Please correct my understanding if I missed something.

In Iron Man, it is established that Tony needs a strong electromagnet to stop the shrapnel from reaching his heart, so he doesn't die. So he makes the Arc Reactor, which is the power source for that magnet.

In Iron Man 2, a major plot point is that the Arc Reactor is poisoning him, so he's dying anyway.

Is there any reason given why the Arc Reactor has to be inside of him? Wouldn't it just be enough to have the Arc Reactor outside of him, connected with a cable to the magnet?

I mean, it's not a pretty solution, but there are enough people who are kept alive by e.g. external oxygen tanks they are tethered to. As far as I know, no one has ever seriously considered implanting an oxygen tank into someone, just so they don't have to carry it around with them.

  • I think it contains a lot of handwavium, but it was central to Iron Man's plot back in the 60s, when nukes were 'good' & surgery wasn't ;) [Have you seen Iron Man 3 yet? …to avoid plot spoilers.]
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 11:31
  • Yeah, I've seen pretty much all of Marvel, just re-watching some of the older ones. Interesting point you bring up from the 60s. I wasn't sure how much of all of that originated in the comics (have to admit, haven't read them...)
    – Dakkaron
    Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 11:35
  • Quora says it was a magnet but not a reactor in the comics - quora.com/Did-Iron-Man-ever-have-an-Arc-Reactor-in-the-comics but no real citations… so maybe the handwavium is a result of them trying to retcon why he'd have a magnet [canon] rather than surgery [not canon at the time] & used it to give him a lot of 'spare' electricity.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 12:02
  • 3
    Seems like the original plan was to have the arc reactor also essentially be the magnet which would keep the shrapnel away but this was cut from the script at some point. Then we get the scene where Pepper swaps the reactor out and she pulls the magnet out of his chest. The magnet is never replaced though and this is an upgraded unit so presumably this then went back to the original plan of not having a magnet and having the arc reactor act as one instead as well as be the power source. Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 12:10
  • Thanks for all the input! Looks like they had a few ideas that kinda clashed during writing/production and the outcome doesn't happen to make too much sense. Especially, since the whole plot of the second movie hinges on the fact, that Tony Stark is dying, even though there would be a very simple way out...
    – Dakkaron
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 10:18

1 Answer 1


He's Tony Stark. A playboy. A crime fighter. It'd be a little odd to basically give him a colostomy bag, no? Have him carry around a big ole car battery like the one Yinsen connected to initially keep him alive. The unit must be all-encompassing and fit inside his chest cavity, which also doesn't make sense. In the scene where Pepper is swapping out his magnet, it's as if he had a cannister installed around his heart. She was able to reach inside his chest to install the new unit. This is, of course, impossible. And so we're left with Suspension of Disbelief to rectify what is going on versus what we know to be impossible.

  • Tbh, if I had the choice between a colostomy bag or death, the choice wouldn't be too hard... Ok, so it comes down to "so the movie can happen" ;) I feared, that was the answer. Thanks though!
    – Dakkaron
    Commented Jul 12, 2022 at 11:37
  • Also, since the reactor is small enough to fit into a metal canister that also fits into his chest cavity, it should be possible to just attach it somewhere on his body (as was done later in the series). But I guess, it's a Marvell movie, they don't really have to make sense.
    – Dakkaron
    Commented Jul 12, 2022 at 11:38

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