The first Iron Man was a fantastic superhero film. It was an exciting and often hilarious adventure that singlehandedly catapulted Robert Downey JR, into the stratosphere. Iron Man 2 however, proved to be a horrid disappointment. With clunky plotting, and terrible performances from Mickey Rourke and Scarlett Johansson, the film was a misfire on practically every level. Thankfully, The Avengers (and a string of other Marvel films) went a long way in rectifying the damage done by Tony Stark’s second outing. I thought Joss Whedon pulled off the impossible in The Avengers, by crafting an epic feature that masterfully balanced the team of superheros with some utterly thrilling set-pieces. But what of Tony Stark’s latest (and possibly final) big-screen adventure? Is it a return to form for the playboy billionaire or a tragic flop?
Let’s start with the good stuff. Downey is as phenomenal as he’s ever been. Stark is obviously going through a difficult time post-Avengers, and Downey taps into the perfect dose of vulnerability and inherent cynicism. I can’t remember the last time I saw an actor inhabit a role so vividly, down to every quirk and nuance. You root for the guy no matter what, and that’s a very valuable thing to have in a superhero franchise. His chemistry with Ty Simpkins, who plays 10 year old Harley, is a surprising highlight, and supplies the film with some poignant (and humorous moments).
I’m not usually a fan of Gwyneth Paltrow but she was excellent here. The character of Pepper Potts has always been charming, and she got to do quite a bit more in this installment which was a welcome surprise. Who would have ever thought that Paltrow could pull off action so convincingly? I won’t spoil any specific moments, but a number of the film’s standout moments involved Miss Potts. Not bad at all.
And now for the film’s glaring flaw: the villains didn’t work as well as I would have liked. I’ve been an enormous fan of the Iron Man character for as long as I can remember, and I was ecstatic that Shane Black decided to include the hero’s most notorious foe: The Mandarin. However, I was severely disappointed with the handling of the character. It’s true that his comic book backstory wouldn’t have fit in the film’s world, after all The Mandarin was originally a sorcerer with ten rings of various magical powers. But his depiction in Iron Man 3 left a lot to be desired. Yes there’s an epic twist halfway through the movie where he’s concerned, but it felt remarkable jarring in tone, and I detested the Islamic-Arab undertones imposed on the character (as opposed to his Chinese origins from the comics). Naturally, Ben Kingsley was terrific in the role.
In addition, I don’t think Aldrich Killian worked too well as a villain either. Guy Pearce pulls off the suitably sleazy demeanor, but he’s just not very threatening as an antagonist. A true trilogy cap-off has to have epic villains (see The Dark Knight Rises), and I think they kind of dropped the ball here.
I must commend the film on what is undoubtedly its crowning jewel: the attack on Stark’s Manor. Although the scene was spoiled in the marketing avalanche of the past few months, it’s still a marvelous spectacle to behold and a real achievement in filmmaking. The CGI is utterly perfect, and you’re never once taken out of the proceedings thanks to some thrilling effects-work. It’s truly one of the most incredible action sequences I’ve ever seen on film. Outstanding.
While it’s not as impressive as the franchise’s first outing, Iron Man 3 is entertaining enough to be considered an improvement over Tony Stark’s last adventure.