When asked about her role as Pepper Potts in “Iron Man 3,” Gwyneth Paltrow told MTV that “you see her really on equal ground with Tony in their interpersonal dynamic, and as a CEO, and then she’s got all this action… I think in order to move things forward and keep it fresh, you can only be the damsel in distress for so long.”
After catching the film, I’m happy to report that Paltrow’s remarks are far from hyperbole. SPOILERS ahead!
First, I need to clear the air. I’m not the biggest fan of Paltrow but I have to admit that she kills it in this movie. Anyone that can go toe-to-toe with Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark with the stage presence that Paltrow commands has earned my respect.
Female characters are often portrayed as overly emotional, jealous, and helpless caricatures, but “Iron Man 3” not only avoids this kind of stereotyping, but actually subverts it.
Tony is also the jealous one of the pair. It would have been so easy (and predictable) to include a love triangle between Tony, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), and a jealous Pepper but (thankfully) the filmmakers resisted this temptation. Instead of being catty and jealous of one another, Pepper and Maya get along quite well. The film even passes the Bechdel Test (something “The Avengers” fails to do).
And of course, Pepper is far from helpless. She plays the damsel in distress role for a bit, but it’s only so that the trope can be subverted in the final act. She saves Maya once, Tony twice, and arguably the world from a foe Stark is helpless against (even with his army of armors).
Physical power certainly isn’t everything (even in a superhero movie) but in a world with “Be a Hero” shirts for boys and “I Need a Hero” shirts for girls, it’s nice to see a woman save the world and rescue the guy in a big summer blockbuster.