Movie Review: "Iron Man 3" (2013)

Last year when I reviewed “The Amazing Spider Man” I made this whole case about how Hollywood had finally ‘gotten’ how to properly make comic book adaptations once they began respecting the material a little. The formula is simple to understand but difficult to master: humor is imperative, big action set pieces are greatly encouraged, fan service is absolutely acceptable if not taken too far, and you have to give the lead character a unique way to shine.

Oh also character arcs, coherent plotlines and great acting and all that shit no one cares about.

“Iron Man 3” has a lot riding on its back: first off, it’s the first Marvel Universe movie post “The Avengers”; second, it’s the end of a trilogy that made a previously unpopular character (in the mainstream; shut up nerds) that has been critically hailed and a box office success; finally, it’s the movie that will lead Tony Stark’s character into “The Avengers 2”, which might be the last time we see the character of Iron Man, at least played by Robert Downey Jr., who for inexplicable reasons commented that he might not want to don the armor much longer. I know. Maybe he’s on coke again.
Anyway, whether Tony Stark gets re-cast or not, at least we can say that “Iron Man 3” would be a pretty great movie to leave behind. It covers most of the necessities to make a solid comic book adaptation, and thanks to Shane Black’s unique storytelling, it’s one of the most layered superhero movies to date.

One of the things I was looking forward to the most in this one was the fact that, essentially, it’s the first sequel to “The Avengers”. Sadly, there isn’t that much in terms of referential continuity, which was a huge disappointment for me. Sure, “the New York incident” is mentioned in passing, and I think someone makes a reference to Thor at some point, but otherwise there isn’t much.

Except, of course, for the fact that the events in “The Avengers”, particularly the final scene in which Tony has to risk his own life in order to save New York from a nuke, has left a huge scar on him. It’s pretty clear that Shane Black (who had before worked with Downey Jr. in the ultra badass “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”) worked closely with Joss Whedon to respect and give proper continuity to Tony’s character.

After his traumatic experience in New York, and of course the fact that for the first time he had to work as part of a team of equals, Tony has changed. He’s no longer the cocky asshole from the first movie or the show-off from the second; he’s become mature and focused, not to mention he’s been psychologically weakened, as he suffers from crippling and unpredictable anxiety attacks. This anxiety, though well used in the story, isn’t exactly the most realistic interpretation of a real life condition, but it sure as hell is awesome to see that kind of continuity. When’s the last time some act of heroism actually had repercussions like this? No one expects a superhero to get PTSD. It feels like Tony has really come to the end of a very well defined character arc, which is a pretty commendable effort considering there’s been many different writers involved.

Black also managed to give Pepper Potts a role in his story that goes beyond the helpless love interest, giving life to a character no one really gave a damn about. Before “Iron Man 3”, Pepper was more an extension of Tony Stark than an independent character, so it’s good to see some meat on those bones.

The screenplay suffers from some other issues: Tony takes too long to piece together a pretty obvious mystery, it feels a bit cluttered and disjointed as it chooses to take more of a 5 act structure than the traditional 3 (Black is not known for traditional storytelling). Halfway through the movie the story comes to an almost complete halt, the character of Colonel Rhodes is underused, the villains are remarkably bland, and it bastardizes the character of the Mandarin.

The Mandarin is great, don’t get me wrong, interpreted flawlessly by Ben Kingsley, exposes a cool lesson about mass perception, and is involved in one of the most surprising and ballsy twists I’ve seen in a comic book adaptation. However, the very unique and frankly hilarious approach Black chose to take on the Mandarin is questionable, and might be the cause of some nerd rage. Who cares though; lions will roar, bulls will bellow, nerds will whine.

I also had to roll my eyes at the epilogue, which does a pretty shitty job of quickly and cheaply wrapping up a bunch of loose ends in half a minute with an arguably unnecessary voice over. I should probably also mention that I was also kind of disappointed that Tony didn’t get to wear the armor as much as he did in the other movies; it’s kind of a “The Dark Knight Rises” deal.

Finally, though the villain’s scheme has a pretty cool political background that does a good job of giving continuance to “Iron Man”’s story with the terrorists, the overall plot is pretty generic stuff. The main villain himself isn’t much of a character (though he has this really cool speech near the end), and what’s there has been done many times before. He was also the least intimidating thing since the Green Goblin in “Spider-Man”. Guy Pearce does what he can, and he does it well, but the material isn’t really asking for much.

I want one of these for stuff. Kinky stuff.
These issues aren’t a big deal, though, when there’s such an spectacle on-screen. The action scenes are pretty constant and come in both huge scale and small scale varieties. The one-on-one fights are just as entertaining, unpredictable and eye-popping to watch as the huge action set pieces. The climatic fight is sure to cause a lot embarrassing boners in theaters; it’s just that stupidly badass. I personally think it never really comes close to the balls-to-the-wall action of “The Avengers”, but does a fantastic job considering there’s only one character’s powers in display.

As expected, the special effects are a goddamn glory. I still find it hard to believe that the characters weren’t actually wearing the suits of armor (those fucking things are, most of the time, done digitally; how insane is that?); it’s such a great thing that we’re at an age where it’s really hard to tell what of the stuff we see on-screen is actually there and what was digitally added. We sure have come a long way.

Greatly appreciated is the fact that Shane Black took inspiration from Whedon’s approach for humor, because a lot of the joy in watching “Iron Man 3” came from the gut-busting laughs it delivers. Black knows how to direct Robert Downey Jr. (I credit him for Downey’s comeback; he was a riot in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”) and squeezed every drop of comedic gold the actor has to offer. Much like Whedon, Shane liked to make fun of the heroic conventions of the genre and wasn’t afraid of embarrassing his characters. Yeah, he did repeat the same joke too many times, but there were far more hits than misses.

Quick mention goes to Ty Simpkins for being one of the very first child actors to actually do a great job and be incredibly likable and not just a goddamn drag.

“Iron Man 3” has some problems, definitely. The climax takes too much time being a huge action spectacle, forcing Shane to rush the ending, and the villains aren’t exactly interesting—not in plot, design or powers—but it’s still spectacular. Everyone knows I’m more of a Hulk person, but Tony Stark has rarely been more likable and endearing. This possibly final chapter of his solo journey is large, funny, layered, exciting, and has a lot of great surprises.

Pro Tip: Stay at the end for a radballs post-credits sequence.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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