Marvel Cinematic Universe: Pepper Potts’ Evolution Has Paved the Way for Rescue

Sabina Stent
Movies Marvel
Movies Marvel MCU

Last month, a leaked photograph of Gwyneth Paltrow on the set of the still-untitled and much-anticipated Avengers 4 swarmed social media. Although the image has since been deleted, the sight of Paltrow in an armour not unlike one of Tony Stark’s own creations had many excited fans speculating that Pepper Potts would finally appear as Rescue, her superhero alter ego, in the next film.

As a part of the MCU since the beginning, and in an era when Marvel boss Kevin Feige insists that the future of the MCU is (predominantly) female, Pepper Potts’ transformation into Rescue is a very organic progression. Having first appeared in the Tales of Suspense comics series of 1963, it wasn’t until Matt Fraction and Salvador Lorocca’s 2009 ‘World’s Most Wanted’/The Invincible Iron Man series, on discovering a suit Tony has made specifically for her, that Pepper suits up as Rescue.

But Pepper Potts has always been something of a superhero, even without the suit; never a silent bystander to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, whether his assistant, CEO of his company, or as a love interest, her evolution into Rescue has been steadily taking place all along, right before our eyes.

Iron Man 

“I do anything and everything Mr. Stark requires. Including occasionally taking out the trash.”

As Tony Stark’s indispensable P.A. and ‘secretary’ in 2008’s Iron Man, Veronica ‘Pepper’ Potts essentially runs her boss’s life. She’s privy to everything, bearing witness to his bachelor lifestyle and running his company for the three months while he was being held in captivity. She’s been by his side throughout all his superhero hijinks.

We learn of Tony’s trust in Pepper at a very early point, while she understands her boss’s acquired personal tastes. In one of the funniest superhero reveals, she walks in on Tony struggling to prise the armour off his body, more shocked at the bullet holes she can see in his suit than what he’s doing. As she stands open-mouthed, he reminds her, “Let’s face it — this is not the worst thing you’ve caught me doing”.

Tony trusts Pepper with his life, and she is a brilliant sparring partner for his wisecracks. She is not afraid to go above and beyond, always ready to get her hands dirty (both figuratively and literally), even assisting Tony in replacing the Arc One Reactor in his chest. Her decision to keep the original and not throw it out as Tony suggested had major implications: it would, once again, save Tony’s life, after he requires it to defeat Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger (Jeff Bridges). She later breaks into Stane’s office and hacks into his computer to retrieve files detailing plans to assassinate Tony, slyly and conspicuously concealing her intentions when he enters.

Additionally, she is the first person to meet Phil Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Clark Gregg), later informing him of Stane’s activities. She may not be wearing a suit at this point, but she’s exhibiting a superhero mindset, always going above and beyond when needed, independently, and without direction.

Avengers Assemble

“Is this about the Avengers? Which I know nothing about.”

Pepper was instrumental in the design of Stark Tower and is now the CEO of Stark Industries, in a relationship with Tony and — much to the latter’s disbelief — on first name terms with Phil Coulson. This acquaintance, never mentioned apart from with incredulity by Tony, hints that Pepper has unspoken S.H.I.E.L.D. knowledge, has conversed with Coulson on various occasions, and possibly has access to information to which Tony is not privileged.

After the Battle of New York, Pepper was pivotal in transforming the now damaged Stark Tower into Avengers Tower, not merely by looking over his shoulder but redesigning the building into a bigger, more powerful superhero hub. This would allow Pepper knowledge of and access to parts of the building unknown to Tony’s teammates. A final scene, just before the end credits roll, is intended to amplify the romance between the couple affectionately dubbed “Pepperony” by fans. But Pepper is just getting started…

Iron Man 3

“I got you.”

“I got you first.”

Iron Man 3 is as much Pepper’s film as it is Tony’s, as we see her autonomy and ferocity fleshed out more than in previous films; not so much a supporting character in Shane Black’s blistering third instalment of the trilogy as she is a superhero in the making. We see Tony’s trust in her not only as the CEO of his company, as his partner, but as a fellow defender. We could, in many ways, consider this iteration of Pepper the precursor to Rescue, as she has the most activity in this film, and firmer control of Stark Industries than previously realised.

As Stark Tower is in the midst of being blown up by terrorist The Mandarin, Tony sends his armour, the Mark XLII, to protect Pepper. As the suit attaches to her arms, legs, and face, she gasps, not so much of fear, but because of the adrenaline coursing through her body; a rush, from wearing the piece she had come to resent for eating up so much of Tony’s time and energy. What she calls, one of his “distractions.” She now understands what it all means.

Tony and Pepper are co-conspirators, teammates. He once again trusts her with his life, leaving her a secret message to reassure that he is not M.I.A. but regrouping. This allows her to take temporary command of Stark Enterprises, informing Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) that Stark Industries will not endorse A.I.M. and Killian’s highly weaponisable serum, something that will have repercussions, as he will later inject her with this serum.

The outcome is spectacular, as it means that Pepper survives a massive fall and allows her to go full superhero, being the one who defeats The Mandarin and saves Tony rather than the other way around. In this way, the tables have been turned: “I think I now know why you don’t want to give up the suit. What am I going to complain about now?”

Roll on 2019, we’re all waiting to be Rescue-d.

Sabina Stent
Freelance writer and lecturer specialising in Women Surrealists and visual culture. Very partial to superheroes, witches and the MCU.
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