Iron Man 3 reviewed
When the first trailer was released, it looked like Marvel comic adaptation Iron Man 3 would be going the way of the Dark Knight trilogy. In other words, it was replacing superhero Tony Stark's signature snarkiness with angst instead, striving for a gritty, sober feel. Well, I'm pleased to report that the third film in the series hasn't sacrificed the franchise's identifying, arguably most appealing, feature. With writer-director Shane (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) Black on board though, the movie is quite different to its predecessors, which were helmed by Jon Favreau (who also plays Stark bodyguard Happy Hogan in the films, for the record).
Iron Man 3 is a breathless experience, not always coherent, and not always pleasing for fans of the comic. It is however buoyed by its memorably smart rapid-fire dialogue and easily the best action scenes of the franchise – if not the year – so far. Although far from perfect, Iron Man 3 is a very strong, well-crafted popcorn flick. Just avoid watching it in 3D if you can, however, as this conversion is entirely unremarkable, and quite murky in some scenes.
Anyway, Iron Man 3 borrows heavily from the Extremis comic book arc – by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov. In essence, after the events of The Avengers, billionaire weapons developer Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is struggling with the fact that he’s just a “man in a can,” operating in a universe alongside gods and aliens and wormholes. Trying to exert power over a threat still in his league, Tony taunts the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a Bin Laden-esque terrorist with a flair for the theatrical. Things go horribly wrong of course and it’s up to a largely suitless Tony to stop the Mandarin and his army of genetically enhanced, but unstable, super soldiers. That’s not all, however. Events are also tied to the arrogance of Tony’s past as he used and abused scientists Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) years previously.
Let’s get the bad out of the way first. There's little breathing space in Iron Man 3. The plot races along and with the exception of one plot twist, it’s all very obvious who the villains are. There is also little to no character development. Tony’s struggle with anxiety attacks lacks authenticity as a result, and some of the supporting characters, new and old, suffer for it as well. Hall is wasted in particular, as is Don Cheadle as Colonel Rhodes, formerly War Machine; now rebranded as the flag-waving Iron Patriot.
Also, if you, like me, are a fan of the Extremis comic arc, you are likely to be disappointed with the way that the technology is just “there” in the film, without any real explanation as to how it works – and how it essentially makes Iron Man obsolete. Don’t expect Maya to walk Tony and the viewer through the human upgrade process (instead we get a long, large pointless sequence in snowy, smalltown America), and don’t expect Tony to use it to his advantage in his battle against the Mandarin.
Speaking of the Mandarin, he is arguably the best thing about the film… and also the most controversial. Without going into detail, this is the Marvel Universe equivalent of Batman quitting. And massive praise must go to Ben Kingsley for being equally credible in two very different takes on the same character. He’s sinister. He’s a buffoon. And there are few performers who could pull off both. As I personally have never liked the character of the Mandarin in the comics, I was very impressed with what Kingsley did. This said, if his portrayal had been entirely “straight,” as it initially appears, I would have been exceptionally happy.
There’s a lot more to appreciate about Iron Man 3 as well if you can stomach the film's tendency to ignore comic book canon. As already said, the movie is far from perfect – there is actually little in terms of in-costume Iron Man action until the finale. However, the dialogue is consistently entertaining and the action scenes are top notch. The skydive rescue is a particular inventive highlight.
It also must be noted that despite falling under the Disney regime, Iron Man 3 has not been blunted. There's still some surprising “adult” edge to be found in the film, largely in the form of drugged up party girls and an implied threesome. Black got away with more than I thought he would.
In the end, Iron Man 3 is worth catching on the big screen. I’d still rank the 2008's Iron Man above it in the “best of the trilogy” stakes but this a satisfying experience that gives every character a chance to shine. Even if it’s only momentary. The film also has a surprising sense of completion, and if the series were to end at this point I would be quite satisfied.
3.5 or 4 stars out of 5, depending on how critical I'm feeling.
P.S. You should know this by now, but stick around for the Iron Man 3 post-credits sequence. This one is considerably better than a bunch of superheroes sitting around eating shawarmas.