Directed By: Shane Black
Written By: Drew Pearce & Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Ben Kingsley, Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Don Cheadle, & Jon Favreau
Music By: Brian Tyler
Honestly, at the beginning of 2013 I wasn’t all that excited to dive into the Marvel Phase 2 cinematic universe. I was already so pumped up for Man of Steel (that review is for another day) that I didn’t even consider going to see Tony Stark zip around on the big screen for a fourth time. But, my hype quickly grew at the end of April, and after revisiting his three previous adventures (Avengers included), I was plenty excited to explore Marvel’s rendition of the billionaire playboy.
Iron Man 3 is Marvel’s third go-around with its most popular hero (in the film universe). The film stars Robert Downey Jr., Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, and Jon Favreau (the director of the previous Iron Man films). IM3’s importance stems from it being the first phase two film in the MCU, premiering on May 3, 2013–the first Marvel film after the Avengers. Tony is back! After his debacle with the Avengers, he is now ready to face one of the more interesting villains he’s had to encounter. With Pepper Potts and the Iron Patriot, can Iron Man take on the likes of the Mandarin?
Content Guide for Iron Man 3
Violence – A man is killed on camera (audiences hear the gunshot but don’t see the dead body). The Mandarin stages executions and bombings in public. A battle between mutated soldiers and Iron Man. Weapons include the high-tech Iron Man suits, guns, explosives, and fists. Mild blood, no gore.
Language – “s**t” (x1), “p***y” (x1), “d***,” “d**k,” “a**,” “g*****n,” and, “oh my God.”
Sexual Content – A bunch of bikini-clad/lingerie-wearing women laze about in a Miami mansion. A few short scenes take place at a beauty pageant, with women wearing skimpy swimsuits. Some kissing. Pepper is in a sports bra in the movie’s final sequence. A woman is shown in her underwear.
In the film, director Shane Black does a lot of new things with the character. This is welcome, considering the man in the iron mask really hasn’t done much growing since his big screen debut. But even from the opening scene in 1999, I began to notice that this wasn’t going to be like any other Iron Man, or Marvel film.
Tony Stark, as we’ve come to know and love, is somewhat of a blockhead, a jerk, really. And that’s what made Iron Man so powerful. In that film, we got see a cynical weapons manufacturer change into a man with a real heart for saving the innocent. Here, all of that character is thrown out the window. This isn’t intentional. Stark is still the heart of the movie, but before I begin discussing the many problems I had with this film, let’s discuss the good:
Firstly, Stark’s entire ensemble is strong here. I enjoyed Favreau as Happy Hogan, and Gwyneth Paltrow finally seems comfortable in her portrayal as Pepper Potts. Guy Pearce is the perfect balance of loser and wannabe rich guy, and Ben Kingsley has some pretty funny moments as “The Mandarin.” They all serve the story well, alongside the film’s star, Robert Downey Jr., back again in his comeback role that has brought him back into the mainstream. Here, Jr. is playing a conflicted Tony that has some serious questions about himself as a hero, a symbol, and most importantly, as a man.
There are also plenty of fun action sequences here as well. For the effects hounds, Iron Man 3 provides the goods in the explosion department, complete with well-staged action that is shot from afar, allowing you to observe the action with ease (shaky-cam is kept to a minimum, thankfully).
Secondly, I like that Black was not afraid to make this film different. This is very much a Shane Black film (if you’ve seen Lethal Weapon you’ll know what I mean). I like that approach, and I wanted a different Iron Man film. But for me, I only really enjoyed this in theory. In execution, it’s one of my problems with the film.
[toggles behavior=”accordion”][toggle title=SPOILERS]Now I know some may be wondering what my thoughts were on the Mandarin twist, and for me, as said before, I liked the idea in theory. But in execution, it was a moment of failed humor. I like Kingsley in everything he’s in, but here, it felt like Black was shoving another comedic moment in just because hey, The rest of the film is funny right? I preferred Guy Pearce to Ben Kingsley. It was nice to have the film shift focus to only one villain. By that point, however, the film was already so muddled that focusing on less did its so-so plot a favor. And in all honesty, did it really come as that big of a surprise to everyone? The opening scene’s only purpose was to establish Pearce, and about an hour into the film all we’ve seen of the Mandarin was some Bin-Laden-esque videos on television. If the film had instead made the Mandarin the true villain, the film would’ve faired worse because he then would have been severely underdeveloped (and I also wouldn’t have liked the decision because he wasn’t that interesting). So for me, although it could’ve been done better, this was something in the film I enjoyed.[/toggle]
So now we’ll move on to the moment you’re reading this for. Why didn’t I enjoy Iron Man 3? Well, for a number of reasons:
IM3 did not know what tone it wanted to create. At times, it was fully lighthearted, capturing the spirit of the original. Scenes like the plane rescue reminded me of what made the first Iron Man so great, and Tony Stark chatting it up in a bar with his suit parked outside like a motorbike is like a candy bar to my sweet tooth for Marvel. But the rest of the film seemed to switch gears, too often and too distinctly.
Perhaps the most definitive reason as to why I didn’t prefer IM3 is Black’s decision to make this mostly a comedy.
Yeah, a comedy.
