Robert Downey Jr. – Tony Stark/Iron Man
Gwyneth Paltrow – Virginia “Pepper” Potts
Don Cheadle – Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes/Iron Patriot
Guy Pearce – Aldrich Killian
Rebecca Hall – Dr. Maya Hansen
Ben Kingsley – The Mandarin
James Badge Dale – Eric Savin
Jon Favreau – Happy Hogan
Ty Simpkins – Harley
Genre – Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Comic Books/Superheroes
Running Time – 130 Minutes
Since the events of THE AVENGERS [dealing with aliens and traveling through a wormhole], Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) hasn’t really been himself. Stressed out and having anxiety attacks anytime “New York” is mentioned, Stark has trouble sleeping and has been building a multitude of armored suits to pass the time. This has even caused issues with his newly live-in-girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), especially when the armor suits suddenly become violent due to Stark’s mental connection to them. While Pepper wishes Stark would stop making these suits, Stark feels that there’s a threat coming and must be prepared for it.
The possible threat may be from a man known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) – who creates Al-Queda like terror videos in which he takes credit for certain bombings in the United States. While James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), now rebranded from War Machine to Iron Patriot, is in charge of finding the Mandarin for the United States Government, the issue becomes personal for Stark when bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Farveau) is attacked during one of these bombings. When Stark threatens the Mandarin, Stark Tower is attacked and destroyed, leaving many to believe that Stark was killed in the attack.
Stark, however, wakes up in Tennessee. Here, he gets a young sidekick named Harley (Ty Simpkins), who helps Stark in finding out how The Mandarin has been performing his terrorist attacks under the radar. Apparently, the bombs happen to be humans themselves through some substance called Extremis – which has been created by Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM), run by Pepper’s former colleague and Mandarin’s associate Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Apparently, Extremis [which injected] grants humans super strength, the ability to regenerate wounds and limbs, and the power to control fire. However, the substance is very unstable and could create human bombs if it fails. When Stark learns that Killian plans on giving the Extremis “virus” to Pepper, Stark tries to overcome his post-traumatic stress and save the woman he loves.
- The screenplay. While not perfect, Shane Black and co-writer Drew Pearce manage to give Tony Stark a more focused story than what we saw in IRON MAN 2, which was all over the place. While there is a lot going on here with multiple sub-plots – Tony’s PTSD, the Extremis virus, The Mandarin – it all connects with each other, grounding the story in a way that’s easy to understand. IRON MAN 2 suffered from too much story, which didn’t allow the important plot points to truly develop to mean anything at the end. IRON MAN 3, while flawed, manages to develop things better than its predecessor.
The “nerd who wants revenge on the idol who snubbed him by being better than him” plot point is as cliché as they come in the superhero genre. But it still works because it’s one that’s easy to comprehend and feel some level of empathy towards. Tony Stark vs. Aldrich Killian is an easy story to write for, because we see both sides’ points of views. Killian, in particular, becomes a pretty human character while doing monstrous things to himself and to others he believes he’s helping. The man wants the success, the fame, and the respect Tony Stark has received. He just does it in a way that’s against society’s laws and rules. This type of story breeds believable villains since most of us have been there at some point in our lives.
I also thought how it tied in to THE AVENGERS was very good as well. IRON MAN 3 doesn’t try to coast on the success of that film. Yes, Tony has flashbacks of the final act of that film, which have been causing his stress. Yes, Tony gets anxiety attacks whenever “New York” is mentioned. Yes, Tony avoids the subject anytime The Avengers and its members are asked about. But the film never feels like an unnecessary epilogue to the most successful comic book film of all time. IRON MAN 3 is its own film, just taking the events of THE AVENGERS to naturally progress Tony Stark’s journey into a more humble and heroic man. In fact, IRON MAN 3 is mainly Tony Stark’s human adventure rather than about Iron Man kicking some supervillain’s ass. And while I’m sure most people would rather see an armored hero beat down The Mandarin and people taken over by the Extremis virus, the most interesting parts of these IRON MAN films was Tony Stark the flawed human being rather than his costumed alter-ego, Iron Man. So I have no issues with the lack of Iron Man stuff in this installment. Do I wish the “Extremis” storyline were more faithful to the comic version? Sure. But with how this film ends, it wouldn’t make sense to go that route. So I’m okay with that after the fact.
And I thought the screenplay was pretty hilarious for the most part. Even during the most serious moments, there was always some sense of humor underneath. There was some excellent banter between the characters. The witty dialogue gave IRON MAN 3 a ton of personality. I found myself laughing multiple times, just enjoying the story. Even when things upset me or didn’t work as much as I had wished they would, at least I was entertained by the film’s mostly successful comedy. A much improved script over IRON MAN 2.
- Shane Black’s direction. When I heard Shane Black was directing a superhero film of epic proportions like an IRON MAN sequel, I was slightly worried as to how he would handle the job. After all, this film is the beginning of Marvel Universe’s “Phase 2”. And Black, while a successful screenwriter for many action-comedies in the 1980s and the 1990s, only directed one film prior to this – 1997’s KISS KISS BANG BANG. To my surprise, Black really handled the sequel really well.
