Iron Man 3 marks the beginning of Marvel’s “Phase Two” series of films in the buildup towards The Avengers 2 in 2015. Between now and then, we get Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World (11/8/13), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (4/4/14), and the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie (8/1/14). However, Iron Man 3 is very much a movie about Tony Stark, which I think is appropriate. It does not exist merely to help setup The Avengers 2. There are no big Avenger cameos during the film, no appearance by Sam Jackson or really any mention of S.H.I.E.L.D. The story deals a lot with Tony’s personal struggles after the events of The Avengers, but that’s really the only Avengers connection we get. One of the complaints a lot of critics had about Iron Man 2 was that the S.H.I.E.L.D./Avengers stuff was too central to the story. I sort of agreed with that. This one is a much more personal, character-driven film than the other Iron Man movies, and I found that refreshing. There are really only 3 major action set pieces, which may leave some ADHD viewers scratching their heads, saying, “DERP!?”
This film also nicely wraps up the story arc of the Iron Man movies. We don’t yet know if Robert Downey Jr. will return for an Iron Man 4, but if this is his final non-Avengers stint as Tony Stark, he leaves the character with a good amount of closure. Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Pepper Potts and gets the most screen time she’s had in the entire series (which is a good thing). Don Cheadle returns (after inexplicably sitting on the sidelines during The Avengers) as Col. James Rhodes and gets some cool action moments of his own as The Iron Patriot, while Jon Favreau returns in a small, but important part as Happy Hogan. Happy seems to be more cartoonish in this movie than he was in the first two, but maybe I’m remembering that wrong. The newbies are Ben Kingsley as the terrorist villain The Mandarin, Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian, the beautiful Rebecca Hall as former Stark flame and scientist Maya Hansen, and rising star James Badge Dale as the The Mandarin’s very own “Number 2” (aka his top henchman, noobs). We also get introduced to the first U.S. President of the Marvel movie universe, with veteran character actor William Sadler playing President Ellis.
With Jon Favreau stepping aside as director (no disrespect, but I’m glad that happened), Marvel hired Shane Black to helm the third installment of their monster franchise. It was an inspired choice. Black is best known as one of the absolute best writers of action movies in the last 30 years. He’s also one of the best writers of snappy dialogue…ever. He is one of my personal heroes from a screenwriting standpoint. He co-wrote the Iron Man 3 screenplay (with Drew Pearce) and his touch is all over it. His style is a perfect match for the Tony Stark character. I think a good analogy would be to say Shane Black is to action movies what Aaron Sorkin is to drama.
It’s a nice turn of events having Black direct this, since it was his directorial debut, 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (for the love of God see it if you haven’t) that is primarily responsible for reviving Robert Downey Jr.’s acting career. That movie is no doubt one of the reasons Downey even got the Tony Stark role in the first place, which is a big reason Downey also got the Sherlock Holmes part. Put together, the Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes movies have made him one of the top 2 or 3 movie stars in the world and easily the biggest box office draw of the past 5 years. So the argument could be made that Robert Downey Jr. owes quite a bit of his success to Shane Black. Iron Man 3 is only Black’s second film as director, and this is quite a large step up from a film with minimal action, no visual effects, and whose budget was reportedly just $15 million. Needless to say, Iron Man 3‘s budget is at least 10 times that.
I liked it a lot, and will definitely check it out a second time. I saw it in 2D and have no desire or intention of seeing the post-converted 3D version. How does it rank in the Iron Man series? I need to see it again to be sure, but for now I can say it was definitely better than Iron Man 2. The original film is really, really good, so I don’t want to call this one equal to or better than that until I’ve watched them both again. But yeah, it’s no worse than second-best in the series, potentially tied for first. For further comparison, it’s better than the original Thor and the original Captain America, and I’m betting it will end up being better than the sequels to those films. Who knows? Perhaps Thor: The Dark World or Captain America: The Winter Soldier will surprise me and be above average. That would be a nice treat, but I’m not counting on it.
