Iron Man 3

The melodramatic tone that Marvel has chosen for its movies obviously works very well for them.  Operatic emotions and desperate battles conducted on a worldwide if not galactic scale echo the source material very well.  As a consequence, however, these films don’t really mirror reality as much as mine it for material. 

Take the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, played by Ben Kingsley.  He is called a terrorist, which is obviously a word very much on our minds at this point in history.  But really he is portrayed as a high tech megalomaniac who has built a large organization with a clear chain of command and endless resources and expertise.  In other words he’s a comic book villain, no more, no less.

My point is that those looking for profound insight on the state of global relations should look elsewhere.  If you are looking for two and a half hours of escapist excitement, you’re in the right place.  But you’re going to get something more.

That’s not to say that what Marvel is doing isn’t important.  I can’t think of any other examples of this kind of approach to a series.  Iron Man 3 is the first film in Marvel’s phase 2.  Phase 1 was the previous Iron Man films, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and climaxing with The Avengers.  Phase 2 will take a similar approach with separate members of the team getting their own films in which a small part of it, usually in the form of a cameo by Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, will advance the mega plot which will be resolved in the Avengers film that ends the phase.  It is taking a comic book approach to the movies and I’m curious to see how many phases they can get through before people lose interest.  This could change the way these kinds of movies are made, putting emphasis on continuity and the shared history of the characters.  It’s a geek’s dream come true.

When Iron Man 3 starts, Tony Stark is in a bad place mentally.  The events in The Avengers have left him with a bad case of PTSD.  He can’t sleep and he’s obsessing over how much he has to lose, most notably Pepper Potts, played by Gweneth Paltrow, his former aid and current girlfriend and CEO of Stark Industries.  The mere mention of the events in New York, gives him anxiety attacks.  When Happy Hogan, played by John Favreau, is seriously injured in a terrorist attack for which the Mandarin claims responsibility, Tony calls the terrorist out, giving out his address on national TV.  This proves to be a mistake when helicopters come and destroy his Malibu home with missiles, almost killing him, Pepper and one of Tony’s one night stands from the old days, Maya Hansen, played by Rebecca Hall who was there to advance a plot point that I can’t really talk about without spoiling the movie.  So Tony has to go on the run with only an untested prototype Iron Man suit and his brain.

For a movie that runs two hours and twenty minutes, it is amazing how tightly plotted Iron Man 3 is.  Almost nothing is wasted here.  At the beginning of the film, Tony is testing technology that sends pieces of the suit flying through the air at his summons and assembles the suit around him.  It’s a funny scene and the tech he’s testing plays a very important part later in the film.  Also the plot is very clever with twists you don’t see coming and things you’ve never seen before.

Let’s face it.  Robert Downey Jr. is a talented actor and perfect for this role.  In a genre where there are several perfect matches of actor to hero, Perlman to Hellboy, Jackman to Wolverine, Downey stands out.  And it is very good news that the notoriously tight-fisted Marvel is willing to pay to keep him in the role.  They are also letting him fully explore the character, which is a large part of this film.  Tony goes through some dark times here; his vulnerabilities are exposed to the world, and you can see more than ever that his throwaway quips are a defense mechanism and his constant inventing is his comfort zone.  It is probably Downey’s best performance in the role.

The supporting cast comes through with flying colors as well.  Gweneth Paltrow is given more to do than usual and really shines here.  Her chemistry with Downey is evolving and she really conveys how difficult it is to be involved with someone as complicated as Tony Stark.  Pepper never completely lets her emotional guard down when dealing with him.  Their relationship is probably the most realistic thing in the movie, a dynamic give and take that takes constant effort to maintain.

Don Cheadle, playing Colonel James Rhodes, is given a lot more to do as well.  He handles the action part well and has pretty good comic timing.   There are conflicts at the core of Rhody’s character.  While he is good friends with Tony and jokes around with him, he is also a military man through and through and carries himself with that demeanor.  He looks at the chaos that always seems to surround Tony and worries that one day it will destroy his friend and there won’t be much he can do about it.

I can’t say much about the villains without giving things away.  Suffice to say that Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce are as amazing as they usually are.  This is a very well-cast film.

Iron Man 3 is by far the best Iron Man movie and it is right up there with Captain America and The Avengers as the best of the Marvel produced movies.  Plotwise it is still very much in the realm of melodrama.  But emotionally it approaches realism, which I don’t think has been tried in this genre.

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2 Responses to “Iron Man 3”


  1. 1 Faith Van Horne May 5, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    I loved this film! I agree that it’s the best of the Iron Man series. In terms of supporting cast, I *loved* the kid’s role. That is one talented child actor.

    What I found most interesting about the film was how it demonstrated Stark’s vulnerability in the form of anxiety attacks. Superhero films tend to be hyper-masculine, with the ripped hero fighting bad guys and protecting helpless ladies. And Iron Man 3 is no exception. (That’s not an inherent criticism. I love tough guy films, though watching poor, innocent, scantily-clad women serve as weaknesses that the hero has to send to cover is a little distracting.)

    But I’ve never seen a film like this that showed a hero dealing with a disorder that’s a lot of times seen as “feminine” or “weak”, to the point that some people don’t believe it exists. Having Tony Stark have to run from an alley because he’s dealing with an anxiety attack sends a cool message: it’s not a disorder that only “hysterical” women get. And that was only a small part of what made this film awesome.

  2. 2 Tom May 5, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    I was struck afterwards with comparison to “Die Hard”.

    The film was no less plausible (snicker at the action movie genre) and both the characters and plotline were as compelling and well developed.

    I think you have to go to action movies outside the superhero genre to get a good comparison.


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