Pop quiz ... which entry in the Iron Man series am I describing?
(This game necessarily involves spoilers, so follow me below the line to continue.)
The film opens with Tony Stark on top of the world. Arrogant, sure, and facing down a deep character flaw that keeps him up at night. But just as we're getting into the groove of his jet-setting, bed-hopping, bachelor lifestyle, tragedy strikes! Suddenly, Tony is cut down to size by a foreign-looking, foreign-sounding, Scary Foreign Guy ("SFG"). Stripped of his technological advantage and psychologically humbled, Tony must rely on his ingenuity to reinvent himself (and build a new suit) to overcome SFG. But in a third act twist, it turns out SFG is in cahoots with the REAL villain ... a stodgy, white Corporate Executive Guy ("CEG"). In the end, Tony and his new Iron Man technology must defeat the SFG/CEG's master plan to ... blow a bunch of shit up (or something, it's never really defined what the villains are after). Oh, and also, Pepper Potts is in danger! Except she gets free and does something essential to help Tony defeat SFG/CEG. (So, in a way, it's almost like SHE saves TONY. Craziness!) The end.
So which Iron Man am I talking about?
Yep, trick question. I just summarized all of them. Sure, they tweak the plot a little bit here and there from one movie to the next, but not very much.
"Scary Foreign Guy"
"Corporate Executive Guy"
Each movie plays briefly with the idea that Tony will have some great revelation about his character, whether it's recognizing the harm his company has done to the world in Iron Man 1, or confronting his daddy issues and self-destruction behavior in Iron Man 2, or addressing his PTSD in Iron Man 3. And in each case, rather than let Tony grow, the third act throws us into an explosion-fest, in which the CEG stands in for whatever demons are attacking Tony from the inside (seriously, think about it - in Iron Man 1, Stane represents unethical corporate conduct; in Iron Man 2, Hammer is defined by his insecurity and reckless behavior; and in Iron Man 3, Killian is a man literally ready to explode from all the tension inside of him ... this is paint-by-numbers scriptwriting). In this light, it's painfully obvious that Marvel would rather just not think about it. They'd rather just see shit blow up.
This point has been made already by ScreenRant here, but to put a fine point on it and to wrap up this brief post -- the question shouldn't be what's on the tip of everyone's tongue, i.e. when DC is going to make their Justice League movie to catch up with Marvel. The question I have is when is Marvel going to grow up and give us a Dark Knight? Given the current track record, I'm going to say never, at least not until Marvel runs out of "Phases" and has to do a hard reboot. Not because Marvel doesn't have deep characters or compelling stories to tell, but because Marvel simply isn't interested in telling them. The first sign that I'm wrong may be Iron Man 4 ... if IMDB is unable to cut and paste my synopsis to describe the next entry in the series, then maybe, maybe there's some hope that the formula has broken and Marvel has decided to get real.