The highlights of the film are the dialogue, the performances, and some of the action beats. Unfortunately, the story isn’t all that riveting. It’s passable, and I was never bored, but I’m still waiting for that one great Iron Man story on the big screen. We’ve gotten great individual moments along the way, but the plain fact is these movies aren’t memorable for their stories. People like them because of Robert Downey Jr.’s charisma, the cool action beats and Iron Man suit effects. If you were to strap me to an electric chair right now and demand I give you detailed synopses for Iron Man and Iron Man 2, I couldn’t do it to save my own life. In the first one, Tony Stark becomes Iron Man and Jeff Bridges goes crazy. In the second one, Butthurt Mickey Rourke tries to kill Stark out of jealousy or something, and we meet the Black Widow. Does that sound about right? The problem lies inherent with Iron Man’s powers. It’s really hard to find a villain that can compete with him who isn’t totally batshit absurd or some supernatural being. In this film, The Mandarin and his crew lean towards batshit absurd with just a sprinkling of the supernatural. But more on that in a bit.
As always, this review will contain SPOILERS, so you’ve been warned. If you’re a fan of my reviews, it’s probably because I enjoy getting into the details. Also, throughout the review, I’ll of course mention The Avengers 2 quite a bit and how Iron Man 3 its characters may tie into that megasequel. You really can’t call Avengers 2 simply a sequel at this point. I like megasequel, but you could just as easily call it an ubersequel if it pleases you.
For now, here are the finer points of Iron Man 3:
WHAT I LIKED
–How the film deals with Tony Stark, the human, over Tony Stark, Iron Man. It’s good character building that Stark suffers from insomnia and anxiety attacks after the events of The Avengers. Stuff like this should have physical and emotional consequences on these characters, yet it rarely ever does. In general, the film is more about Stark as a man than as a superhero, and that’s rare in these movies. I like the strain his problems puts on his relationship with Pepper, and I like that it was ultimately his good friend Happy getting badly injured by one of Mandarin’s bombs that finally sets Stark off on his revenge quest.
I especially like how the film leaves Stark completely fresh. That was a master stroke. Joss Whedon basically has a clean slate for the character going into Avengers 2, and can literally do whatever he wants with him at the beginning of that film. That’s pretty fuckin awesome, is it not?
Hollywood Insider Talk: Now, keep in mind, one of the reasons they ended Iron Man 3 the way they did is because technically, Robert Downey Jr.’s contract with Marvel is up. If worse comes to worst, this is at least a satisfying way for Downey to exit the franchise. He is not signed for The Avengers 2, even though he has stated that he wants to do it. There is no Iron Man 4 on Marvel’s announced slate of movies, with or without Downey. It’s safe to assume he’ll get signed for Avengers 2, but that is a tough, ongoing negotiation. Screenrant did a good article on this issue a couple months ago. Check that out HERE.
–Guy Pearce was fantastic, although they’ve drastically changed The Mandarin character from what he is in the comics (a maniacal Asian dude with 10 rings of magical power acquired from a crashed alien space ship), which no doubt has a lot of comic nerds scratching their asses in disgust. Tough poop, fellas. I didn’t love the way the character is written, but Pearce does a great job playing the baddie, and his character’s fanboying of Tony Stark at the beginning of the movie was hilarious. His biggest weakness as a villain is that I don’t really understand what his motives are or what his endgame is. The simple desire for power and money is fine for the comics, but in a movie- yes, even a comic book movie- it should be a little deeper than that.
–I LOVE the “Ben Kingsley is NOT The Mandarin” reveal. I honestly didn’t see that coming! I don’t read comic books, so I knew nothing about the Mandarin character or the Extremis storyline going in. The scene where we discover that Ben Kingsley is just a second-rate British actor playing The Mandarin was absolutely brilliant, maybe my favorite scene in the movie. I guarantee that scene is the sole reason Kingsley agreed to be in this movie. Of course, he’s also great when playing the terrorist version of the character, but it was much more fun watching him play the actor playing The Mandarin.
Having said that, the fact that he really isn’t The Mandarin poses some interesting questions if one chooses to nitpick. Did this actor really shoot the (alleged) oil executive in the head on that broadcast? If so, he doesn’t seem to have any remorse about it later. He’s also present during several other murders as shown on that pre-recorded footage. This dude is either the greatest Method actor in history, he’s completely insane, or the writers didn’t have time to deal with this issue. Unfortunately, it’s probably the latter.
-I liked Tony Stark’s friendship with the kid in Tennessee, played well by Ty Simpkins. It’s rare that I like child characters in movies, but this was certainly an exception. Pretty much every beat between the two is pitch perfect, and the payoff at the very end of the movie was pretty awesome. This is where some of the best Shane Black dialogue was on display.
