Iron Man 3 is a lot of things. It’s a big summer action movie. It’s a stepping stone on the way to The Avengers sequel. It’s a Robert Downey Jr. vehicle. It’s a master class in special effects and 3D. It’s also an excellent example of how to do the third chapter of trilogy properly, and proof that Marvel films are still incredibly entertaining in the wake of The Avengers.
If you’ve seen any of the previous films, you know the score. Downey Jr. plays billionaire, genius industrialist playboy Tony Stark/Iron Man, the armor-clad hero who uses advanced technology to rid the world of one evil capitalist at a time. But despite the familiarity of the plot, the movie does a remarkable job of being both fun and at times surprising, especially during a third act twist that works quite well.
This is thanks in large part to Downey Jr.’s performance. He’s comfortable in Tony Stark’s skin and his banter and witticisms are still sharp and natural, and considering how much time he spends outside of the suit in this outing, he never gets old.
But a large part of Iron Man 3‘s success is owed to co-writer/director Shane Black. Coming to the series late, Black seemed an unlikely choice to follow Jon Favreau, but his direction deftly handles the bombastic action sequences, while giving room for his excellent cast, which includes Guy Pearce , Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley and Don Cheadle, to build their characters. Black’s wit is present in his writing, and Iron Man 3 is surprisingly funny, without being cheap.
The end result is a movie that rarely gives the audience exactly what they were expecting – up until the explosive, Iron Man-filled finale. Black skewers one serious moment with rapid-fire dialog that leads to a Stark panic attack. He introduces a child into the plot (played by Ty Simpkins), but avoids schmaltz by letting Downey Jr.’s Stark do what he would do given his selfish nature – mock and berate him in some of the movie’s funniest moments. Even the transformation of Cheadle’s War Machine into Iron Patriot avoids the jingoism and easy fanfare it could have easily pursued by mocking the character’s new name and paint job.
Both of the movie’s villains are also solid. Kingsley’s Mandarin is fantastic, rooted in a difficult-to-pinpoint mythology that calls influences from all of the United States’ enemies. He plays him with the kind of gravitas worthy of an international terrorist. Meanwhile Pearce’s Aldrich Killian is delightfully smarmy and at times downright ruthless. It’s clear he’s enjoying playing a villain and while his work here isn’t anywhere close to some of the greater comic book villains, he’s still a worthy foil and makes a great adversary.
When the Iron Man 3 does give you what you expect, it does so in fantastic fashion. The assault on Stark’s home seen in many of the trailers is outstanding. The mid-air rescue also teased in the trailers received cheers and applause from the screening audience, and the explosive finale featured exactly what you’d expect – a legion of Iron Man armor blowing things up. Throughout the 3D looks great and the special effects are the best in the series.
Despite what all the praise in the paragraphs above might imply, Iron Man 3 is far from perfect. It drags in the middle despite Black’s attempts to keep it fresh and it features a few gaps in logic that are noticeable with the slightest bit of scrutiny. For instance, why do any of the villains’ minions follow them, considering the Mandarin and Killian’s success pretty much requires them to die? It’s one of a handful of sticking points, that doesn’t derail the movie or totally impede its enjoyment.
Lastly, the film’s conclusion is fitting and wraps up the trilogy incredibly well, much better than, say, Spider-Man 3 or The Dark Knight Rises, but in the process of putting a bow on all of the outstanding plot threads, it yadda-yadda-yaddas over some major events and comes off lazy in the process.
Those issues aside, Iron Man 3 avoids what many final chapters struggle – it doesn’t give the audience exactly what they want all of the time. Despite being rooted in a restrictive mythology and being part of a bigger story that it has to respect, it still manages to pack some intelligent surprises and a lot of wit into a popcorn movie. And when it does go for flashy effects and fantastical action, it doesn’t disappoint.