It’s hard to be excited about Iron Man 3 (and other Marvel character movie sequels like Thor 2) when we know most of the real developments are going to happen in The Avengers 2. Sure, those movies could be fun character-driven romps but unless Marvel/Disney does something stupid like not renew Robert Downey Jr’s contract, Tony Stark’s going to be the same character. There’s no tension involved when the audience knows the main character is going to survive or have little to no character development. With all that in mind, the bar for Iron Man 3 was set at “successful summer blockbuster that is good if you want to escape from how much the world sucks for 2 hours.”
Iron Man 3 meets that standard. It’s a fun movie to see in theaters that relies more on spectacle to impress the audience than its actual content. That said, it’s a step up from films like Transformers where the movie is completely brainless. Iron Man 3 has more substance to it than most summer blockbusters but I hesitate to say it’s a good movie. The film’s similar to Dark Knight Rises in that it’s more of a Tony Stark movie instead of an Iron Man film. The main plot is underwhelming but those looking for strong acting performances shouldn’t be disappointed. A more in-depth review follows from here on out so if you hate spoilers, you should
realize that knowing the ending to something doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it stop reading now.
The main plot revolves around extremis, an experimental chemical that increases strength and provides regeneration. The film’s main antagonist, Aldrich Killian, uses this chemical to not only buff himself but provide it for disabled soldiers to fuel his world domination scheme. However, extremis has the nasty side-effect of spontaneous combustion and total disintegration of a surrounding area should the human body reject it. To cover up these explosions, Killian creates a terrorist called “The Mandarin”. The movie follows Tony Stark’s investigation into these explosions.
Iron Man 3‘s focus on extremis is what ruins its narrative. The idea of a chemical providing regeneration and super strength is viable. The same chemical having a side effect of heating the body up to 3,000 degrees and giving the user some control over fire is not. It’s strange to say this about an established universe that’s had otherworldly mythological figures show up but comic book movies are at their best when they’re grounded in reality. Extremis crosses the line separating “believability” and “stupid” into “stupid.” See also: Tony Stark having to suit himself up manually at a designated point vs. Tony Stark implanting microchips in him and being able to summon pieces of his armor by gesturing his hands.
In contrast to the narrative, the character performances are awesome. Ben Kingsley really steals the show as The Mandarin. He was such a compelling figure for the first half of the movie that the film’s resolution should have been Iron Man vs. The Mandarin instead of Iron Man vs. Aldrich Killian. The film’s main twist is that The Mandarin is not a sinister terrorist but a film character created by Killian to cover up extremis accidents. Kingsley plays the roles of Killian’s Mandarin and oblivious British character actor superbly. I was also impressed with the twist in that it’s surprising the film had the gall to go that route. Initially, it was worth a smile but knowing the climax wasn’t going to be a show down with The Mandarin really ruined the second half of the movie.
Robert Downey Jr.’s performance would normally go without saying but I did like how the movie explored what’s going through Iron Man’s head post-Avengers. It’s nice to see a guy who had a near-death experience have to deal with the stress that comes with surviving one. I was also pleased with how they handled his scenes with a 10 year old kid. Upon first impression, I feared they were going to cut back on Tony being a snarky jackass because he was interacting with a kid. Instead of neutering his character, the film reinforced it. The ending sequence provides some possible closure on Iron Man as a solo film series although the after-credit sequence with Mark Ruffalo isn’t worth staying after for.
The special effects provide enough spectacle to distract the audience from such things but they often stretch believability. Towards the end, there’s a scene where Tony Stark falls hundreds of feet down the side of a crane-like structure on to a hard surface with only a few bits of his armor on. Watching that sequence, I could only wonder how his unprotected arms and legs weren’t all broken and why he wasn’t knocked unconscious. Another scene has multiple Jarvis-piloted Iron Man suits showing up for the climax…only for most of them to be easily destroyed (one of which had 3 people jump on a suit to tear limbs off with their bare hands…).
There’s been a lot more negative things said here about Iron Man 3 than positive. It’s not a bad movie but there’s numerous issues that keep it from being good. A serious resolution to The Mandarin would have gone a long way towards making the film more enjoyable. The movie is a step up from Iron Man 2 but it’s not as good as the original. People looking for a summer spectacle blockbuster with good character performances won’t be disappointed. Those who see past the spectacle or go in expecting the film be will be less than thrilled.