Let be real here, a lot has been said about Tony Stark’s trilogy capper since it’s release in 2013, and not a lot of it has been nice.
Even to this day it remains one of the most divisive entries in the MCU cannon and all you have to do to get proof of this is just spend a short while reading the first Iron Man 3 thread you can find and just soak up the endless, stubborn arguing.
Personally, I find this truly an incredible shame as of all the movies released in Marvel’s first and second phases, Iron Man the 3rd it has so much more to say than your average superhero blockbuster. It has it all, spot on political jabs, a hero with PTSD, and a impromptu team up with a child that doesn’t make you want to vomit up your popcorn, action writer/director demi-God Shane Black takes his techo-Tom Clancy style thriller and flips conventions more than an adrenaline injected Black Widow (so many flips…).
The dust has settled on the Chitauri invasion of New York city and Tony Stark is even a bigger celebrity that he was before (flying a nuke through a worm hole in space will do that for you), but he hasn’t escaped without some damage. However, a drawling super-terrorist know only as The Mandarin currently has America over a barrel with a string of devastating yet seemingly unconnected bombings all across the United States and some threatening video packages aimed at the President under his belt, but when the latest blast nearly kills someone close to Tony he wades in with all the bluster he can muster. There is a slight problem, however, as you could say Tony’s little near-death trip through a worm hole at the end of The Avengers has left him somewhat vulnerable – you could also say he’s an emotional wreck, neglecting his relationship with Stark Enterprise’s CEO Pepper Potts and prone to dehabilitating panic attacks, Tony’s peace of mind is on a razor’s edge and slipping fast. Not helping much is a missile attack that levels his Malibu Home and leaves him stranded in Tennessee with malfunctioning armour and cut off from his friends, Avengers and otherwise. Attempting to push back against his current internal trauma and multiple demons from his past, Stark has to dig deeper than ever before to regain his mojo in order to unravel the mystery of the elusive Mandarin and get back to being the guy who once confidently stated “I Am Iron Man” back in those halcyon days of 2008…
Based on Warren Ellis’ Extremis comic book arc, Iron Man 3 is an obvious and welcome attempt to get more character back into the franchise after the rather glib Iron Man 2 which featured dramatic scenes usually played out by guys in faceless, CGI, suits. In response, Shane Black rolls up his sleeves and immediately chooses to weaponise Robert Downey Jr.’s bottomless reserves of charisma and keep him out of that CGI metal armour as much as humanly possible. Once that’s done, the director is then free to beat the shit out of everbody’s favorite genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist and have him on the ropes for virtually most of the picture, which, in my mind successfully brings the series right back to the best moments of the original movie with our hero, metaphorically, back in an Afghanistan cave. Here Downey Jr. is free to unleash the full force of his Downey Jr.-ness, unencumbered by that featureless metal mask and navigate the vast amount of plot twists hurtling his way with his inimitable style of mixing achingly cool technology with an unstoppable barrage of one liners.
Wisely utilizing Black’s history of action thrillers (he perfected the buddy cop movie with Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was essentially Downey Jr.’s audition tape for Marvel), the script keeps things suprisingly light – y’know, for a film about global terrorism – and keeps the action tactile and witty by nicely subverting the established Iron Man tropes. Watch the movie forgo the usual robot suit vs. robot suit beatdowns in favour of Tony frantically leaping from outmatched armour to outmatched armour to counteract the glowy menace of the sizzling, superhuman Extremis soliders (think super soldier serum that makes you glow from the inside out – imagine what you’ll save on reading lamps!) or a cracking, midair Air Force One rescue that ranks as the most powerful set pieces of the whole trilogy.
The action, while hugely entertaining, gives the floor to the twisty turny techno thriller beats which famously divided the fan base like Moses parting the Dead Sea. I am of course referring to the infamous Mandarin twist in which Ben Kingsley, in a genius turn, goes from maniacal uber-terrorist to Benny fucking Hill when the plot pulls a hard right turn. It’s crazy, it’s shocking, it’s subversive and if you can get over yourself for ten fucking seconds, it’s a stroke of utter fucking genius which actually gives the Marvel Cinematic Universe something to actually say besides jokes and property damage. The concept of rich white guys creating an international boogeyman to take the heat off whatever underhanded and damaging shit they’re trying to make money from is nicely brought home and still feels horribly relevant, effortlessly drowning out all the whining claims that Iron Man’s most persistent comics baddie should have actually been portrayed as a racist Fu Man Chu stereotype on screen. Hopefully the “damage” control done by the Marvel One Shot short, Hail To The King and the fact that the true Mandarin will be the antagonist in the up coming Shang-Chi movie should hopefully quiet these complaints once and for all.
Oddly for an MCU entry, Iron Man 3’s only real weakness is in some of it’s characters, sacrificing and sidelining some great talent in order to manipulate it’s huge twist to fruition. Rebecca Hall’s Maya Hansen is horribly underutilised (especially considering she was a main player in the orginal story) and Guy Pierce’s Adrich Killian is suitably slimy but is served undercooked – despite his character’s enhanced body temperature running super hot – thanks to him mostly playing second fiddle to Ben Kingsley’s robed red herring.
However, while Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle (channeling Danny Glover’s exasperated Roger Murtaugh) and John Favreau do great stuff with their returning roles (Paltrow even dons the armour!), it’s Downey Jr. and Ben Kingsley who impress the most as the former has much more to sink his teeth into than guilt-plagued deuche and the latter looks like he’s having the most fun in years…
The initial entry in the MCU’s second phase, Iron Man 3 (or Three if the credits are to be believed) was evident of the studio’s burst in confidence after the box office conquest of Tony Stark and his avenging friends and forged Marvel ever forward toward some world conquering of it’s own.
This Iron Man proves to be exceptionally well suited…