Here at Rooster Illusion we try not be redundant. As such, we only run multiple reviews of the same movie if opinions vary drastically. For example, both the Tuesday Zone and I have critiqued Zero Dark Thirty, because we disagreed on a few major points. I had only once felt the inclination to re-review a movie that we’ve already done, and never had I disagreed completely with another review, right up until…
Iron Man 3 (2013)
The Plot: Tony Stark (Robert Downy Jr.) is Iron Man, a cocky superhero with fancy toys. Following the events of The Avengers, though, he’s a bit rattled. Some weird stuff happened, and he’s beginning to go a little crazy. It doesn’t help that a shady terrorist named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) starts blowing things up and a former non-business associate named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) shows up with some intriguing proposals. Will Tony regain his sanity and self-confidence? Will The Mandarin have any semblance of character depth whatsoever? Will the female characters be underwritten? All this and more in… Iron Man 3!
I should go into advertising. You want to see the movie now, right? With all those rhetorical questions? Oh my goodness. But am I the only one who is totally sick of Tony Stark? Probably not. Let’s take a look at this guy. He’s a self-absorbed, obnoxious, snarky, witty, entirely unlikeable genius billionaire playboy philanthropist, or GBPP. In Iron Man he learned the errors of his ways, and decided to use his talents to become a superhero in cool mechanical suit, and stop being such an asshole. In Iron Man 2 he forgot all about being a good guy and totally reverted. Iron Man 2 sucked. In The Avengers, he teamed up with Captain America, the Hulk, and Thor to fight aliens and Tom Hiddleston and some CRAZY stuff happened, but he didn’t change or develop at all.
So where do we go in Iron Man 3? Well, now in the apt hands of writer/director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon), it looks like Tony Stark might grow a little. When we meet him yet again in this third franchise installment, he suffers from severe anxiety and possibly PTSD. It turns out that the whole thing with aliens and Thor and Loki made him feel entirely inadequate. Suddenly he isn’t the biggest kid on the block anymore. His snarky attitude is just a mask to cover up how totally insecure he is, and the guise is fading fast. Black takes this character and finally makes him likeable again. But fear not, Tony Snark fans, he does so whilst preserving the character’s signature wit and sarcastic dialogue; he just backs it up with some real substance.
It’s not just in the dialogue that he accomplishes this, though. One of the other overwhelming strengths in this film is how much we see Tony outside of the Iron Man suit. At a point, the bad guys gain the upper hand, as they are wont to do from time to time, and Tony is deprived of his gadgets. He’s forced to use his cunning and ingenuity to take on scores of thugs with nothing but his fists and the little Macgyver-style devices he’s able to whip up. This provides further development by pushing the character to new limits and really testing his abilities.
All this came as a pleasant surprise. In some ways, this film’s Tony Stark reminded me more of Robert Downy Jr.’s character from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang than previous Stark incarnations. I think that’s because Iron Man 3 felt like a real Shane Black movie, not just another Marvel cash-grab. I think Black had more of a presence in this film than Joss Whedon did in The Avengers, too. It’s in all the dialogue throughout, especially that from thugs and Guy Pearce’s character, not just Tony. We also get some great buddy cop type conversation at the end between Stark and his best friend/other Iron Man Rhodes (Don Cheadle). In fact, the only real weaknesses with the script are with the underwritten female characters (Gwyneth Paltrow and Rebecca Hall). Sadly, though, this is kind of an accepted shortcoming in superhero movies. It’s far from good, but it’s not unusual.
But enough about all that. Let’s get to the main point of disagreement between Single Malt Movies and me: The Mandarin. Her review contains spoilers, but I’m going to try to avoid that here. About an hour into the movie I found myself thinking, “I’m really enjoying this, but the villain sucks.” The Mandarin is hardly in it. He appears only in video form to make idle threats, spit prophetic statements, and appear villainous. He’s not menacing, though. He has the same effect as the titular character from The Phantom Menace. It was really detracting from the movie. No motivation, no presence, no point, nothing. And then, about an hour and a bit in, we get a huge twist! Again, no spoilers here, but I’ll just say that it made everything okay. My colleague hated this twist, but I loved it. It was clever, it validated the Mandarin’s presence in the film, and it led to some great things in the third act of the film. Admittedly, this does do some pretty bold things to the Mandarin, so I will accept criticism on those grounds only from devout fans of the Iron Man comics. I wouldn’t be happy if they did the same thing with Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, so I get it. However, I don’t read Iron Man comics, so I thought this was a brilliant twist.
Overall, I just really, really enjoyed Iron Man 3. I think it might even be the strongest film in the trilogy. Performances are excellent all around; action sequences are reasonable, well directed, and gripping; dialogue is sharp; character development is sharper. Some people might dislike the twist, but I don’t think anyone can complain about the wonderful things Shane Black does with a character who had grown tired and stale. Iron Man 3 is the first big blockbuster of the summer, and what a great way to start.