By now you have no doubt seen Iron Man 3 already. Heck, by now you’ve probably seen 3 or 4 movies since the world’s 5th highest grossing movie opened just over a month ago. Either way, I’m glad you’ve come to get my perspective on Marvel’s first film of their post-Avengers “Phase 2”, as it’s being called.
It’s fitting that Phase 2 would begin with a return to the character who started this whole roller coaster, Tony Stark aka Iron Man. Officially the 7th movie in Marvel’s ever expanding universe, Iron Man 3 picks up Tony Stark’s life post-New York alien invasion a la Marvel’s the Avengers. But like any good comic book series, Iron Man 3 does not follow the logical plot progression of the Avengers, essentially making it an unofficial Avengers 2. Instead, we return to the world of Tony Stark, the eccentric billionaire, genius, inventor, no longer so womanizing, superhero.
By the time the third film rolls around, many franchise series can feel a little phoned-in. But it seems that the filmmakers got most of that out of their system in the second film. So what we end up with is a cast and crew that seems genuinely interested in proving that they still have what it takes to make a satisfying and relevant comic book movie. And they generally succeed.
Iron Man 3 is easily superior to the second film. Much of this is due to the fact that Iron Man 2 was built to function as a prequel to the Avengers rather than a great follow-up to the very enjoyable first film. What does carry over from the Avengers is Tony Stark’s new found selflessness. And while far from perfect, Tony rarely seems to be acting out of pure self interest. He understands his call to care for those who can’t care for themselves, and though his quest in the film begins as a matter of “good old-fashioned revenge” it develops into real acts of self forgetfulness in order to right the wrongs that have been done. And all of this with his trademark witty banter and cockier-than-thou attitude.
Returning for this new chapter are some familiar faces from past Iron Man films. John Favreau is back as trusted bodyguard and now head of Stark security, Happy Hogan. Don Cheadle reprises the role he took over in Iron Man 2, Lt. James Rhodes, aka War Machine, aka Iron Patriot. And of course, Gwyneth Paltrow and Paul Bettany are back as Pepper Potts and Jarvis, respectively. These are joined by newcomers Guy Pierce as the mysterious Aldrich Killian and Sir Ben Kingsley as the villainous Mandarin. And it goes without saying that Robert Downey Jr. is back and in top form as the title character.
Iron Man 3 is satisfyingly diverse in feel. It is equal parts espionage, action, comedy, and science fiction with a little drama sprinkled in for good measure. The story revolves around a series of grizzly terrorist attacks perpetrated by the murderous Mandarin that grow increasingly strange. What begins as a simple story of finding and stopping a terrorist becomes much more complicated and dangerous. Much of the film finds Tony without his trusty armor tracking down leads and piecing together an ever-expanding web of questions. The twists and turns the plot takes are not altogether unexpected, but they are nonetheless twists that on the off chance you haven’t seen the film, I don’t want to spoil for you.
What I will say is that the stakes are high, and feel increasingly so as the movie progresses. Some may note that the film takes a while to get moving, and I’d agree, but the direction and speed with which it moves more than make up for it. Director Shane Black does a great job with the film’s pace, which as I’ve come to learn is one of the most important elements of telling a good story. Lag time kills excitement, and a dull moment at the wrong time can derail the whole train. Iron Man steers clear of this by upping the action set pieces to incredible levels, and managing well the juxtaposition between the lighthearted nature of Tony Stark’s personality and the serious nature of the film.
The arial sequence at the two thirds mark of the movie is one of the best action sets pieces in the last decade, especially because it’s obvious how much of it was done in camera… in mid air. And the climactic battle is easily the grandest and most satisfying of the Iron Man films thus far, even though its ultimate finale is admittedly a little cheesy. And as far as the comedic elements are concerned, it’s everything that we’ve come to expect from the Iron Man series, quick-witted, sarcastic, and a bit vulnerable.
Of the Avengers related franchises, Iron Man has consistently been my (gasp) least favorite. Mostly this revolves around the nearly unredeeming nature of Tony Stark’s personality, though from a production perspective the movies (at least 1 and 3) have been great and very enjoyable. The change that took place in Tony Stark’s character during the Avengers movie has done a lot to bring him into a more heroic and favorable light. Where Spiderman’s motto has been “with great power comes great responsibility” Iron Man’s has been “with great power comes great fun”, but this film adds depth to the character as Tony wrestles with the reality of being a public servant with such great influence and power. Not all men are cut out for such a life and Tony is tested significantly in this film.
This point is, I think, what most of us find attractive about Iron Man. For as outlandish as his wealth and power is, he is still relatable. He is like us, a person dropped into an unforgiving world of insurmountable difficulty and forced to fight for survival. The difference is that Tony is sort of forced into being his own savior, whereas we have the opportunity to turn to One who has already overcome the world for us. Tony Stark still seems like a man in need of saving. He’s not the “Jesus figure” of his story; he’s us, just a guy trying to do right by what he’s been given.
All in all, I’d recommend Iron Man 3 if you haven’t gotten to it yet. It’s a great ride with some good twists and turns, and it’ll help you stay up on all that’s happening in the world of the Avengers.