When Robert Downey Jr. first suited up in 2008’s Iron Man, he defied the odds and made the once-B-list Marvel character Tony Stark a household name. Its sequel, Iron Man 2, defied expectations by being worse than the first. While being a profitable film, its lack of focus made the film somewhat of a disappointment. Recruiting a new creative team, Iron Man 3 makes bold moves in an attempt at greatness. Will the reward exceed the risk like the first film, or will it continue the second film’s trend of bad decision-making?
If you’ve ever wondered how being a superhero would affect one’s personal life, Iron Man 3 provides an answer. The film begins sometime after the events of The Avengers, and Tony can’t seem to sleep. Determined to be prepared for the next attack on Earth, our hero has built 35 different suits of armor. Feeling ignored and worried, Pepper Potts is not happy, and there is trouble in paradise. While having lunch with James Rhodes, Tony has an anxiety attack. It’s here where Director Shane Black and his writing partner Drew Pearce bring Tony into a territory that feels familiar to Daredevil fans but foreign to your typical mainstream superhero. What appears on the surface to be an action-packed tale involving super-terrorists and men in mech-suits is really a story of a man trying to hold himself together in a world where his family and the entire planet could be attacked at any moment by threats from within or anywhere across the universe.
Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), an old flame of Tony’s, and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) have developed a regenerative treatment called Extremis which gives its subjects superhuman abilities. Working on behalf of a terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), said subjects have begun to attack the public, critically injuring Stark Industries Head of Security Happy Hogan. Turning personal anxiety to anger and frustration, Tony publicly challenges The Mandarin, who doesn’t hesitate to oblige, destroying Stark’s home and nearly killing him along with Pepper.
After the attack, Tony finds himself in Tennessee and befriends a young boy with a talent for technology. It almost seems as if the film attempts to show Christopher Nolan that Robin can work in film. Lacking a functional suit of armor, Tony continues his plight using his wits, intellect, and his Wing Chun training (yes, Iron Man knows kung-fu!) and we learn that, like every great superhero, the suit doesn’t make the man. Tony is Iron Man, with or without the armor.
Without giving much more away — there are elements of this film that you should really see for yourself — I’ll just continue with the basics. Pepper and the President are kidnapped. Tony and Rhodey — Iron Man and Iron Patriot, respectively — come to the rescue, and they bring the entire armory with them. An epic finale involving dozens of armors, super-powered terrorists, and explosions ensues, and the good guys win. Tony saves the girl, they kiss and make up, and our hero gets his happy ending.
What I find interesting about this film is how much it feels like an entry in the Lethal Weapon series, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise because writer/director Black wrote all four films for that series. Iron Man 3 has all the major elements: a Christmas setting, a well-dressed villain, the house on stilts gets destroyed, the kidnapping of a female loved one, the bodily harm of the “buddy” character (compare Happy Hogan to Leo Getz), and two male heroes who happen to be a bit of an odd couple. Compare Tony’s reckless and charming personality clashing with Rhodey’s more serious demeanor and think Lethal Weapon’s Riggs and Murtaugh.
Overall, Iron Man 3 made all the right moves. It washes away the bad taste left behind by the previous installment. It’s the best in the series. Go see it in 3D, go see it in 2D — go and figure out which you prefer, and see it a third time.
That’s what I plan to do.