[Review] - Iron Man 3

Courtesy of Marvel
Iron Man 3 is an important film for Marvel, as important a film as the original Iron Man film, and last year's Avengers were. Iron Man was about proving that Marvel's plan would work, and establishing a formula for moving forward. Avengers was about proving that you could bring all of these characters together into a film, and have it be an actual film and not just a congested mess. Iron Man 3 is about proving that Marvel, with all their success, can shirk off the established formula and move into a new avenue. It's about making a statement, that Phase 2 isn't going to be your standard experience. And that the heady days of origin stories are well behind us.

Marvel's Cinematic Universe made superhero movies not only popular, and successful, but also proved that they didn't have to be morose affairs to be good. Phase 2 is a distinct move away from making superhero movies. Iron Man 3 establishes that pretty early on. "Superhero Movies" is a phrase we need to stop using. Because, like cartoons, they aren't a genre to themselves, not any more. Marvel is interested in making movies that happen to be about superheroes. And if Iron Man 3 is any indication, only barely at that.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that once ruined scenes filmed exclusively for the Chinese market.


It is easy to see why Marvel went with Shane Black for IM3. Jon Favreau had gotten too bogged down in the superhero-lore of the universe, though via edict from the powers that be. And in an effort to go hard in the other direction, they picked the best man for the job: how to make a movie about a guy who wears a super suit, that isn't about a guy wearing a super suit. It isn't even a deconstruction of the idea, as Whedon touched on in Avengers. It's just a lateral move. What happens when you take this guy out of the suit? What does he become then? From a story arc perspective, it makes sense. The first film was getting him in the suit, the second was about him trying to find a balance between the two, and this one was about him getting out. And he does, spending most of the film non armoured. And even when the suit is active, Tony himself is rarely inside of it.

Making the suit partially autonomous is the first in a series of developments that emerge early in the film that set the road for what is to come. Right from the first film, Tony has claimed that he is Iron Man, and this film finally tackles the question of, if that is true, who is Tony Stark? It also follows through on several plot threads established in the Avengers, that either would have been skipped over entirely, or glossed over in haphazard way if Avengers 2 had been the immediate follow up (another reason why DC's shared universe won't work, if all they intend to make are Justice League films). It is exactly the sequel that was needed to last year's blockbuster, while remaining separate and isolated from it. Tony is the only Avenger who isn't a trained solider, or has combat experience. It stands to reason that he would be the one whose response to the Battle of New York would be the most traumatic.

But this is an Iron Man film, which means the focus needs to be on Tony, not on the larger universe. Which is why repeated requests to Tony to talk about New York throughout the film go unanswered. Which is why this is the most self contained film the MCU has produced to date, with barely any references to the larger goings on (though SHIELD and "the guy with the hammer" get name checked). Considering how cluttered IM2 became with trying to fit everything, IM3 feels relaxed by comparison. Like things have the opportunity to play out. Not that it is a slow film by any stretch. At just over two hours, Black has thrown a lot of noodles at this particular wall, and some of it sticks. Some of it, however, falls limp to the floor, to get brushed under the cupboards and attract ants.

At it's core though, this is a detective story, and there is a sequence where Tony raids a hardware store and invades an enemy strong hold where I realised that Black might be an interesting choice to helm the next Batman film. Because Tony did more sleuthing and detectiving in this film, with a kid side-kick, then Batman did in all the Batman movies released ever. Spiritually, it is as much a sequel to Black's superb Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (the movie that got Robert Downey Jr. the role of Iron Man to begin with) then it is to anything within the MCU. In tone and irreverence, it has all the beats of Black's best stuff, from the Christmas setting to the largely comedic dialogue, the emotional underpinning, and the extreme shift towards violence in the third act.

The precipitating moment in Tony's involvement with the Mandarin, played wonderfully by Sir Ben Kingsley, is a terrorist attack in LA that leaves Happy (Favreau, in a role slightly expanded because he's not having to be behind the camera) in hospital, and Tony's already frayed nerves exposed. He makes an unwise and emotional move, which results in his home being destroyed, and his loved ones scattered. He finds himself alone, without a suit, or resources, or friends, having to track down and stop a terrorist before he concludes his sinister plot. And that is when the movie is at it's best, when Tony, long heralded as the smartest guy in the room, has to figure out how to work with nothing, and get the job done.

