I still believe that the first Iron Man is the best of the cinematic Marvel films. I haven’t seen them all, granted, but I don’t think there’s too many people who would step up and claim that Captain America revolutionized the medium.
With that, I looked forward to the sequels whenever they were announced. Iron Man 2 was, of course, so ground breaking that I can barely remember what happened in it, and have no desire to ever watch it again. Sure, it was entertaining, mostly due to Robert Downey Jr’s performance, some nice action sequences, and…some more nice action sequences. But I could not help but feeling disappointed that the film did not live up to its predecessor.
Iron Man 3 is more of the same. It was entertaining and actually did have more ideas than 2. It’s a good way to spend a Friday night. But it’s not a film that will stay long with me. And the ending is one of the most rushed I’ve seen in some time…I can’t imagine anyone being too satisfied with that conclusion.
Now, Iron Man 3 is not bad, and it is entertaining (but avoid the 3D if you can – it looks terrible and made me miss a lot of the details in the frame). Downey Jr. seems to have found the role he was born to play. Stark is as clever and witty as ever, helped by Shane Black’s script. “That’s the title of my autobiography,” Stark replies when a character asks him if all he has is a girl and a cheesy one liner. Stark is, despite his wise cracking exterior, the most conflicted hero of the Marvel group (and the film also frequently mentions the events of The Avengers as having severely traumatized Stark). He’s a great character who presents endless possibilities – it’s a joy whenever he’s on a screen anywhere.
Why he devolves into a standard action hero rather than grow in his methods is confusing. I do like the fact that, for most of the film, Stark is without his suit and, at one point, has to use items he bought at the hardware store in order to storm a villain’s compound. It really gave the opportunity for growth in the character. But by the third act, the film is just eager to get to its big action sequence. Now, that sequence is exciting, but it also feels like it’s being done at the expense of the character. And I don’t want to get into how the suits are magically able to stop Stark from being injured. Any suit that sustains the beating shown in Iron Man 3 would kill anyone inside of it. But all big budget films seem to have that problem.
There was one thing about the film I thought was exceptionally clever – the way Mandarin is handled. Ben Kinglsey was a prominent part of the ad campaign, and the Mandarin is apparently Iron Man’s arch villain in the comics. Yet he and his character only play a small part in the overall plot – Guy Pearce’s Dr. Killian is an equally important antagonist. The revelations about Kingsley’s character leads to one scene that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense early in the film, but I think that it was a great way to handle the themes of putting a “face” on evil. Pearce is a much greater foil for Stark, and Kinglsey’s presence demonstrates the continuing bias about terrorists in the U.S. It’s also one of the few times the material tries to evolve beyond the standard action film template the film seems stuck in.
Now, I am going to get to my biggest complaint – the ending. I am going to try to avoid giving specific details, but let me just say that suddenly stopping a film is never great storytelling. It’s as though Shane Black (or someone at Marvel) decided that, since this is the third film of the trilogy, they’d better try to wrap everything up. But there is no build up to the conclusion and it does not appear as if what happens is a natural decision Stark made. I don’t know who thought this would be a satisfactory conclusion, but they are wrong. Surely such a strong deserves a better conclusion than a shrug of the creator’s shoulders.
I don’t regret seeing Iron Man 3 but at the same time I felt let down. The franchise has taken a great main character, gave him a great first chapter, and then just took him through the motions for the rest of his films. A superhero movie cannot only be about the costume – we have to know the man inside. Iron Man knew that. Iron Man 3 gives up on that mentality about halfway through.