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Movie Review: Iron Man 3
Adam Frazier   |  @   |  

Iron Man 3 Theatrical Poster

Iron Man 3
Director: Shane Black
Screenwriter(s): Drew Pearce, Shane Black
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall
Walt Disney Studios
Rated PG-13 | 129 Minutes
Release Date: May 3, 2013

Directed and co-written by Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), Iron Man 3 is both an end – the definitive conclusion to the Iron Man trilogy – and a beginning; the first entry in Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It’s New Year’s Eve, 1999. A disheveled, bespectacled scientist by the name of Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) approaches Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) at a technology summit in Bern, Switzerland. Killian invites Stark to join his think tank, Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM), but the billionaire playboy (not yet a philanthropist) is too busy puttin’ the moves on fellow scientist and all-around hottie Dr. Maya Hansen, played by Rebecca Hall.

Fast-forward 13 years where Aldrich Killian has become a charismatic titan of industry. His new human enhancement program, Extremis, turns crippled test subjects into super soldiers – most of the time. Sometimes candidates become human H-bombs and explode, vaporizing everyone around them into shadows and dust. That’s OK though because Killian has aligned himself with the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), leader of the international terrorist organization The Ten Rings, who needs soldiers (and bombs) for his movement.

Guy Pearce’s scientist/megalomaniac feels a lot like Jim Carrey’s Edward Nigma from Batman Forever. He starts out as a total nerd, pitching an invention to a billionaire who believes the science “raises too many questions,” only to transform into a super-villain with a serious grudge. Are we really expected to believe Killian turns evil because he was dissed by Tony Stark in an elevator 13 years ago?

Our hero, meanwhile, is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder after dealing with Agardians, wormholes, and an all-out alien invasion in The Avengers. Tony Stark had to deal with shrapnel dangerously close to his heart in Jon Favreau’s 2008 Iron Man film. In Iron Man 2, Tony had to contend with palladium poisoning and develop a new power source for the ARC reactor in his chest. In Iron Man 3, he has panic attacks. This is Black’s obvious yet underwhelming attempt at character development – taking Stark out of the suit and showing how vulnerable and rattled he is.

While Iron Man 3 references The Avengers on multiple occasions and uses the attack on New York City as a catalyst for Tony’s anxiety disorder, it seems like Black (who also wrote the scripts for Lethal Weapon and The Long Kiss Goodnight) and co-writer Drew Pearce forgot how Whedon’s film ends. Tony Stark is a changed man – he has progressed. Iron Man 3 disregards his selfless, heroic act and turns it into the superhero equivalent of a one night stand, like “Yeah, it happened, but it didn’t mean anything.”

Iron Man 3: Mark 42 and Tony

Early in the film Stark gives a speech to his girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), about how she’s the most important thing in the world to him, and he has to protect her. Next he goes on national television and challenges the Mandarin, inviting the terrorist to his Malibu techno-mansion for a showdown.

Why on Earth would post-Avengers Tony Stark do such a thing? Well, because if he didn’t, there wouldn’t be enough opportunities for big-budget special effects sequences. Mandarin accepts Stark’s challenge and obliterates his Malibu home with Apache helicopters and Hellfire missiles – one of the film’s more impressive action scenes.

The Mandarin is essentially Iron Man’s Ra’s al Ghul, a mystical figurehead who thrives on theatricality and deception. Diehard comic book fans will likely be angered by the decisions Black and Pearce have made in regard to the classic villain, but Kingsley’s approach to the character is admirable – he looks like Osama bin Laden, sounds like a Southern Baptist preacher, and feels like an amalgam of villains from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.

To combat Mandarin and Killian, Tony is joined by Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle). Previously known as War Machine, Cheadle’s suit is given a red, white, and blue paint job and rebranded as Iron Patriot. Fans of Marvel’s Dark Avengers storyline will be delighted to see the suit on screen, but ultimately disappointed that Norman Osborn isn’t the one making it move.

Iron Man 3: Don Cheadle as Iron Patriot

Not since Rick Moranis strapped on the proton pack in Ghostbusters 2 has there been a less convincing hero than Don Cheadle as Iron Patriot. In his lime green polo shirt and khakis, Cheadle looks more like Tony’s accountant. Instead of flying around in a star-spangled suit, Rhodey should be poring over a stack of 1041-A forms at an H&R Block.

Nevertheless, Cheadle and Downey Jr. are an entertaining on-screen duo, mainly because the third act of Iron Man 3 turns into a Lethal Weapon reboot, complete with explosions, shootouts, and a bunch of swinging cranes and steel girders. The president of the United States (William Sadler) is taken hostage by the Mandarin while Killian snatches up Pepper Potts – because Tony has to protect the things that mean the most to him, remember?

When he was first attached to the project, director Shane Black stated that Iron Man 3 wouldn’t be “two men in iron suits fighting each other,” and he stayed true to his word. Iron Man 3 is actually a bunch of people in suits fighting each other. Since The Avengers, Tony has been tinkering away on dozens of new suits, and he’s even developed a way to pilot them remotely. Now everyone can have a suit! Pepper Potts suits up at one point, as does one of Killian’s low-level thugs (played by James Badge Dale). Hell, even the president of the United States gets an Iron Man suit!

