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.”
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.
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.