“Iron Man 3” is the seventh entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the first installment in Phase Two, the lineup of Marvel films in the aftermath of “The Avengers”. In this movie Tony Stark is dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as he tries to cope with surviving the Battle of New York. Also, a new supposed threat in a terrorist who calls himself “The Mandarin” is making waves as he coordinates several bombings across the country, leading to Tony Stark donning the Iron Man suit once more, but in the wake of having to fight his own personal demons.
Unlike the first two Iron Man films, Jon Favreau doesn’t direct this one. Instead, this movie is helmed by Shane Black, director of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”. Black directing is ultimately the factor into why this movie feels so different as a sequel to “Iron Man”, and it’s this feeling of straying away from the other two that makes this movie so controversial among fans. Many people really enjoy this movie for taking a unique approach and standing out due to Shane Black’s distinct style, whereas there’s also a group of fans who absolutely loathe this film for some of the decisions made. So where do I fall on that spectrum? Let’s talk about the movie in detail and find out.
The decision to make Tony Stark suffer from PTSD is one that I actually like. I mean, he flew through a alien wormhole and nearly died in a nuclear explosion that could’ve also wiped out all of New York City. I’d be surprised if he DIDN’T have some type of trauma after an incident like that and it adds more layers to Stark not just for this movie, but for the universe as a whole. He’s constantly suffering from nightmares and panic attacks and these are key components into who Stark becomes later in the MCU. I stated in my review for “Iron Man” that Tony Stark does genuinely care about protecting people and this bout of PTSD that he suffers from plays into that. He’s not just traumatized about what nearly happened to him, but also what nearly happened to Earth. This dealing with anxiety, panic attacks, and emotional trauma makes Stark a much more vulnerable and relatable hero and I think it’s a great benefit to his character.
In this movie’s first half, we also get what looks to be build up for the Mandarin as a villain. The most we see of him is in these very eerie and ominous videos in which he touts himself as the mastermind of a series of bombings while also making even more threats to America. These videos add a real-world element to the movie, as they feel like something an actual terrorist would make. The Mandarin comes off as menacing and formidable in these videos and you’re under the impression that we’re going to get a legitimately great villain who feels grounded, but more on that later.
Tony Stark’s world comes crumbling down just in the first half and it all begins when he calls out the Mandarin. This leads to Stark’s house being destroyed and he’s forced into hiding in a rural part of Tennessee where he comes across another part of this movie that seems to garner a lot of hate, a young boy named Harley. Him and Stark team up to find out more about the Mandarin’s bombings and many people find this character of Harley to be mere pandering the a younger demographic. I can certainly see Marvel wanting to incorporate a kid character into the film to possibly draw in a younger crowd, but I at least give Shane Black credit for handling Harley in his own way. There are scenes in this movie when Stark is unrelenting in terms of that insults he throws at Harley and I feel like Black was still abiding by his own vision of having a character like Tony Stark being paired with an annoying 10 year old. After all, it’s not like he pulled a Rian Johnson and completely caved to the studio’s demands.
But it’s in this middle section of the movie where I really like what we see of Stark. A good test of who a hero is is in how he’s able to conduct himself when he’s had his source of power stripped away. In this case, Stark has been stripped of his Iron Man suit and he’s forced to improvise in how he handles things. The one idea that’s conveyed very well in this movie is that Tony Stark’s greatest weapon is his own intelligence. Having a suit if armor certainly helps but when it all comes down to things, his strength lies in his brain and that defines Iron Man more than anything else, even the arc reactor or the suit.
It’s also in the middle of the movie when we get to the controversial twist involving the Mandarin. As it turns out, there in no real Mandarin. The person in the videos is merely an actor by the name of Trevor Slattery who has been hired to act as a terrorist to draw people away from the real culprit behind the bombings. Ben Kingsley is really playing an oblivious slob of a man who in turn is playing a deadly terrorist. I’ll admit, I was one slightly underwhelmed by this twist when I first saw the movie. The first half had done an excellent job in building up this credible threat in the Mandarin and to see him reduced to a fake persona portrayed by a comedic relief character was a little disappointing. But in time with repeated viewings of this movie, I’ve grown to really like this twist. It’s a unique approach with Shane Black written all over it and it’s a smart plan in and of itself. If you’re going to conduct a series of attacks, then what better way to divert the attention away from yourself then hiring someone to take the blame? This is a different approach for comic book movies in general and I really appreciate it now.
That being said, I have to admit that I’m not a fan of the movie’s real villain, Aldrich Killian, played by Guy Pearce. Killian’s ultimate goal is to perfect this new treatment called “Extremis”, which basically heals people with all sorts of debilitating injuries. When all is said and done, it’s just another villainous corporate guy in a suit who wants better technology than Tony Stark. Yawn. We’ve seen it done in the previous two films and the only difference in this movie is that Killian actually has powers as a result of Extremis. He can heal, breathe fire, and melt things with his bare touch, but that doesn’t compensate for the actual character being very bland and by the numbers, especially for an Iron Man foe.
By this movie’s third act, despite being introduced to a much weaker villain, we’re still given some pretty awesome action set pieces. There’s the scene in which Iron Man has to save several people from falling to their deaths from Air Force One and it’s an intense scene of Stark once again using his brain as his key asset, and it’s elevated when you think of how this scene was actually filmed with actual skydivers who really were falling from the sky. I understand that Marvel does a lot of CGI work and for the most part, it works out, but it’s great to see more practical stunts done in this scale.
The climax of this movie is also a great display of pure, over-the-top comic book fun. Stark, James Rhodes, and Stark’s legion of various Iron Man suits are going up against Killian’s army of Extremis soldiers while trying to save Pepper Potts and it’s a blast to watch. This movie actually goes out of its way to show the different functioning suits and how they hold their own in this battle and while the fire-breathing Extremis soldiers are more out there compared to what we’ve seen in the previous Iron Man films, I’m willing to let it slide seeing as how this universe has fully established itself has having other things like gods and aliens.
When the battle is done and Killian is finally killed, Tony makes the ultimate gesture to Pepper and one that completes his arc in a very satisfactory way: he blows up all of his Iron Man suits, promising to devote the rest of his life to Pepper and give up being Iron Man…that is until “Avengers: Age of Ultron”. It goes without saying that Stark does eventually go back to being Iron Man for the sake of continuing the MCU, but as it stands in this movie, it serves as a nice way to show that even without his suit, he’s still always going to be Iron Man.
All in all, I find “Iron Man 3” to be one of the more underrated installments in the MCU, though I certainly understand the hate that it gets from fans. The Mandarin is Iron Man’s arch-nemesis in the comics and to see him given this treatment would upset me if I were a die-hard fan of the Iron Man comics. That said, I like the direction that Shane Black took this movie. It’s unique in Black’s vision and it stands as an interesting character piece for Tony Stark, as it paves the way for who he’s going to become later down the line.
Rating: Full Price!