WHAT I LOVED:
- The change of director makes for a wittier and more memorable Iron Man sequel that’s a clear improvement over its more uneven predecessor!
- As usual, Robert Downey Jr. knocks it out of the park in the titular role of Tony Stark!
- The special effects in the action set pieces are extraordinary, easily the best in the Iron Man movies to date!
- The Extremis menace makes for a nice change of pace compared to the villains of prior Iron Man movies.
- Finally, we get to see Marvel Studios’ interpretation of The Mandarin!
WHAT I DIDN’T SO MUCH…:
- Some story elements feel forced and contrived, particularly with how much of an idiot Tony is made out to be in this latest sequel.
- Marvel fans are going to be very divided on the big screen portrayal of The Mandarin.
- The 3D is weak, and a pretty big let-down.
AND HERE’S THE FULL REVIEW:
Iron Man 3 is a sequel that might leave some people with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s a very well-produced and enjoyable movie, and a definite improvement over the more flawed Iron Man 2 from 2010. On the other hand however, the change in directors from Jon Favreau to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’s Shane Black, is very, very noticeable. Black gives the franchise some fresh blood, which helps it to remain enjoyable, memorable and relevant, even after we were treated to the stellar final product of The Avengers last year, but he also doesn’t seem terribly concerned with copying Favreau’s style. His movie has more abstract commentary to read into. The narrative device, which is full of Tony Stark monologues now by the way, is entirely different. Hell, even the villains of the piece are unlike anything that Iron Man has squared off against previously on the big screen. They’re more fantastical, which is welcome, since it embraces the fact that Norse gods and aliens have now been introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe at this point. Despite Iron Man 3 having so many superb high points however, it’s also difficult to argue that more conservative Marvel fans will have a tough time swallowing Black’s bold new direction. There’s some controversial elements in the script that may delight some, but frustrate others. The movie may definitely succeed as a fun and reasonably well-conceived superhero flick to kick off the Summer blockbuster season, but it also doesn’t really concern itself with trying to associate itself with Marvel’s funny pages. Where the movie will really divide people most of all is its portrayal of The Mandarin, which likely won’t be what many fans of the Iron Man comics will be expecting. Yes, we waited three movies (four, if you count The Avengers) to see The Mandarin, and he’s finally coming to the forefront for this latest sequel! With that said however, he’s not at all what he is in the comics. There are no ten rings of power. There is no alien influence on how he rises to his position. He doesn’t have a Fu Man Chu moustache and/or appearance. Granted, if you agree that The Mandarin is a dated, difficult character to translate to the big screen, despite being Iron Man’s archenemy in the comics, you may not be bothered by the fact that the movie essentially flips the character on his ear, and turns him into something unrecognizable. On the other hand however, if you’re a fan of the comic book version of Mandarin, it’s probably the biggest change that will piss you off out of the gate with IM3, since that’s not the character that you’ll see here. The Mandarin isn’t the only potentially controversial element of the movie however. Changes to Iron Man’s mythos abound in the script, and it’s clear that Black had his own aggressive vision for the film, particularly since it features nanomachine technology, Extremis as a key plot arc. This is likely the primary reason for Favreau’s departure from the director’s chair (though he still executive-produces the movie, and reprises his acting role as Happy Hogan), since he went on record to say that he was avidly against doing an Iron Man movie about Extremis, citing that it’s too outlandish and fantastical for his technologically-grounded direction. He’s definitely right about that, but given that so many fantastical elements have now been placed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s probably easier for audiences to give the more fantastical direction of IM3 and Extremis some more leeway. So, you might need to be prepared for a few curveballs in the movie’s story, depending on how attached you are to the Marvel comics source material. If you could care less however, and can easily take a superhero movie on its own merits, then you should agree that IM3 is yet another superb Marvel-endorsed kick-off to Summer blockbuster season, as well as a very strong start to Marvel Studios’ Phase 2 of movies!
