Iron Man 3 Review: Third Time’s a Charm
It almost seems to hard to believe that its already been 5 years since Robert Downey Jr. first took flight as Iron Man. Since that first outing we’ve seen Downey Jr. suit up as Tony Stark two additional times including last year’s geek orgasm known as The Avengers. At this point you’d think we might be starting to tire of the snarky businessman and his metal suits but in a true testament to the effectiveness of Downey Jr.’s performance and the filmmaking skills over at Marvel Studios, we welcome his return in Iron Man 3 with open arms.
The first two films in the Iron Man series were genuinely fun pieces of comic book cinema that got Marvel’s Cinematic Universe off to a rollicking start but they were both far from perfect. Both films lacked the presence of strong villains and had sagging middle sections that made the films feel a lot longer than they actually were. They also suffered for culminating with the main hero facing off against a villain with an equally impressive metal suit that results in just a lot of faceless metal punching metal, which had the emotional impact of a Transformers movie. Going into this third installment we had little reason to believe that it would be any different but I’m happy to report being wrong on that front. Iron Man 3 is actually hands down the best of the solo Iron Man films and right up there with The Avengers in terms of popcorn munching fun.
Much of this success can be landed at the feet of new-to-the-series director, Shane Black, who provides a wildly amusing screenplay along with his taught directorial style. These movies have always been a little bit funny due to the natural cocky swagger of Tony Stark, but Black manages to bring even more humor to the table while telling a sometimes dark story about facing the demons in your life and dreading the loss of those closest to you.
When the movie begins Tony Stark is clearly a changed man. The events in New York City at the end of The Avengers have left him badly shaken and paranoid about looming threats. He suffers panic attacks, drinks more than usual, and spends all of his free time building new suits of Iron Man armor that are ready for every type of challenge imaginable. To make matters worse, this obsession is taking a toll on his relationship with girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) despite his efforts to woo her with giant stuffed bunnies with boobs.
Some portions of the film are told in flashbacks with narration by Tony (stay after the credits to find out who he’s telling it to) and through this narrative device we meet Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall). These two characters represent the kind of people Tony used to flippantly ignore or use in the years before the incident in Afghanistan that put him on the path to being a superhero and better human all around. And as you can probably expect, everything that goes around, comes around and Killian re-enters Tony’s life with a new piece of biotech called Extremis which has the ability to regenerate lost limbs along with a few “side effects” that I won’t reveal here.
Of seemingly bigger importance though is the threat from an international terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) who is using a new kind of untraceable explosive to carry out his attacks. After one such attack puts Tony’s best friend Happy (Jon Favreau) in a coma, Tony begins looking into the matter only to become a target of The Mandarin himself. In one of the film’s most spectacular scenes, the terrorist leader orders a massive helicopter attack on Tony’s Malibu mansion that sends it crashing into the ocean below.
This attack leads many to believe that Tony has been killed and forces him to carry on without his signature technology. And it is at this point that Iron Man 3 really takes off. Being free of the metal suit also allows Tony to be free of his self-reliance of it. He has to make things from scraps again and rely on his own body’s abilities and limitations to get out of jambs and it is truly fun to watch. This is especially true of the scenes where Tony interacts with “regular Joes” who end up helping him out of the goodness of their hearts, including a little boy who doesn’t have a father in his life and ends up becoming a little sidekick to Tony for a large chunk of the film. This reeks of cheese on paper but writer/director Black keeps it perfectly in tone with what we’ve come to expect from Tony Stark and manages to make it the film’s most endearing quality when it could have just as easily sunk it.
From a plot and character perspective there is actually a whole lot more to discuss but to do so would mean wading into some severe spoiler territory. The film is filled with a lot of surprises and a few of them are likely to frustrate or even anger avid readers of the comics but I think casual viewers of the films will be able to take it all in stride with likely a laugh or two. This is especially true of a twist involving The Mandarin but Kingsley plays it so brilliantly that if you have a beef about it you probably just need to lighten up a little bit.
The whole cast actually commits themselves admirably to the script without a single lackluster performance to be found. Downey Jr. is of course still perfect in the role, Paltrow finally gets a chance to shine, the villains are all deliciously evil, and Don Cheadle gets to show off his action star side that I didn’t even know existed as he commits himself fully to the War Machine/Iron Patriot role.
The action scenes are particularly enjoyable this time around but because the script and storyline was so good, we aren’t merely biding our time for the next one as soon as they end. I genuinely enjoyed every minute I got to spend with these characters in this installment and despite a handful of moments that don’t quite work and a few bits of much-too-fast action editing, at no point did I stop being entertained. The special effects are dazzling, the music by Brian Tyler is fun, and Stan Lee’s required cameo is as funny as always. And all of this from a movie that opens with “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” by Eiffel 65. Betcha didn’t think you’d ever hear that again, did ya?
Despite following in the footsteps of one of the most geektacular films of all time Iron Man 3 doesn’t suffer at all from being smaller-in-scale than The Avengers. In fact, the relative smallness of this story is actually what helped make it a perfect summer movie and gives me more excitement for the coming slate of films in Phase Two of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. And even though Downey Jr.’s contract is up with this film in the can, this fan is hoping and praying that they can get him back on board for more adventures as Tony Stark. The Marvel universe just wouldn’t be same without him.
Images courtesy of Zade Rosenthal/MVLFFLLC/Marvel.