Post-9/11 Terrorism? Comedy.
Children dealing with divorced parents? Comedy.
Which, I wouldn’t have a problem with had the attempts of humor actually worked. The theater I went to had the perfect kind of crowd for this film: people laughing, clapping, the whole nine yards. But myself? I was confused and with a headache over trying to figure out why all of these jokes weren’t working for me more than I found myself laughing.
[toggles behavior=”accordion”][toggle title=SPOILERS]Black threw in too many jokes, way too often. There were a number of scenes in which I felt excited, feeling the rush of a superhero going in to save the day… only to have it interrupted with a joke, and then another joke, and then another joke. Most notably is in the climax of the film, where Tony, without his Iron Man suit, is facing the true Mandarin. Tony calls his Mark 42, so that he can suit up and end the villain. What could’ve been a wonderful moment of heroism for a film about a man questioning his identity as a hero, became a poor attempt at slapstick, as the suit trips over something behind Tony. The audience roared. I groaned.[/toggle][/toggles]
I felt like a lot of the humor was in the same vein as Joss Whedon’s The Avengers which Whedon did, but not in every scene, and not all the time. Whedon also established where the heroes fit into the world first. Black needed to drip humor into the story, not soak the story in it. So for me, the snarky, cynical bad boy of the last three films got old, got muddled, and became boring, which is the worst complaint any critic can ever give a film.
Beyond the humor, this plot was very muddled. It had so many good ideas and not enough time devoted to any of them.
Another part of the plot (which again I liked the idea of) was Extremis (this isn’t a spoiler, don’t worry). Bringing this famous element from the comic books into the films was great and showed that Marvel still cared about its comic book fans, but, Extremis was poorly done. If you timed the amount of screen time devoted to explaining to newcomers what Extremis is, where it comes from, what exactly it is, why it’s happening, all of those questions, it would’ve been around three minutes.
I feel that the opening 1999 sequence explained Extremis poorly, and it took me a fair amount of time to make the connection between Rebecca Hall’s plant and the men who attack Happy Hogan. Also, the Extremis CGI was pretty terrible, and reminded me of the abysmal Fantastic Four films from Fox, which featured the Human Torch in some bad CGI effects sequences.
Actually, that brings me to my next point: The Avengers had some fantastic CGI. Sure the aliens looked bad in that film, but the heroes, and magic all looked good. So why is the CGI in a 2013 film so sloppy? The effects in the first Iron Man look better than this, and I had no problem distinguishing between the practical Iron Man suit that was built versus its CGI counterpart in Stark’s fourth adventure.
Something that bothered me in IM3 is that Tony can now remotely control his Mark suits. This sounds cool, and it’s conceivable that Tony would develop something so sophisticated, but for a film which is supposed to be all about Tony the man, as a character, it makes no sense to include.
Whenever I saw a suit that I knew did not have a man inside it, there was no tension whatsoever. It’s the same problem I had with Avatar. How am I supposed to care about something which has no consequences for whenever it fails? This for me is the biggest disappointment of the final action sequence (This isn’t a spoiler. It’s in the trailers. You’re safe). I didn’t care, and neither did Tony. He blows his suits up once it’s all over.
[toggles behavior=”accordion”][toggle title=SPOILERS]The final sequence of this film is essentially a montage in which Tony has his arc reactor is removed from his body and then he… wait, what was that you just read? Right, it’s a big deal, isn’t it? The symbol of who Tony Stark has become as a man throughout the Iron Man films is now gone–and Black devotes mere seconds to it. The device Stark built in the first film in order to survive, which also serves as an allegory for what Iron Man is all about, Tony’s heart, the device that begins dying and drives the second film is gone in seconds, without thought or without care. Also Pepper now has super powers, even though she’s always been the grounded woman who’s kept Tony from getting in over his head. But, Black feels that we need to let her have powers too, which physically makes her more powerful than the hero we paid money to see zip across the screen in this poor post-converted 3D. Allegorically, her character should not have gone down the path she traverses. Tisk, tisk Iron Man 3.[/toggle]
All in all, I didn’t hate this film, but when compared to what’s been done before, there is no excuse to see a film featuring Iron Man to be this uninteresting. There were too many things going on, too many failed attempts at humor, effects that didn’t dazzle, important character developments that are given no attention, and once again another villain that is an arms dealer (if there is one thing the Marvel fanboys should admit, it’s that the MCU in general has given its fans some pretty lackluster villains).
It had some cool action sequences, some character moments that felt appropriate, but beyond that, there’s nothing here. Don’t wonder about how the film explains the Avenger’s absence out of this story, because it doesn’t. You would think saving the President of the United States would call for some sort of nod to Captain America, but no, I guess that’s something the writers ignored.
I really like Iron Man.
I can stomach Iron Man 2 for some entertaining jokes and action.
But Iron Man 3? I can do without.
+ Great Narrative Concepts + Fun Action Sequences + Some Humor
- Poor Exposition - Conflicting Narrative Decisions - Some Humor - Some Weak CGI
The Bottom Line
With clear and creative intentions for the character, Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 falls short of the greatness that preceded it, thanks in large part to a muddled script that gives more questions than answers.