When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.
Year 1, Day 321
BEFORE: Not since I saw Dredd way back in September has a superhero movie graced this marathon. Well today, Iron Man 3 breaks that eight month drought. The first Iron Man back in 2008 is often looked at as starting this resurgence in superhero films. It’s sequel Iron Man 2 wasn’t so universally loved (I don’t remember hating it as much as others but I also haven’t seen it in a while). Now Iron Man 3 is coming of the wild success of The Avengers and I’m excited to see Robert Downey Jr. step back into the suit one more time.
AFTER: When the credits started rolling and before the post-credits scene, one of my friends leaned over and asked me, “So, one or two?” I thought surely he can’t be talking about how many stars I’m going to award it; I quite enjoyed the film. But once we got in the car and the conversation started (well, dialogue between my two friends - I just sat listening taking notes for this review) I immediately started to try and form my opinion. Here’s what I think: Iron Man 3 is an appealing action film, but a disappointing Iron Man film.
What was most disappointing about the film was the direction they were headed. So much about this film felt like it wanted to be a character-driven, cathartic adventure. Who is Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and what has his life become after everything he’s been through with the suit? Many elements about the film including the opening flashback to 1999, his fight with Pepper Pots (Gwenyth Paltrow), the run-in with the kid Harley (Ty Simpkins), and even the ending post-credits scene (which I won’t spoil here). All of these examples and more had a lot to do with Tony Stark’s character and how he has been affected. The clearest identifier of all this are his panic attacks that he’s been having since the attack on New York City in The Avengers. Early on in the present day you see Stark have the first of these panic attacks and immediately I thought this could lead to some very interesting developments. An Iron Man film focused more on character and story than the action which is a given in these films. But that wasn’t the case and the most disappointing thing is that I feel it was so close. All the necessary ingredients seemed to be there, it’s just the end product wasn’t correctly cooked. Instead of a well-done character drama, you get a half-assed story full of questions and pretty visuals to try and distract you from it.
This may sound like a very harsh criticism of the film (and it is) but my overall feeling towards the film is that of enjoyment. Despite all of the questionable directions the story went, I was suspending my disbelief every step of the way. I didn’t care about Dr. Hansen’s (Rebecca Hall) deeper involvement with the plot further than her one-night stand with Stark or the inclusion of a clearly forced terrorist angle about oil futures and controversy at the end of the film. The extended look at Stark’s cache of Iron Man suits and construction of a suit that can be called to him remotely even from hundreds of miles away - not only did I not care about its plausibility, but I found it incredibly interesting. Same thing with the physics of explosions at the end and why some people survived despite being obviously incinerated by a blast. To me all of this did not factor in to my enjoyment of the film. Many parts actually benefited it, the scenes with Harley and Stark’s MacGyver-like inventions being one of my favorite parts about the film.
Now don’t get me wrong, my not caring about these plot issues and carelessness towards how the story unfolds is not the same as accepting them. Quite the opposite. In fact, I feel all of these story issues unnecessarily damaged the film and prevented it from reaching it’s potential. What could have been an awesome drama focused on Tony Stark and how his life is affected by everything that goes on around him, was reduced to yet another blockbuster action film. I still found it very enjoyable and was impressed by the scope of the film, but Iron Man 3 won’t be for everything. Especially don’t go in expecting the original 2008 Iron Man or another The Avengers film; you won’t get it. Instead you’ll get a great way to spend some time at the theater watching things explode and Robert Downey Jr. command the screen like nobody else.
(A few side bits here that I wanted to comment on. One, the end credits were incredibly well done; I really enjoyed the comic-book feel they had. Two, Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin was amazing in both aspects of the character. Three, many people in the theater were very upset with the post-credits scene, but I really enjoyed it - it actually gives context to part of the main structure of the film, Stark’s voice over.)
RATING: 4 out of 5