Directed by: Shane Black
Premise: Following the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) becomes the target of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a terrorist who has found a way to weaponize the human body.
What Works: After the disappointing Iron Man 2 and the fun but overwrought Avengers, Iron Man 3 recaptures much of what was successful about the original film. The first Iron Man was distinguished by the way it mixed the fun of a superhero adventure with a character-driven story. Unlike Iron Man 2, the third picture is unburdened with setting up future spin offs and it scales back from the oversized canvas of The Avengers to return the focus to Tony Stark’s story. In the process the filmmakers capitalize on the franchise’s greatest asset: Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man 3 returns Tony Stark to the kind of conflicted but well intentioned hero that made him likeable in spite of his egomania. It also makes the story about something other than explosions and property damage. In Iron Man 3, Stark suffers from post-traumatic stress following his experiences in the climax of The Avengers and he feels the weight of responsibility bearing down on him. The range required of Downey in Iron Man 3 is broad and the actor gives his best performance of the series. The decision to scale back this new film is one of several bold choices made by the filmmakers, as it flies in the face of the bigger-and-louder (but not necessarily better) tendencies of Hollywood filmmaking. Because the action set pieces are done on a slightly smaller scale than other summer blockbusters they have an immediacy that retains the peril and excitement that is often lost in overproduced special effects sequences. Another bold choice by the filmmakers of Iron Man 3 involves The Mandarin, the super villain of the movie. There is a plot twist involving The Mandarin that is likely to annoy comic book fans but the filmmakers ought to be credited for what they’ve done. Many film adaptations from popular properties are made to pander to the fan base but the filmmakers of Iron Man 3 include a reversal that departs from the original text in a way that energizes the movie as it enters the climax.
What Doesn’t: Although Iron Man 3 is a major course correction from the second movie, it is still problematic. The Avengers series, which includes the films of Thor, Captain America, and The Incredible Hulk, are not overtly political films. Excepting the first half of the original Iron Man, these movies are pure popcorn entertainment and they contrast with the intensity and thematic weight of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy or X-Men: First Class. Either approach to superhero filmmaking has its advantages and disadvantages but the company behind Iron Man 3 splits the difference and the result is a compromised picture. The Mandarin has clearly been designed to evoke the imagery of contemporary terrorism, and in particular Osama bin Laden. But the filmmakers adopt that iconography without reference to what it means or might mean for the audience. This echoes a similar problem in the original Iron Man. The first half of that film introduced interesting ideas about personal and corporate responsibility and the military industrial complex before abandoning that for Transformers-like action. In Iron Man 3, issues to do with heroism and terrorism are introduced but as in the first picture, the filmmakers discard that in favor of pyrotechnic thrills.
Bottom Line: Iron Man 3 is consistent with the original picture in both its successes and its shortcomings. The fact that the filmmakers have been able to recapture this character from the grandiosity of The Avengers and make an exciting yet human story is most impressive.
Episode: #438 (May 12, 2013)