There is a lot at play here, and many subplots get pushed to the side in favour of the stronger lead story. Poor Don Cheadle gets nothing to do, and once the explosive finale ramps up, he disappears entirely. Rebecca Hall is wasted as the precipitating event in everything, a character whose scenes are the film's weakest, and whose motivations aren't ever exactly clear. In fact, no ones motivations are ever made clear. Say what you will about IM2, but at least you understood what Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell were after. The villain's big reveal is impressive, and literally the strongest villain of the three films, but aside from general chaos, and a health touch of spite, you never understand why he's doing the things he's doing.

But where some story elements leave you wanting, others surprise you with their strength. Black managed to make Jarvis an actual character rather then just an exposition machine, and not even Whedon could work that. And the subplot with the kid, which I was worried would come off too Short Round, turned out to be one of the better relationships in the film. It was terse, honest, and believable. The dramatic alteration to the character of the Mandarin works far better then you'd expect it to, and Guy Pierce, coming off the sour taste in your mouth that was Prometheus, finally gets a role he can sink his teeth into (and appear for more then ten minutes in).

From here on out, I'll be talking about the end of the film, the post credits sequence, and the future. So if you'd rather skip that, I suggest you get off here, OK?

I spent the entire movie disappointed with Black and Downey over their treatment of Pepper. Yes, she does in fact suit up, for all of about thirty seconds. Long enough to tease, not enough to satisfy. She spends the rest of the film being kidnapped, and experimented on, and having to be rescued. She's more a damsel in this film then she ever was in the other two. A completely underwritten, cliched, and disappointing turn for the character. Until she becomes the MCU equivalent to She-Hulk and saves not only Tony, and herself, but also the day. It was a risky misdirection, one that could alienate the increasing number of fans who want to see the female heroes get more focus. But it was a hell of a pay off.

The ending though, felt rushed. Pretty much everything from the time the fleet of suits shows up straight through to the credits (which were Grindhouse inspired, and a great way to cap the series) felt like it was mandated developments, as many of the changes come suddenly, with no build up, and brushed aside by the narration. True, Tony Stark tends to work on impulse, from his first film declaration, to his calling the Mandarin out here, but the fact that absolutely everything changes within five minutes, bringing the series to a full conclusion, seemed abrupt, running counter to the tone and pace of the rest of the film.

I respect Marvel for showing the restraint they did, in divorcing this film from the larger MCU. Phase 1 was so concerned with seeding and linking that you were expecting Easter eggs to crop up (and come to a boiling point in IM2). And you can see where the pieces could have fit. The kid could have easily been Rick Jones, the gifted surgeon to rids Tony of his shrapnel could have been Steven Strange, the Extremis device a gateway to Super Solider 2.0 or other developments. Save for the post credits sequence, the film proves that these stories can stand on their own, as well as be a piece to a larger puzzle, which was pretty much the charm of the original Iron Man.

The final reveal though, that Tony has given up on his armour, that he no longer needs his chest-mounted arc reactor, that he is moving on with his life is a huge development for the MCU. But it also makes sense. This is the end of the story of Iron Man, but as the credits promise in a Bond-esque way, Tony Stark will return. It took him four films and a lot of physical and emotional damage to realise that the thing that came out of that cave back at the start, wasn't who he really was. I don't doubt we'll see Tony pop up in Avengers 2, but I doubt, or I hope, we'll never see Iron Man again. His place on the Avengers can be filled by the Iron Patriot, if they need a power suit on the team. And I hope that Marvel sticks to its convictions, and that despite all the money IM3 has made, that IM4 never happens. This story is over, now is the time to focus on new stories, and new heroes. Bruce Banner's appearance in the post-credits confirms that Tony is still a part of this world, but that it is time for new characters to take over (it also marks the first time the same actor has played Bruce Banner twice, so yay Ruffalo).


Iron Man 3 is a completely different beast to the first two films, but that was entirely the point. It's hard to compare the three together. What is clear is that IM3 is the funniest, cleverest, most ambitious of the three. And it is certainly more successful at being bold then the second film. What it wasn't was the movie I was expecting, and that is the best thing that can be said about it. It defies expectation, and if this is how Phase 2 is shaping up, then I can't wait to see how the others turn out. November can't get here fast enough.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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