Characters: (9/10) – If you’re hoping to see cameos and appearances from other Avengers, or even S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury, you’ll be disappointed, since none of them show up in IM3, as the movie wisely places the spotlight entirely on Tony Stark. Beyond introducing Extremis, much of this sequel is about how the climactic battle in New York from The Avengers has affected Tony and those close to him. While there’s absolutely no mention of the character’s infamous alcoholism from the comics in IM3, Tony still finds himself suffering from anxiety attacks in IM3, which has caused him to bury himself in work, namely designing legions of Iron Man suits, which has caused tension with his girlfriend and company CEO, Pepper Potts, who has since moved into Tony’s California estate. As much as IM3 explores some neat new elements of Tony’s character, the movie is also a great chance to shine for Pepper, who really comes into her own like never before as the key supporting character to Tony. The movie sadly sweeps both her and Rhodey under the rug for most of the middle portion, but during the early portions and climax, Pepper’s character arc has never been better! The fact that she actively participates in the movie’s superb climax, to an even greater extent than she did in the original Iron Man movie, should make fans of her character quite happy as well! Also, yes, as the previews teased, she does don the Iron Man armour at some key points, a nod to her current superheroine identity of Rescue in the Marvel comics, but I’m not going to spoil specifically how or why. As for Rhodey, he’s still War Machine, despite being oddly absent in The Avengers last year, or, at least, he still has his own armour, fighting for the American government as a sort of technological super-soldier. His armour has been re-painted red, white and blue, and his moniker has been rebranded to ‘Iron Patriot’ as a result. Yes, this is one of several plot elements that might ruffle the feathers of avid Marvel comics readers that don’t do well with changes to the source material. If you’re unfamiliar with the Marvel comics, The Iron Patriot is actually a name used by Norman Osborn (a.k.a. Spider-Man’s Green Goblin) when he made his own Iron Man armour during a certain arc of the comics, meant to combine the capabilities of Iron Man and Captain America. Needless to say, the Iron Patriot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not the same character, just being War Machine with a name and colour change. I suppose in the end though, that probably makes more sense in the context of a movie, even if it will still miff Marvel purists. Like Pepper, Rhodey is often sidelined for the bulk of the movie’s middle portions, which mainly follow Tony’s journey for personal redemption after he is initially attacked by The Mandarin. As you can imagine, this means that Tony spends a lot less time in the Iron Man armour than you’d think, perhaps even less than he did in the original movie! Even so, IM3 remains interesting, thanks to plenty of clever dialogue scenes, and some solid action sequences that are still good, even without Tony in his Iron Man armour. This also means that when Tony DOES don the armour, it always counts for maximum effect, even if his big armoured scenes were pretty much all given away in the previews at this point. Anyway, like I said, The Mandarin is going to divide people. Some people are going to love what IM3 did with the character, and some people are going to get very angry, since it’s a far cry from how The Mandarin is portrayed in the comics. The other key villain in the movie comes in the form of Advanced Idea Mechanics, or A.I.M. for short, a prevalent terrorist organization in the Marvel comics. In IM3, it’s simply portrayed as a rival company to Stark Industries, headed by Aldrich Killian, a disabled scientist that Tony once blew off at an expo. If your’re familiar with the Extremis story arc of the comics, you might remember Killian as being a bit of a lesser character than he is in IM3, where he’s a more powerful and prevalent threat. The Mandarin may be the key villain of the movie, but it’s Killian that creates Extremis, which, in IM3, is potrayed as a flawed technology meant to repair broken and damaged organic tissue. Instead, it gives people violent tendencies and superhuman capabilities, because this is a Marvel movie, and that’s what always happens with weird science in the Marvel pantheon. The one-two punch of The Mandarin and Extremis thankfully gives Tony something very different to battle against beyond just another asshole in his own perversion of the Iron Man armour. Yes, it’s more fantastical and very different from the villains that Favreau delivered in the prior two movies, but that also makes IM3 feel more refreshing and surprising as a result. Granted, even if many of the bold changes are for the better, not every character twist that Shane Black, who not only directed, but also co-wrote the script, is effective. Tony seems to have actively regressed from how his character evolved in the prior two movies and The Avengers, basically just going back to being a selfish prick with no regard for anyone or anything beyond himself. In fact, some of Tony’s actions in the movie are blatantly idiotic, even with his arrogance to consider, and they feel kind of contrived and forced, as if the movie needs a desperate push to get the story going here and there. This is basically the only use for Rebecca Hall’s character, Maya Hansen, another key personality from the Extremis arc in the comics, but, obviously, it’s difficult to address her without spoilers. Occasionally, IM3 may frustrate with a few of its character moments, especially since they fly in the face of what the comics have established for the Iron Man mythos for decades. Still, if you do have an open mind and some patience, you’ll agree that IM3 is the most creative and fulfilling turn for the principal Iron Man movie cast yet!
