In what could be the biggest review series in the history of Obsessive Viewer, I’m committing myself to reviewing all the movies and shows in Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe. You can find an index of my MCU reviews here and check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast here. Now, here’s my review of 2013’s Iron Man 3.
After coming close to death during the Battle of New York in The Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is haunted by the thought of losing the people he cares about, specifically Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). While Tony spends sleepless nights tinkering with new Iron Man suits, a terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) taunts the U.S., which has rebranded Rhodey’s War Machine suit as the Iron Patriot.
With Iron Man 2‘s mistakes far enough in the past and all but washed away by the positive response of The Avengers, Iron Man 3 had a lot going for it. Djrector/co-writer Shane Black stepped in to fill the shoes of Jon Favreau, who still appears in the movie as Stark bodyguard Happy Hogan. More importantly, however, Marvel Studios didn’t need to shoehorn in any universe building this time around. This gave Black room to take the Stark character on a more personal journey.
From the opening scene, there’s something distinctly different about Iron Man 3. We’re treated to a Robert Downey Jr. voice over played over shots of his Iron Man suits being destroyed. It’s a good hook for the movie that transitions well into a flashback scene to set up a pair of new characters in Rebecca Hall‘s Maya Hansen and Guy Pearce‘s Aldrich Killian. It also sets up the inner struggle Tony will be going through and gets some important exposition out of the way.
Shane Black brings a lot to the table in this installment of the Iron Man franchise. His unique brand of humor (see also: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) is a refreshing departure from the egotism-driven sarcasm that Downey has perfected over two Iron Man movies and The Avengers. Here, the comic relief comes from several different sources and makes for a very entertaining script.
The plot itself finds Tony investigating Mandarin bombings that lead him to Tennessee in winter. His suit needs repaired and he’s cut off from Jarvis and all of his gadgets. There’s a long stretch of the movie that takes place here after Tony is introduced to a tech savvy young kid who Tony reluctantly mentors. It’s kind of a cute dynamic but it overstays its welcome pretty early on. The kid (Ty Simpkins) doesn’t do much to stand out. He plays some of the witty banter from the script a little too cutesy but it doesn’t detract from the movie any more than the subplot itself does.
The Mandarin plot has a certain spy/thriller appeal to it. This is especially the case in a sequence where Tony has to improvise weapons to infiltrate a house. He cleverly dispatches henchmen to get in and later has humorous conversations with other henchmen. It’s another example of an Iron Man script that is very heavy on comic relief. I’m not complaining about it, however. The humor throughout the movie comes with a slight tradeoff in tension, sure, but it’s still a highpoint of the movie nonetheless.
Tony Stark spends a considerable amount of time out of the Iron Man suit in this movie. In my Iron Man 2 review, I made a point to say that the drunken birthday scene felt wrong, like it was a disservice to what the Iron Man suit represents. Surprisingly, I didn’t have a problem with Stark’s hero antics outside of his armor. In fact, I felt like the vulnerability Stark faced while fighting villains outside of his suit was a refreshingly anti-superhero take on the franchise. Stark is as exposed physically as the memory of New York exposes him mentally.
Some of the weakest points of the previous Iron Man movies were the villains. Iron Man 3 does something pretty ballsy with the Mandarin. A lot of people I’ve talked to about this movie seem not to like the twist the movie takes with Mandarin. I didn’t have a problem with it, however. In fact, I found it incredibly effective and entertaining. When a massive shared universe that’s (at this point) seven movies deep can still surprise me, I’m all for it. And Ben Kingsley’s performance is the icing on the cake for me.
However, the twist gives way for a secondary villain who, without warning, strays into a display of cartoon-ish villainy. The big battle at the end of the movie seems to forget the motivations of the villain and paints him as your standard comic book super villain. It’s a hindrance to what, up to that point, had been a strongly developed Stark/Iron Man movie.
There’s another element to Iron Man 3 that got more under my skin than the “cookie-cutterization” of who would become the main villain of the movie. This complaint is at a story level. Throughout the movie, Stark is tinkering with his suits. One of the upgrades he makes to the Iron Man suits is the ability to remote access them. It’s played for comedy and faux-peril a time or two too many throughout the movie’s runtime.
The problem with this upgrade becomes apparent in the climax. Tony calls in tons of remote controlled Iron Man drones to the final battle. On the surface, it’s really entertaining to see Robert Downey Jr. jump in and out of different suits in the heat of battle. But the very idea of remote controlled Iron Man suits gives the battle (and movie as a whole) a bit of a superfluous feel. Every scene featuring Tony in an Iron Man suit now comes with the nagging feeling that it’s no longer necessary. Why should Tony, who is suffering from anxiety over New York, bother putting himself in harm’s way when he has full functionality of the Iron Man suit via remote? It’s bothersome.
Despite a few blemishes here and there, Iron Man 3 is still a highly enjoyable entry in the Iron Man franchise. It’s a big step up from the messes that plagued Iron Man 2. Yet, it doesn’t quite reach the level of the original Iron Man. Shane Black and company took the character of Tony Stark in a new and surprisingly poignant place while utilizing the events of The Avengers very well. Though there are currently no plans for a fourth Iron Man movie, I wouldn’t mind seeing Shane Black coming back to the franchise. His touch on Iron Man 3 was very refreshing and a great example of tonal diversity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Buy it Full Price – Worthy of purchase regardless of price. But you’ll want to see it first, just to make sure you want it in your collection.