!
What about a Christmas miracle?
Every Christmas movie has a Christmas miracle. It doesn’t have to be a literal miracle, like George Bailey’s guardian angel getting its wings or Ebenezer Scrooge getting the chance to set things right. It can just be something totally amazing, and improbable, like Sam making it through airport security to say goodbye to Joanna.
Iron Man 3’s miracle could fall into either category, technically — Pepper survives not only extremis, but a 200-foot fall. Is it a miracle, or just super unlikely? It doesn’t matter, because Pepper Potts lives! Everybody lives! Happy wakes up, Pepper survives, Tony and Rhodey are fine… even the Mandarin/Trevor lives! It’s a Christmas miracle.
So rejoice, Marvel fans, Iron Man 3 is officially Christmas viewing. Time to forget about Kevin McAllister setting booby traps to scare off burglars and enjoy Tony Stark building booby traps to disarm henchmen.