Hello g33ks, m33ks and anyone else looking for a clean slate. This is my review of the third edition of the cinematic adventures of Iron Man. This is Tony Stark’s fourth starring appearance in a film produced by Marvel Studios and the first for Marvel’s Phase 2 initiative. This is also the first film in the series to be helmed by director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), a man much more well known as the screenwriter of films like Lethal Weapon, The Monster Squad and The Last Boyscout. Like the original film in 2008, Iron Man 3 is the first in a series of steps that will culminate in the release of an Avengers film in 2015. It also has the possibility of being Robert Downey Jr.’s final turn in the role as his contract was negotiated for three films. Is this film a return to greatness for the series that launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Will audiences miss the director of the first two films Jon Favreau? Is it possible to make a standalone Iron Man film exciting now that we live in a post-Avengers world?
Iron Man 3 begins in an intriguing way in that it goes back in time, not to the events that took place in New York a few months prior but to New Year’s Eve 1999. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is attending a gala event featuring some of the greatest minds on the planet. One of these great minds is the beautiful Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) a “botanist”, Tony’s simplified titling of someone with her skills, on the verge of changing the way mankind recovers from serious physical trauma. Tony of course sees her more as a sexual conquest than as someone who’s work he should study and by doing so overlooks some of the most gifted people in the world, including more than one who will someone who will one day have a direct impact on his life, vying for his attention. One of those people who refuses to be overlooked is Aldrich Killian (Guy Pierce) a brilliant but physically challenged man who aspires to use this meeting of great minds to create the most advanced think tank in the world. He tries to get Tony to meet with him but of course with his attention focused on Maya Hansen he leaves Killian to wait alone during the celebration of the New Year.
In the present we are introduced to a totally unfamiliar Tony Stark. This Tony seems the same on the surface in that he’s experimenting with Jarvis (Paul Bettany) on a new type of Iron Man suit that can be called to his body in a “telepathic” fashion. There is no smug sense of self satisfaction though. He’s not sleeping, he’s not getting incredibly drunk at parties or preparing to race in Formula 1. He’s no longer running the day-to-day business at Stark Industries; that is a job he has left to the love of his life Pepper Potts (Gweneth Paltrow) much to the disdain of Aldrich Killian who has changed his life after years of intense physical therapy.
Killian once again wants to draft Tony’s genius to work with his AIM think tank, which has made incredible strides into mapping the human brain but finds himself again unable to get his meeting with Stark. Killian makes it abundantly clear that he desires not just Stark’s help with his work but Pepper’s affection causing Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to track Killian and his second in command. Happy’s snooping leads to a chance run-in with the agents of the world’s newest threat, The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley). This terrorist has the ability to hijack any of the airwaves all over the United States and he seems to have a penchant for collecting many different cultural and religious symbols into his own ideological melange. He has succeeded in bombing several different locations throughout the Unites States and this has caused President Ellis (William Sadler) to rebrand War Machine James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) into The Iron Patriot. The Iron Patriot’s new mission is to defend America from The Mandarin, and to track him down and capture him. When faced with the potential loss of one of his dearest friends Tony personally challenges The Mandarin to face him.
One of the things that I love about the film is that its truly a post Avengers world. Tony’s suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, his compulsion to prepare for every possible situation, and even the fact that he uses inspiration from the way Thor can summon Mjolnir to create his telepathic prototype suit show the fact this what he has recently experienced has changed him. He’s almost into the same kind of head space one would expect from from his more somber DC comics counterpart Bruce Wayne. This in not a knock on the character or even a warning that this film has no sense of humor. This is simply the evolution of the character and a return for the series to everything that made the first film so incredible.
In a movie with this many accomplished actors its not difficult to imagine that its full of incredible performances but everyone is in their finest form in this film: Guy Pearce, Robert Downey Jr and most of all Ben Kingsley really produce some of their best work in this film. That isn’t meant to shortchange the rest of the cast including a great performance from Ty Simpkins (Insidious) as Harley, a young engineering enthusiast. The fact that Shane Black was able to get this kind of effort from these actors and keep this film on the rails in only his second directorial outing is incredible. The returning cast has gelled with Jon Favreau at the helm so to ask them in the third film to accept a man who’s expertise is in writing stories for the screen was a lot from Marvel. That said the gamble paid off.
In 2008 Iron Man created the Marvel Cinematic Universe and placed itself as one of the great superhero films of all time. Iron Man 2 was fine as a flick but definitely lesser in quality than the original. Iron Man 3 does more than simply kick off Phase 2, it is a film on par with the original and shows why Marvel’s film universe is so much more complete than DC’s. Is Iron Man 3 a perfect film? No. Is it one of the best superhero films in the genre to date? Absolutely. We still live in a world where X-men: First Class, The Avengers and The Dark Knight reign supreme as the best examples of films in the superhero genre. I think in that next level are films like Iron Man, X2, Batman Begins, Thor, Kick-Ass and Superman II. I think Iron Man 3 fits in with that second level of films. Not the apex of the genre but still one of the all time great offerings.