Apr 30 2013 10:15am

A New Spin on a Favorite: Iron Man 3 Non-Spoiler Review

Iron Man 3 non-spoiler review

I walked into Iron Man 3 with some trepidation. Iron Man 2 was deeply flawed and early previews that suggested new writer/director Shane Black was aping Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” style weren’t encouraging. My favorite parts of the first two films are the awkward moments of human interaction that are the Jon Favreau touch, and I was worried that the third film would be a self-serious take on terrorism, technology, and hubris. Just another generic over-color-corrected superhero movie.

Well, I’m happy to report that I was wrong. Iron Man 3 is great. Shane Black takes the fun, snarky, intelligent characters Favreau developed and successfully places them in a tightly scripted thriller with some truly pulse pounding action sequences.

(Mild storyline spoilers ahead. Nothing you couldn't already infer from the trailers. Anything not in the trailers is whited out.)

One reason Iron Man 3 works as well as it does is that it’s a direct sequel to The Avengers, dealing with the emotional fallout that The Avengers didn’t have time for. The people of Earth are having a collective existential crisis in response to the existence of malevolent aliens (and Norse gods and giant green rage monsters) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is right there with them. Nightmares of his experiences are keeping him up at nights and giving him debilitating panic attacks, and Tony deals with his trauma in his usual way: denial and obsessive tinkering with the Iron Man armor. This emotional crisis could not come at a worse time, as super terrorist The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) launches a series of attacks against America, including a strike against Tony that destroys his home and strips him of his allies.

Iron Man 3 throws a lot of narrative balls into the air—Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is dealing with the pressures of being both the full time CEO of Stark Industries and Tony’s live-in girlfriend, the U.S. military has rebranded “War Machine” James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) as “the Iron Patriot” in a desperate attempt to keep up with the Avengers, rival think tank A.I.M., headed by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pierce) introduces EXTREMIS, a new medical treatment for regrowing missing limbs—and early on the film threatens to become the hot mess of competing plotlines that Iron Man 2 became. But Black and writing partner Drew Pearce weave the disparate plot threads together into a satisfying story. It’s not to much of a surprise that Killian is working with the Mandarin, since A.I.M. is a dead giveaway to Marvel fans, and also he’s played by Guy Pierce at his oiliest.

Despite the more thriller oriented plot, the dialogue retains the naturalistic, comedic timing that made the first films so much fun. After four films, Downey, Paltrow, and Paul Bettany as Stark’s snarky AI butler Jarvis have their characters down pat. They know how their characters think and interact, a playful combination of insults, double talk, and willful ignorance. Iron Man 3 features larger and more proactive roles for Pepper and Jarvis, as well as for Rhodey and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau cheerfully reprising his role as Tony’s somewhat redundant head of security). Even newcomer Ty Simpkins, playing a young kid Tony teams up with after losing everything, understands the way to deal with Tony is to throw his quick talk routine back in his face.

Pierce is wonderfully smarmy as nerd turned stud Killian, what Sam Rockwell’s character from Iron Man 2 would have been if he had actually been effective. But Kingsley is the scene stealer. The Mandarin is a problematic character at best. On the one hand, he’s Iron Man’s Doctor Doom, an archvillain who uses scientific genius and ten rings of power to take over the world, and his existence was hinted at back in Iron Man. On the other hand, everything about the character, including his nom du guerre, is steeped in the yellow peril/red menace paranoia of the sixties. To make the character anything other than a racist stereotype requires more than just turning a Fu Manchu stand-in into a bin Laden stand-in. Kingsley (and Black) manage to thread that needle by acknowledging the racism inherent in the creation of the character, but to say how would spoil a lot of the fun. However, I can say that the Mandarin provides Iron Man with something that’s been missing from the series so far: an honest to goodness supervillain. By the end, Tony is fighting [highlight for spoilers] a firebreathing superstrong regenerating badass covered in dragon tattoos (a combination Human Torch/Wolverine/Hulk), which is a step up from another dork in an evil Iron Man suit. [end spoilers]

Perhaps Iron Man 3’s greatest strength is its action scenes. We just saw Iron Man go toe to toe with the god of thunder in The Avengers, so you’d think it would be difficult to come up with challenges for Tony Stark that are both believable and engaging. Black gets around this problem by a) keeping Tony out of his suit for most of the movie, and b) imperiling everyone around Tony. We’re rarely led to believe that Tony won’t make it to The Avengers 2, but the same can’t be said for Pepper, Rhodey, or President Ellis (named after Warren Ellis, author of the Extremis storyline on which the movie is heavily based).

While certainly worlds better than Iron Man 2, I can’t say Iron Man 3 is as much fun as Iron Man or The Avengers. It is too concerned with the physical and emotional consequences of superheroics to be a pure popcorn flick. On the other hand, it’s still a really good movie, as good or better than Thor or Captain America, so the change in tone is probably a good sign for Marvel Studios movies going forward. Iron Man 3 shows that different types of stories can be told using the same characters in what is recognizably the same universe, meaning that there is life in this franchise for years to come. 

Karen Morrell
1. karenm83
so excited to go see this on saturday!!!
Amal El-Mohtar
2. amalmohtar
I really loved it, though the problematic things you point to had my teeth on edge for much of the film, and ultimately I'm ambivalent about how much the spoilers subvert those problems. But I loved how very Kiss Kiss Bang Bang this film was, overall.
Kieran B
3. Isengrim
There is one very specific moment in this movie that basically ruined it for me. Anyone who has seen it will know exactly what I'm talking about.

