I haven’t been this torn over a comic book film since last year’s “The Amazing Spider-Man.” So, like, two superhero films ago?
Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark for the 4th time in “Iron Man 3” and this time we get to see more than his face inside of a helmet. The film takes place sometime after the New York showdown in “The Avengers,” an event which still give recurring nightmares to Stark and maybe just a hint of PTSD. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and company have gone back to business as usual, but a new villain (Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin) has emerged and his public broadcasts/attacks have quite a few people upset. After Happy (Jon Favreau, former director of Iron Man films and current “Guy who’s always with Tony but I don’t actually know his name”) is put into a coma by one of the Mandarin’s men, Stark vows revenge against the international terrorist.
The thing that makes this third installment of the series so different is that the Iron Man suit only makes an appearance for about 20 minutes of the movie. Following a similar story to “The Dark Knight Rises,” the audience watches the fall of Iron Man after he publicly calls out the Mandarin. His home is destroyed, his suit drained of power and Stark finds himself in Tennessee of all places (These scenes are actually filmed in North Carolina, which makes me wonder why the film even said Tennessee. But I digress…) Using only his suave skills and brainpower, Tony plays detective to uncover the location of the Mandarin and what plans he has in store. As someone smarter than me said, “We finally get the answer to Captain America’s question in ‘The Avengers.’ What is Tony without his armor?”
Before I get to the part of the movie that bugs me (and apparently half the viewing audience), let’s talk some positives. As far as action scenes go, this is the best the Iron Man series has offered. There are two scenes where Tony gets to show some actual fighting skills outside of his suit that are both very enjoyable. The finale of the film, while maybe not as exciting as it could have been, is also one of the best sequences in the series.
A big reason for the boost in action quality is new writer/director Shane Black. Known for his involvement in several action films like “Lethal Weapon” and “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” Black is not exactly new to the genre. There also many callbacks to his films like “Lethal Weapon 2” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” that should make fans of the director happy. Unfortunately, whether it’s Black or co-writer Drew Pearce, the writing in “Iron Man 3” is not so great. I’m hesitant to use the term “plot hole” but there are several elements of the film that could have been handled better or written more understandably, one of which is the big twist.
Many people are calling the twist “fresh” or “brilliant” but is it really? It turns out that the Mandarin is actually just an actor putting on a front for Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), an evil businessman who is playing both sides of a War on Terror in order to rake in cash. I’ve never read an Iron Man comic, so I won’t babble about the wasted opportunity of the Mandarin (who is considered Iron Man’s main villain), but the bait and switch left a bad taste in my mouth. The silliest part to me is that the audience is supposed to be surprised that the real villain is a rich businessman trying to get richer at the cost of human lives. No way! Especially in a series that has already had rich businessmen as the villains in the first two installments. Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin is turned into a joke for bathroom humor and I’m left wondering what could have been. Moving on…
End of Spoilers
“Iron Man 3” is a flawed, but very enjoyable addition to the superhero movie-verse. Aside from its visual spectacles, Robert Downey Jr. and company all bring in good performances and Shane Black does what he can to make us stop asking “But why doesn’t he just call the other Avengers?”
Grade: B- (borderline C+)