In case you missed the ads at the bottom of every Marvel comic the last two months, don’t watch TV, or somehow just stumbled upon this site by accident, you know Iron Man 3 came out today, beginning the string of movies Marvel is calling “Phase 2.” I got to catch it at midnight, and the bad news is I got too busy and/or drunk to finish off this review yesterday. The good news is Phase 2 is off to a great start.
Quick obligatory summary: Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is suffering from from post-traumatic stress disorder after his near death in The Avengers. Meanwhile, a terrorist called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has begun using human bombs using experimental tech from a think tank called A.I.M.. Stark comes under attack, superhero movie ensues. Also, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, and Guy Pearce are there. The plot’s actually more complex (and better) than that, but it’s really hard to say more without giving away spoilers. Onto the reviewing!
While watching Iron Man 3, I spent the whole movie noticing how incredibly similar it was to The Dark Knight Rises. Besides the obvious comparison that both movies are the third parts of trilogies about billionaire playboy superheroes, they explore a lot of the same themes. Both men are suffering from the tolls of being a superhero. The antagonists of both movies are from the hero’s past, and both have a surprisingly similar twist. Both movies spend most of their time with the hero out of the costume. Tony sort of even takes on a kid sidekick. There was one big difference, though: Iron Man 3 didn’t suck.
It was the little differences that made up the big one. Tony’s PTSD is much more interesting than “I’m old and broken.” The bad guys, while from Stark’s past, aren’t a rehash of the same things we’ve already seen. When Tony Stark isn’t being Iron Man, he’s still building gadgets and kicking ass. It also never lets up on being cool for the sake of building drama, and it’s a better movie for that.
I think most of the credit has to be given to co-writer/director Shane Black. Black’s resume includes writing Lethal Weapon and writing/directing Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (also starring Robert Downey Jr.), so the man had an established track record for action/comedies. Black does a great job moving the plot forward through action, and even in mellower scenes he and co-writer Drew Pearce manage to take full advantage of Tony Stark’s quickfire wit. The plot is very twist-y, but it never feels hard to follow. It all culminates in a fantastic final battle, something the franchise had yet to deliver. While Iron Patriot and an army of Iron Man suits battle an army of Extremis enhanced soldiers, Iron Man finally takes part in a lengthy, well-matched super human fight, and the results are tremendously satisfying.
The actors all give great performances, without a noticeably weak link in the bunch. Robert Downey Jr. is as good as ever, probably even better thanks to some of the best dialogue he’s gotten to deliver as Tony Stark. There’s one thing I wanted to give special kudos to, and that’s his performance when Stark has panic attacks. He does it so realistically that I almost had one myself seeing it on screen. And thinking about it now. The script takes Paltrow’s Pepper Potts and Cheadle’s James Rhodes in some new directions that manage to both keep the characters from stagnating as well as get them in on the action. Cheadle in particular gets to rock some great out-of-suit action scenes, highlighting his skill as a military man.
A point of the movie that is going to be divisive is how they handle The Mandarin. Ben Kingsley gives a unique performance that I actually really liked, but some changes were made to the character that might not sit well with fans. I won’t say anything here so as to avoid spoilers, but if you don’t care/have seen the movie, I’ll discuss my thoughts on that a little further down in a clearly marked section. I will say here that I have to give the whole production crew credit for some brilliant misdirection in the marketing. It allowed for some completely unexpected and enjoyable twists.
It’s not a perfect movie, mind you. It still feels like the Iron Patriot armor was included for the sole purpose of selling a toy, but at least the script acknowledges that it’s stupid and makes fun of it throughout. I’m in two minds about the changes to Mandarin. Also, the end is kind of crappy. I’ll go into it more in the spoilers section, but the last five minutes are awful. I would have left the theatre with a poor taste in my mouth, except the post-credits scene is probably the best one since the first Iron Man and absolutely hilarious. Finally, we live in a post Avengers world, and the unfortunate fact is, fair or not, the first (at least) Marvel movie to come out now is going to get compared to that, and Iron Man 3 obviously isn’t as good. It kind of can’t be, because team ups are awesome.
Overall though, I’ve got to give Iron Man 3 very high marks. Probably a B+. It’s exciting, well-acted, and absolutely hilarious. It’s more than the best of the Iron Man trilogy, I’d say it was the best Marvel solo hero movie yet. If you liked Avengers, check this out.
Now I’m going to discuss my feelings about some spoilers. If you don’t want those, go away now.
Let’s start with the changes to the Mandarin. In the big twist in the movie, it’s revealed that he’s actually just an actor hired by Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian to take credit for the terrorist attacks and draw out Tony Stark. Again, credit for the smoke and mirrors with the press releases. Everything promoted Kingsley as the villain, with Guy Pearce claiming he actually had a small role and wasn’t in the movie much at all. I genuinely did not see the twist coming, and I thought it was great for the plot.
However, like I said, this might piss off the fanboys, and I totally understand why. The Mandarin is not just a great Iron Man villain, he’s the best. In the comics, he possesses an antithetical view towards technology to Stark: he wishes to use it to destroy and subjugate. The sciences he uses are also alien and beyond Stark’s comprehension. Not only do the two make great foils for each other, a battle between them would have been thrilling. People have been wondering why Mandarin hasn’t been used yet, and now he can’t be. The story was great, but ultimately the trade-off is probably dead even.
Finally, there is the end. It’s bad. In an attempt to provide a fast resolution, Tony Stark makes one bizarre and, frankly, stupid choice after another. First, after proving that he, single-handedly, can be about as effective as his entire Avengers team moments before he makes all of his various Iron Man armors/drones explode. He didn’t even keep them around to provide a base for future models and destroyed a ton of valuable, probably rare resources doing it. It was inane. Even more strange is when he throws his chest arc reactor into the ocean. Wasn’t that his father’s legacy and what he, for two movies, had explicitly stated he wanted to be his too? The denouement falls apart, but fortunately it’s only the last two-to-five minutes and barely hurt the overall film.
Speaking of denouements falling apart, I already made a concluding statement before the spoilers. So yeah, I’m just going to go ahead and abruptly end this now.