Iron Man 3 (or Iron Man Three as it’s actually titled in the credits) holds a funny little place in the world of film because though it is a sequel to Iron Man 2, it’s actually more of an aftermath to The Avengers, taking most of its story cues from that blockbuster. This is to its benefit, since Iron Man 2 was a bit of a dud of a film, attempting to introduce a bunch of elements to the Marvel cinematic canon while simultaneously telling a compelling character-driven story about Tony Stark, but overall ending up a bit confused and unsatisfying. In contrast, Part 3 of the franchise (or alternatively, Part 6, depending on how you count) makes no real attempt to expand the universe, and instead centers itself on the character-story, doing quite a good job. All the references to The Avengers are seen through the grid of how events have impacted Stark as a person. SHIELD is mercifully absent (presumably getting ready for their TV show), allowing the film to focus on just being a Iron Man story, talking extensively about Tony’s relationship with Pepper and Tony’s relationship with his armor. Actually, it creates a bit of a love-triangle between the three, in which fortunately Pepper wins out, although we suspect Tony’s still ready to visit his other love if (when) the Avengers ever get called back into action.
Naturally, there is still heaps of action – and lots of it is armor-based even though 1) Tony spends the entire middle act of the movie outside of the suit and 2) gratefully, no villain in the film wear’s anything like armor (except when they steal Rhodey’s). In fact, some of the action scenes are truly outstanding and very well directed by Shane Black, most notably the featured-highly-in-the-trailer destruction of Tony’s home. And the climax of the film – oh that climax, with Tony hopping from suit to suit in his efforts to defeat the Mandarin, is far and away the best of the three films.
Speaking of the Mandarin, Ben Kingsley does an outstanding job making his villain quite disturbing. There’s quite a twist about his actual nature which is almost disappointing when it takes place, since it means the story won’t really be dealing with the Mandarin as we originally perceive him, but is still interesting and unexpected. The rest of the cast is good as well, including Guy Pearce, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, and Rebecca Hall as some girl from the comics that I’ve never heard of. Even Happy Hogan gets some fun stuff to do that feels intrinsic to the plot, as Jon Favreau drops the directors reins and goes for it as an actor. The cast also includes James Badge Dale from 24, William Sadler who was that creepy Section 31 guy from Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and Miguel Ferrer who had memorably played Albert in Twin Peaks.
But naturally the star of the story is Robert Downey jr. who plays Tony Stark for the 5th time, and though it is looking familiar now, it’s not looking tired. The movie gives him lots of face time and plenty of obstacles to overcome both in and out of the armor, and the character gets to make some pretty significant movements forward as a person. RDJ remains the best casting choice for any Marvel property, so hopefully the guy will continue to be willing to make a career of it.
The negatives? The president of the United States has got some pretty nitwitty security going on there, as there seem to be no protocols to make sure his armored bodyguard is actually the guy he’s supposed to be. And there’s a brief example of some off-color language from Tony Stark when he’s relating to a kid (amusingly played by Harley Keener) that was off-putting and unnecessary. And I’m not entirely convinced the movie ever fully walked through the idea of Tony experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.
But those were pretty easy faults to overlook. I don’t necessarily feel like I need an Iron Man 4, but if this is the final film in the series, than it’s wrapped up the story in a way that was far more satisfying than I had any right to hope for after Iron Man 2.
(There’s no reason anyone who thinks they might like a movie called “Iron Man 3” would be disappointed).