Iron Man 3 continues the story of Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) who, after the Battle of New York in Avengers, is struggling with his place in the steadily expanding superhero community. Unable to sleep, Stark has prioritized tinkering with new suits over his personal relationships – even neglecting the one person he “cannot live without,” Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).
However, when mysterious terrorist The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) kills American citizens and targets Iron Man (as well as his friends), Stark is stripped of his trademark armor, and forced to investigate the threat as an ordinary man. He embarks on a dangerous mission to bring the Mandarin to justice – as well as prove that Tony Stark is more than just his Iron Man suit.
Following on the heels of The Avengers, Marvel Studios had a tough task ahead of them: deliver a batch of standalone character stories set in the Avengers shared universe, without undercutting the excitement and momentum generated by the epic 2012 superhero team-up. The first post-Avengers solo entry, Iron Man 3 is led by first-time Marvel helmer Shane Black – known for blending slick action (and humor) with memorable character stories as both a writer (Lethal Weapon) and director (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). Does Black’s “buddy cop” movie pedigree make him the right man to usher in Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, via a smart Tony Stark story with some exciting Iron Man combat?
Interestingly, while Black succeeds in presenting the most personal and intimate Tony Stark story in the series thus far, it sometimes comes at the expense of iconic Iron Man action that die-hard fans will be expecting. This isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of exciting moments featuring the Iron Man armor(s), but Robert Downey Jr. spends a significant amount of time outside of the suit this round (even during several key battles).
That said, the Extremis super-soldier villains are a welcome change of pace from the suit-on-suit brawls of Iron Man and Iron Man 2, and the Mark 42 Armor (which Stark can remotely control) adds plenty of slick new set-pieces that are sure to be memorable for comic lovers and newcomers alike. Still, even though Iron Man 3 includes some of the best moments in the franchise, certain moviegoers will be underwhelmed by the final ratio between Tony Stark and Iron Man armor-centric action.
Like prior entries, the central story examines Stark’s relationship to the Iron Man persona – this time making it a point to show the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist is pretty adept without his armor. As a result, moviegoers spend a lot of time watching Robert Downey Jr. fire off one-liners (with some genuine vulnerability this round) – especially when paired with kid-helper Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins). In general, Downey once again delivers with the charming and self-absorbed Stark – even in scenes where the filmmakers settled for less-subtle comedy gags (an interaction with a cable news technician, for example) or heavy-handed soap box moments (such as a second act conversation about scientific ethics).
Nevertheless, while the film leans heavily on shared universe events from The Avengers as an emotional crutch for the Tony Stark storyline, Iron Man 3 entirely side-steps explaining why none of superhero team (or even S.H.I.E.L.D. members) attempt to provide backup - resulting in an awkward middle-ground where some viewers might have trouble suspending disbelief.
Returning Iron Man series staples Pepper (Paltro), Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) – as well as former Iron Man series director Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan) – all offer solid turns as their respective characters, and each one is allowed a bit more to do in Iron Man 3. Cheadle especially helps solidify his place in the Marvel movie universe – as the War Machine character is less of a sidekick this round, earning his own superhero spotlight.
Franchise newcomers are a mixed bag, with Ben Kingsley presenting a captivating terrorist persona for the Mandarin. The Mandarin is unsettling, but considering the character’s importance in comic book lore (not to mention the totally unexplored ties to the original Iron Man film), longtime comic fans might be underwhelmed by Iron Man 3‘s use of the fan-favorite villain. Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian isn’t an especially unique (or memorable) addition to the Iron Man series roster, but scene to scene, the character is a satisfying aspect of the primary Iron Man 3 conflict. Unfortunately, Rebecca Hall’s Maya Hansen is almost entirely wasted – with an underdeveloped arc that lacks any impactful payoff.
The superfluous Hansen character serves as an example of Iron Man 3‘s biggest drawback: in an effort to deliver a movie that could follow The Avengers, the film is packed with too many characters and overcomplicated tangents that take away from a relatively straightforward character story. A lot of ideas (and comic book references) are haphazardly thrown into the mix, but few of them develop into worthwhile contributions to the onscreen storyline – and, worse yet, outright distract from the emotionally-charged Stark character journey.
Similarly, action set-pieces are bigger than prior Iron Man entries, with epic eye-popping effects, but several sequences suffer from CGI-overload, where the Iron Man armor takes a backseat to crumbling buildings and mid-air explosions. The set-pieces are enormous, but instead of highlighting Tony Stark and the various capabilities of his iconic suit, the scope sometimes undercuts would-be blockbuster moments with a muddled blur of armor and explosions.
Iron Man 3 is playing in both 3D as well as an IMAX Experience – and both versions are on-par with premium presentations of The Avengers. The 3D, specifically, relies on subtle (not pop-out) effects, courtesy of a crisp post-conversion from frequent Marvel Studios collaborator, StereoD (Jurassic Park 3D). Neither IMAX or the 3D is essential to enjoying the film, but moviegoers who are willing to spring for the added ticket cost should get their money’s worth.
In attempting to maintain the bar set by The Avengers’ superhero action, Iron Man 3 at times handcuffs its hero (and story) – throwing too much style and attempted substance at the screen without being mindful of the carefully-paced discovery and wonder that made the first film (and even the flawed second entry) so memorable. Nevertheless, Iron Man 3 is a crowd-pleasing blockbuster that includes a number of unique action beats and antagonists that break up the suit vs. suit monotony that dominated the first two entries.
It isn’t the best of the Marvel Studios shared universe offerings, but Iron Man 3 should provide enough fun and excitement for both Iron Man die-hards and newly acquired Avengers fans. If you’re still on the fence, check out the Iron Man 3 trailer below:
Iron Man 3 runs 130 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content. Now playing in 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D theaters.
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