Iron Man 3 Review and Analysis
Equal parts espionage thriller and Marvel film
REVIEW KEY: The beginning section of this piece is strictly a review and does not contain any spoilers beyond trailer footage and general fan knowledge. The second half of the piece reflects on Iron Man 3 and where it stands in comic book and film lore/ history. I don’t recommend reading the second part unless you’ve already seen the film, but it’s your life so go for it if you don’t care.
Let’s do this.
Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 is exactly what the Marvel franchise Universal as a whole needed following the year-old success of Joss Whedon’s (blink and you’ll miss him) The Avengers — a reminder that the films are still based on a semi-reality on Earth that also didn’t dismiss the events of The Avengers. Iron Man 3 begins Marvel Studios’ Phase Two reminding us Iron Man 2 was a just a fluke that pushed the “Avengers Assemble” envelope too far. While the 2008 Jon Favreau original Iron Man is still the best of the trilogy, Iron Man 3 certainly earns its place as a worthy sequel along the same lines as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is to Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The plot of the film is primarily basic, while investigating a new terrorist known as the Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley- Gandhi, Hugo), Tony Stark/ Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.- Sherlock Holmes, Tropic Thunder) stumbles on to a seemingly unrelated matter from his past. Along for the ride are trilogy faithfuls girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow- Shakespeare in Love, Shallow Hal), “bodyguard” Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau- Swingers, Couples Retreat), “best friend/ War Machine/ Iron Patriot Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle- Hotel Rwanda, Ocean’s Eleven) and Jarvis (Paul Bettany- A Beautiful Mind, Firewall). Series newcomers Mandarin, colleague Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce- Memento, Prometheus, L. A. Confidential), colleague/ old flame Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall- The Prestige, The Town, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and the mysterious Savin (James Badge Dale- The Departed, Flight) add a much-needed jolt that fizzled out when S.H.I.E.L.D. showed up in Iron Man 2.
As the byline states, this film is just as much an espionage thriller (a la Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, or just straight Tom Clancy-esque) as it is a comic book movie. (In the second section, the “Extremis” storyline will be discussed.) In addition to the former, Iron Man plays up the classic Shane Black-buddy cop movie. This film is all about Iron Man without the interruption and distraction of S.H.I.E.L.D. to muddy up the plot. The thriller aspect of the film focuses on Tony Stark more than Iron Man as the comic aspect focuses on Tony’s seemingly growing need for his suit. Tony is all about solving the mysterious motivation of the Mandarin’s global attacks in regards to the President while a rival colleague (Pearce) emerges from his past to sweep Pepper off her feet. As Tony independently investigates these matters, his buddy/ Iron Patriot (Cheadle) receives a commission from the President of the United States (William Sadler- Die Hard 2, The Shawshank Redemption) to investigate the Mandarin as well.
As a comic book film, there is firstly the obvious Iron Man/ superhero element. There are also constant references to New York in regards to the events in The Avengers. Thor as a character is vaguely referenced once, as well. Here is where Shane Black’s “buddy cop” strength shines. Tony and Rhodey aren’t unlike the pairings in other Black written-pictures like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or Lethal Weapon and The Long Kiss Goodnight (Tony and Pepper)or The Last Action Hero (Tony and Harley) to a lesser, but still similar degree. The fact that both genres comic book and espionage thriller have action roots lends itself nicely to Black’s ability to create a film that always entertains without taking itself too carelessly or seriously. Following the success of The Avengers, Iron Man 3 was awarded 60 million more dollars to a total of $200 in order to allow Black to make the best possible film he could.
RDJ plays Tony Stark flawlessly yet again, but it’s Guy Pearce who steals the show above fellow antagonist (and expected show-stealer) Sir Ben Kingsley and the rest of the cast. Each cast member plays their part to the best of their abilities, but Pearce thoroughly captures and becomes Killian (and more) in every single scene. It is because his role is that of a supporting variety that we appreciate Pearce’s ability to leave nothing held back in each scene as he wastes no time chewing the fat because he isn’t a primary (but certainly crucial) character. I would only complain that Kingsley’s role is significantly diminished and perhaps a tad of wasted talent on Marvel’s end (but certainly not as wasted as his roles in The Dictator and The Love Guru). Also, James Badge Dale certainly makes the most of a largely thankless henchman role as he relied solely on his ability to act and create an interesting character to play.
While the film improves where its direct predecessor failed, it still falls a bit short of the 2008 original. Iron Man 3 is a strong finish to one of the most popular trilogies in cinematic history. While Robert Downey Jr. proves once again his perfection of playing Tony Stark, is the lack of a villain presence that should have been felt by a seemingly squandered Sir Ben Kingley. Guy Pearce steals the show as the antagonist you wouldn’t expect to fear. However, this film is made better by the fact that Iron Man isn’t fighting another guy in a suit like the first two installments. The 3D adds to the conclusion of the trilogy.
ANALYSIS (HERE THERE BE SPOILERS):
Here is where the people who have seen it or don’t mind spoilers should not stop like the other readers who probably should stop and come back here once they’ve seen Iron Man 3.
Iron Man 3 follows the “Extremis” storyline for the most part as well as “Invincible Iron Man” and “Armor Wars.” Like “Invincible Iron Man,” Tony Stark checks out for a while as War Machine takes over. Like “Armor Wars,” Tony fakes his death. “Extremis” is the film’s focus, so it should be this analysis’ focus as well. The movie displays characters Aldrich Killian (who becomes a slight nod to Fin Fang Foom in addition to revealing himself to be the real Mandarin), Maya Hansen and The Mandarin (who wants to weaponize Extremis). The slight nod to Fin Fang Foom, obviously, is in reference to Killian’s fire breath and dragon tattoos.
Unlike Extremis (or any comic story line), the Mandarin is just a front for Aldrich Killian (who reveals himself to be the “real” Mandarin not unlike the Ra’s Al Ghul/ Liam Neeson/ Ken Watanabe charade from Batman Begins or The League of Shadows/ Bane/ Talia hierarchy revealed in The Dark Knight Rises to a lesser degree). The Mandarin, instead, is a drunken yet talented English actor named Trevor Slattery who apparently had a wicked drug habit before he found A.I.M.’s employ. This was a bit of a let-down when it came off as nothing more than recognition of the character’s importance in Iron Man lore but still going through with the notion regardless of the fact. Honestly, I appreciated the boost to the Aldrich Killian character and thought an actor with the versatility of Pearce was ideal for such a role.
One other issue I took with the film was the fact that Tony never really solved his “New York/ Avengers” dilemma. He suffers several panic attacks throughout the film but it never gets resolved by the film’s end (and I mean the very end with Bruce Banner). What I appreciated about the post-credits scene with Mark Ruffalo was that it explained the recipient of the Kiss Kiss Bang Bang-esque narration by Robert Downey Jr.
One note at credits’ end left a hint for viewers: “TONY STARK WILL RETURN.” What does this mean? Iron Man 4? The Avengers 2? A random cameo along the line of Tony Stark’s involvement in The Incredible Hulk? I recall a Kevin Feige quote regarding the future of Iron Man among the Avengers’ ranks, stating that Marvel Studios may “James Bond” and just hire a replacement to follow Downey. This is the biggest hint about what’s to come for Marvel beyond the events that occur within the film.