It is finally upon us: the final days of the semester. I mean, the summer movie season. If you’re looking to take a break from studying or writing papers or doing ridiculous end-of-semester projects, then brace yourself: big summer blockbusters are here to distract you and pull you into a summer state of mind. And who better to kick the summer off with a literal bang than the juggernaut that is Marvel Studios? Hot off their record-breaking hit The Avengers, Marvel is back with a vengeance, and they’ve brought their biggest guns in Tony Stark and Iron Man. With a new writer/director and a much more assured Robert Downey Jr., does Iron Man 3 soar? In more ways than you’d think.
Tony Stark is still reeling after the events of The Avengers. He keeps flashing back to his ride through a wormhole with a nuclear missile on his back, flashbacks that keep him up at night and give him intense panic attacks. He’s becoming increasingly distant from girlfriend Pepper Potts, and he spends days on end tinkering with his suits of armor. However, when a terrorist known as The Mandarin begins making threats on global news, and Stark’s trusty friend Happy Hogan is caught in the crossfire of one of his attacks, Tony Stark is shaken out of his reverie and declares war on the villain. Meanwhile, a scientist from Stark’s past, Aldrich Killian, is making waves with a new discovery known as Extremis. It’s not long before Extremis falls into the wrong hands, however, and soon, Tony Stark is facing enemies on multiple fronts.
If this movie had nothing else going for it, Downey would still be considered absolutely on the top of his game. After two Iron Man films and a major role in The Avengers, Downey has really come into his own in the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man. He is excellent playing the swaggering, genius billionaire. His rapid-fire delivery of copious one-liners makes for extremely entertaining movie-watching. Downey’s comedic timing is excellent throughout the course of the film, and he plays well off fellow actors Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce; his chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow is also real, if a little shallow. Essentially, this is arguably Downey’s best performance in the role, and the film is elevated on his performance alone; if you love Downey (and really, who doesn’t?), then go watch this movie.
Meanwhile, Pearce is also rather excellent in the role of scientist Aldrich Killian. Initially playing Killian off as a very nerdy, excitable think-tanker, Pearce transforms the character into a suave, accomplished, and downright conniving genius later on in the film. Pearce has a lot of fun with the character without falling into that obvious superhero film pitfall: campiness. On the other end, Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin is brilliant. Kingsley has an absolute ball with the role, producing one of the best villain voices since Tom Hardy’s signature Bane voice. Kingsley’s spin on the character of The Mandarin is both surprising and refreshing; despite this, he doesn’t get bogged down in the novelty of the character, always putting forth a consistently strong performance.
The supporting cast is consistently good, too, for the most part. Paltrow is given a little bit more to do than usual in her role as Pepper Potts, including a few interesting twists on her character that will surprise and exhilarate viewers. Her work with Downey still feels organic, and as such their on-screen relationship continues to feel less forced than some of the other Marvel movie romances. Meanwhile, Cheadle is less wooden and more amusing in the role of Stark’s best friend, Rhodey. His banter with Downey is solid, and he does a good job playing the straight man against Downey in the film’s final act. Some of the supporting cast doesn’t fare as well, however; Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen, in particular, really does not bring a lot to the table in terms of her performance. She’s just a blip amongst an otherwise excellent cast, though.
Much of Iron Man 3’s success can be attributed to newcomer Shane Black. As writer/director, Black manages to reinvigorate the series after the somewhat disappointing second installment. He managed to turn this movie into something different from the rest of the Marvel films: an out-and-out action comedy. In the past, the Marvel movies have had comedic elements, but Iron Man 3 has enough humor in it, and such a strong focus on the execution of that humor, that I believe it’s fair to call it an action-comedy. Of course, this tonal change is a perfect fit for both Downey and the character of Tony Stark. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its heavier, darker moments, but those thinking that this was going the route of The Dark Knight, and thus ruin the character of Iron Man, need not despair. Besides the comedy, Black is equally adept at delivering the action goods; some of the action set pieces in Iron Man 3 are good enough to be ranked amongst some of the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (yes, even when compared to The Avengers).
Now, while Black’s direction on the film is great, his writing has a few issues. The comedy is excellent, the character moments are excellent … but certain things still stuck out. A shift in the movie’s tone somewhere in the middle, when the movie becomes something of a detective story as Stark tries to discover the identity of a man who might be linked to Extremis in a small town in Tennessee, really seemed out of line with the rest of the movie. Also, Black digs back into his Lethal Weapon roots and makes the third act of the film a sort of buddy cop film between Stark and Rhodey. This isn’t necessarily bad, but alongside the noir-like second act, it makes the film seem a little unfocused at times. Besides this, the film’s take on the character of The Mandarin is … interesting, and different, but it may not appeal to everyone. At this point, I’m still not sure how I feel about it. As a comic book devotee, it left me a little wanting. The same can be said about the use of Extremis; comic book readers will feel like this was a missed opportunity on the filmmakers’ parts, but admittedly the film made good use of it in a lot of ways.
On a technical level, Iron Man 3 was up to snuff with the rest of the Marvel movies. Some of the cinematography in the action sequences was particularly good, and the use of 3-D was solid. The film’s music seemed good, although maybe not quite as memorable as the scores of the last two Iron Man films. Visual and special effects were both top notch, with the film’s third act providing enough computer graphics spectacle to last the entire summer (Man of Steel not withstanding.)
So Iron Man 3 was definitely a great Marvel film and a very fun time at the movies. It didn’t quite reach the heights of The Avengers, but it certainly stands as one of the best Marvel efforts to date, and is neck-and-neck with the original Iron Man in that respect. Black proved, once again, that Marvel makes inspired choices when it comes to filmmakers. And while fans of the comics might be a little annoyed with some of the liberties he took with the film, there’s enough action and fun here to appease most people. And then there’s Downey. ‘Nuff said.