Some of the other “pure Shane Black” moments included Stark’s interactions with the Mandarin henchmen in Miami. I especially LOL’d at the bit where Stark spares that final goon, who throws down his gun and says, “Honestly, I hate workin here. They are so weird.” Probably the funniest line in the movie.
–The stunts and action scenes. Even though most of them relied heavily on CGI. The Air Force One midair rescue was spectacular, and I was really impressed by the bit in the Miami compound where Stark is forced to fly around and fend off the henchmen using only the one hand and one foot attachment from the suit. That was some impressive wirework. I love all the stuff with the Mark 42 suit attaching itself to Stark, and it’s been fun over the course of these movies watching how the suit evolves and all the different ways he gets in and out of it. It makes my nerd heart pump just a wee faster.
-Along those lines, the visual effects, as always in this series, are excellent. It’s worth noting that Weta Digital handled most of the effects this time around out of New Zealand, whereas ILM had done the heavy lifting on the first two films. I did some searching and couldn’t find the reason for the switch. The Iron Man suit effects are incredible, and I always enjoy those cool 3D holographic displays Stark uses in his lab.
–The multitude of new Iron Man suits. Total geekout stuff. I guess this is called the “Iron Legion” in the comics. It’s cool that he appears to have designed an Iron Man suit for almost every scenario. However, I also like that he ends up destroying them after the battle is over. If he’d left this movie still possessing 15-20 suits, they’d have to carry those over to Avengers 2 and put them to use, which would have been a clusterfuck from a storytelling perspective. Seeing the suits is cool, but I’m not sure I’m a fan of all of them being automated. At that point, they’re basically just drones, aren’t they? It’s much cooler knowing that Tony Stark IS Iron Man and that he IS inside the suit when we see Iron Man. We don’t get a whole lot of that in this movie, and it’s something I hope they change going into the Avengers sequel.
Here’s a cool guide to the new Iron Man suit variations. Pretty f’n sweet. [Screenrant]
I also like the small moments with the automated suit (aka the Mark 42), most notably at the end of the movie, when Stark is getting cocky, and it hits the metal façade and blows apart. That had to be all Shane Black. Indeed, you could do a montage of all the times the suit shatters into a dozen pieces in the film. There’s that similar moment after the Air Force One rescue, after the freefalling crew is rescued and the suit gets hit by a truck and left in pieces all over the street. That was another great reveal, by the way. I think everyone in my audience assumed Stark was in that suit. There are a bunch of clever moments like that. I thought it was cool when Tony motions for the suit to attach itself to Pepper as the house is being blown up, then he takes it back as he’s about to plunge to his doom into the ocean below. It’s bits like those that get tickle me in all the right geeky places.
–The end titles were very well done. I’m a sucker for picture credits.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
–Because of where and how they shot the film, a lot of it feels small in scale, despite the film’s massive budget. Shane Black certainly isn’t a visionary director, and though the action sequences were shot really well, I suspect second unit director Brian Smrz had a lot to do with that. Smrz is one of the best stunt coordinators in the business, and a lot of times when you see big stunt names listed as second unit directors, it means they directed most of the action scenes. (You get this a lot on the Bond movies, where the directors often don’t have a lot of experience in action movies.) Here, we don’t get a lot of wide shots, particularly with the exteriors, primary because they shot the majority of the film in North Carolina (for tax incentive reasons), which has to pose as California and Tennessee for the story. The interior of Stark’s Malibu mansion feels a lot smaller here than it did in the first two movies. None of the interior sets are that big, and it’s almost like they just used 2 soundstages and redressed them every day.
I thought Black was an inspired choice to make a movie like this, and there are certainly traces of Black’s style throughout the movie, but it’s not a movie where you’ll come out of it remembering the visuals. And I hate saying that, because the film was shot by one of the best cinematographers in the world, Mr. John Toll, whose credits include tiny little projects like Braveheart and The Last Samurai. This should have been a more impressive looking movie.
Which gets me to thinking…
Sidenote: It’s strange to me that very few writers end up making great directors, yet a lot of actors do. I would assume it to be just the opposite, but not so. Writers envision the entire movie in their heads as they write it, so why are so many films directed by people who started as writers so dull looking? On the flipside, actors like Mel Gibson, George Clooney and Kevin Costner have been able to create amazing visuals in the films they’ve directed. I dunno, this is something that’s always boggled me.
This isn’t to say Shane Black can’t become a good visual director, but he’s not quite there yet.
