By Anthony Breznican
October 24, 2012 at 05:17 PM EDT

The evil geniuses of Marvel Studios are the masters of building suspense among hardcore fans, often by creating trailers that show a lot of imagery that is, 1) very exciting, and 2) entirely out of context. As we watch, we’re in a constant state of “What exactly is going on here?”

The new trailer for Iron Man 3 is full of such headscratchers, which only help build tension and anticipation for the May 3 opening.

Like I said — evil geniuses.

REMOTE CONTROL ARMOR?

Near the start of the trailer, we see Stark alone in his lab, drawing his rocket-powered armored glove from the table with what appears to be telepathy.

For months, it was long-speculated that Iron Man 3 was partially inspired by the 2005-2006 comics series Extremis, by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov, in which a critically wounded Stark is injected with a serum that fuses the control system for his armor to his body, allowing him to draw the gear toward him remotely. We saw a precursor to this engineering in The Avengers, when Stark used a pair of bracelets to link up with the Iron Man suit.

Just before Comic-Con, Marvel leaked this concept art image to EW, showing a panicked Tony Stark in partial armor, which seemed to confirm this. During Marvel’s Comic-Con presentation days later, the crowd saw footage of Robert Downey Jr.’s character experimenting with this technology — and getting somewhat beaten up as the pieces of his suit slammed onto his non-iron flesh.

So what we’re seeing is Stark using this internal nanotech and the power of his own mind-bullets to make the Iron Man glove levitate and launch at his arm.

That, truly, is the sound of one hand clapping.

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THE TEN RINGS

We get a glimpse of Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin — an international terrorist whose personal style is a mishmash of different cultures and warrior motifs.

We know that the Mandarin sports The Ten Rings, which symbolize his terrorist organization of the same name (the one that kidnapped Tony Stark in the original Iron Man film).

But what mystical power do they contain of their own? Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said this version of the Mandarin will have a different backstory from the comics, in which he was a Chinese exile who discovers a crashed alien ship and harnesses the power of the 10 rings aboard it to unleash havoc on the world.

Feige says we won’t get ice rays and fire beams from these rings, like in the comics, but what will we get? Smart money says they’re not just because the Mandarin has won a lot of Super Bowls.

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VILLAIN WITH A CAPTAIN AMERICA TATTOO?

In one quick shot, we catch a glimpse of what appears to be the back of the Mandarin’s head as he lowers his hood.

The robe and hairstyle certainly seem to match, but there’s something weird on the back of his neck. It’s hard to tell what it is, unless you’re looking at the trailer in large-format HD, and zoom in.

A bulls-eye of some sort?

No … it appears to be a Captain America shield. And it has an Avengers “A” in the middle. (Others think it’s the “A” symbol of Anarchy.)

Is the Mandarin causing grief for Iron Man because of some crazy, unrequited fanboy love for Cap? (Those two never did get along!) Unlikely.

There’s one other thing that doesn’t add up, here. Where are the rings? Does Mandarin ever go around without his bling? It’s likely this character is an imposter, someone in disguise, perhaps trying to infiltrate the Mandarin lair? But that doesn’t add up either — if you were trying to sneak into the White House would you disguise yourself as Barack Obama?

Furthermore, who’s a big enough Cap fan to have a tattoo like this? Dare I speculate … dear Captain America trading-card collector Agent Coulson?

Nah. Couldn’t be. Or … Nah.

Or …?

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IRON MAN’S GIANT BUNNY

I’m not alone on the internet asking: What the hell is that thing?

When the Mandarin’s helicopters launch their rocket strike on Stark’s mansion, Pepper and Tony are thrown across the room like playthings. In the background, just to the left below them, is an actual plaything that seems somewhat out-of-place among Iron Man’s other toys — a giant stuffed rabbit with what seems to be a big circle on its chest. A great big tag, or is that a toy arc reactor?

The trailer shows us a seemingly healthy Stark (that is, not scratched up or smashed) getting surgery in what is probably his Extremis procedure to have the Iron Man suit wired into his body. Susan Polo over at The Mary Sue speculates “this is the equivalent of the stuffed animal that you give to a kid who’s in the hospital.”

So it probably has a very simple explanation, but it was fun thinking of it as a possible Easter-themed easter egg.

Of course, the giant mystery bunny already has its own parody Twitter account.

