[Movie Review] ‘Iron Man 3’ Brings Marvel Back To Earth
Filmed mostly in and around Wilmington, North Carolina last year, the summer blockbuster season just got a jump start with the arrival of Marvel’s highly anticipated sequel Iron Man 3, a fact-paced thrill ride that sheds the superhero armor for much of the film in favor of bringing its main character significantly back to Earth, humanizing the billionaire playboy Tony Stark with real world fears that his cocky ego in the first two Iron Man movies could never have been able to comprehend.
Robert Downey Jr. owns the role of Stark, who we find early on unable to sleep and obsessing with protecting his true love, Pepper Potts, played by Gwyneth Paltrow.
Following his joining up with a super soldier, a god, and The Hulk against an alien army in last year’s mega-hit The Avengers, Stark is a damaged man with major new anxiety issues plaguing his warped psyche. He “tinkers” endlessly in his high tech workshop, scared that “threat is eminent”.
Stark’s growing paranoia finds its muse in a new terrorist mastermind who calls himself The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley, a villain of a new caliber for the Marvel Universe that I can pretty much guarantee is more than you’re expecting, even if you’ve seen all of the trailers and TV spots prior to the film’s release.
I won’t spoil how writer and director Shane Black (taking over from Iron Man 1 and 2 director Jon Favreau) twists this old school Marvel bad guy into something fresh and unexpected, but it’s a frighteningly believable and very entertaining twist that may have some comic book purists up in arms.
America’s war on terror hits home in Iron Man 3 (quite literally), as Stark is forced to find out who he really is underneath all the cool gadgets and high powered suits of armor. The filmmakers have a great time toying with the audience’s views of terrorism educated by the modern 24-hour news cycle that rarely bothers to check all the facts before running with splashy headlines to gain more viewers who are thus too scared to truly pay attention to what’s really going on.
It’s a lot to swallow for a summer “popcorn movie”, but then Marvel is clearly making a statement with its first post-Avengers feature, as Iron Man 3 begins what producers have called “Phase 2” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While it’s a risky and weighty proposition, especially following the massive spectacle that was The Avengers, by grounding their most humanly flawed hero both mentally and physically, Marvel places Stark on an epic journey to not just rediscover his true self, but redefine it, giving viewers the most satisfying of the three Iron Man films.
It is also thematically the darkest of the three Iron Man films, but Black is careful to include a few lighthearted comedic moments to give the audience an occasional release, like when The Avengers are at one point referred to as “The Super Friends”.
Marvel boldly steps into Phase 2 with a more relatable character facing a threat seemingly ripped from present day national headlines that we all know too well, and it works beautifully.
Downey still plays Stark as the cocky narcissist that he is in the original comics, but Black refreshingly opts to focus on what’s happening beyond that outer layer, which we learn has become a façade since Stark’s awakening to a much bigger galaxy of threats in The Avengers. Simply put, he was humbled by the other larger than life heroes to the point of now seeing himself as little more than a “man in a tin can”.
Meanwhile, Paltrow gets some much deserved extra screen time, as Pepper finds herself right in the middle of the chaos, as does Stark’s pal James Rhodes, played by Don Cheadle, whose own War Machine suit of armor gets a spiffy new paint job and is renamed Iron Patriot. In a story about a man realizing his limitations, Paltrow and Cheadle get to redefine theirs within the Marvel Universe, becoming equals to both Stark and Iron Man in the process.
As a fellow tech-minded genius once scorned by Stark, Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian is deviously smooth and assured as he unabashedly flirts with Paltrow and flaunts a former Stark girlfriend, Maya Hansen (played by Rebecca Hall), as his top apprentice. We know he’s up to no good the first time we see him on screen, initially recalling Jim Carrey’s scraggly pre-Riddler look in Batman Forever, but few will predict Killian’s true endgame.
I also especially enjoyed James Badge Dale is the maniacal, chemically enhanced Mandarin henchman Savin, recklessly high on his perceived invensibility.
There is admittedly less action than in previous entries, and at a running time of almost two and a half hours there are a few stretches that get a bit talky, but the film moves at such a relentlessly hyper pace (think The Dark Knight), that the CGI explosions and special effects actually work to serve the speeding momentum, elevating the adventure to even higher threat levels, while pushing viewers toward the inevitable climactic showdown.
When the action does take over, it is with a rush of intensity that is the epitome of “summer movie spectacle”, such as my favorite scene, when Iron Man has to save 13 people who are all individually free falling to the ground from a passenger airplane that was hijacked and then blown up.
When Stark’s computer aid Jarvis tells him he can only save four of the people falling, his frazzled brain wastes no time figuring out how he can do better than that, as hero instincts kick in and the impossible is accomplished in adrenaline-fueled, eye candy fashion.
It’s exactly the kind of action piece we’ve come to expect in our summer “tent pole” franchises, but by the time it happens in this movie, we’re ready for it and in fact need it almost as much as those screaming people falling from the sky, to reassure us that everything is somehow going to be okay.
More than ever, Iron Man 3 reminds us that Tony Stark is in fact a man using his smarts, tools, and creations to do some amount of good in his small corner of the world. When he refers to himself as a “mechanic” to a young fan who helps Stark get back on track, it is Tony at his most un-cocky …and likeable.
You’ll want to stick around until the end of the credits for an incredible little final scene, followed by a telling promise about the future of Tony Stark, specifically eluding to the man in the suit rather than the hero made of iron, for fans to decipher and debate endlessly while waiting to be Marveled again.
Iron Man 3 proves that even in the Marvel Universe, everyone has their own inner demons to battle and no one is perfect, while still challenging The Mandarin’s statement that “there is no such thing” as real heroes.
While Iron Man must find out if he can make it without The Avengers, it’s Downey’s Stark who learns an even bigger lesson about whether he himself can make it without Iron Man, challenging viewers to build their own everyday superhero creations and then embody those ideals themselves on a very human level.
Official Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by: Matt Artz
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Iron Man 3 (rated PG13) is now playing at R/C KDH Movies 10 in Kill Devil Hills.