I had a Facebook chat conversation with a buddy of mine, and I think he put it perfectly with regards to Shane Black: “I think Shane Black has a little Iron Man movie in him that would probably be great, but he got stuck making a big Iron Man movie.”
If nothing else, the massive success of Iron Man 3 will mean Black will get to do another original movie of his own. That could be the biggest positive result of this whole enterprise.
Because I want more of this:
–At times, the powers of the Extremis soldiers were a bit much. In particular, when Guy Pearce actually breathed fire, I would have walked out of the theater had I not been enjoying the movie to that point. Instead of The Mandarin, they should have called him Molten Man. I didn’t mind that their powers allowed them to heal themselves and withstand immense pain, but the whole thing where they can melt metal with their hands? Ehh, not so much, my friends. Again, I want to keep as much of the supernatural as possible to the Thor movies and to The Avengers. I want Iron Man and Captain America to be more real-world based. There has to be a balance.
–Even though I do like the ending, they do wrap things up rather quickly. Stark claims he can just erase Extremis from Pepper Potts like it’s an afterthought. Umm, how? Then Tony decides that while they’re at it, maybe it’s time remove the shrapnel and the arc reactor from his chest. Wasn’t there a specific reason they couldn’t remove that thing all this time? Like, it would KILL HIM or something? Yet here it seemed to be, “Oh, okay, may as well take this thing out now” as if it were no big deal. If it were that easy, why did he wait all this time to do it?
CORRECTION: I just answered my own question. Reading a discussion about the film online, I remembered that it’s implied after Extremis is removed from Pepper (lord knows how), that they were able to then use it to cure Tony Stark’s heart and remove the shrapnel. That’s fine. Problem solved, but this should’ve been made clearer instead of being merely a throwaway line of narration that I quickly forgot. It’s a pretty big deal. The fact remains the ending to the movie is rushed.
–I wasn’t a huge fan of Extremis Pepper Potts. Not by a long shot. Of course it was obvious she wasn’t dead after that fall if you’ve been paying attention at all, but to have her save Tony Stark in such an over-the-top way was a bit more than I was ready to ingest.
–We still haven’t gotten a great Iron Man score. Make no mistake, Brian Tyler‘s work on Iron Man 3 is perfectly competent, and it may even be the best in the series. However, after 3 movies, there isn’t a single piece of music that I actually remember. Why is there no awesome Iron Man Theme? It’s a huge oversight, and I have to blame the directors for not insisting on better from these composers (all 3 movies have had different composers). This is the same problem the X-Men movies have continually had. You’re telling me nobody who can create a good theme was interesting in working on these movies? I find that hard to believe. I would think it would be an amazing opportunity to have my music heard and remembered by millions of people across the world. It’s odd; Ramin Djawadi did the first Iron Man, and he has since gone on to create a bunch of amazing themes for HBO’s Game of Thrones. This is one of the only great disappointments of the Iron Man series. I can’t help but hold all comic book movies to this standard after John Williams‘ “Superman March”, Danny Elfman‘s work on the Tim Burton Batman movies and Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard‘s work on Nolan‘s Batmovies. I think every superhero should have a memorable theme that people can hum or whistle. It would be a huge priority for me were I directing one of these flicks, that’s for damn sure.
As an example, where is THIS kind of moment in the Iron Man movies?
(skip to 1:00 and then to 2:10)
This track should be called “Goosebumps”,
cuz that’s what I get when I watch this.
Or perhaps, “Cinematic Erection”.
I’ve said too much.
On the flip side, here is Brian Tyler’s main theme from this film, titled simply “Iron Man 3”:
-As cool as it was to see Tony Stark just hanging out at a regular bar with Col. Rhodes early in the film, I refuse to believe that this guy, after everything he’s done, could go anywhere in public without being absolutely mobbed. Tony Stark would get 24/7 Secret Service protection if this were a real-world scenario. That said, it was funny seeing him step into the Iron Man suit out on the curb like somebody might hop on their motorcycle.
-The many parts of the Mark 42 suit travel from Tennessee to Miami awfully fucking fast to arrive just when Stark needs rescuing. And really? Each individual part of that suit has its own rocket propulsion? That means the full suit has like 20 mini jet engines. How much fuel is required to run that thing? How much energy is consumed just keeping the interior of the suit cool when Stark is inside it? I want answers!