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THE SHADOW PEOPLE

Judging by the trailer (which isn’t always an honest gauge), Iron Man 3 is a much darker film that the previous three. Instead of the upbeat bad-boy rocking of AC/DC, we get a somber score and a lonely hero sprawled in the snow as the man who just saved the planet in The Avengers says: “I’ve got a lot of apologies to make …”

In this interview with EW at Comic-Con, Robert Downey Jr. said Tony is having a very hard time dealing with how close he came to death in that film. Captain America had criticized him as a playboy showoff who never actually was willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good, but Iron Man proved him wrong by the end.

So where is this regret coming from? A hint may be in the dreamlike footage we see of a man (presumably Stark) walking through rubble with a small boy. (Who he is, we don’t know.) On the walls of the blown out structure are the shadow imprints of people, both large and small. As we see this, Stark’s voice over says, “I can’t sleep. And when I do, I have nightmares.”

My guess is the events of the trailer are a little chronologically scrambled and that we’re seeing him after the attack on his mansion, after he sinks to the bottom of the sea in his Iron Man suit. The opening shot of him falling back into the snow may be him after this assault, hiding out and regrouping as he figures out his next move. Where he resurfaces, I can’t tell — but it’s not Malibu.

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige says that as The Mandarin steps forward, Stark recedes into the shadows. This walk through the ruins may be part of Stark’s journey. So who is the kid, and what are the shadow figures? I think it comes back to wyStark feels he needs to apologize. His great wealth comes from weapons manufacturing, and this bombed out home may be the result of one of them.

The shadow figures recall the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, which vaporized bodies but left imprints of their forms on walls and stone walkways. They are somber reminders of the terrible power of that weapon, and the widespread and instantaneous loss of life.

Wherever these shadows come from, the trailer makes it clear that Stark feels responsible. It may not matter if he knows who they are, just that they were.

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NOT SO HAPPY

Iron Man 3 is the first in the series to not be directed by Jon Favreau, who took on a small role as Tony Stark’s driver/bodyguard Happy Hogan. Although Shane Black (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) has taken over directorial duties, Favreau has continued on as a producer and in his co-starring role.

But … that doesn’t mean he’s sticking around for Iron Man 4.

In one quick shot we see Happy down, sprawled and battered amid some manner of devastation. It looks like he’s soaked through with blood (in trailers, blood tends to be tinted black to avoid freaking out people who don’t want to see that.)

I’m no doctor, but that doesn’t look good for old Happy. But would Marvel really kill one of their classic comic book characters, even if he is a somewhat minor figure in the pantheon of sidekicks?

It’s a great way to make the audience feel invested. Who knows how many thousands of anonymous New Yorkers were killed in the alien invasion of New York in The Avengers, but moviegoer outrage toward the villains was fueled by one high-profile death.

Even if Happy survives, he’s clearly jacked up for reals. Lesson: Bureaucratic sidekicks are the red shirts of the Marvel Universe.

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GRINDING THE PEPPER

Guy Pearce shows up only in two quick flashes, but one of them is while MAKING A MOVE ON TONY STARK’S GIRLFRIEND.

He’s playing a character named Aldrich Killian, who in the Extremis comic books was a geneticist who leaked critical information to a domestic terrorist group. His serum also is what helped Stark become a kind of hybrid with his Iron Man armor, so he’s not all bad. The role will undoubtedly be different in the film — the comic didn’t feature him cozying up to Pepper Potts.

What’s she thinking? Well, we don’t get to see her response. This may be an unwanted advance. But it seems out of character for her to cheat on Stark, especially after he’s seen earlier in the trailer telling her he wants to protect her because she’s the one thing he can’t live without.

Killian’s role may be hinted at in the two pieces of voiceover happening when his image is shown.

The first time we see him, in a solo shot (above), Stark is saying, “Honestly, there’s a hundreds people who wanna kill me.” That’s no accident, so Killian’s clearly in the bad guy column.

But the other time we see him, macking on Pepper, we hear The Mandarin beginning his own monologue: “Ladies … children … sheep …” When he says “sheep,” we see Killian going in for the kiss. If he’s a baddie, he may be merely a useful idiot.

We can’t know just yet what the context of the kiss is, but if it comes after the attack on Stark’s home and Iron Man is considered dead and gone, who can fault her for potentially moving on. Anyway, it’s not like she’s the only one.

I have no idea who this nurse is, but she’s clearly turned on by Stark’s Back To the Future Halloween costume. Is lumberjack-wear his way of staying undercover?

Anyway, as Stark and Potts have become closer over the past Marvel movies, it may be a smart thing to introduce a little temptation to keep up the romantic tension. Another new cast member this time is Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen, another geneticist from Extremis, who uses her expertise to help Stark fuse with his armor. She also fuses with him, so to speak, so her presence in the movie could play out in similar fashion.

