In Iron Man 3 Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has to deal with posttraumatic stress disorder after the events of The Avengers. Meanwhile a mysterious terrorist only known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) starts bomb attacks which can’t be traced back to him. On top of that Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) appears with a strange new DNA-changing virus known as Extremis and has some unfinished business with Tony.
What direction to go?
Iron Man 3 starts with a very moody monologue about Tony Stark’s sins. We flash back to a moment referenced in Iron Man 1 and we therefore have a very weighty feeling that this movie will be about choices and responsibilities. We witness Aldrich at the party – a supervillain in the making – and the scene reminds us a bit of Batman Forever. Aldrich will return in a much sleazier version which will remind us quite a lot of Sam Rockwell from Iron Man 2 without the dancing.
Cut to present day Tony Stark experimenting with a new suit of armor and continuing with a HILARIOUS punch into the balls joke before we get the CGI armor.
The film then hints towards many interesting plotlines:
Where is the difference between the suit and Tony Stark?
What is the motivation of the Mandarin and what is his goal?
What is the worth of Stark in a world where Thor exists?
What is Extremis?
And this is where the visions collide. Watching Iron Man 3 you can really see the clashing of 1) great source material 2) a director with his own vision and 3) studio interference. Too many characters are introduced without us ever getting to know them properly. A kid is right in the middle of it and probably would have been thorough the entire film had there not been the mandatory buddy in form of Colonel Rhodes (Don Cheadle). I couldn’t help wondering if writer/director Shane Black would have incorporated Cheadle at all as his relation to Tony Stark is pretty much the same as the relation to the kid and when the kid story ends the Cheadle story takes over.
Same goes for the drama. The kid story is a metaphorical revisiting of the cave scene from Iron Man before the movie again heads back into standard action movie territory.
New York has changed the world
While I wasn’t a fan of The Avengers I loved the idea that the events happening in that movie had an effect on Tony. His PTSD attacks were very interesting and early on the movie poses the question why the world still needs Iron Man when there are gods and superhumans around.
Sadly the movie scarcely touches on this theme and just has Stark going through some panic attacks when he has nothing else to do. Generally the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) doesn’t really work in Iron Man 3’s advantage. The PTSD makes for a nice speech to Pepper at the beginning but that’s about it and when Tony Stark’s mansion is attacked one can only wonder where SHIELD is.
It was probably because of the criticism of Iron Man 2 that Marvel reacted by doing exactly the opposite: no ties to the MCU unless it was convenient.
The MCU is still a pilot project and therefore not very smoothed out but it doesn’t seem as if Marvel is actively trying to do anything with it except for making references when it doesn’t affect the plot.
The tricky third act and ‘merica!
For some reason Iron Man movies seem to be incapable of delivering a good third act. As with the SHIELD problem from Iron Man 2 Marvel has responded to the criticism that Iron Man finales were mostly robots hitting each other. This time it is not the case but the outcome is pretty much the same. Using DNA-magic the enemy in this movie has melting and fire powers.
So you are watching Iron Man going up against fire demons using (as seen in the trailers) an army of Iron Man suits. It is a shameless toy commercial featuring completely different Iron Man action figures that only last long enough to do their individual moves.
What was also interesting was that this was the first Marvel movie that felt like a black and white “Yeah America!” adaption. Whereas Iron Man 1 was about the personal problems of the hero and how he had to overcome them in this movie the US government is integral to the heroes task and motivation. And like a movie from a previous time the success of the hero is not a personal one but by ensuring the safety of America. Not the safety of its citizens but the safety of its government.
Iron Man has become the thing it was satirizing in the Tony Stark montage at the beginning of Iron Man where America is synonymous with everything good.
A very bitter change in storytelling if one stops to think how layered the criticism towards the arms industry was in Iron Man.
This is as good as it gets…
…was my thought while watching the movie. After the Avengers underwhelmed me I had little expectations for this movie. And what shocked me was how much by the numbers Iron Man 3 was. It is the textbook example of playing it safe. The Mandarin clearly is a Marvel villain from a different time but that doesn’t mean that he can’t be interesting.
The screening I attended had a pause after 1 hour and this might have seriously taken the enjoyment from the movie as we had 15 minutes to discuss that we didn’t really know what the Mandarin’s plan was. The pause ended with us hoping to see a very threatening Mandarin but that wasn’t the case.
The faceoff between Tony and the Mandarin was then a very surprising and entertaining scene but on the flipside it sacrificed the entire movie and couldn’t offer anything interesting other than a few minutes of entertainment.
Because of this moment the entire third act (as noted before) falls apart and lacks all the drama. There are suspenseful and dramatic moments which are devoid of any tension because not even the movie seems to care. How are we supposed to believe in the loss on screen when not even Iron Man believes it because the screenplay knows that the loss is only temporary?
This also goes for plot developments that come out of nowhere. Towards the final monologue Tony has a drastic change that pretty much makes for an interesting take on his entire Iron Man persona. The problem was that the movie never before this monologue addressed that this was still bothering Tony so the moment of resolution is the moment we find out that it actually is something to be resolved.
When the movie finally ended I found myself very frustrated with a product that had nothing substantial to offer. There were a few laughs in and if it weren’t for Robert Downey jr’s super likeability the movie would have fallen apart much, much earlier.
Sure one could argue that one had just to lower expectations and expect nothing more than a brainless movie that doesn’t really make sense. The problem is that I think mainstream movies can be much more than the very basic formulaic mess that Iron Man 3 is.