Iron Man 3 Review: A Second Opinion
In my opinion it’s the closing chapter of a trilogy that’s the hardest part of a series to nail down and is almost always met with the most scrutiny. You’re either taking the next step after an enormously successful sequel surpassed the original (The Dark Knight, Aliens, The Godfather Part II) or you’re trying to correct the wrongs of a mixed sequel reaction (Iron Man 2, Hannibal, The Bourne Supremacy). Either way you’re dealing with insane expectations and can either go in a bold new direction or attempt to go back and channel the original while still remaining fresh and exciting.
I think the best example of this could be found in Lucas and Spielberg’s near-perfect Indiana Jones trilogy. You had Raiders of the Lost Ark that debuted into cinemas with an overwhelmingly positive response and a formula that worked best for an adventure flick. The sequel took that formula in a different direction by adding more action, more set-pieces, a larger scale and a much darker tone. Now I absolutely love Temple of Doom but the movie is oftentimes met by mixed reactions from fans who at the very least see it as a notch below the others in the series. So what did Spielberg do with The Last Crusade? He brought back the familiar elements from the first movie but still kept that unique excitement we’ve come to love from the Indiana Jones franchise. We returned to the opening of Indy on an adventure that brings him back to his University before the plot unfolds. We see him in his duel life as a Professor who chases artifacts on the weekend instead of grading papers and making lesson plans. Most of our beloved characters from the original are back in the same roles but with ramped up development and screen time. The villains from the original return to help give us that feeling of coming full circle with the character as we learn and discover things about him that we never got to see before. We see him as a child and we get a glimpse into who the man underneath the hat and jacket really is. We see what makes him tick, what his family life is like, where he gets that adventurous spirit from. It’s the perfect ending to a trilogy because it takes the best parts of the original and elevates them to a whole other level as the door on our hero is shut with him literally riding off into the sunset.
I bring this up because Iron Man 3 shows glimpses of both the dangerous pitfalls of a final act and the delicate balance between new and similar. Much like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Iron Man 3 centers directly on Tony Stark and offers us an emotional side of our hero that we’ve never truly seen before. Those expecting something along the lines of Iron Man 2 which felt like an expansion of the first movie will be disappointed in Black’s attempts to distance himself from what Favreau created. This doesn’t at all affect the characters we know, the decisions they make or the environment that was established with two Iron Man movies and an Avengers collaboration but what it does do is change the tone of that universe. We’re treated to an increase of comedy that makes light of a dangerous situation as well as the banter between on-screen characters that are both familiar and new to the audience. While some were taken aback by this shift in tone (as well as little things like the removal of AC/DC) I welcomed the change and asked for more of what makes Shane Black stand apart from others. Does it make for an imbalance on the screen? No, but it does make for a small imbalance in your mind, or at least it did for me. Watching both Iron Man entries and The Avengers back to back leading up to this movie is what makes it stand out that much further from the rest. However once you come to grips with that and recognize that this is very much a different view of storytelling than you’ve seen from the previous Iron Man movies you can quickly get in line behind the change.
One thing that’s handled wonderfully is the mentality of Tony Stark and the increased pressure of trying to live up to a hero that wears a mask. He might’ve told the world who he is but that still doesn’t change the fact that his suit gets more recognition than the man inside of it. When you couple that with his recurring fears and anxiety from the danger his life has instantly elevated towards then you have a mixed cocktail of internal destruction. This is a guy who grew up with the world in his hands and was constantly the largest, most powerful man in the room. He saw no danger, he was never afraid and his actions rarely brought about violent repercussions. It was refreshing to explore that side of a superhero and deal with the internalized struggle of a man who’s changed enormously throughout the course of 4 movies and still remains this interesting. I thought the sequences dealing with his real life fears, doubts and nightmarish responses to the past events of the trilogy were a welcomed change and an organic way of showing us that every action is connected in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Even though the direction was bold and some big risks were taken with the source material I can’t commend all of them for trying when not everything hit the mark or was truly satisfying to me.
