It may not officially be summer yet, but it sure feels that way as the blockbuster season kicks off with the release of Iron Man 3. After the overwhelming success of The Avengers last year, Iron Man 3 has some big shoes to fill. If you are looking for a continuation of the team-up fun, be prepared to keep looking. Iron Man 3 is a much more personal tale about Tony Stark and the people he cares about facing their most personal threat yet. So to recap, this time… it’s personal.
It is not as though the movie ignores or downplays the events of The Avengers, it just does not use the success of that last film as a crutch. Instead, the amazing experiences that Tony was a part of have left him damaged and unsure of his place in the larger universe. He compensates by throwing himself into his suit building, which culminates in his most impressive technology yet. You get the feeling that he has withdrawn from world events for a time, with the US government relying more on War Machine (now rebranded as the red, white, and blue Iron Patriot) as their armored deterrent. It will take something drastic to get him back into the action, and it isn’t long before that threat arrives.
The plot is largely inspired by the “Extremis” story arc that helped redefine Iron Man for the 2000s, but it expands the story to amalgamate several other elements of comic history. Longtime Marvel readers will recognize a variety of character and organization names. The movie cleverly begins with a flashback that serves to remind us of of the irresponsible party boy persona that Tony has gradually outgrown, while also establishing the demons that will come back to haunt him throughout the film. By now the man Tony was before his kidnapping in the original Iron Man has begun to fade, and this glimpse into the past allows us to appreciate his journey. In the present, Tony struggles with the revelations of The Avengers, while the shadowy Mandarin has begun a global campaign of terror. Events conspire to return Iron Man to his origins, isolated from his vast resources and forced to rely on wits and improvisation as he tries to unravel the mystery of the Mandarin.
The new and returning cast are all in top form, although they certainly benefit from a sharp script. If there were any thoughts that Robert Downey Jr. might be in danger of wearing out his welcome after four movies, Iron Man 3 should put them to rest. The usual supporting cast of Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan, and James Rhodes are all present and fairly well utilized, but I was surprised that the War Machine AKA Iron Patriot character did not see more action after all the marketing material. Rhodes does get some great interaction with Tony though, with what is almost a buddy cop movie dynamic.
Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin is sure to be the biggest point of focus for a lot of people coming out of Iron Man 3. I loved the twist on his character, I thought it was clever and took the film in an interesting direction. Other comic fans might be too caught up in the drastic changes to the character to enjoy the experience, but I beseech viewers to take off their fanboy hats and enjoy the film as a film before making a final judgment. Guy Pearce is inspired as the slimy head of Advanced Idea Mechanics, a former nerd overcompensating by trying his damnedest to one-up Tony Stark. I was worried his character would be too similar of a foil for Tony to what we saw with Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2, but that is not the case at all.
Overall, the film makes choices that are very different from what would have been conventional for a superhero sequel. If you had told me that Tony would have spent a key portion of the movie with a child sidekick, and it would never approach groan-inducing territory, I would have called you insane. But these bold choices make the movie stronger. When we leave Iron Man 3, the story of Tony Stark has an uncertain future. It’s funny, I remember some criticizing movies like Iron Man 2 and Captain America for being too much like preludes to The Avengers, introducing plotlines and characters that would only pay off in the big team-up. Now I have seen some comments complaining that Iron Man 3 does not do enough to set up future installments in the Marvel movie universe. I find no fault in this, but there is a definite feeling of concluding the trilogy, that the film is more of a coda to the previous group of Marvel films than a kicking off point for the next phase. Don’t fret though, the end credits include a James Bond-like assurance that Tony Stark will return. And as with all recent Marvel films, you will want to stay for a fun bonus scene after those credits.
Finally, a quick note about the 3D version… 3D generally is not a big deal for me either way, I don’t hate it but I also don’t spring for it unless I am forced to because of the available showtimes. For Iron Man 3 I had some Imax 3D preview passes for a Thursday showing provided by a friend, and the 3D effect was spectacular. So if you are a 3D fan, go for it, and if you are not, maybe this is the time to give it a shot.