A film review by Craig J. Koban May 7, 2013

IRON MAN 3 jjj

2013, PG-13, 130 mins.


Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man /  Paltrow as Pepper Potts  /  Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian  /  Don Cheadle as Lt. Col. James 'Rhodey' Rhodes / War Machine  /  Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin  /  Paul Bettany as Jarvis (voice)  /  Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen  /  Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan  /  William Sadler as Sal Kennedy  /  James Badge Dale as Eric Savin

Directed by Shane Black / Written by Drew Pearce and Shane Black


"I'm Tony Stark.  I build neat stuff, got a great girl, occasionally save the world.  So why can’t I sleep?” 

When we last saw Stark - the former billionaire weapons profiteer turned metal clad super hero - he was flying in and out of an inter-dimensional wormhole with a nuclear bomb, thus saving all of New York from total annihilation from a hostile alien invasion in THE AVENGERS.  He made it out of that deadly encounter alive and just as arrogant and slyly motormouthed as ever, but now the engineering genius and filthy rich playboy has serious bouts with post-traumatic stress – even though he has difficulty admitting it – that has him going through many of his days recoiling and squirming like he’s having a heart attack.  Being a super hero can have its share of unintended side effects. 

The very first IRON MAN picture introduced us to Stark as an unendingly cocky, self-aggrandizing, but wickedly amiable crusader of justice, which was further embellished by the less effective and disjointed IRON MAN 2.  Now, with IRON MAN 3, we get a story that, once again, acknowledges that the real epicenter of interest in the Marvel Comic book character is not with his crimson and yellow suited façade, but rather with the man underneath all of the high-tech toys.  When Stark is entombed within the Iron Man suit of armor, he’s a bit of a faceless drone, which makes it important to spend time with the man himself and what drives him.  So many other countless super hero films seem fixated on the persona of the costumed hero; IRON MAN 3 understands that we really invest in the hero’s secret identity – make that not-so-secret – even more.   



Maybe this is why the addition of co-writer/director Shane Black seems like such a novel and welcoming change of pace for this series.  He made a name for himself in the late 80’s and early 90’s writing iconic staples of the action genre like LETHAL WEAPON and recently worked with Downey in his directorial debut in KISS KISS, BANG BANG.  Little on Black's directorial resume makes him seem like a proper fit for an effects heavy summer tentpole film like this, but he emerges as a perfect mate with his main star and wisely understands how to harness not only Downey’s great deadpan strengths as an actor, but also how to craft an atypically nuanced and intimate tale of Stark’s increasingly unstable psyche.  Yes, IRON MAN 3 still offers up blow-shit-up-real-good action spectacle and contains eye-popping visual effects, but the film’s real heart and soul lies with telling Stark’s personal story of dealing with past demons, overcoming unendurable anxiety, and learning his real place in the world. 

Even though IRON MAN 3 is a sort-of sequel to THE AVENGERS, it compellingly opens in the past.  It’s New Year’s Eve 1999 in Switzerland and we see Stark at the zenith of his skirt chasing narcissism.  He flirts with a lovely botanist (the always natural Rebecca Hall) while, at the same time, promising some face time and then later welching on that promise to a creepy, wormlike scientist with a limp named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce).  A throw-caution-to-the-wind dick, Stark casually dismisses the scientist for womanly pursuits, but since the scientist is played by Pearce – who has made a reasonably solid career playing unhinged psychos – you just know that Stark will be dealt with payback in the future. 

