Iron Man 3
based on characters by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby
As much as I enjoyed Iron Man and Iron Man 2, I don’t really think of myself as an Iron Man fan. In the Marvel universe, I usually gravitate to Thor and X-Men. (How excited am I about the new all-lady team? SO EXCITED.) So I didn’t make plans to go see Iron Man 3 at midnight, as I usually do for big franchise films—I like not being the only one in the audience gasping, clapping, and cackling. Plus, it was during my last round of undergraduate finals. And yet, when the reviews started piling up, I tuned them out, in an subconscious attempt to remain unspoiled. Deep down, I wanted to see it. When an opportunity to see it on opening day came up, I took it.
Iron Man 3 finds billionaire inventor and superhero Tony Stark recovering from the events of The Avengers, where he (and the rest of the world) were exposed to alien life for the first time. It’s given him insomnia and anxiety attacks, which he tries to cope with by building suit after suit in order to protect his beloved girlfriend Pepper Potts, who can’t bear to see him like this. When a series of bombings orchestrated by international terrorist the Mandarin hits close to home, Tony gets reckless and calls him out, making him a target for not only the Mandarin, but also the machinations of Aldritch Killian, a fellow scientist from Tony’s past.
Much like his 2005 film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Shane Black starts off Iron Man 3 with Robert Downey Jr. monologuing. For a heart-stopping moment, I thought it would continue throughout the film, but it’s utilized here and there to great effect. While Iron Man 3 feels like its sister films, it’s stylistically Black’s baby: I challenge anyone to watch the third act and not immediately think of Downey and Val Kilmer’s banter from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. And Black’s style serves the franchise very well, injecting back into the franchise the effortless dialogue of the first film that was sadly lacking in the second. While Iron Man 3 is a film about Tony recovering emotionally from The Avengers, terrorist attack, and let’s call it body horror, it’s still light, fun, and witty.
Well, for the most part—there are a few moments of tonal whiplash here and there, but the fact that the script is beholden to no beats and feels organically generated by characters’ choices certainly smoothes that over. This is a film that manages to make Tony’s mid-film teaming up with a cute kid work. To be fair, that’s mostly because said adorable moppet is a tiny Tony, just as snarky, manipulative, and good-hearted as old Shellhead. In fact, Iron Man 3 takes a handful of very eighties action-adventure film conceits and reconstructs them interestingly, from the Mandarin (I will not spoil you for the third act, but hallelujah) to the bombastic score that reminded me of nothing so much as Indiana Jones in terms of impact.
Also helping is the fact that Iron Man 3’s effects feel more organic. Being a Ringer, I want to chalk this up to Weta Digital’s involvement (replacing Industrial Lights and Magic’s involvement in the previous two films), but the reality is they’d work even if the effects weren’t top notch. The effort of making these things believable is handled in the script itself, not the special effects. At the beginning of the third act, an airplane is damaged, and Tony must save thirteen people—but he can only carry four. Improvisation drives the sequence and, in fact, much of the film. Tony is at his most interesting when trying to solve practical problems on the fly; you can tell something is off with him when he starts the film sloppily putting together suits in a room declared the Stark Research and Development Department. As an action film, Iron Man 3 is a worthy ideal for other films to aspire to. You can tell it’s the real deal when a third act that could be simply ridiculous feels, instead, earned and cheer-worthy.
Downey, of course, is Tony Stark, so there’s no need to comment on his always stellar performance. Paltrow’s Pepper remains unflappable but shows her generosity. There’s going to be a moment when you might throw up your hands at the movie and mutter “I’m done,” but stick with it. I liked Pepper before, but Iron Man 3 really made me love her. Don Cheadle’s Rhodey has finally stabilized into a man believable as both a military man of action and Stark’s best friend. Guy Pearce is quite interesting and good as Aldritch Killian, but, unfortunately, Rebecca Hall is utterly wasted as Maya. I’m still parsing out my feelings on Maya: something rubbed me wrong about her story arc, even though on paper it’s mostly unproblematic. Hmm. I won’t say anything about Kingsley except that I was pleasantly surprised, but I will single out James Badge Dale as the Mandarin’s top lackey: lithe, tough, and terrifying. He should really get more work.
It’s not as good as Iron Man is, but few films can be, due to the fact that it managed to revitalize the superhero genre and resurrect Downey’s career in one fell swoop. That’s not its fault, and it stands wonderfully on its own merits. However, Iron Man 3 does sport one painfully throbbing flaw—a moment in the final montage that invalidates the first two films. I understand why they did it, but it still feels unnecessarily cruel to the rest of the franchise. Boo.
Bottom line: Iron Man 3 is Shane Black’s baby, while still being an Iron Man film, with all the wit, snark, and heart that implies. The script feels much more character-driven, making the action setpieces amazing, and the cast remains top-notch. A moment at the end throws the entire franchise into chaos, though, so let’s pretend it didn’t happen. Well worth a watch.
I saw this film in theaters.