Warning, there be SPOILERS
The Mandarin will be the one who draws the largest reaction from the fans and I think they’re grouped into three categories. There are those who dug the change, those who hated the change for going completely against the source material and those who questioned the change as a good idea with mixed execution. You could put me in the camp of the first and third even though initially this turn came as a confusing shock to me. I always felt like The Mandarin was playing up this representation of evil and even questioned why Kingsley’s voice was so overstated to the point that it felt as if he was trying too hard to be ominous.. and I guess I got my response. The idea that he was used as a face for the public to place their blame on while the real villains worked behind the scenes to accomplish their goals is a very relevant one since it clearly channels present day terrorism and social ideas in a modern setting. When I took a step back and let the movie play out before a judgment was made I not only enjoyed but loved the balls Black had to go out there and bring us that kind of relevancy with a mainstream comic-book movie. These are the types of ideas I’ve been looking for in the genre since The Dark Knight came out and basically laid the groundwork for how to relate these issues to a superhero setting (the sonar that broke the privacy of citizens and it’s moral dilemma in TDK being a prime example). Kingsley was clearly having a blast with this change since he was able to play two characters who were drastically different and the payoff was a bit jumbled but ultimately effective to me. Is it perfect? Not at all and it seemed as if they only scratched the surface of an idea that could’ve been a much deeper scenario in the movie. It also seemed a bit over the top to me and I wondered why a guy like Killian with that many resources would choose someone as dumb and forgetful as Trevor. He basically seemed like a ticking time bomb of failure that could go off at any point during a live broadcast which seemed more like a liability, which is where the idea stunted from being great to me. Overall though I can say that I more or less liked the bold twist and felt that it did it’s part in relation to the development on screen.
Speaking of bold ideas that fell a bit short I would relate the inclusion of genetic superpowers to the list of things that hit the mark at times but also came off as incredibly cheesy. On one hand you have the stereotype of a scientist who sets off to do great things but becomes twisted along the way and uses them for destruction and on the other hand you have this truly ambitious idea that directly relates to gods, aliens and superpowers that we’ve seen from the Marvel Universe. There are parts where this really worked and felt like more social commentary on the real world (testing subjects on this with fatal results, limb regeneration and parts being sold on the black market) and parts that came off as very campy (Pearce breathing fire, the effects on the members of Killian’s group in the climax of the movie). The scientist behind these ideas is an interesting character that isn’t just handled poorly but basically rushed off the movie set for no reason at all. Not only was Hall’s character underused and almost pointlessly shooed into the movie but her turn as a villain was lame and never fully fleshed out. We don’t get a sense of why she feels this way and because of that we don’t care about her reveal to Pepper in the slightest. Her conflicting feelings are never addressed as she goes from “good guy” to “bad guy” to “almost shady good guy seeking redemption” in the span of a couple of scenes and it really comes off as a wasted character. If I could change one thing it would probably be to remove that person entirely and lay the genetic findings on Guy Pearce’s character instead… but that’s just me. Oh and speaking of Guy Pearce I thought he brought his A-game as usual to a role that could’ve just been presented as the guy who stands in Tony’s way. He sold that character to me as a villain who could not only just match Tony’s wit and intellect but could match his physical strength of the Iron Man suit as well. I couldn’t argue more with the ones who relate him to a throwaway baddy since it’s Killian’s true nature and character arc that kept me invested in their showdown throughout the second and third acts of the movie.
If this is indeed the last chapter of Tony Stark’s journey as a character in his own solo films then I can safely say that it was one that mostly hit the mark with me. We’re treated to a full circle completion of his character arc that started 5 years ago in the first Iron Man with a bunch of twists and turns that are thrown in for good measure. It’s not without it’s fair mix of faults and strong moments (the added layer of Pepper Potts and her increased screen time was a gem for me) but seeing another blockbuster movie with a finale set at a cargo dock was pretty uninspired. There are times when the pacing really stumbles and the overall motive is a bit cloudy but it’s righted by Black’s direction and his incredible chemistry with Robert Downey Jr. He not only reiterated the fact that he was born to play Tony Stark but he proved that he was born to play the real definition of a superhero. 7/10