Iron Man 3‘s final battle involves an army of remote-controlled Iron Men showing up to save the day – but of course you already knew that, because it’s in every single television spot and theatrical trailer – along with a truly breathtaking airplane crash sequence. There are some genuinely great scenes in Shane Black’s film, but every half-serious moment is undermined by overblown silliness – the kind of empty-headed absurdity typically reserved for lesser comic book movies like Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer or Green Lantern.

Rebecca Hall does a solid job with what little she’s given, and Gwyneth Paltrow is more than just a pair of legs with a clipboard this time around, so that’s nice. Guy Pearce overacts to compensate for the thinly written script while Kingsley’s character is no doubt the most intriguing part of the film. Robert Downey Jr., on the other hand, is just cashing another paycheck.

As someone who absolutely loved The Avengers – and Marvel’s first phase of shared-universe films – I’m disappointed with Iron Man 3. There are no stakes behind the pixelated mayhem on screen – it’s all just a big 130-minute tech demo. Like Tony Stark’s army of Iron Men, Shane Black’s film is flying on autopilot.


  1. Your review was right on the money; IM3 was a tremendous letdown after the near-orgasmic high that was “The Avengers”. It also took one of Marvel Comics’ greatest villains and (through no fault of the magnificent Sir Ben Kingsley) made him a buffoonish parody worthy of the 1960s Batman TV show. And the attempts to some finality and closure to the ending; just in case Robert Downey Jr. decides not to do a fourth one also rang false because we know Tony Stark will at least don the armor again for “Avengers 2”.

    Comment by Rogue Simulant — May 4, 2013 @ 3:22 am

  2. Did anyone else notice how easy the Ironman suits were being defeated? Really? Like if they were some cheap cellphones thay can easily break. + i thoughr the weapons on those suits were not as impresive anymore.
    (just saying)

    Comment by Albert Mireles — May 4, 2013 @ 4:54 am

  3. Yes, it was quite a waste: 30-40 unique Iron Man armors including Space Armor and Hulk-Buster Armor are destroyed instantly – we don’t get an opportunity to take in all the different types of armor Tony has made or even appreciate them. Michael Bay’s Transformers action sequences were more intelligible.

    Comment by Adam Frazier — May 6, 2013 @ 8:19 am

  4. The ’60s Batman comparison is apt because Kingsley’s villain certainly feels at home with Victor Buono’s King Tut or Vincent Price’s Egg Head. As for the film’s ending, everything was conveniently tied up with a bow in case Downey *doesn’t* return. You’re correct, “Tony Stark will return” is there but… that doesn’t mean Robert Downey Jr. will return. By introducing this concept of Iron Man armor moving independently of Stark, they’ve set up a way to have Iron Man w/o RDJ…

    Comment by Adam Frazier — May 6, 2013 @ 8:21 am

  5. That plot hole was established in I.M. 2 when the suit was stolen and the only answer to safeguards being defeated was Tony looking distressed after a suit was stolen..

    Comment by HerbalHobgoblin — June 3, 2013 @ 2:43 am

  6. That or the fear that he cannot protect Pepper..His answer to that is making her mortal again..

    Comment by HerbalHobgoblin — June 3, 2013 @ 2:51 am

  7. This was easily the most disappointing superhero movie during Marvel’s run, and that’s after basically squashing any expectations I might have had. The Mandarin is turned in a babbling caricature (a total waste of Ben Kingsley) and then replaced by a villain with no clear motivation. Then we’re told that this is the MCU version of the Mandarin, despite the fact that he has absolutely nothing in common outside of the name. Ugh…and was it just me or was Guy Pearce totally hamming it up? Whole hog hamming…just a bad film, unsatisfying ending, unfunny dialogue and totally, totally different than the film portrayed in the trailers.

    Comment by Karyyk — June 4, 2013 @ 9:48 am

  8. Thank you for being one of the few critics who didn’t say that this was better than IM2 or “the best Iron Man film ever!” I loved THE AVENGERS too, but this film was a disappointment with its many illogical character moments.

    Comment by Tom Holste — June 12, 2013 @ 12:50 pm

  9. I had a bunch of problems with this movie.

    The first is that I absolutely, positively, hate Gwyneth Paltrow.

    The second was the fact that Tony couldn’t give Rhodey an IM suit – it wasn’t paired to him, apparently – but somehow Pepper Potts was able to wear a suit. Worse, she kicked about as much ass in the suit as Tony did. Is the person in the suit interchangeable with Tony ?

    The third, and biggest issue is the absolute dismantling and repurposing of the Mandarin, who is none other than Iron Man’s arch-enemy, and as another poster pointed out, one of Marvel’s great villains. In one fell swoop they rendered meaningless an entire mythology. Couldn’t they have just named the Mandarin something else, anything else ? They could have called him “Goopy” and the story would have been no better or worse off.

    It couldn’t have been worse if a Batman movie completely rewrote the Joker’s character, history and modus operandi. What the hell were they thinking ?

    Comment by NuggyBuggy — June 12, 2013 @ 8:48 pm

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