It’s probably not fair to judge comic book films against the phenomenal Marvel’s The Avengers, but amazingly at times Iron Man 3 reaches that same level of intensity, fun and exhilaration, which makes it all the more frustrating that a few missteps result in it simply being a good movie and not the post-Avengers game changer it could have been.
Director/co-screenwriter Shane Black (who wrote the screenplay for the first two Lethal Weapon films) replaces Jon Favreau, the director/co-star of the first two installments.
For the most part, the hand-off is a smooth one, with the film maintaining that Marvel Studios feel of combining the real world with that of the larger than life Marvel Comics characters.
Fresh off of his world-saving exploits with The Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has gone back to his solo ways as the armored superhero Iron Man. The New York battle has left him suffering from PTSD and thinking about the situation where he actually wasn’t in total control keeps giving him severe anxiety attacks.
It shows there’s some fallout from the events in The Avengers and wasn’t a regular fight for Iron Man. Even better, it gives Stark a welcome vulnerability and provides Downey an opportunity to show more depth to the character than simply being everyone’s favorite snarky superhero.
Since he can’t sleep, Stark furthers his obsession by continually building better tech to protect those he cares about, specifically his girlfriend, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow).
Pepper remains the series’ weakest character as she comes across as the selfish girlfriend who wants Stark to put aside his super heroics to spend more quality time with her. Paltrow gets in on the action this time, but it’s not especially satisfying or essential. Ditto for the entire story arc for Stark’s ex-fling, Maya Hansen, (Rebecca Hall, The Town) a daring scientist whose creation —Extremis — could unlock the body’s full potential.
Just as Pepper doubts where she stands with Stark, a would-be suitor returns in Aldrich Killian (the fantastic Guy Pearce), a brilliant inventor who’s gone from super geek to suave charmer after being blown off by Stark a decade ago. Stark’s head of security, Happy (Favreau), is leery of Killian and his shifty bodyguard, Savin (James Badge Dale, The Departed), but no one else is particularly concerned.
Stark’s best friend, Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), has undergone some changes as well as his War Machine armor has been repainted and re-christened The Iron Patriot. Rhodes is tasked with finding The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a mysterious terrorist declaring war on President Ellis (William Sadler) and America in general.
Stark joins the fight against The Mandarin after one of his allies gets severely injured in an attack, but it doesn’t work out well for him as The Mandarin levels his mansion in an amazing scene.
For the first hour, Black and co-screenwriter Drew Pearce get everything right — the tone, the character dynamics while striking the ideal balance of action/comedy — in reminding us that even without his fellow Avengers, Iron Man is still a pretty amazing character in Downey’s hands.
Black’s at his best in the signature action scenes like the mansion assault and the Air Force One rescue, but he and Pearce get a little too cute in trying to keep the audience laughing and get off track for the second half. Downey’s brilliant so he makes the jokes and one-liners work, but they’d be more effective in smaller doses. If you thought Iron Man 2 wasn’t serious enough, you’ll consider this outing a straight-up comedy.
At the midway point, Black and Pearce have two plots that easily could have been used in two great Iron Man movies, but combining them results in an underwhelming second act.
Another problem comes with the big spoiler-twist. On the perfect side of comic movie twists is Christopher Nolan’s in Batman Begins and on the other side is what we get in Iron Man 3.
It’s sensible and works within the confines of the movie, but I’m very curious to see the comic book fans’ reaction as this marks the first radical departure of an established comic book character in a Marvel Studios movie.
One of the key new features of the film is that Stark can remote pilot his suits of armor, which is kind of cool and useful for the climactic battle, but also misses the point of the character since it seem like anyone could be Iron Man. And the suits now are made more of paper mache as they break apart with little effort.
All too often it feels like Black is looking for an excuse to have Stark operating outside of the armor and playing James Bond instead of a superhero. Next time I see this I’ll have to time how often he’s actually in the suit.
The last act definitely has a Riggs and Murtaugh/Lethal Weapon vibe with Stark and Rhodes running around the enemy base armed only with a couple of handguns.
The film ends in a way to suggest that this is the last hurrah in terms of a standalone Iron Man movie, but Downey’s all but signed on for Avengers 2 so this won’t be the last time we see Iron Man — a fact reiterated in the end credits.
And if you were wondering, make sure to sit through the credits as there’s a post-credit scene hinting at a subplot I wish was explored more in the film.
Iron Man 3 is the first crack in the mighty Marvel movie empire as it’s the first of the bunch that fails to meet the admittedly high standards of the previous Avengers movie. Sure, it’s entertaining, but it’s not epic I was expecting.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10