Acting: (10/10) – One big strength to IM3, as expected, is that the performances are excellent all-around! Robert Downey Jr. is yet again at the top of his game, playing the titular character of Tony Stark. He’s still witty, arrogant and delivering that same stuck-up charm from Iron Man’s prior big screen appearances, even if it feels like his character has kind of regressed in this latest movie. Likewise, Gwyneth Paltrow is stretching further than ever as Pepper, who seems to be Tony’s only conscience for the most part, even when IM3 focuses so heavily on Tony’s acts during The Avengers. Like I said though, Paltrow gets to have more bearing on the movie than ever before, and many of Pepper’s best big screen moments to date are right here in IM3! Don Cheadle felt like he had a little more bearing on events during Iron Man 2, since he spends so much time sidelined in IM3, but he at least gets a strong turn in the climax with Robert Downey Jr., which also allows Gwyneth Paltrow to participate in the action more actively, as I said. Guy Pearce gets a lot of screentime as Aldrich Killian, even if some may not agree with making him such a key villain. He doesn’t really come off as altogether threatening, but as more of a kooky, eccentric threat that has grown to epic proportions after events during the movie’s 1999-set prologue, he still works well enough. His connection to The Mandarin may try Marvel purists’ patience though, especially when they see how the character has been altered with Ben Kingsley’s portrayal. To be fair, Ben Kingsley is a fantastic Mandarin, and probably one of the best actors that Hollywood could have found to play the part. Even with how well he plays the role in IM3 however, Kingsley likely won’t be embraced by every corner of the Marvel community, since his portrayal of the character is so heavily inconsistent with the version from the comics. As for Rebecca Hall playing Maya Hansen, she’s probably the most underused performer in the movie. Her character is little more than a plot device, and fans of the Extremis storyline from the comics may be disappointed that she wasn’t given more to do. Likewise, Jon Favreau barely appears as Happy Hogan, since the movie quickly finds an excuse to take him out of most of its duration, perhaps because Favreau had other commitments during filming. It’s very difficult to touch on specific elements of each performance without spoiling the movie, but rest assured that IM3 is extremely well-done, even with Shane Black having only one other directing credit to his name!
Stunts: (10/10) – IM3 spaces out its action scenes very carefully, but with Tony spending less time in the Iron Man armour compared to previous movies, you can imagine that the stunt work is given even more of a chance to shine here. Again, it’s difficult to discuss exactly how the stunts have improved without spoiling IM3′s handful of highlight action scenes, but I will say that Robert Downey Jr. proves that he doesn’t need the armour to kick plenty of ass! Even being a more fantastical force, Extremis eliminates the need for armoured villains, which means that even the super-powered elements of the characters can be demonstrated more, without being buried under a bunch of CGI. Even Pepper gets more than a few stunts this time around, so you know that IM3 is bringing it with its incredible stunt work!
Special Effects: (9/10) – I’ll say this; There’s no easy way to do the Extremis effects. The result of Extremis being portrayed on screen was probably about one of the best effects jobs that you could ask for. Still, it’s difficult to deny that at times, it can look silly. Granted, it looks silly in that vaguely acceptable, comic book-y way, but still silly. Of course, IM3 is still loaded with amazing effects-driven moments, especially during the handful of sequences when Tony is actually in his Iron Man armour, but not everyone will be satisfied with how the Extremis-powered baddies look. Still, the action remains flashy, intense and enjoyable, and as far as being a superhero blockbuster goes, IM3 definitely delivers on the flash factor where it counts, even if it’s more stunt-driven and less CGI-anchored than its predecessors, at least, beyond Extremis. This brings me to the movie’s 3D presentation, which, unfortunately, is really underwhelming and weak. The 3D occasionally enhances a handful of action scenes, albeit to a rather limited degree, and beyond that, it just kind of hangs there, not really doing anything. Fans of 3D movies won’t exactly feel ripped off, but if you don’t really care for the whole 3D medium, you won’t really lose anything by just watching IM3 in plain old 2D, since the 3D is really disappointing in this movie.
