Tony Stark: "I think I'd just cut the wire."
That quote, from 2012's The Avengers, feeds directly into the decision by Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.) to selflessly deliver a nuclear missile through a portal to the other side of the universe at the end of that film. Stark manages to survive this act, something that should likely have been a one way ticket. Iron Man 3 looks at the personal ramifications of that decision.
Directed by Shane Black, he makes a gamble that manages to pay off in dividends: by pulling things in closer (the larger "universe" that Marvel has created is only briefly alluded to) to the "man behind the mask" we get to know the things that now make a post-Avengers Stark tick. We open to Stark's humorously rambling yet strangely coherent narration very reminiscent of 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang that Downey also starred in (which was also both written and directed by Black). After a brief prologue/flashback to a pre-Iron Man Tony Stark, which for astute viewers features some nice callbacks to the first film of the trilogy, we get to see Tony hard at work in the lab of his Malibu mansion. We immediately recognize how occupied he's kept himself since the events of The Avengers. Where that film saw him first using the Mark VII armor, he's now up to the Mark XLII, which gives a subtle insight into his mindset: he's become one paranoid guy.
Tirelessly planning and tinkering with the armor for every contingency actually becomes one of the main conflicts of the film. Will Tony continue a descent into a Howard Hughes-esque reclusiveness and obsession or actually grow as a person by film's end? The journey to find out is a long and difficult road. Plagued by several PTSD-like symptoms, Stark clearly hasn't come to terms with the rapid changes in his universe. Organically, the writing makes sense: Iron Man was more or less the most "grounded" of the previous stand-alone Marvel films, so someone like Stark would naturally be very practical. Seeing mythical monsters attack New York through a portal from another world would at the very least probably result in some nightmares. Having to deal with the new villain, and self-proclaimed "teacher" the Madarin (played by Ben Kingsley), only adds more conflict to a very shaken Tony Stark.
Beyond the character driven story, the film also features some great effects and cinematography. Particularly memorable: the incredible effects shots of Tony's Malibu mansion falling into the sea after a missile attack, a very intense scene filmed with real-life skydivers, and Stark himself laying alone, stripped of his armor (both literally and figuratively), in a quiet meadow immersed in silently falling snow. The orignal score features some nice call backs and motifs used in both the previous Iron Man films and in the Avengers. This is surprisingly well done considering that the composer, Brian Tyler, has not been previously used in any Marvel Phase One films (and has a rather eclectic filmography ranging from movies to videogames).
This is not to say that the film doesn't feature a few drawbacks. The intense focus on Tony Stark's character gives some of the supporting cast the short end of the stick. One of the villains, played by the always compelling Guy Pearce, is telegraphed so obviously as a bad guy that he may as well have had a twirling mustache and evil laugh. In addition, Gwyneth Paltrow is almost reduced to the lovesick female again (a la Iron Man 2) but at least gets to actually save Stark for once. Don Cheadle also reprises his Iron Man 2 role as James Rhodes, whose character comes across as kind of forced in an admittedly lame way to showcase the new Iron Patriot armor. Also featured is child actor Ty Simpkins, who plays a new ally of Stark's that I was relieved to see leave the main part of the plot relatively quickly (the problem being that his character comes dangerously close to being the annoying Spielberg kid and could have easily been written out).
Despite some supporting character issues, Iron Man 3 manages to avoid what can often be the "trilogy curse", by delivering a film far superior to the previous sequel and on the same level as the original.
I Am Iron Man
- A gamble done right : opting to focus on the character of Tony Stark and the repercussions of the events in The Avengers on a personal level is a lot more effective than any other bloated effects film could have been.
- Strong writing for Robert Downey Jr. to work with, he continues to own the role with his witty delivery and amusing soliloquies.
- Good balance of practical effects and digital work: both clearly spared no expense.
- Several great call backs to the previous films without it becoming repetitive.
- Interesting motives for the villains: the use of perception vs. reality has a particularly strong resonance throughout.
- Strong original score with a nice balance of motifs from the old (the original Iron man) to the new (The Avengers).
I'm Hot, I'll hurt you!
- The focus on Tony Stark comes at the expense of some of the other characters, notably Don Cheadle's James Rhodes and to some extent Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts.
- The use of the infamous "annoying Spielberg kid".
- Some character's are overly telegraphed (almost to juvenile levels) as being "good" or evil".
- Some of the use of the Extremis Soliders is too silly, one scene in particular sees a character literally breathe fire on someone else.
Verdict: Iron Man 3 sees a great use of Robert Downey Jr.'s abilities as the always strongly written Tony Stark. By deciding to focus on the man and not just the suit, Iron Man 3 manages to rise well above the typical summer popcorn flick.
Take a look at the Iron Man 3 Stark Expo at Disneyland.