- "Before he built rockets for the Nazis, the idealistic Wernher von Braun dreamed of space travel. He stargazed. Do you know what he said when the first V-2 hit London? 'The rocket performed perfectly. It just landed on the wrong planet.' See, we all begin wide-eyed. Pure science. And then the ego steps in, the obsession. And you look up... you're a long way from shore."
- ―Maya Hansen to Pepper Potts[src]
Doctor Maya Hansen was a scientist who was the mastermind behind the Extremis project, and later began collaborating with Aldrich Killian to perfect the program under Advanced Idea Mechanics. However, the project began killing people in violent explosions, which Killian framed as terrorist attacks, so Hansen betrayed him and sought Tony Stark's help to fix it. When Hansen attempted to stop Killian after he captured Stark and Pepper Potts in his plan to take over the War on Terror, she was murdered.
Meeting Tony Stark
In 1999, Hansen attended a New Year's Eve party in Bern, Switzerland, where she met Tony Stark. Hansen talked about her project with him and the two soon engaged in a fling. After Stark delivered a lecture for Bern 2000, they were enjoying their evening together when Aldrich Killian also tried to vie for Stark's attention. While Stark only brushed off the unwanted intrusion, Hansen accepted Killian's contact details on his behalf, yet with little regard.
Hansen and Stark made their way back to her hotel room where she showed off her research into Extremis, which had the potential to upgrade the human body and regrow cells. Stark was impressed, but Happy Hogan was less so and began pulling at one of the test plants against Hansen's warnings. Hansen and Stark went into her bedroom, continuing to flirt and kiss while discussing Extremis' medicinal ventures. The pair were interrupted when the plant Hogan had damaged suddenly exploded, exposing a glitch in Hansen's design. Once the two realized what had happened, they laughed and celebrated New Years.
When she awoke on New Year's Day after spending the night with Stark, Hansen continued her work while looking over the mountains. She soon found that Stark had secretly left, discarding her as easily as he had Killian, although he left Hansen an equation with the potential of fixing the bugs within her Extremis code. Angered by Stark's disappearance, Hansen used his formula to further her research, though she still failed to fix the bug and needed money to expand her development.
In the wake of that night in Switzerland, Hansen approached Aldrich Killian and was accepted into the ranks of A.I.M.. She brought her research with her and eventually, the development of Extremis led to Hansen leading a 40-strong team of A.I.M. scientists.
The downside of Extremis was its explosively unstable nature; some hosts would accept it, and remain somewhat stable with regular infusions and treatment, while others exploded violently. When Extremis was tested on human subjects, a number of them went critical in public, causing Killian to invent a terror plot cover story to keep A.I.M.'s involvement a secret.
Seeking Tony Stark's Help
Hansen, unaware of the extent of Aldrich Killian's machinations, approached Tony Stark directly after he made some public boasts about stopping the acts of terror. She was exasperated when Stark initially failed to remember her and briefly joked they had a 13-year-old child from their one-night-stand. Hansen had reason to believe Killian and the Mandarin's terrorism might be connected, but moreover wanted Stark's assistance in aiding her Extremis research. Hansen was then introduced to Pepper Potts as she tried to convince Stark to leave the city, which the former agreed with. Stark refused though, and a bemused Hansen witnessed his argument with Potts.
However, Hansen soon realized she was not the only one drawn to Stark's mansion by the news media boasts; armed helicopters arrived to deliver a reactionary blow and remove one of the prominent obstacles to the hidden terrorist plot. The first missile knocked Hansen back and rendered her unconscious amidst the rubble. Hansen found herself escaping the mansion with the assistance of Potts, who was wearing the Mark XLII Armor. They made it outside through the glass doors and watched as the mansion was torn apart, trapping Stark inside.
Confessing to Pepper Potts
That evening, Hansen and Pepper Potts drove away from the rubble and Potts wondered why Hansen had come to Tony Stark's mansion. Suggesting they go somewhere safe, Hansen explained what her research was and revealed that she believed her boss, Aldrich Killian, was working for the Mandarin.
Hansen and Potts decided to hide out in a hotel room. As they continued to discuss her research, Hansen expressed her regrets over Killian exploiting her ideas and designs for terrorism, going on to compare her experiences to that of the man who originally aspired to invent space travel and instead created bombs to attack London during World War II. Potts comforted her and reminded Hansen that what happened was not solely down to her, noting that it was exactly what Stark Industries once did when they were still building weapons. Hansen thanked Potts for her words.
The pair were interrupted by a knock at the door, which Potts answered and met a waiter with their food. Just then, Killian arrived, having been contacted by Hansen beforehand. He killed the waiter and pinned Potts against the wall before demanding to know why Hansen had been at Stark's mansion. Hansen explained she was trying to fix Extremis so they could launch it next year, insisting they need Stark's intellect and that Potts could be used as an incentive. Hansen made it clear she was unaware that Killian and the Mandarin intended to kill Stark.
