Iron Man 3 is finally out in theaters to kick off "Phase Two" of the Marvel Cinematic Universe! But is the latest sequel a worthy edition to the Marvel pantheon of films? 411's Jeffrey Harris checks in with his full review!
Directed By: Shane Black Written By: Written by Shane Black and Drew Pearce; Based on the Marvel comics and characters Runtime: 130 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
Tony Stark/Iron Man - Robert Downey Jr. Pepper Potts - Gwyneth Paltrow James Rhodes/Iron Patriot - Don Cheadle The Mandarin - Ben Kingsley Aldrich Killian - Guy Pearce Happy Hogan - Jon Favreau Maya Hansen - Rebecca Hall Eric Savin - James Badge Dale Ellen Brandt - Stephanie Szostak Harley - Ty Simpkins President Sal Kennedy - William Sadler Vice President Rodriguez - Miguel Ferrer Jarvis - Paul Bettany (voice)
Coming off the superhero spectacular that was last year’s The Avengers, Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe begins in kind with Iron Man 3. Marvel returns to the franchise that changed everything in 2008 and began a connected universe. Most appealing however was Robert Downey Jr.’s incredible and appealing performance as industrialist inventor turned superhero Tony Stark who becomes Iron Man.
Since The Avengers, Tony Stark has been on edge. After his experience coming out of the wormhole he’s been experiencing post-traumatic stress. His girlfriend and right hand woman Pepper Potts (Paltrow) has moved in, but he can’t sleep and spends most of his time in his workshop, making new suit after new suit. Tony is struggling to cope after looking into an abyss and believes a threat is imminent. Tony’s fears being a harbinger of a greater doom is not really addressed however. His best friend James Rhodes (Cheadle) has been rebranded as the Iron Patriot by the United States government after a new villain who goes by the name of the Mandarin (Kingsley) makes his presence known committing seemingly random bombings throughout the world. Each site lacks bomb remains because the bombs themselves are humans. The Mandarin and a nefarious think tank known as Advanced Idea Mechanics, headed up by Pepper’s former colleague Aldrich Killian (Pearce), have developed a substance called Extremis which enhances human capabilities granting them super strength and the ability to regenerate grave wounds and even severed limbs. The substance however is very unstable and can cause a subject to explode and vaporize anything in site.
Things take a turn for the worse when Stark Industries’ new and overzealous head of security Happy Hogan (Iron Man and Iron Man 2 director Jon Favreau thankfully once again reprising the role) investigates Killian’s henchman Savin (Dale) making a shady exchange at the Chinese Theater. Another Extremis subject explodes, but Hogan manages to survive though left in a coma. The incident sets Tony off as he openly threatens the Mandarin to come and get him. Before things go further south, Tony and Pepper are visited by an old flame of Tony’s, Maya Hansen (Hall), a biological scientist who originally developed the Extremis strain. Things take a turn for the worse though in a harrowing sequence as AIM levels Stark’s Malibu mansion in a helicopter attack. Pepper and Maya are able to escape after Tony briefly gives Pepper the Iron Man armor. Tony gets the armor on, but he’s trapped under the rubble of his wrecked home. He barely makes it out and his AI Jarvis (Bettan) drops him off in Rose Hill, Tennessee where Tony had originally planned to go and get answers on a bombing that appears unrelated to but resembles the later acts of terror perpetrated by the Mandarin.
New director and co-writer Shane Black has given the Iron Man 3 some nice, new focused energy. In this story, Black and co-writer Drew Pearce examine Tony Stark and Iron Man’s iconography by essentially stripping him down. In this movie, Tony is constantly forced to get through conflict by his wits and what little he has. Just like in the first movie, Tony developed the Mark I suit from a pile of scraps, proving there is in fact something special and different about Tony Stark. Tony gets help in Rose Hill from a young, but technologically gifted lad named Harley (Simpkins), who ultimately helps Stark unravel the Extremis mystery. It’s a fun, humorous relationship in some ways similar to Tony’s brief but memorable camaraderie with Yinsen in the first movie. Shaun Toub actually makes a brief cameo appearance early on here as Yinsen again, a nice connection made to a reference in the first movie.