Set Pieces: N/A
Costumes: (9/10) – For what it’s worth, the movie’s wardrobe is not bad, even if there’s much more screentime for Tony Stark than there is for Iron Man. There’s actually quite a few new Iron Man armour designs in the movie, since Tony makes so many on account of his anxiety, and they all generally look pretty sharp, even if most are CG-rendered. Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin costume is probably about as good as it gets for a big screen Mandarin, and the rest of the costumes are reasonably grounded, which is surprising, considering the fantastical element of Extremis throughout so much of the story.
Story: (8/10) – Not every element of IM3′s storyline is a winner, but I will say that it offers a fresh and compelling new take on an Iron Man movie, even if it doesn’t really care for being faithful to the source material. The movie begins with a prologue set in 1999, which sets the stage for Tony and how Aldrich Killian went on to found Advanced Idea Mechanics. Fast-forward to the present day, shortly after the conclusion of The Avengers. Tony Stark finds himself suffering from anxiety and insomnia, leading him to incessantly build new Iron Man suits, in turn causing tension with Pepper, who has just moved in with him. After a brutal terrorist attack leaves Happy Hogan in the hospital in critical condition (I told you, Favreau isn’t in the movie much!), Tony ends up giving his home address to terrorist mastermind, The Mandarin, believed to be associated with the attacks, and thus challenging him to a battle. After this causes Tony’s estate to be leveled by attack helicopters, Tony manages to get Pepper and his visiting ex-girlfriend, Maya Hansen to safety, but ends up trapped far away from them after a flight plan in his Iron Man armour goes wrong. Left without any means to return to the people he left behind, Tony must nonetheless piece together a way to bring down The Mandarin, particularly as the threat of his new weapon grows larger. That’s about all I can say regarding IM3 without spoiling the movie. This is one of those movies that is better if you know nothing about it going in. If you’re already well familiar with the Iron Man comics, you’ll need to put up with a lot of liberties taken with the Iron Man mythos, and the Marvel mythos as established in the comics as a whole, but considering how creative and inspired IM3 is as a written work, it’s still easy to declare this a contender for the best Iron Man movie yet! Be warned however that, as I said, some of the character turns are botched, and do come off as frustrating as a result. My advice is to take IM3 on its own merits, and not worry so much about your preconceptions, nor the source material. If you can do that, you’ll agree that it stands as one of the more novel and daring superhero blockbusters out there so far, for better or for worse.
Length/Editing: (9/10) – At 130 minutes, IM3 is paced around where you’d want a movie of this scope to be at. Some scenes in the middle do drag at times, and some may be disappointed that Tony doesn’t spend more time in his Iron Man armour. Still, the movie is consistently entertaining and witty, even when not all of its creative liberties are successful. It’s at least a movie that will effortlessly keep you engaged the whole way through however!
Genre Appeal: (9/10) – Once again, IM3 is going to divide people in some places, particularly those that are very fanatical about their Marvel comics fandom. Much of the movie boldly goes in a different direction than most other superhero movies, and while that will split audiences, as I said, it at least means that IM3 is not the same old repackaged superhero blockbuster. It also stands effectively apart from its two predecessors, which is another big part of the reason why it won’t have a difficult time keeping audiences engaged. If you want a Summer blockbuster sequel that leaves a good impression, and perhaps redeems some of the noticeable faults of its predecessor, you should be very satisfied with IM3, so long as you try not to be bothered by it having virtually no regard for following the comics.
Re-watch Value: (8/10) – There’s actually an impressive amount of hidden nuggets and bit Marvel references in the movie, despite how aggressively IM3 wishes to be free of the mythos of the Iron Man comics. Watching the movie again feels rewarding, since you can spot things that you didn’t before, as well as pick up on more potential teases for the upcoming Phase 2 movies that Marvel Studios has in the pipeline. On that note, be sure to stay after the credits for Marvel Studios’ predictable extra scene. It doesn’t tease developments for future movies, but it is an amusing little payoff to IM3′s narrative device, and is the closest you’ll get to a direct acknowledgement of Iron Man still being a part of The Avengers.