-When Stark’s mansion gets blown to smithereens, how did Mandarin’s helicopters make such a clean getaway? These weren’t the stealth Black Hawks from Zero Dark Thirty; they must have appeared on the FAA’s radar. It’s not as if they’re inconspicuous with the huge rockets attacked to each side. You’re telling me the Air Force wouldn’t have immediately scrambled jets to intercept these fuckers? That’s a pretty big fucking act of terrorism, but apparently nobody felt the need to pursue these guys. The Boston Police would’ve tracked em down in about 10 minutes.
-And of course, there’s the elephant-sized question in the room…how is it that S.H.I.E.L.D. completely ignores the events of this movie? I’m pretty sure at the very least, Steve Rogers would have been chomping at the bits to throw on the Captain America suit and get involved here. I understand the audience has to ignore that because this has to be purely an Iron Man movie, but I can’t totally ignore it. Sorry. Maybe the Thor/Cap America sequels will address this question, but at the very least, we know Hawkeye, Black Widow, Bruce Banner and Captain America are still on Earth and must have been keenly aware of what was going on. Yet nobody lifts a finger to help out one of their fellow Avengers. WHAT ARE TEAMMATES FOR?!?! At least Thor has an excuse, being off in another dimension and shit. Where is the helicarrier? Was Nick Fury off playing golf and couldn’t be bothered? Tony Stark’s armory has been destroyed, he is presumed dead, The President’s been kidnapped, there are rogue super soldiers running amok killing people and setting off bombs, Air Force One has been blown out of the sky midflight. I’m pretty sure if there’s an Avengers Panic Button somewhere in the White House, it would have been pressed repeatedly about halfway through this movie. Just sayin. Someone would’ve been button-mashing that shit like an XBOX controller yelling, “Help! Help! Help!”
All jokes aside, I understand why they couldn’t involve the other Avengers in this movie, but once you’ve acknowledged these characters exist in the same universe, it becomes logical to ask these questions. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t actually hold any of this against Iron Man 3, but if I were to do an interview with Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige tomorrow, you best believe this stuff would come up. Just ONE line of dialogue from someone explaining where the other Avengers were would have been sufficient.
-During the finale at the port, Tony Stark survives a lot of hard landings and high jumps and long tumbles on various massive steel objects as he’s fighting Killian; a bit too many to believe he’d be completely uninjured. This is a growing problem in these megabudget action movies. I mentioned this issue in my Skyfall review, too, and it looks like it’s gonna happen again in Fast & Furious 6 later this month. With the stunts in these movies getting bigger and more complex (because this is what the studios believe audiences crave), we’re being asked to believe more and more ridiculous things being done to the human bodies of these characters. I can only suspend disbelief to a certain point, and this finale pushed my limits to the Extremis. (See what I did there? DIDJA?) Then, after all this, and having survived being inside an Iron Man suit that SELF-DESTRUCTED, Killian walks out of the flaming rubble below like the T-1000 in Terminator 2 before Extremis Pepper Potts bats him away with a giant pole. God, the more I look at that sentence, the more my opinion of the end of this film wavers.
Re: The End Credits Bonus Scene
I thought it was funny. It was basically perfect, actually. I was hoping Bruce Banner would make a cameo during actual film itself, but I’m glad we at least got this. The two of them got along so well in The Avengers that I thought it would be a shame if we didn’t see them together again at least once prior to the sequel in 2015. A lot of people in my crowd were vocally disappointed, because they were under the assumption it was going to reveal a clue about The Avengers 2 villain or drop some other huge bombshell. “That’s it?” Yeah, that’s it, retards. The Avengers 2 is still 2 years away. It’s a process. The cut scenes will get better with the Thor and Captain America sequels. So you gotta wait til at least November to find out more. Deal with it, you entitled pricks. They’re still writing The Avengers 2, so there aren’t that many details to give us yet. GOSH! It just makes sense that the biggest clues regarding the Avengers 2 plot would be contained in Thor, since the villain will likely be ya boy Thanos.
Iron Man 3 – PG-13 – 130 minutes
IMDb rating: 8 /10 (I gave it an 8, but if they had more specific rankings, I’d actually give it a 7.5)
Biggies Consideration: Best Stuntwork, Visual Effects, Sound, Sound Editing
NICOLAS CAGE IS…EVERYONE…IN…
IRON MAN 3!!!
In case you hadn’t seen it: