I just saw Man of Steel in theaters today, marking the two third mark of my quest to see all of this year's superhero films in theaters. Coming away from that film gave me a fresh perspective on Iron Man 3, which I saw last month (more on Man of Steel in my upcoming review of it). That fresh perspective led me to believe that although there were some things that I didn't like about it, there were more than enough things to like about it.
Iron Man 3 begins (after a brief flashback sequence to rich-jerk!Tony in Bern) with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) trying to deal with the aftermath of the Battle of New York, which took place in The Avengers. He's apparently suffering from some form of post traumatic stress disorder. His best friend Rhodey (Don Cheadle) is supportive of him, as is his girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Rhodey has recently been rebranded as "Iron Patriot," which comic book aficionados such as I will recognize as the codename once used by Norman Osborn of the Spider-Man mythos. But when the super creepy Dr. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) approaches Pepper about an experimental... thing from his company Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) called Extremis, and a bin Laden-esque terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) bombs Grauman's Chinese Theatre, badly injuring Tony's bodyguard/head of security at Stark International, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), Tony gets ticked. He purposefully leaks his address to the press (which, as this post at Law and the Multiverse explains, wasn't exactly necessary), after which the Mandarin attacks his Malibu home, utterly destroying it, and leading the world to thinking him dead. Now, without his Iron Man armor, Tony must use all of his wits and all of his intelligence to defeat this, his most potent adversary yet.
Firstly, I'd like to say that this movie's director, Shane Black, has a decidedly different style than that of Jon Favreau, the director of Iron Man and Iron Man 2. For one thing, the film is of a much faster pace than the previous films, but not to the point of being frantic. Where Favreau employed a little humor, Black employs a lot. Comedy has always been a staple in the Iron Man films, but its use comes to a head here. This is easily the funniest of the three Iron Man films, but it is at the same time the most dark and serious. That said, it is also the most comic bookish of the Iron Man films, employing a far more outlandish plot than those of its predecessors, on the level of Batman Begins. None of these aspects are at all bad, however, for victory is in the execution. The plot is expertly handled, with everything from character motivations and dynamics to the action sequences being masterfully woven together. The climax is superb, and the heroes are heroic. I also liked how they make Tony use his mind to solve his problems. This reflects on the cave scenes back in Iron Man. Those were the best scenes in Iron Man because of the same reason these are some of the best scenes in Iron Man 3; they both showed Tony trying to solve his problems with his mind. On another note, good acting is by now par for the course on these films, but it is especially evident here. I have always loved Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark, and I still love him as the character here. The supporting characters, including Don Cheadle as Rhodey and Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin, are equally enjoyable to watch, though the latter for a rather different reason.
Which brings me to my chief complaint about this movie; the Mandarin. It's not that he's not a great villain, but it's what the filmmakers did with him. I won't spoil it here for those of you who haven't seen the movie yet, but all I'll say is that what they filmmakers did with their portrayal of the Mandarin brings him down the scale from badbutt villain to comic relief character. I wanted to see a badbutt villain be really menacing towards Iron Man and have a big conflict with him, and instead we get Dr. Aldrich Killian, an admittedly badbutt villain himself, plus a bunch of random people hyped up on the Extremis virus. I came out of this movie feeling cheated, like I'd been robbed of half of the experience. Bruce Willis once said that a story is only as smart as its villain. On the one hand, we have a villain who is literally very smart. On the other, we have a villain who is, figuratively, really smart. That's the thing with Aldrich Killian, his motivation isn't really nailed down. Sure, he has a plan which he follows, and after talking with my sister I understood his motivation a little better, but the film should be able to present that without having to have a discussion about the subject. Also, wasn't there supposed to be a lot of scenes set in China? I seem to recall some internet buzz over that point. One last thing; there was a lot of hype over Pepper suiting up to become Rescue in this movie, except that she was only in the suit for like, two minutes. I would have appreciated more truth in advertising, especially with the Mandarin thing.
On the whole, Iron Man 3 is a solid summer blockbuster, with enough action to entertain the crowds for a long time. If I were Shane Black, there are some things that I would have done differently, but I will continue to adamantly opine that it's better than Iron Man 2 and that it is better than Man of Steel. I'm sure that will be food for thought.
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