Article By: Dan Clark
Talk about a tough act to follow. After the four year build up to last year’s Avengers many wondered if Marvel could repeat such a stunning success. Marvel wisely is beginning ‘Phase Two’ of their epic plan with the same hero that launched this groundbreaking adventure. Though Iron Man 3 is designed as the next step forward for The Avengers story, it is far more fitting as a closing chapter of Tony Stark’s origin arc. If Iron Man 3 is any sign of what Marvel still has in store we all have a lot to look forward to. While doesn’t reach the heights of first installment, it cleans up much of the issues that bogged down the last Iron Man outing. The formula has been altered just enough to bring a new energy to this classic hero. Those hoping for a more somber redemption tale may be disappointed, but those looking for some solid summer entertainment will surely get their fill.
Not only does Iron Man have a shiny new suit of armor, he also as a new director. Jon Favreau, who directed the first two Iron Man films, has stepped down and Shane Black has replaced him. Black clearly brings a new type of style and sensibility to this franchise. He is best known for scripting Lethal Weapon and directing the 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which is also slated as one of the key films that reestablished Robert Downey Jr.’s career. Black also assisted in co-writing the script with Drew Pearce, and their work helped create one of the most unique experiences for this franchise yet.
The film takes place shortly after the events of The Avengers. The world is now safe from the threat of alien invasion, but the events of that day have left a longing impact on Tony Stark. He is unable to sleep or shake from the trauma that he has endured. It is admirable that a comic book franchise film would attempt to tackle an issue as heavy as post-traumatic stress, especially when you consider what a hot button concern it is in today’s society. The results of that attempt are mixed at best however. It simply didn’t jive with everything else that was onscreen, nor was it ever fully realized. Robert Downey Jr. does give what may be his most well-rounded performance in this franchise. His vigor and snarky attitude are a big reason these films are so successful, and that trend continues here. Unfortunately part of his impact is dampened by the unnecessary overload of comedy. Almost everyone single character’s dialog is full of clever retorts. When random thugs start spitting out witty quips you get close to entering parody levels of humor. Laughter is a great tool for adding enjoyment. The key is knowing when to use it. This just picks a few times too many.
Things become even more complicated for Stark when a mysterious figure called The Mandarin(Ben Kingsley) begins to terrorize the United States. When Stark’s own long time bodyguard falls victim to one of Mandarin’s attacks Stark personally provokes The Mandarin in a way only Tony Stark can. The Mandarin answers Stark in the only way he can, by assaulting Stark’s Malibu mansion with an onslaught of missiles and gunfire. It’s the films first large-scale action sequence and it is handled beautifully. It was a well-choreographed feat of devastating destruction and thrilling action.
Overall the action in this noticeably the most varied for the franchise. One of the constant knocks on the last two installments dealt with how action would become relatively stale. There are only so many times you can watch Iron Man battle against another armored foe. In this Stark is actually removed from his armor for much of the second act. Some may question the choice to remove Iron Man from an Iron Man movie, but the results may make them rethink that stance. Seeing Stark devolve into a 21st century version of Macgyver was loads of fun. That’s not to say audiences won’t get their full of armored action. A chaotic battle sequence involving an army of Iron Men is the type of action many of us have been waiting for. One of the best sequences may in fact be a midair free fall rescue that was a thrilling rush of pure adrenaline.
Part of the reason the action avoids the past trope of redundant action is the story’s ability to place Stark into unfamiliar situations. During the Mandarin attack on his home he barely escapes with his life. Unconscious his armor propels him to rural Tennessee, where he planned on traveling to previously in order to investigate a possible Mandarin attack. His armor is in a serious need of recharging, and his supplies are limited. Now with no armor to protect him he has to get back to basics to take down this shadowy foe. He does enlist the help of a young boy named Harley (Ty Simpkins). When this story element is introduced shivers may run down many spines. The overdone trope of the young kid getting through the tough outer shell of our distant hero can enlist eye rolling reactions from the audience. Luckily it was handled quite well, and evaded entering sappy territory. He does lead Stark to gain a renewed sense of focus as he sets off to finally confront all of his demons.
One trope it did fall victim to is an overly convoluted plot. In addition to the Mandarin, Stark also has a few other issues to worry about. Rebecca Hall and Guy Pearce play two scientists who have developed a new powerful technology called Extremis. Though it was designed for peaceful purposes, it has become redesigned into a deadly weapon. Motivations for these characters are limited at best. Rebecca Hall’s character in particular never develops any legitimate point for existing. Pearce was a lot of fun for his role, but his actions are rather ill-conceived as well. Their storyline does help develop some genuine surprises. For perhaps the first time in a Marvel film the expectations of the audience are used against them. It was a brilliant move and very welcomed change of pace.
Of course there were some returning elements as Don Cheadle and Gwyneth Paltrow reprise their roles as James Rhodes and Pepper Potts respectively. Rhodes also has a new paint job and a Iron Patriot codename to go along with it. There were some great moments between Cheadle and Downey. At times it felt like your were watching a buddy cop movie rather than a superhero film. Surely Shane Black’s influence had a lot to do with that. The Pepper Potts-Tony Stark relationship continues to strive. Their chemistry is as strong as ever, and the story wisely decides not to make any huge developments in their relationship. It is to the point where it is already well established so there is no need to greatly expand on it any further. This is Tony Stark’s story in nearly every way. There are no other Avengers and the insistent need to rebuild the Marvel’s cinematic world has been removed. Tony Stark is Iron Man, and this narrative does its best to tells us why.
Iron Man 3 kicks off what will hopefully be a fun-filled summer movie season. While it doesn’t shine a light on what Marvel has up their sleeves for the future, it does serve as a fitting conclusion this multi-tiered adventure. Iron Man has come a long way since his first debut on the silver screen. A character most considered B level at best has become the face the entire Marvel franchise. Now in his fourth movie Tony Stark and Iron Man are as synonymous as any notable superhero today. Iron Man 3 is a fitting explanation of this rapid ascension to infamy status. The fun, the fanfare, and the marvelous undertaking of adventure are all there to behold. Hopefully this is just simple foreshadowing for where Marvel will be taking us.