Finding Tony Stark
Days passed, with the world still believing Tony Stark had been killed in the destruction of his home, but Hansen learned the truth when she encountered him being imprisoned at Aldrich Killian's Mansion. While working there, Hansen apologized to Stark for the circumstances and asked once again that he help her fix Extremis. She showed Stark the formula he left behind for her in Switzerland, only to become disheartened when he also didn't remember this feat. Stark brought up the many casualties Extremis was responsible for and condemned Hansen for compromising her morals, stating she had lost the values that he once admired in her. Stark urged Hansen to help him escape and stop Aldrich Killian.
Before a visibly conflicted Hansen could respond, Killian arrived and stated that he wanted Stark's cooperation as much as she did. Killian explained the concept behind having Trevor Slattery pose as the Mandarin to cover up A.I.M.'s failed Extremis tests. In order to get Stark's compliance, Killian revealed he was torturing a captive Pepper Potts with Extremis, showing a live video feed of her in pain. Hansen was left disturbed at the revelation that Potts was at risk of dying if her health gave out as Extremis took over her body.
Executed by Killian
Appalled by the lengths which Aldrich Killian was prepared to go to get what he wanted out of Tony Stark and Pepper Potts with her creation, Hansen decided to fight back and regain her soul. She picked up an ampule of Extremis and threatened to administer a lethal dose to herself, which would cause a massive explosion. Hansen then demanded Killian to release Stark, making him consider what would happen to their research without her expertise and what would happen to him once he got caught in the blast.
Killian briefly tried to reason with Hansen but in the end, unwilling to waste time discussing this any further and deciding that Extremis needed nothing else from her, he simply responded by fatally shooting her in the chest. Hansen fell to her knees as she bled out, sharing a final devastated glance with Stark, who could only watch. As Killian mocked that a high-level position at A.I.M. had just opened up, Hansen attempted to crawl to safety but quickly collapsed and died.
End of the Mandarin
Hansen's death was avenged when Pepper Potts used her Extremis powers to kill Aldrich Killian. The rest of the Extremis Soldiers were defeated by Tony Stark, James Rhodes, and J.A.R.V.I.S., putting an end to A.I.M.'s plans and ensuring Hansen's final objective was reached, although it was clear her vision of originally using Extremis for the betterment of humanity ultimately failed.
Hansen and Killian's choices prompted Stark to reflect on how he created his own demons, which resulted in the creation of the Mandarin. Wanting to avoid such a path for himself, Stark decided to halt his fixation on perfecting the Iron Man suits and move forward with his personal life.
- Expert Scientist: Tony Stark, himself an ingenious scientist, praised Hansen to be most gifted scientific woman he ever met in Switzerland. Her capabilities in genetics and biotechnology enabled Hansen to create Extremis, originally designed to rewrite humans' DNA and allow improvement of the body's performance. However, Hansen's original design had some flaws, and she realized that she needed Stark's help to perfect it.
- In the comics, Maya Hansen is a scientist who developed the Extremis virus alongside Aldrich Killian. When Killian stole a sample of the virus and sold it to domestic terrorists, she called up Tony Stark to help recover it, eventually injecting him with Extremis. Hansen later confessed to assisting the sale of Extremis since it would force defense contractors to renew their funding. She was arrested and eventually began working with Stark at S.H.I.E.L.D. on parole. Hansen was later kidnapped by A.I.M. and forced to recreate Extremis for them until she was killed, but managed to send out a warning to Stark.
- In an extended scene of Hansen's death, she tries to crawl out of the basement after Killian shoots her but is trapped when he places an Extremis-induced flower on the stairs and leaves her to die. Hansen then uses her remaining strength to reach her workstation and send all of her data on Extremis to Stark, urging him to destroy the program, which he promises to. After accomplishing this task, Hansen tearfully accepts her fate and the Extremis-injected flower explodes, incinerating her.
Behind the Scenes
- Jessica Chastain was in talks to play Maya Hansen, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts.
- Shane Black and Drew Pearce stated on the Iron Man 3 audio commentary that Maya was originally the film's villain. Three years after the film's release, Black claimed the change was made as Marvel felt they would be unable to sell toys of a female villain, clarifying it was a corporate decision and had nothing to do with Kevin Feige. Ironically, there were no action figures of Killian.
- Rebecca Hall revealed Maya was no longer the villain when she was cast, but "I signed on to do something very different to what I ended up doing. Halfway through shooting they were basically like, 'What would you think if you just got shot out of nowhere?' I was meant to be in the movie until the end... I grappled with them for awhile and then I said, 'Well, you have to give me a decent death scene and you have to give me one more scene with Iron Man,' which Robert Downey, Jr. supported me on."
- Monique Ganderton and Alisa Hensley were stunt doubles for Rebecca Hall in the role of Maya Hansen.
- Jenny Austin was a stand-in for Rebecca Hall in the role of Maya Hansen.