I'm not sure what constitutes a "spoiler" nowadays, and I've tried to keep reveals at a minimum. But if you're on a quest to avoid any information about Iron Man 3, then I suggest you stop reading. Seriously
"Phase 1" of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while certainly action-packed, was mostly a series of origin stories. Luckily, the critical consensus is that many of them met (and oftentimes exceeded) expectations, but they were popcorn for the masses: The plots were spoon-fed, hammered-in, and then pushed aside to leave room for a flurry of computer-generated action. That's not to say they were brainless brawlers...some are still hailing the first Iron Man flick as "the greatest superhero film of our time". But a well-crafted spectacle like The Avengers does leave one wondering what peaks our heroes, both on-and-off screen, will reach from here. How the bar will be raised for new and current generations of Marvel groupies.
Fans have been wondering tirelessly about what will make Marvel's Phase 2 set of films different from the first handful. The obscure choices of Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man as the "newcomers" have generated a fair amount of intrigue and speculation. After seeing Iron Man 3, Marvel's first whack at a Phase 2 adventure, I can only hope that other movies in the series adopt Shane Black's seamless emphasis on character development. He's always had a knack for marrying thoughtful action with the human condition, and I have a feeling that he's about to become a very busy man in Hollywood.
As I've come to accept with Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight films, the present day cinematic versions of our favorite comic book characters are set in a completely different world, far from the realm of ink-and-paper. Hell, it's been stated that in this Iron Man universe, Tony Stark doesn't even have a drinking problem, thereby shamelessly eliminating the 'Demon in a Bottle' storyline. Events don't necessarily play out in the chronology you would expect them to, but this is completely ok, folks! The truth is, Marvel has executed a brilliant marketing maneuver: Fans who haven't followed the comics won't be the wiser, but followers of the source material can walk into the cinematic universe expecting something new upon-arrival. If they wanted to bounce back into the world of Iron Man in which they were comfortable, they could just reach in their drawer and pull out a couple of old comic books. No harm, no foul.
Again, as people have tried to explain to me time and time again, Christopher Nolan's "Batman" is his own universe. It's not a dark, rainy, dismal Gotham City, but a crime-filled concrete forest where villains don't wait until nightfall to strike. The same has now been done with the Marvel universe (at least one critical chunk of it), and I feel Phase 2 will be all the better for it. Fans can now only be disappointed by the limitations of the filmmakers/script, and no longer dive headlong into an online forum bashing a movie because it "doesn't stick to the source material". As with any DC or Marvel comic, if a story arc is skewed or not what fans may be used to, then guess what! It's just another universe. Deal with it.
Ugh, I'm going to get trolled so hard for saying that.
Face it: Explanations like "another universe" have kept folks believing that some dimensions house Superman fighting for Soviet Russia, Terry McGinnis taking Batman's place in a future-Gotham, and Peter Parker dying while defending those he loves. We can walk into our comic book adaptations with all expectations in-place, but if Marvel has done their job, you're in for something special or unexpected. Now, I'm not exactly defending the complete butchery of
Deadpool in the first Wolverine film, but if you're going to take liberties on a franchise, let the characters core personalities (the heart and soul of our stories) remain the same. The changes should be delivered in the conflicts they face, the ways in which their lives are rocked, or status-quo is challenged. That, can be mixed-and-matched at will.
All of this being said, if there is one thing that Iron Man 3 has shown me, it's that we have now officially entered a true Phase 2...and all bets are off. Count me in.