We then jump to a present day/pre-Christmas Miami as Stark – having just saved the Big Apple from a swarm of the Loki-led extraterrestrial visitors – seems to be spending many sweaty and sleepless nights next to his girlfriend – and recently minted Stark Industries CEO – Pepper Potts (Gweneth Paltrow).  More than ever, Stark seems driven to perfect his iron-laden arsenal.  Concurrent to this is the appearance of a deadly new terrorist that goes by the name of “The Mandarin” (Ben Kingsley) that is launching a series of explosive attacks on America, one of which leaves Stark’s BFF and ex-bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, director of the last two pictures) in a coma.  Predictably, Stark vows some “good ol’ fashioned revenge,” but before he can the Mandarin launches a stealthy and devastating helicopter attack on Stark’s mansion, leaving it in ruins and with Stark presumed dead to the world.  While Stark tries to recover from his losses and get back into the super hero saddle again, Aldrich Killian re-emerges with a dastardly plan of his own that has some unexpected links to the Mandarin’s own end-game. 

It’s sheer understatement at this point to relay how Downey wholeheartedly owns every frame that he occupies in these films, which, I guess, is why so many of the other side characters are somewhat left in his shadow (see Don Cheadle’s Iron Patriot, for starters).  Yet, the joy of the IRON MAN films is to observe Stark’s freefall from sanity and deal with one calamitous occurrence after another with his trademark verbal zingers and devilish charm that we have come to expect.  Take, for instance, an extended subplot involving Tony – post-Mandarin attack – living in secret in rural Tennessee (!), where he is befriended by a local child that helps him piece his life back together.  Under a lesser actor and filmmaker’s hands, the film could have turned wishy-washy by dealing with both Stark’s and the child’s father abandonment issues.  No dice on Downey and Black’s watch.  When the kid bemoans his lack of a paternal figure, Stark retorts, “Dad’s leave.  No need to be a pussy about it.”  Classic Stark. 

Even though the film has great investment in paddling through the sea of emotional contradictions that is Stark, this is a summer action film, and it delivers on its promises of ear-splitting and eye-gasmic action, even though its unnecessary 3D upconvert adds little to the imagination.  The aforementioned helicopter attack on Stark’s base of operations is a bravura one, as is a late breaking sequence where Stark has to find a way to save nearly a dozen free-falling victims that have fallen out of a destroyed Air Force One.  The set pieces here have a clarity and a precision and the effects are consummately first rate, but they thankfully never suffocate the underlining story of Stark’s spiritual reawakening.  Few comic book films have fused together propulsive action, dry humor, and introspective drama as well as IRON MAN 3. 

Yet, this seventh film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not without issues.  The Extremis-themed storyline – lifted from the comics, involving Aldrich genetically modifying humans with super powered gifts – is frankly not as appealing or interesting as the real world social-political menace of the Mandarin’s plot.  And speaking of the Mandarin, many comic book fundamentalists may cry a resounding foul at the legendary villain’s handling in the story, as the writers harness this potentially intriguing foreign protagonist with Osama bin Laden hostilities and then later morph him into something that – if revealed by me – would prove too spoiler worthy.  There are other narrative cheats to be found in the narrative, some of which include never explaining, for example, why none of the Avengers or agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are able to come to Stark’s aid or what appears to be the killing off of key characters that proves to be nothing but a lame tease later on.  IRON MAN 3 could have gained a serious undercurrent of grit and pathos if it didn’t manipulate its audience as it does. 

I guess that the film would have benefited more from the Mandarin’s more palpably scary level of zealot-like menace, seeing as Aldrich’s Extremis-juiced-up baddies seem more out of fantastical left field.  The first IRON MAN film tapped into a level of societal skepticism of political forces – both good and bad – that shape the world at large, which would have made the Mandarin all the more frightening.  Yet, for all of its flash-bang pyrotechnics and narrative inconsistencies, IRON MAN 3 still wisely centers on Stark’s capriciously self-serving, but paradoxically humane and altruistic personality.  There is a sense of closure to this IRON MAN story, which makes sense seeing as Downey has frequently postulated that this would be his last turn as Stark.  However, seeing what a massive financial juggernaut this series has become, making fans believe that the future of IRON MAN will be a Downey-free endeavor is a sleight of hand deception that would make the crafty Stark blush with envy.


CrAiGeR's other



IRON MAN  (2008)  jjj1/2


IRON MAN 2  (2010)  jj1/2





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