Now that “Phase 1” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe had concluded with new heights of success with “The Avengers”, Marvel was tasked with following up the film that earned them widespread praise and cheers from both critics and audiences. And what better character to follow that up than with the character that started the entire cinematic universe? Iron Man, everyone’s favorite narcissist. Look, I really enjoyed “Iron Man”, but “Iron Man 2” was a big mess. Still, I had some high hopes for this film after some amazing trailers and a new team of writers and director, “Iron Man 3” could easily turn everything around for this franchise. This movie certainly did earn a reputation amongst comic book fans for its controversial decision making when making this film (if you can call a superhero movie controversial).
“Iron Man 3” does represent a step up from “Iron Man 2”. Yet with every repeat viewing I have of this movie, the less I enjoy it. While far from being horrible it’s certainly not up snuff with other recent Marvel endeavors. With weak villains (we’ll get to that more depth later), an over blown finale, tonal issues, and plot holes, director Shane Black of “Lethal Weapon” fame does this film a certain energy that the previous lacked. Some interesting things are done with the characters of Tony Stark (along with a few standout action sequences), but it’s muddled together in a pretty mixed package of thrills.
So “Iron Man 3” picks up right after the events of “The Avengers” and the battle of New York. Tony Stark is having trouble dealing with the events of that battle. Going through some post traumatic stress, Stark can’t sleep and spends endless hours lying awake and tinkering with his Iron Man suits. New found fame (as if he didn’t have enough fame before) for being one of the heroes involved in the battle causes him even more stress than before. This puts a strain on his relationship with his long time love interest Pepper Pots. Still, America is now under attack from a terrorist named the Mandarin. With the near death of one of his friends, Stark vows vengeance on him, which sparks a feud that began deep within Stark’s own past.
Unlike “Iron Man 2” this movie actually has a streamlined plot. It’s overarching with the conflict between Stark and the Mandarin with it’s subplots being his PTSD and dealing with his own personal guilt. There is a point A and point B, and you know what? Even a point C, and never diverts around to set up for the next “Avengers” movie or deal with other half baked subplots. That above all else is very refreshing. Writers Shane Black and Drew Pierce keep the plot simple but never sacrifices detail and depth that would make it hopelessly generic. Having worked with Robert Downey Jr. before Black seems to be able to write dialogue that is just tailor made for Downey and his character.
This is Downey at his most witty. Given some absolutely memorable quips and one liners like the exchange between him and a female fettel. “Is that all you got? A cheap trick and a cheesy one liner?” asks the women threat named Brandt. Where Stark perfectly replies, “Sweetheart, that could be the name of my autobiography”. Great lines of dialogue like this throughout makes this not far off from some of Joss Whedon’s well scripted moments of comedy from “The Avengers”.
The trouble is sometimes this comes at the worst possible moments. There isn’t a balance of laughs with drama or drama with laughs. This movie constantly mistakes with complimenting one with the other with including both at the very same time; drama with laughs. For instance, there is a moment during the finale where we are led to believe that Pepper has just died at the expense of our main antagonist right before Tony Stark eyes. This sets up a very emotional battle between the two with tensions, but all that deflates after a couple of jokes needed to be exchanged. Well placed at the right time can enhance a film but this just blatantly stomps all over the entire tone of the film. It happens more than once as well.
Yet what makes this go around for Tony Stark so interesting is him dealing with the PTSD. Instead of him fighting alcoholism for all of five minutes in the previous film, he is dealing with this for the majority of the film and has to make character choices and changes by the end that could alter his place in the Marvel series forever. This movie makes Tony interesting again like he was in the original “Iron Man” and Downey as always impresses.
Now of course we reach the part that made geeks go full Hulk mode. Whenever you talk about this movie you have to talk about the twist that happens somewhere at the halfway point of the movie, where the Mandian (played by Ben Kingsley) is revealed to be just an actor playing a character to create a boogeyman for America. The real villain is revealed to be Aldrich Killian played by Guy Pearce. A guy whose entire motivation for his hatred against Tony Stark is because Tony didn’t meet him once during a party on a rooftop….? Most fans hated this bait and switch because it literally goes against everything the character stands for in the comic books. I didn’t grow up reading Iron Man comic books so that’s not why I don’t like the twist (that is of course played for laughs), but it’s because of who replaces him. The mandian is built up as an incredible and scary nemesis for Stark and America, so as a viewer I was anticipating what would happen next with the villain. Then the twist happens and is replace by Aldrich Killian who isn’t an interesting or scary villain, plus he has a weird group of powers that includes breathing fire. The switch doesn’t work me not because it’s against comic book lore , but because a great is replaced by a laughably lackluster villain that seems to one up Stark in douchebag-ness.
It doesn’t help that the script is filled with plot holes. Like why would this unparalleled genius like Tony Stark wear the only suit he wasn’t finished when he is waiting for the Mandian to strike? Why would he activate the rest of the suits to fight alongside him earlier in the movie like he did at the end during it’s overblown and increasingly boring finale? That’s not nitpicking that just contradicts itself and the character of Tony.
Still I don’t mean to completely trash this film because there is much fun to be had. Lots of laughs (too many at times) and plenty of thrilling action moments and great special effects. Black does infuse this film with a great energy and excitement, but unfortunately this movie carries a lot baggage as well that it just can’t overcome.