REVIEW: 'Iron Man 3'


Perhaps I’m wandering into dangerous territory, starting a review of Iron Man 3 by reflecting on Batman. But I can’t shake the notion that last summer’s The Dark Knight Rises bears some striking similarities to Shane Black’s new Marvel film. Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne are, after all, variations on the same character: billionaire playboys who become superheroes through their own ingenuity and gadgetry, rather than supernatural powers.

Iron Man 3 takes that a step further, showing us an increasingly tormented Stark who, like Wayne in TDKR, spends more time out of his suit than in it, struggling with his role as a hero.  Unfortunately, Iron Man 3 also resembles the DC film in its willingness to smooth over promising narrative ideas to make way for major action set pieces. To be sure, the third entry of the franchise is just as fun as its predecessors, and it still manages to build in a surprise or two. But I think most Marvel fans will agree that this film should be the last solo Iron Man flick for a long time.

The plot concerns a new terrorist threat to the United States in the form of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). According to his cleverly-edited video messages, he’s an ostentatious, robed villain who likes to purr about teaching the United States some lessons in humility. Of course, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) feels like it’s his duty to put the Mandarin in his place, all while the American government wants to take control of the response through their rebranded Iron Patriot, piloted by Tony’s buddy Lt. Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle).

War Machine is rebranded the "Iron Patriot" to help fight the threat of the Mandarin

At the same time, Tony is still grappling with the aftermath of the events in New York from The Avengers. His decision to save the city by throwing a nuke through a wormhole has left him with frequent anxiety attacks, which he tries to ignore by tinkering on new suits in his workshop. His PTSD-like symptoms are making it hard for him to function, and it’s straining his relationship with his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). But it becomes clear that the only way for Tony to really heal is to think about how much he depends on his suits of armour – how much they allow him to do, and how much they’re holding him back.

That concept makes for an intriguing bit of character development in this entry (and something the series is particularly good at). It also hearkens back to real-world discussions about Internet addiction and our reliance on technology. We see sequences of Tony talking to his suits like they’re imaginary friends, and tending to them like he would care for his kids. He even tries to remotely seduce Pepper in one scene with a prototype suit – which has to be to most expensive example of phone sex ever.

Tony becomes increasingly dependent on the Iron Man armor, leading to anxiety attacks when he's away from it

But this is still a Marvel superhero movie, and that means you have to meet a certain quota of fight scenes and explosions. Sadly, the anxiety-attack angle is mostly forgotten once the film begins building up to the big climax on an oil tanker. By this point, the Mandarin and his associate, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) have made their intentions known, and the movie seems to conclude that Stark’s inner demons are too inconvenient to focus on. And once the Mandarin’s fiery, regenerating soldiers are defeated, the film rushes through a resolution of Stark’s previous issues – a tactic that feel hurried and out of sync with the rest of the series.

Story problems aside, Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Stark is still the real draw. We’re hooked by the early scene of Stark dancing in his workshop as the Mark 42 armour assembles around him. After that, Downey’s constant one-liners and his character’s practical mindset make the movie feel a lot more grounded than any of Marvel’s other solo entries.

Whereas Thor is regal and Captain America is noble, Iron Man is oddly the most down-to-earth of their group, the most relatable. And while I’m not keen to see an Iron Man 4, I’m still looking forward to the next Avengers, and any other cameos by Stark. Iron Man 3 gets three stars out of four.

Three Stars

What did you think of Iron Man 3? Were you swept up by the latest adventure, or do you feel like the series is running out of steam? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers! You can also find more of my recent reviews here:


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