With the first IRON MAN movie being such a delightful surprise, and its sequel being such a colossal car wreck, I think we were all pretty interested to see what the third entry would be like. With a focus on the complicated man behind the armour and a dark and political plot, IRON MAN 3 is a terrific improvement over its predecessor. That being said, it works less often than it does. HUGE SPOILERS commence!
Some of the fun right off the bat was seeing how Marvel is going to address continuity in their cinematic universe. ‘General audiences’ and comics fans alike had a blast seeing the heroes of Marvel’s many different movies slowly build into THE AVENGERS, but honestly, it took nothing more than small cameos, brief humourous asides and, of course, post-credit sequences to put the idea into peoples minds that things were connected. In Tony Stark’s third solo movie, we get to see the real first attempt at how a shared cinematic universe will work.
And that’s what results in some of the more introspecting aspects of the film – we get a real sense of just how shaken up a man would be after not only saving the Earth from giant robot space whales, but of a futurist genius learning of that there is intelligent life, or at the very least alternate universes, out there. The entire experience leaves Tony with extreme anxiety, constantly struck by panic attacks when he begins to think of the pressures he now faces. I mean, think about it – in the first two films, Tony was able to be pretty fun loving because, as dangerous as things got, they affected him and his world in a more direct way. Now he finds himself responsible for protecting the entire planet from evil. It’s a pretty huge promotion.
There’s been some disatisfaction around the net with portrayal of Tony’s stress – some find it takes serious cases of PTSD and anxiety too lightly. I think that’s a valid response, but I’m happy to see Hollywood allowing the superhero male lead of a million dollar franchise to have an emotional weakness or social disorder of any kind. Tony’s flashbacks reminded me very much of a post-event tie-in comic, such as last year’s AvX: Consequences. It’s not quite essential, and it doesn’t address any of the ‘big’ questions we have at the end of an event, but it fills in some interesting gaps.
Even taking away the repercussions of the events of THE AVENGERS, this is very much Tony Stark’s movie, even going so far as to feature an extended sequence where a glimpse of armour is hardly scene. After an attack from the Mandarin, Tony finds himself stranded in rural Tennessee, teaming with a lonely but intelligent 10-year old boy named Harley.
Opinion on this part of the film has been mixed, with some finding it the strongest element and others miffed at having to sit through ten seconds without an explosion. I find myself as a detractor for this sequence as well – unfortunately, as much as I think it’s a great idea in theory, the execution doesn’t quite work for me. I think if you’re going to cut Tony off from his technology, it should mean something – whether that be learning not to rely too heavily or define himself by his inventions, or (similiar to the also controversial period in PREACHER) he learn some lesson about human interaction and living a less fast paced life, or anything the artists/film makers/screen writers etc would come up with.
But from my interpretation, Tony gains little from his time in Tennessee. He sees the horrors of terrorism on a more personal level, but this is interrupted by a fight sequence and not really addressed again. He (very hilariously, I must add) cares little for Harley’s lack of a father figure. It’s things like this that hold the movie back for me – motivations and the exact point of the plot isn’t always clear.
After an unexpected and hysterical twist involving Kingsley’s role of the Mandarin, we begin to learn about the real threat of the film – Aldrich Killian, the founder of AIM. However, Killian’s motivations are always that generic and vague kind of evil we’re used to seeing bad guys attach themselves to – he’s a bad guy so he’s gonna HAVE to kill the president! – but he’s never compelling in any real way. And of course, Don Cheadle continues to have nothing to do as War Machine, now re-branded as Iron Patriot.
The film also suffers from a weird dualist struggle regarding what to do with Pepper Potts. When she isn’t the damsel in distress tied up to the railroad tracks, she’s kicking ass and saving Tony in a skimpy outfit. No, we don’t get Rescue, but I do enjoy the efforts the film took to portray Pepper as a real character – her initial reaction to Killian, her frustration dealing with the otherwise incendiary inventor of Extremis, Maya Hansen, she really is one of the better characterizations of the movie. That being said, there are one too many moments of screaming in peril that may bring to mind Mary Jane’s constant kidnapped and wailing state in the original SPIDER-MAN trilogy.
IRON MAN 3 is a solid entry in the franchise, but it’s pretty hard to ignore a lot of glaring faults. Superhero comic book fans are certainly known for our nitpicking and negativity, but I also think the alternative route is just as silly – I’ve seen a lot of fans on twitter claiming we leave the picture alone, respect that everybody did the best job they could, enjoy the parts we enjoyed and leave it at that. But that doesn’t really make sense with what being an audience is – after all, we are paying for an experience, and even if it’s something as frivolous as being entertained on a Saturday night, just as if we were at a restaurant or a mechanics, we expect good service. An important part, maybe the most important part, of a production is the audience, and an audience should be demanding. IRON MAN was such a surprising and well done film that we’ll keep demanding that level of quality from the franchise, and unfortunately, the third entry just doesn’t deliver.