The Good: Great effects, Good pacing, Moments of character.
The Bad: Nothing audacious on the acting front, Somewhat predictable.
The Basics: Kicking off the next round of Marvel Universe movies, Iron Man 3 is an awkward continuation to the story of Tony Stark as Iron Man.
Even as a fan, as a general rule, of super hero films, it is hard not to go into Iron Man 3 with a sense of trepidation. After all, Iron Man 3 follows The Avengers (reviewed here!) and with that being a sweeping film with world-shaking, epic consequences that required a whole team to thwart, it seems like it would be a step back to return to a single hero doing his own thing. The danger, of course, coming off a film like The Avengers is that the threat to the character is difficult to create in a compelling way. If the hero finds themselves overwhelmed, the audience will naturally ask, “Why doesn’t Tony Stark just call his Avengers buddies back up to help him?” (One can almost hear Thor complaining to his swordmates about the folks with fantastic powers he fought with on Earth, lamenting that his old friends from Asgaard seem pretty stale by comparison.). Conversely, if the threat is not big enough, it is virtually impossible to care. Iron Man 3 effectively wrestles with those problems by working Tony Stark to the point where he is forced to accept that no man, least of all him, is an island.
IronMan 3 straddles the problem by focusing, as much as possible, on Tony Stark – the man outside the suit. The result is a film that makes what appears to be the secondary villain, in this case Aldrich Killian, more important as the villain who is initially characterized as the primary. Just as when Batman Returns (reviewed here!) was initially released, the hype surrounded Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer, but going back and rewatching the film now, it is Christopher Walken’s Max Shrek who stands out as having a surprisingly large presence in the film, Iron Man 3 seems to be hyping Sir Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin, when it is Guy Pearce’s role as Aldrich Killian who actually has a substantive adversarial role in the movie. Just as in Iron Man 2 (reviewed here!), Tony Stark had to contend with Justin Hammer as a business competitor, Killian appears in Iron Man 3 developing technologies that unsettle Tony Stark and Pepper Potts (who is running Stark Industries).
Following the attack on New York by Loki and his interstellar minions, Tony Stark returns to his life with the feeling that his life is not all it can be. Having been a part of a team, Stark seems to realize that he is not the sole Alpha in the world and that leaves him unsettled. As he works on developing a new thought-responsive Iron Man suit, the United States is rocked by attacks from the mysterious terrorist, The Mandarin. In addition to shooting bombing Mann's Chinese Theater - an attack which seriously wounds Happy - the Mandarin marshals forces that level Tony Stark’s mansion. Maya Hansen, who confides to Pepper Potts that she believes her boss, Killian, is working with the Mandarin, uses the confusion following the attack on Stark's mansion to abduct Potts. Stark’s ally Rhodey comes to the defense of the United States as the newly revamped Iron Patriot.
With Stark adrift in Tennessee, looking for the origins of the Mandarin when he finds that some explosions domestically mirror the heat signatures from the Mandarin's untraceable bombs, Rhodey falls into the trap laid by the Mandarin. But in tracking the Mandarin, Tony learns the villain is not all he appears to be and the real adversary has built an army even he alone cannot hope to stop.
Iron Man 3 is satisfying in that there are real consequences to Tony Stark’s ego lingering from The Avengers. Stark is shaken and moody and his relationship with Pepper Potts has not solved all of his emotional problems. The time that Iron Man 3 spends focused on Tony Stark’s internal struggle is time well-spent. Stark makes for a compelling character when he is not brazenly baiting the Mandarin or being a cocky douche to Killian (by now, shouldn’t Stark realize that other people are up for the same contracts and have their own ideas on how to save the world?!), the movie presents that well.
Unfortunately, for those looking mostly for the compelling character study, Iron Man 3 is far too erratic. Instead, the movie turns to plot twists pertaining to trying to find the Mandarin (and later in the film, Pepper Potts), staving off A.I.M. and Killian, and making the film action-packed with big aerial battles and conflicts that degenerate into familiar chase/combat sequences. Those bits are certainly good, but they are hardly substantive or surprising. In fact, the action sequences in Iron Man 3 - while technically adept with the CG-effects – are hardly the most thrilling seen in a Marvel-based movie (or even an Iron Man film!).
As for the acting, it is a decided mixed bag. I was excited to see one of my perennial favorites, William Sadler in the substantive, but too brief role of Sal Kennedy. Sadler has the bearing and innate dignity to play the President and to see him do so in Iron Man 3 was a real treat. In a similar vein, Guy Pearce is good as Killian. Coming off Prometheus (reviewed here!), where he played an aged genius industrialist, Killian is hardly a stretch for his performing talents. Still, he fills the role well and he holds his own as far as gravitas opposite Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark very well. Moreover, Pearce and co-star Rebecca Hall (Maya Hansen) play off one another well. Their interplay makes their professional relationship entirely credible.
Sir Ben Kingsley is appropriately formidable as The Mandarin. While I usually associate him with the strong dignity of Gandhi, the anger and menace he presents as The Mandarin seems entirely unsurprising and well within the emotional range he can convincingly present. Kingsley makes for a good villain and the twist he presents is credible due to his performance. Even so, like so much in Iron Man 3 his performance seems familiar and smooth as opposed to surprising and new.
As for the rest of the performances, they are fluid and familiar. Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow are returning for their fourth times as Tony Stark and Pepper Pots. Don Cheadle retakes the mantle of James Rhodes, War Machine, Iron Patriot in a seamless way and Jon Favreau makes it through his scenes as Happy Hogan without projecting an attitude like “I could have directed this” (Shane Black directed this outing). All of them are good, but for Iron Man 3 they are hitting the consistency of returning to the screen characters who are more familiar than growing in challenging new ways.
Ultimately, Iron Man 3 will do what fans expect and it makes for a good action-adventure thriller, but it is lacking in a timeless quality that general moviegoers might want for their $8 (or more)!
For other movies based upon the Marvel comic books, please check out my reviews of:
Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One
Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance
Captain America: The First Avenger
X-Men: First Class
The Incredible Hulk
Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer
For other movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
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