You'd think that after 3 previous films starring the armored Avenger, the concept would get tired or the storytelling would get lazy. In a surprising move for a threequel, Iron Man 3 charges out of the gate blows away all expectations.
*NO PLOT SPOILERS* Normally, the baggage from the previous films in any franchise would drag down the narrative of the third chapter, essentially the third act in an overall story, but with Iron Man 3, that is not the case. Even though the Mandarin was hinted at in the first film, you need not know that in order to appreciate anything that’s going on in Iron Man 3. And while there are elements that definitely make this the final part of a trilogy, the ties aren’t so strong that it doesn’t stand firmly on its own. The film has the unique distinction of being the sequel to two separate films: Iron Man 2 and Marvel’s The Avengers. If you’ve seen those films (and I haven’t the foggiest clue as to why you wouldn’t have), then you’ll appreciate all of the little nods to characters, places, and concepts peppered throughout, which is the “Marvel Way of Making Movies” that tends to make the fanboys and girls weak in the knees. But if you’re suffering amnesia at the moment, don’t worry. Everything will be alright. I literally forgot the entire plot and the villain of Iron Man 2 while I was watching this movie and it didn’t make a difference.
Pacing and balance. They’re the keys to a super hero film’s success. You have to balance big action with (somewhat) credible exposition along with strong character scenes in the costume and out, just to keep everyone satisfied: too much action and the film is shallow and brainless, too much talking and emoting and you’re left with a dull, not-very-super hero movie. But due to the irresistible charm of its star and his perfectly synced relationship with director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, which Downey also starred in), Iron Man 3 doesn’t have these problems. With most films, you want to see the hero in costume, fighting the bad guys in huge, splashy battles that justify the 3D glasses you just rented. You don’t usually want to slog through extended, repetitive scenes of talky introspection. You want to be wowed. Again, Robert Downey Jr makes you not care if he ever puts on the armor again, because you want to see more of HIM. Of course, at the same time, you wouldn’t want an armor-less Iron Man film… trust me when I say it doesn’t skimp on the all-out armored action. Somehow, the film moves along so swiftly, moving from big set piece to set piece, that you’re barely given a moment to breathe. But it’s not annoyingly relentless and noisy, like a Michael Bay movie slammed into the skull.
So what’s it about? Without giving away any big plot spoilers that the trailers didn’t already provide (grrr), we see Tony dealing with ghosts from his past, from his days as a smug, womanizing lout right at the exact moment that his life is starting to unravel in other ways. He’s shaken up over the events of the Avengers (wormholes! aliens! oh my!), so much so that he’s running the risk of losing the best thing in his life: Pepper Potts. Cue old colleague who wants to cozy up to Pepper at the same time he wants Stark Industries business in creating a new technology called Extremis. Meanwhile, a terrorist called the Mandarin is making threats and blowing up random targets around the globe. It sounds like a lot of different very separate arcs, but it doesn’t take long for each of those storylines to collide.
Here’s a brief featurette that sums up those points…
To figure out why all of this is happening, Tony sets out to solve a mystery, and it takes him to an unlikely place. While there, he befriends a young boy who helps him work things out. Now, normally, whenever a movie crams a kid into the story, it’s the beginning of a storytelling nosedive, but every scene featuring Robert and newcomer Ty Simpkins is fun and genuinely funny. The kid holds his own in scenes with Robert Downey Jr. And while these scenes take a slight turn into Introspection and Exposition Land, it doesn’t stay there long before the action ramps up again. What makes these moments stand out is that it’s a place and a situation we’ve never seen Tony in before, in more ways than one, and we discover as viewers what kind of hero Tony is when he isn’t at full power and wrapped in a metal suit, surrounded by his super friends. There are moments when he and those he cares about are seriously beaten down and torn apart. By the way, my one complaint would be that these later armor models appear to be made of tissue paper or whatever Imperial Stormtrooper armor is made of.
Everyone involved, from cast to crew, brings their A game in what could have been a very by-the-numbers production, with everyone sitting on their laurels, swimming in the pools of money the Avengers made last year. And what’s most surprising about Iron Man 3 is that it’s SURPRISING! There is at least one big twist that I did not see coming. And while some people (old school fans) might see it as a disservice to a certain character, done either for shock value or a laugh, it makes for a more interesting story in the end. And, yes, the biggest problem some people might have with the film is that there is quite a bit of comedy in the face of what at first appeared to be a dark film about terrorism, but as I’ve said before, it’s all about balance and Iron Man 3 does that deftly on all levels.
From the moment that The Avengers blew off the theater doors last summer, Iron Man 3 had everything to prove in order to live up to the blockbuster’s legacy. And that fact made not only the movie makers, but also the fans, nervous about what would happen next. I can now safely say that everyone can relax. It’s the best Iron Man film of the three (no offense to Favreau) and although it’s a very different film, every bit The Avengers‘ equal.
Two last bits that I can’t finish without mentioning:
- The end credit titles are probably the best you’ll see during any movie this summer. The music and editing style makes you think you just watched a 70s TV action drama on a Friday night. It’s a thing of beauty.
- I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but stay until after the (VERY LONG) credits are over. Yes, there is a short scene at the end of the credits. No, it’s not earth shattering (unless they switch it up or extend it for the regular audiences), but it is funny. It answers a question posed at the very beginning of the film that you might not have even considered. Just who is Tony talking to… and why?