This might be slightly cheating, but we’re going to pinpoint a moment in the actual filming of this sequence that makes it far more effective than most other franchise action scenes. In the “Deconstructing the Scene: Attack on Air Force One” behind-the-scenes featurette for “Iron Man 3” (you can check it out under the “Extras” tab on Disney+ when you queue up the movie), Marvel presents a surprisingly in-depth look at the extent to which the production team went in order to pull this scene off with a clever balance of both visual effects and practical stunt work. The final result proves how lacking recent Marvel movies have been by resorting to either soundstage shoots, all-CGI settings with awfully muddy color grading, or the Volume.
As the most visceral and thrilling moment of the film to that point, the choice to actually film skydivers plunging at terminal velocity towards the ground works wonders when paired with the digital imagery of a painstakingly gussied-up Iron Man in action. Switching back and forth from point-of-view shots of Stark inside his helmet interface, JARVIS’ insistent countdown as they fall closer and closer to Earth, and the breathtakingly immersive footage of the stuntmen and women, the entire sequence ends up evoking similar sort of thrills that the “Mission: Impossible” movies have mastered so effectively.
If there’s any negative aspect to address, it’s that the final reveal that Tony was never actually in the suit in the first place undercuts a lot of the heroics we just saw. But even with that (admittedly funny) gag, we still were able to bear witness to one of the coolest and most ambitious hero moments in all the MCU — one that reminded us why the insufferable Stark is a flawed hero worth rooting for.