Directed by Shane Black
Written by Drew Pearce & Shane Black
The Iron Man films, which some fans cite as their favorite of the series, largely because of the suave, witty, and charismatic nature of the character, have been a give and take for me to this point. I’ve rated the first two of the series as 3-star movies, having found more enjoyment than bad elements, but I think they’ve been the weakest of the Marvel Universe to this point as well. With the third installment, I think that dichotomy expands even further, featuring some of the best things I’ve seen from the character and some of the worst. It puts me in a very interesting position to evaluate. Which outweighs the other, the good or the bad? And how does it affect the greater, overall series?
We flashback to Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) playboy days where he blows off a smart, but clingy fanboy scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) at a New Year’s Eve party, instead choosing a fun night with a beautiful botanist (Rebecca Hall). Flash forward to present day and now Killian has a proposition to new Stark Industries CEO Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), amid a crisis where an anonymous terrorist known only as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is stealing American airwaves with threats of violence. After a mysterious blast leaves Stark’s friend Happy (Jon Favreau) hospitalized, Stark challenges the Mandarin, which comes with bad news as Stark’s Malibu mansion is destroyed, and Iron Man may be up against his toughest opponent yet.
First let’s start with the good. I think this might be the funniest movie of the series to date. The comedy generally works quite well, in particular I really got a kick out of the twist with the Mandarin/Trevor Slattery. I can remember the first time seeing the film and being really surprised by the twist and Kingsley really plays the English actor with a drug addiction to comedic perfection. Additionally, there are a few one liners that put a stamp on this as a turning point for the comedy of the series. We’ll see more and more of this as the series goes on. Lastly, I kinda love the cast. Rebecca Hall in particular is a performer that I seem to always love seeing, but never seem to see enough, or in good enough movies. It’s really a shame. Guy Pearce is also a force, although his turn here is a little less so, but I think that has a lot to do with his character, which segues nicely into the bad…
Iron Man 3 is a bit of an odd bird, where so many of the ancillary elements of the film are great: the comedy, the tech/effects, the cast; but the core of the film is really quite weak. Aldrich Killian is not a great villain, with hardly any bit of a sensible/believable motive. This is at the heart of the problems with the movie. It’s almost as though the filmmakers thought of a bunch of great ideas, realized they didn’t have a plot to push the story forward, and then threw one together to make it work and let them put in all the great stuff. Sure, there is quite a bit to like about the film, including the relationship between the kid and Tony Stark. But when looked at with any scrutiny, the film quickly falls apart, and I can’t make it past that crucial flaw in the film.
In terms of character development, I think showing Stark as vulnerable after the attacks on New York in The Avengers is a smart choice. It serves dual purposes in revealing Stark as human, as opposed to this perfect superhero without flaw, but it also serves as forewarning of what is to come later in the series. The Avengers revealed to the superhero team, to the world, and to the audience that bigger baddies are coming and there may come a time where the good guys can’t always just win without much resistance. The whole crux of the Marvel Cinematic Universe hinges not only on the audience liking the characters, but also us believing there is a true threat, a true chance of failure. Over such a long stretch of movies, it would quickly become tiring if no true stakes were ever revealed, if we were to come to expect the heroes to always win and always survive. Iron Man 3 plants that seed in sequence to The Avengers. Other than that, its worth a laugh or two, but is a rather disappointing start narratively speaking to Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.