Movie Review: Iron Man 3
Let’s face it: when it comes to a movie series, the third film in most series is often the one that can make-or-break it. While some series can fly gracefully into the night (like Toy Story, Back to the Future, and Lord of the Rings), there are plenty of others that just crash-and-burn in their third act (I’m looking at you, Godfather, Spider-Man, and Pirates of the Caribbean).
When my friend and co-worker Eric Prahl invited me to see Iron Man five years ago, I had very little knowledge of the character or Tony Stark. Most of what I knew was from the inebriated MEGO doll of Iron Man in Toyfare Magazine’s Twisted Toyfare Theater. However, the theatrical experience was a film that was definitely movie-magic. While Tony Stark was an egotistical and brilliant man, he also had his own faults that he realized he needed to take care of. As well, the film’s use of visual effects (done largely by Industrial Light & Magic and Stan Winston Studios),worked together in a seamless tandem, that reminded me of the CG/practical effects tag-teaming done on Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.
The overwhelming success of Iron Man quickly pushed director Jon Favreau and Marvel into high gear, giving us a sequel just 2 years later. Iron Man 2 was one of those sequels where they attempted to go bigger than the first film, and for that, the production suffered as the storyline was pulled in multiple directions. You had Tony Stark dealing with the ghosts of his father’s past, preserving the Stark legacy, being further brought into S.H.I.E.L.D., developing his relationship with his friend James Rhodes (this time played by Don Cheadle), and dealing with a Tony-wannabe in the form of Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).
I know that last sentence went on forever, but that’s what the second film felt like to me: it was just too much, making it a good-but-not-great sequel. So it was with that last sequel in mind, that I entered Iron Man 3 with some trepidation.
Like the first two films, 3 intermingles Tony’s past to tell the story(with one cameo that definitely made my eyes go wide), where we find him struggling to make sense of life in the aftermath of encountering alien warriors, and almost getting killed in another dimension. Fearing for his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and his his friends, Tony has all but spent his down-time building suits.
While the previous film hinted at other countries possibly building their own Iron Man tech, the world in this film has come under a new threat, by a bearded figure calling himself The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Stark gets embroiled in this conflict in a rather shocking way, but definitely leads one to understand his emotions when it happens.
Up until now, I’d never really seen much of Director Shane Black’s film repertoire. He made a name for himself in the movies, scripting the Lethal Weapon films, and had a hand in writing one of the most anticipated, and biggest flops of 1993: Last Action Hero. Some have said that Black’s writing style feels like he has one foot firmly planted in the realm of 80’s action films, and that shows quite a bit in Iron Man 3. Co-written by Black along with Drew Pearce, the ‘retro-tech’ of the writing style definitely seems comfortable (For more information about this, check out Cinema Blend’s analysis).
While Iron Man does figure into the plot, Black never seems to forget that Tony Stark is at the heart of the story. That is something that money-grubbing studios would have jettisoned by now in favor of putting more Iron Man on-screen to sell toys. It’s always nice to see that to many of us, Marvel Studios still values making us care about what’s inside the suit, not how cool it looks on the outside. I daresay that by the end of this third film, Black has made Tony Stark a much more well-rounded character, than Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Trilogy.
While Iron Man 2 gave Don Cheadle a chance to get people introduced to his characterization of “Rhodey,” it is in Iron Man 3 that he really gets a chance to shine. He’s not on-screen as much as Downey, but when he does show up, I couldn’t help but imagine Terrance Howard seeing this footage and wishing that he was on this rollercoaster ride. There’s even some ‘buddy-cop’ moments between the two that just kept my eyes glued to the screen.
What also helps the story, is that we’re on ‘cool-down’ mode after the pumped-up excitement of The Avengers, and that helps us to pull the film’s story away from a bigger story, and making it seem more intimate regarding the world of Tony Stark and his friends. If Iron Man 2 faltered for me with its shaky focus, Shane Black has stabilized the series with his own level of craftsmanship. I could have gone on for another 6 paragraphs about the film, but that would be treading into dangerous spoiler territory, something I am wont to do.
Though it sounds like I have praised the picture to the moon, I will say it’s far from being a perfect film. There are some areas that have questions that seem unable to be answered upon one viewing. There are mysteries to solve, that like any good detective, requires going over the clues a few times, before a pattern emerges. Not to say that this will detract from your overall enjoyment of Iron Man 3, but for those that may want more thorough answers, repeat showings will definitely be in your future.
I will say that once the film was over, I found myself wondering something I didn’t think I’d ever wonder: “Where can they go from here with Iron Man 4?” I never wonder about future films, but this film made me one of the masses.
If three films can lead to uncertainty, we’ve had plenty of examples where a fourth film has led to Hollywood throwing the twisted, lifeless corpse of many franchises to the curb. One can only hope the management at Marvel Studios is able to pull off (when the time comes), something we’ve never encountered before: An eye-opening fourth film, that maintains the mantra of, “How can we keep the audience pumped for more?”