While the middle portion dragged somewhat, the pacing was very good. In fact, the 130 minutes went by pretty quickly. I liked the look of the film, which resembled something that would be released during the 1990s. There was a certain grain and tone to the film that reminded me of an action film from that era. Maybe it’s the fact that IRON MAN 3 has a darker mood and atmosphere than the previous films.
I also loved the action sequences and how they were presented. The attack on Stark Tower is an amazing visual and a vastly memorable sequence. I also loved the final act as well, with all the Iron Man armors attacking those affected by the Extremis virus. These sequences were very energetic, entertaining, and pure eye candy. The digital effects and visual effects teams did a fantastic job during the action scenes. IRON MAN 3 is the most epic in terms of presenting action and I thought Black handled it better than I thought he would have. I wish the middle portion of the film had a memorable action moment like the two I mentioned. But for the most part, Black freshens up the franchise with his visuals and his screenwriting.
- The acting. Every IRON MAN film has great acting and this installment is no exception. Robert Downey Jr. can play Tony Stark in his sleep at this point. In fact, he is Tony Stark, so it isn’t much of a stretch. He handles both the action and comedic stuff well, as he’s very familiar and comfortable with Shane Black’s work. RDJ is excellent as usual and I hope he resigns another contract to continue playing this character. I can’t see anyone else in the role.
Gwyneth Paltrow is still great as Pepper Potts, continuing her great chemistry with RDJ. I wish there was more of her in the film. Don Cheadle is good as James Rhodes. Again, he’s not in the film a lot either but had good chemistry with RDJ as well. Guy Pearce is excellent as villain Aldrich Killian. It’s fun to watch him play a crippled nerd at the beginning, and then a smooth businessman later on. He also gets to have some cool fight scenes and Pearce handles it well. I liked him a lot here. Ben Kingsley is great as The Mandarin. He seemed to have had a lot of fun in the role and it shows. I won’t say anymore than that. Rebecca Hall doesn’t do much as Maya Hansen, but she’s not terrible. Jon Farveau brings some humor as Happy Hogan. And Ty Simpkins didn’t annoy me as Harley. In fact, he had great exchanges with RDJ that I immensely enjoyed. A great cast, although I wish most of them had more to do with the material than they were allowed to.
- Underdeveloped characters and sub-plots. While the story is more focused than it was in IRON MAN 2, I wish there was less stuff going on to allow certain characters and plot points to develop fully. Pepper Potts doesn’t get all that much to do here until the end of the film. In fact, she’s pretty much a non-presence for much of the middle act. Rhodey feels a bit out of place in this film, again not doing much until the end. Aldrich Killian is given more to do, but I would have loved more scenes with him to really flesh him out. Maya Hansen is very underutilized, as she’s a more interesting character in the comics. And while The Mandarin is developed, it’s not really the development I was hoping for. But at least it worked for some people. I get that IRON MAN is the Tony Stark Show, but it helps when the supporting characters get some depth as well to build up the main character some more.
As for plot points, I thought the PTSD angle could have been stronger. It doesn’t really play into the story as much as one would hope. I think fleshing out that angle could have made Tony’s struggle and later decision much more effective. It would have been great if Tony’s stress had affected him during battle, or cost him something personal within the story. Having anxiety attacks and making Tony doubt himself is fine and all, but it just felt like this particular plot point was the studio’s way of reminding us of THE AVENGERS rather than a natural character trait. I’m glad the effects on Tony were presented. I just wish it was pushed further than it was.
- The film’s version of a certain Iron Man character. I won’t spoil who I’m talking about, although with $700 million made worldwide, I’m sure you already know. Ever since the first film, I’ve wanted this character to be in an IRON MAN film so badly. And when I heard this character was going to be a big part of this film, I was very excited. Sure, I understood they would have to change the character’s look and origin to make it contemporary and more politically correct. I had no issue with that. And I had no real issue in how the character was used within the context of the story.
That is, until the twist reveal. And while I did think how it was revealed was funny and silly, a part of me feels like it was a slap in the face. It wasn’t as bad as how Fox treated Dark Phoenix or how Sony treated Venom. But this character was promoted heavily and many were excited to finally see this important Iron Man character in a film. But the story took it somewhere else, which disappointed me greatly. I loved the performance of the character. But a part of me wishes that if Shane Black and Marvel were really going to do what they did, they should have just created a new character rather than take an established character and turn him into a joke. I know I sound like a total fanboy, but I can’t help how I feel. I wasn’t a fan of the twist because I don’t think it was really needed other than for comedic purposes. Still, what’s done is done. I guess it worked within the story, but I wish this character wasn’t sacrificed for a few laughs. That’s just my opinion.
THE FINAL HOWL
IRON MAN 3 is a fun summer blockbuster that improves on the first sequel in some aspects. The story is stronger and more focused, Shane Black’s direction gives the franchise a new feel that was needed, and the acting is stellar as always. But there was still a lot of story to follow, which sacrificed some story development. And the treatment of a certain character still irks me. I still prefer the first IRON MAN film, but IRON MAN 3 is slightly better than IRON MAN 2. And I’m glad IRON MAN 3 is doing extremely well, hoping that RDJ extends his contract with Marvel to continue playing the character. Not the greatest way to start the summer season, but I had fun with the film. Definitely worth a watch if you’re a fan. However, if you take the comic books seriously, don’t be surprised to be disappointed with certain things.