We only get a glimpse of Hall in the trailer, and so it’s impossible to tell just how much she factors into the story. But Hansen is not a one-dimensional scientist/love-interest in the comics. There is some potential dark territory to explore in her, and if the filmmakers continue to explore that Extremis storyline, it could mean very bad things for Stark.

Worse even that scorning poor Pepper.

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BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE

Why are these suits blowing up so … completely?

After all we’ve seen Iron Man endure through the previous two films and The Avengers, doesn’t it seem a little strange to see the suits in his Hall of Armor just vaporize in individual explosions?

At first glance, this would seem to be part of the attack on Tony Stark’s home by The Mandarin, but I think the total annihilation of the armors is a clue that this is something different.

It may be happening at the same time as The Mandarin’s assault, but watch closely and you’ll notice that we don’t see any rocket firing into those cases. They just explode on their own.

Is this a fail-safe installed by Stark to make sure his armor never falls into the wrong hands? Maybe, but if he has that kind of thorough self-destruct installed in the armors doesn’t he risk it accidentally being triggered when he’s in battle?

I mean, Iron Man gets thrown around and abused a lot, and given how much punishment those suits can take, that’s a hell of a lot of firepower to store inside the suit for the sake of “security.”

Maybe he just installs this after retiring the suit for whatever new upgrade he devises. But if that’s the case, why keep the suits around at all, except maybe for vanity?

Wait. Nevermind. We’re talking about Tony Stark here. Of course.

Moving on …

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GET OFFA MY PLANE!

An aerial assault features prominently in the trailer, though we don’t know for sure what has happened to the jetliner and why.

We can deduce a couple of things:

1.) This is not a typical passenger plane. There aren’t the rows of seats you’d see in a commercial jet.

2.) It’s not a private jet. Way too large for that.

3.) There are police on board. (Well, at least one police officer.)

4.) The fuselage has a familiar navy blue, gold, and sky blue paint job.

My guess is this is Air Force One, and we’re witnessing an attack on the President of the United States. (Maybe that’s him below getting sucked out into thin air?)

Okay, so President-in-Peril isn’t such a weird thing for a superhero movie, but the strange thing is that we seem to be witnessing Iron Man attack the plane.

The kind of geeky looking cop peers out the window and then that recognizable red and gold fist comes punching through.

Now, maybe Stark is just busting in through the wall so he can save the day. But then why does he blast the scrawny cop with his repulsor beam?

And is punching another hole a good way to help save an already damaged airplane? Tony knows his aerodynamics better than that.

Within moments (based on rate of fall), we see Iron Man flying to rescue the passengers plummeting toward certain death.

Obviously, Stark hasn’t decided to turn villain, but perhaps someone else (*cough* Mandarin *cough*) has stolen his technology and decided to use his suits for nefarious purposes? (GASP!)

As we have seen elsewhere in the trailer, those suits seem to have a mind of their own.

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FIFTY SHADES OF RED AND GOLD

This may be the weirdest thing of all, but is it just me or does this shot of the apparently sentient Iron Man suit leaning over a fallen Tony Stark seem more than a little sexual?

It looks like it could be the cover of some insane dimestore romance novel: “For once, the suit pressed its owner.”

While I highly doubt there’s anything actually sexual going on, I do believe director Shane Black is smart enough to know what cues this visual might trigger in the mind of moviegoers. It immediately made me think of that classic Gone With the Wind poster.

In yesterday’s post about the trailer, I speculated about whether there was even anyone in the suit, or if the Extremis technology allows it to form up without Tony and seek him out — kind of like a big, robotic bodyguard.

We also got this creepy image of Pepper Potts being grabbed by the armor and pulled away from a sleeping Tony Stark. The look on her face says it all, and like it or not this is also a kind of sexualized moment.

She’s lying in bed, embracing her lover, when his metallic alter-ego forces its way in between them, getting rough with her in the process. It’s ménage à whaaah?

Earlier in the trailer, we get a shot of Stark getting into the bed and looking down at the floor of the room where he has scattered the pieces of his armor like someone rebuilding a motorcycle. It’s not a far leap, given the remote-control technology we’ve established in the previous films, to assume the armor has reassembled itself.

In the first movie, Stark famously announced: “I am Iron Man.” But more and more, it seems like the suit can do just fine without him.

That’s a clever idea for the movie to explore. Tony Stark may not be the first industrialist to replace a human with a machine, but he may be the first to do it to himself.

Watch the full trailer again.

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