Really felt like the film jumped the shark at that point. The stuff the reviewer has whited out didn't bother me at all. It actually almost made up for the aforementioned blunder.

If you can get past that one plot point, its probably better than IM3, and very enjoyable.
Steven Padnick
4. padnick
Hey, I've seen the film and I have no idea what you're talking about. Can you explain?
Mani A
5. sn0wcrash
Saw this on Sunday night screening here in Malaysia. Actually opened on Thursday night here- looks like this is the only way for the major studio's to bypass the rampant piracy in these here parts.
Spoiler-free 2 cents: Better than the second movie, with some strange quirks.

Gah. After multiple edits, looks like you can't have more than 1 whiteout spoiler area.
Isengrim, was your point of shark-jumping regarding Trevor? If so, I gotta say he made the movie for me. Spoilers below:

The Mandarin as presented in the trailers was an over the top character who was more in place in the Dark Knight Trilogy than in here. Trevor, however, was more in line with the sensibility of Iron Man. For me, the orphan kid sidekick subplot really set my teeth on edge though.
Spoilers end
Kieran B
6. Isengrim
@5. Yup, Trevor is the jump the shark moment.

Wonderfully vague way to talk about it spoiler-free, by the way.

I know it will divide opinion; but I think the moment was handled in a very silly way that almost broke the fourth wall.

My thoughts on the problem can be found here if anyone is interested -

Jose Solis
7. bludemos
(edit: sorry, tried to whiteout the SPOILERS text below, it works in the preview, but not when it's posted...) :(

Things I liked about the movie (non spoilers):
- Every action piece is awesome. It's just what I was expecting.
- Pepper Potts rules (plus she is hot)
- The Mandarin. Ben Kingsley is great.

Things I didn't like (SPOILERS, roll over to read):

- The kid sidekick. He was awful, really teeth-grating. It felt as if the producers said at one point "hey, let's get Tony a sidekick. The all-important 6-12 demographic bracket will love him!".
- Several plot points. Was it really necesary to send Tony alone, commando-like to the Mandarin's lair, just to get caught... only to be rescued in the end by the Mark 45 when it finished repairing itself?
- Deus ex-Machina ending. Really? Did Tony needed to wait until the end to call the cavalry that was ready all along at home (and somehow miraculously survived the destruction)?
- I find it very, very hard to believe that Tony's house is that unprotected against attack. Come on, he is (was) one of the main players in the mass destruction bussiness, I would expect that his place is at least heavily defended with anti air missiles, lasers, proton cannon, huge-ass repulsors, etc... :P
- The overall tone of the movie felt (specially at the end) like TDKR, without the epicness...
- About the President-in-peril plot point... is the VP really that powerful that at no point we see the Secret Service, special forces, the army, FBI, regular police, marines, coastguard, anyone, in action trying to rescue him? The final battle felt just a little... minor, I think for what was at stake...

Whew... I guess I needed to get that out... :P

Overall, I liked it, all things considered...
8. NiktheHeratik
I liked the movie alot. I disagree with Trevor being a jump the shark moment, but it walked a very fine line. The way they played it kept it just out of the schmaltz zone.

There were a few points where they could have made the plot more realistic, as far as involving more than just the two heavies in the response, but that likely would have either sacrificed the tension or increased the number of bystander deaths so I can see why they didn't.

That being said the entire ploy of the identity of the Mandarin makes sense and was very well thought out. This wasn't some lazy twist, but was something that was there from the beginning and still managed to surprise a little. Very well done.
9. John C. Bunnell
I find myself in the minority here regarding the Mandarin, for what's arguably a very odd reason (and one that wanders into spoiler territory).

Let me put it this way: I walked out of the theater feeling as if the script had served Ben Kingsley rather badly. The problem arose for me in Kingsley's key scene with Tony, because it set off my deja vu alarms at top volume. I was asking myself "Haven't I seen this movie before?"

And indeed I had; it's inside out and backwards in IM3, but it's too close a mirror not to resonate. The movie in question? (spoilertext) Without A Clue, in which Kingsley and Michael Caine pull just the same "the legendary icon is a hired actor" trick, only with Kingsley's Watson as the mastermind and Caine's "Holmes" as the actor. And Clue does the trick with far more skill and dexterity. (end spoilertext)

Basically, the issue for me is that the manipulation of the audience arises not from the script, but from the pre-release marketing. Thus I part company with Nik above; I felt I was led to expect a Kingsley performance that the movie fails to deliver.
John C. Bunnell
10. JohnCBunnell
ARRRGH!! And white-as-spoilertext didn't work for me either....
Paul Joseph
11. ottonia
I did enjoy Iron Man 3, and I appreciated Steven Padnick's review. He is right in that Stark's strength was always in his technology, which in itself must be a weakness. But, as Padnick said, he had to overcome his villain with his mind and ingenuity rather than just have Jarvis take care of him.

In the end, I was left with a greater respect for Stark's character, because it seemed as though he learned a few things, which made his character much more real.

I did, however, like Iron Man 2 almost more than Iron Man 3, but I was only marignally following the comick growing up. I agree that the Nolan "dark knight" look was being used here, but I think it still worked.

Overall, these movies and the Avengers series will be quite interesting.

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