Riding high off last year’s mega-blockbuster The Avengers, Marvel starts off the summer again with Iron Man 3, this time though back to one superhero leading the way instead of seven. While Tony Stark and Iron Man are no strangers to the summer blockbuster season (they’ve kicked them off before in 2008 and 2010), this time things are different. We are now in a post-Avengers Phase 2 type of world. The stakes are bigger and so are the bad guys. And what bigger foe for Tony and Iron Man to face than his comic book nemesis, The Mandarin!
The Mandarin . . . I know this will be a sticking point to a lot of fans of the comic books or fans who know the history of The Mandarin, and I’m going to address this right off the bat. I thought what they did with the Mandarin was actually okay. One of the things I was most worried about going in was how his character was going to come across onscreen. Even though I wasn’t blown away by the character in the film, I was satisfied with his storyline and how Ben Kingsley played him. That is all I have to say about The Mandarin.
There were a couple of things in the film that just didn’t quite do it for me though, first and foremost being the heavy use of visual effects and CGI. From the Mark 42 armor components to Tony’s different suits of armor to human beings hopped up on Extremis, there was a lot of CGI work going on here. Realistically speaking, anytime we don’t see Robert Downey, Jr.‘s face the Iron Man suit is most likely a CGI representation. While it’s okay since it has been like this since the first Iron Man, the piling on of even more CGI characters was a bit much for me. In a world where nothing “feels” real, it was really hard to get into these epic action sequences when you know what you’re seeing on screen were all pixels. Beautifully done pixels, but still pixels nonetheless. The stakes just didn’t feel the same when you don’t believe a character or a representation of a character isn’t a bit more tangible. Other than pretty stuff happening onscreen, there wasn’t as much for me to latch on to, and I found myself just a little bit less invested in what was going on.
Then there was the story. We all know that from the trailer, Iron Man takes on The Mandarin. What bothered me though was the resolution of a secondary storyline where Tony is suffering anxiety from what happened to him in New York with the Avengers. It’s beautifully set up, but I didn’t think it was resolved in a way that was totally satisfying. Tony has been struggling with this post-traumatic stress, and he’s been trying to find ways to overcome it, save seeing a doctor. His friends are worried, and all the elements seemed to be there for him to rise from the ashes like the phoenix that we all know he can be. Exactly how he has his “breakthrough” though seemed contrived and not at all authentic to what was going on in the story. I can’t really say more without getting into spoilers, but yeah, there was just something about Tony’s journey to overcome his post-Avengers anxiety that I just didn’t buy into.
Not to sound too negative though, there are a lot of fun things about Iron Man 3. Front and center would have to be humor that director Shane Black brings to the film. While Joss Whedon brought an off-the-wall geeky comedic vibe to The Avengers, Black brings his dark and awkwardly funny humor that fans will recognize from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Just some of the banter that Tony has with other characters in the film and a ton of really embarrassing and awkward moments that happen throughout the film, some in life and death situations… I thought all of it was really fun and made the movie almost an action comedy.
And what kind of an Iron Man movie would this be without the addition of new Iron Man armor? Tony’s latest armor, the Mark 42, has two things that make it unique: 1) the suit can be controlled remotely by Tony, and 2) its components can operate and travel separate from one another. While you wouldn’t think this second trait is that impressive, it comes in quite handy as the armor does not have to be put on as a whole unit. In one scene Tony calls for the entire Mark 42, but only one of its hands and a single boot piece show up. With just these two parts of his suit, Tony still manages to utilize them to great effect to take out a couple of henchmen till the rest of the suit shows up. With Tony being able to control the suit and its components remotely, it made for some fun action sequences.
Finally, probably the best sequence in the entire film is the one that was teased during the Super Bowl where Air Force One is going down, requiring Iron Man to save a bunch of people that have fallen out of the plane. It’s one of those conundrums where the hero has a decision to make about who he should save, a decision usually where it seems someone will still have to be sacrificed in order for someone else to be saved. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time as the gears in Tony’s head were working up a plan, the ground is getting closer, and he and Jarvis are trying to save everyone. Definitely the highlight of the film.
At the end of the night Iron Man 3 sends Tony Stark, Iron Man, and Marvel’s Phase 2 off on a good foot. It integrates the fallout from The Avengers without seeming as ham-fisted as the S.H.I.E.L.D. storyline was in Iron Man 2 and also gives us a pretty decent Iron Man standalone movie as well. With great action and visuals, Iron Man 3 kicks off summer with a (repulsor) blast.
Iron Man 3 is now playing in theaters everywhere.
Rating 3.5/5 stars // PG-13 // 2h 10m