“I had just created demons, and didn’t even know it”
Picking up a little after The Avengers left off, Iron Man 3 features a new world, a startlingly frightening new enemy force for Tony Stark to fight, and a new director, Shane Black. This official start to Phase Two, as it’s being called, not only lives up to its predecessors, but it sets up a fresh start to Marvel’s continuously expanding Cinematic Universe.
The world of Iron Man 3 is a far more dangerous one than it was before The Avengers. Gods dropped out of the sky, aliens attacked New York City, and the world was saved by a secret organization and their team of volatile superheroes. Iron Man 3 relegates all of these elements to the background, and places the focus squarely on Tony Stark, The Mechanic, the smartest guy in the room, who, in the wake of those events, has thrown himself into his work, dedicating himself to perfecting the increasingly numerous Iron Man armors. This places unfortunate strain on his relationship with the lovely Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and causes crippling anxiety attacks. Unfortunately, new threats arise, and Tony (with a little help from his ego) is forced into a life-or-death struggle against the bad guys.
“Some people call me a terrorist; I consider myself a teacher”
The new tone of the film, while still full of peppy dialogue, flawless CGI effects, and a certain degree of comic irreverence, feels quite a bit more intense this time around; fights feel claustrophobic, and Stark finds himself stripped to little more than his wits and scrap parts to get by, a far cry from the massive spectacle that was The Avengers. On the other hand, the well-funded villains range from The Mandarin, a Bin Laden-esque terrorist leader, to a group of super-soldiers, enhanced with the Extremis virus, giving them an other-worldly glow to go with their incredible strength and volatile powers. James Badge Dale, as one of these science-projects gone wrong, is particularly menacing, and the Extremis villains are probably the most intimidating villains in any of these Marvel films to date. Yeah, even more than Abomination. Also in the mix is Guy Pearce, as Aldrich Killian, creator of the virus; but is he a malevolent criminal mastermind, or just another tool of The Mandarin? Mandarin’s videotaped recordings pepper the proceedings, promising violence, terror, and all sorts of vile attacks on the United States, and he appears to be more than capable of making good on his dastardly promises. Thankfully, Tony, though isolated, is not entirely alone; while he receives help from unlikely sources, he also has series stalwarts Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Colonel James Rhodes, aka War Machine, aka Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle), on his side in supporting roles. Perfectly capturing the new mood of the film is Bryan Tyler’s score, which balances the rock and roll score from the first film with more dramatic cues, closer to Alan Silvestri’s cues from Captain America and The Avengers, giving this film a bigger feel than Iron Man and Iron Man 2, while still knowing when to reel it all in and let the dialogue, acting, and visuals tell the story.
The plot takes on some interesting twists and turns, some of which are genuinely surprising, and some of which are needlessly telegraphed in advance, giving us more pieces than we needed to stay engrossed, and robbing us of a surprise; some extra editing could have trimmed a few minutes off the film’s 130-minute running time and given us some extra “aha!” moments. There are also some mild contrivances regarding just how isolated Tony becomes. Yes, he’s cut off from most transportation, and there’s no working armor nearby, but he goes to Tennessee, not Timbuktu; there had to have been some way to avoid going all survivor-man. Still, going all survivor-man is hugely compelling, so all is ultimately forgiven.
“My name is Tony Stark, and I’m not scared of you”
Breathe deep, super-fans; Iron Man 3 is good. It’s worthy, it’s different, it’s compelling, and it’s still a whole lot of fun, despite having a noticeably darker edge to it. The stakes are raised, the explosions, though fewer, are more grand than ever, and the story plays out like a military thriller, full of double-crosses and hidden agendas, while never losing focus of the main plot of the series, the three-way romance between Tony Stark, Pepper Potts, and Iron Man. Iron Man 3 is both the end of the Iron Man trilogy and the start of Phase Two, and, though apparently self-contained, observant fans piecing together some loose pieces, going all the way back to the first Iron Man, may find some hints towards sinister plans brewing in coming films. Still, even if you’re not a walking Marvel Movie Wiki like some of us, Iron Man 3 shows that great films don’t have to choose between being fun, silly, popcorn entertainment and being thought-provoking character pieces; they can, with a little tender-loving care and a group of talented artists, be both.