IRON MAN 3 Review

When Iron Man 3 opens and Eiffel 65's hit "Blue" from 1999 begins to play as we see the Marvel and Paramount logos flash up on the screen it was clear we were in for a little something different this time around. I haven't read many comic books and out of the ones I have, none of them have ever been an Iron Man comic, but at the end of the day it feels like that if there were a film that was able to get as close to the spirit of its source material (or even the artistic medium originally used for that matter) that it might be this one. Granted, I have nothing to base that on, but it is simply a gut instinct in that the tone of this film is very light in its banter, very quick in its wit, and also more personal at the same time than I ever expected it to be, especially considering the obvious point that it's a massive summer blockbuster. While Iron Man 3 doesn't exactly live up to the expectations I was holding for it, it instead reroutes them and delivers a story that was more on the opposite side of the standard super hero flick spectrum while still containing enough explosions and fight scenes to appease those that go to these kinds of movies expecting nothing more than that. Director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) takes over for Jon Favreau (who still shows up to play Happy Hogan) and took on writing duties as well and has delivered a very Shane Black-esque script with plenty of self-referential dialogue and a large scale action set piece every twenty minutes or so. I enjoyed the film immensely and found Robert Downey Jr. as good as ever as Tony Stark, but despite all the flash and bang it still felt like there was something missing, or maybe that's just because Captain America, Thor, and The Hulk didn't bother to show up.

Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin.
What that point alludes to though is the fact that The Avengers did happen and the film does acknowledge that, which is great and I appreciate, and the aftermath of what that experience has done to Tony plays a big role in the development of his character here which is probably the aspect I was most excited about concerning this movie. Still, no matter if this plays as more of a sequel to The Avengers or not it doesn't really matter because we should all simply look at the Marvel films now as one continuous series of movies. The dilemma that this poses for Marvel and all of the movies it produces from now on though is how can they compete with themselves? Does watching the adventures of one of these heroes compare to watching the "Super Friends" as they are so lovingly referred, battle aliens and bad guys? Well, if any of them could prove this possible it would be Tony Stark and his Iron Man suit. This time around as much as Tony is still dealing with the new threat of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) and a rival scientist played with campy glee by Guy Pearce he is also doing battle with himself and a kind of post traumatic stress syndrome from having traveled into space at the end of The Avengers fully expecting to sacrifice himself. He is unable to sleep though his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, who I've never found to be that appealing but works well with Downey) seems to be on the up and up as does his productivity as he's testing out new armor and new suits that respond on his command and adhere to his body when needed. It is a cool trick and very useful as he displays throughout the entire two hour and fifteen minute run-time. The major complaint I have about the film though is a lack of coherence in plot points. There are seemingly so many strands of storylines going on here it is hard not only to keep track, but to keep point on why certain things are happening or why certain characters are doing those things.

The best example of this may be the disregard for Rebecca Hall's character, a botanist named Maya Hansen. She appears on screen within the first couple of minutes of the film and is made to stand as some kind of vengeful character after Tony treats her as he does every woman he met prior to becoming Iron Man. The catch is that this one has a brain and ambition. The problem with this is that her characters motivations and character traits are never clearly defined. It's clear she wants to do whatever it takes to make her professional dreams become a reality and for her research and ideas to be given the attention and opportunity she feels they deserve, but beyond this how does she become entangled in the whole mess of a situation with fellow scientist Aldrich Killian (Pearce) and the bin Laden like terrorist that The Mandarin is made out to be? The sad fact is that we don't ever really get to know who's side she would rather be on or what her true motivation might be and the same could be said for Pearce's Killian as he plays the baddie who wants to take over the world in typical fashion. His weapon of choice is a tech-based super soldier serum that he has invented himself and has deemed "Extremis". This can regenerate limbs but it also has a nasty side effect that if you don't do the right amount of things could cause you to explode. What those things are we are never sure for the rules of this serum are never clearly defined nor are Killian's intentions. Does he want to be the next Tony Stark, but without the new conscience? That seems like we're re-treading material as Sam Rockwell had those same intentions in Iron Man 2 and enlisted the help of Mickey Rourke's Whiplash, right? And does Killian do the same here with Kinglsey's Mandarin? Technically, yea, but with a slight role reversal. I don't mind the odd and somewhat cartoonish nature of Killian's weapon or what he intends to do with it, I simply wish those intentions were made more clear and more of a threat rather than simply serving as a device to have Tony Stark and Iron Man defeat something in the third act of the film, but then again this is a Summer blockbuster and some level of incompetent storytelling is expected.

Robert Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle in Iron Man 3.
If there was one thing I remember hearing about what was so refreshing about The Avengers was that it didn't simply relegate the female characters to standard damsels in distress and that somewhat continues here as, despite my personal distaste for Paltrow, proves herself more than worthy as Tony's better half as she gets a few moments to shine if not becoming that damsel in distress a few times as well. Still, the fact of the matter is that Hall's Maya was an underdeveloped aspect of the script, a script that simply doesn't have enough space to properly flesh out all of what it wants. I say that as I really expected to see more of Don Cheadle's James Rhodes and his new alter ego, The Iron Patriot, here in hopes he would leave a big enough impression that they couldn't cheat him out of the action in The Avengers 2, but honestly he is played as such a second fiddle character here and defines such a line as to where he fits into Tony's world that I will completely understand if we never see him again, which is a pity because Don Cheadle really digs this role and that comes through on screen. Still, with all of that slightly hindering my experience there is a redeeming quality to the film and that comes in the form of the main story arc. This also returns to the idea that the biggest nemesis Iron Man has here is himself and his anxiety. Black strips Stark of his gadgets, his tools, his riches, and sends him into the barren landscape of a small Tennessee town where he must play detective to put the pieces together and figure out what The Mandarin is up to. Here he befriends a young boy (Ty Simpkins of Insidious) and at that point the film takes on a new kind of life, rejuvenating the tired beats of where the audience might have expected the film to go. It is a refreshing twist that leads to a surprise revelation (especially considering the ace marketing of Marvel) that may have some fan boys yelling blasphemy, but I rather enjoyed. It is that perfect example of subverted expectation while in the end capping everything off with the expected, but stunning action-infused finale (also, the Air Force One set piece is worth the price of admission alone).

What is even more revelatory about the film though is the way it seems to understand that Tony Stark and his solo Iron Man stories have run their course. The ending brings a sense of peace and the throughline of the main plot concerning itself more with Tony Stark the man, rather than the guy who is placed on a pedestal as a super hero or as a part of the Avengers, is what makes the film feel, on its most basic level, as personal as it ends up being. We feel we get to know the real Tony Stark as we did in that first film when he was searching for his place in the world and who he really was. This time around he knows who he is, he knows what he is supposed to do, but all of that has been called into question after realizing he isn't the most talented guy on the block, let alone the only super hero. Tony Stark will return in the sequel to last years billion dollar success, but after that I don't believe we will see Downey Jr. or anyone else don the iron shell again, that is until they inevitably re-boot all of this in ten years or so. Despite their being only a few similarities between Stark and Bruce Wayne I looked at Iron Man 3 as what The Dark Knight Rises might have been had it not taken place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. It would have been about a man trying to rebuild after a life altering event and the way that is handled here in terms of our titular characters story is with a slick elegance and perfect balance of humor and torment. Even if the side characters and their stories are given the short end of the stick, I'll take that for the intimate character study we are given as the main course. It is an entertaining thrill ride, it is fun and distracting, and tells a nice story without necessarily pushing the universe further and that is all fine and good, but it is somewhat of a pity it never becomes anything that is necessarily memorable.