The action sequences this time around are tighter and more close quartered. It’s almost like The Bourne Identity version of Iron Man, though not with lots of shakycam. Tony is constantly stripped of his Iron Man armor so we get to see him fight and rely on his head or his own skills. This is rewarding in its own way to see what Tony can do without just his suit. I think though, one should not go in expecting a finale that in any way surpasses the climax in The Avengers. The finish in Iron Man 3 in no way does that. It’s big and explosive, but it does not measure up. Tony’s armor in this movie is also constantly malfunctioning and breaking apart. The new Mark 42 armor, the version spotlighted in many of the movie’s marketing and promotional materials becomes the butt of the joke more often than not. The armor throughout the story looks about as strong as tinfoil. The action moves too quickly to really enjoy any of the new suits at the end either unfortunately.
Now on to the bad guys. Without giving anything away, the Mandarin is . . . not what we think. Many hardcore fans and purists will likely be disappointed with how the Mandarin's depiction turns out. Mandarin’s inclusion in the movie at all was a bit of a surprise as Shane Black had previously stated that the character was a racist stereotype. Along with the sequel being a co-production with China’s DMG Entertainment, it appeared obvious we wouldn't see an Asian version of the Mandarin onscreen. There were hints of the Mandarin in the first movie through the Ten Rings organization. Still, it was a bit of a surprise to see Black go with Mandarin in this story. But when you see the Mandarin’s true visage, the feeling is “we got played.” Kingsley’s performance is great and very entertaining, but unfortunately the Iron Man movie series is still incredibly lacking in the villain department. This is in part due to Iron Man as a character lacking many iconic and classic characters in his rogues’ gallery, many of them very obscure. His longtime adversary, the Mandarin, did originate as a bad “yellow peril” stereotype in the 1960’s. The Mandarin, over time, has of course evolved, been modernized, and updated but even still it might not be a character that really fits in to what these movies have become. Some fans will have a hard time accepting the change and how it's executed here. If you can, what is done does work really well. The only main critique is that we do not get to see Iron Man facing a cool iconic, traditional villain. What this franchise really needed was its own Loki, Red Skull, Winter Soldier, or even Bane or the Joker. The Iron Man franchise never really gets that.
Tony’s thread of having PTSD is an excellent way to show how The Avengers has affected him. Unfortunately, the subplot is not used to its full potential and is basically jettisoned by the third act. What would've been really cool is if the movie suggested that Tony’s fears and nightmares actually, really could be hinting at something far more sinister to come later. That doesn't happen.
The movie also ends on a bit of an uncertain, unfulfilling note. In a way, this movie could be viewed as a symbolic send-off for Robert Downey Jr. as the character. Many loose ends are tied and resolved. And, the film could be seen as a fitting end to the Iron Man trilogy. However, that did not seem to be the direction Marvel wanted to go in with their movie franchises. But now, we do not know what the future may hold for Iron Man. In the comics, the role was later taken up by Rhodey for a time when Tony was incapacitated by his alcoholism. So this could perhaps be a way for Rhodey to take up the role. Or this could be the way of giving Downey his sendoff as the character and perhaps either rebooting the franchise or even recasting the actor as well. Hopefully this is not the bitter end of Downey as Iron Man, as it is hard to view anyone else as the character.
This is the first Iron Man movie to have a true, actual store. While the previous movies had some good pieces, they were utterly lacking in the overall score department. Composer Brian Tyler finally gives the movie the full-on orchestral score it needed but had always been lacking.
The 411: Iron Man 3 comes off less like the start of Marvel's Phase 2 and more like the end of the first Iron Man movie trilogy. If this is the end of Downey's run as Iron Man, it has been a great run seeing him lay the groundwork for Tony Stark onscreen and see him essentially champion the Marvel Universe onscreen. If not, seeing him continue on in some capacity for The Avengers sequel would be nice. The movie delivers with action and humor the franchise has come to be known for, though the big missed opportunity is in giving the franchise a truly iconic and memorable villain which we never really get to see.