Conclusion- IM3 should be commended for its bravery. It’s clearly a movie that doesn’t want to be the same old Marvel blockbuster. It wants to be something different from the movies that came before it. To that end, it succeeds, because IM3 proves very effectively that solo Iron Man movies can still be enjoyable and relevant, even after the release of The Avengers last year. Whether or not an Iron Man 4 happens seems to be up for debate, but the movie does leave the door open for it, as well as an inevitable return for the character in The Avengers 2 a couple of years from now. Even with all of the changes, IM3 will be highly enjoyable for people who enjoyed the prior two movies, as well as The Avengers. As I’ve repeatedly asserted however, IM3 does challenge the audience to let go of their preconceptions. This is especially true of Marvel comics fans, who no doubt have their own idea of where the third movie should go, and more specifically, how it should portray Iron Man’s archenemy, The Mandarin, whom they’ve waited three movies for. The payoff of The Mandarin’s portrayal will likely be a huge middle finger for some, while others will see it as a stroke of genius that isn’t quite like what any superhero movie has attempted before. Regardless though, if you can get past some of the daring and controversial elements of the script, you’ll agree that IM3 is a damn great start to this Summer blockbuster season, and a very strong kick-off to Marvel Studios’ Phase 2 of movies. Really, the worst you can say about IM3 is its disregard for the source material. Beyond that, it boldly forges its own direction, but does so surprisingly effectively, standing firmly apart from other superhero movies, as well as the Iron Man movies that Jon Favreau directed previously. Tony may spend disappointingly little time in his Iron Man armour, while Pepper Potts and Rhodey may also spend a hefty chunk of the movie’s middle portion on the sidelines, but even then, the story is compelling. The writing is very clever and full of surprisingly sharp media commentary in regards to our modern society, if you’re willing to appreciate it. Don’t think that IM3 is pretentious and stuffy though! This is still a very enjoyable and action-packed superhero movie, which functions equally well as a popcorn flick. Even if you don’t see Tony in his Iron Man suit an awful lot, there’s still a good helping of action scenes, which are all superb. The climax is a particular highlight, being the best climax that the Iron Man movies have delivered to date, especially with Tony getting some very cool help from both Pepper and Rhodey alike, who finally get their big chances to shine! The movie is more stunt-based and less CGI-heavy than its predecessors, like I said, but even then, it still looks very well-produced and very grand in scope, clearly being a labour of love from all involved, even with some of its controversial story direction. The only low point to the movie’s final product is its disappointingly lacklustre 3D presentation, which frankly feels a bit tacked-on, and only seems to be there because the Marvel movies have all gone 3D since Thor back in 2011. If you just want to watch IM3 in 2D, you’re really not missing anything. Still, whether you’re going to see the continued evolution of these characters, even if Tony has regressed a tad from the past couple of movies, or for some awesome superhero action, IM3 will leave you quite satisfied, as well as whet your appetite for more of Marvel’s Phase 2 movie slate. The future of the franchise may go either way, but if this truly is Robert Downey Jr.’s last solo Iron Man movie, as his contract with Marvel expires with IM3, at least his character definitely went out on a very high note here, even if it’s all but assured that Marvel will find a way to get RDJ back for at least The Avengers 2. Marvel fans may wish that the movie laid more setup for the upcoming Avengers sequel, particularly since the other Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. are barely mentioned in passing, but we still have three movies to go before that comes out, so there’s plenty of time to lay that groundwork. Thus, in conclusion, I urge you to take IM3 for what it is, and put aside what you think it should be. It truly is a superb movie, but it also doesn’t care about what you feel an Iron Man movie should be portraying. Still, if you’re willing to embrace the courage and creativity behind the latest Tony Stark escapade, you’ll agree that the solo Iron Man movies have truly never been better!
FINAL SCORE: 90% “AWESOME!”
FINAL VERDICT: “Iron Man 3 packs in some bold, controversial story and character directions, some of which will likely not sit right with avid Marvel enthusiasts. Still, it’s a very creative and refreshing new take on Iron Man that firmly separates itself from both previous Iron Man movies, and other superhero movies in general, yet still packing in that same awesome action and badass appeal that the Iron Man movies have always done so well! Best of all, this movie proves that solo Iron Man movies can still kick plenty of ass, even after the release of The Avengers, and it definitely kicks off Marvel Studios’ Phase 2 slate of movies on a very high note!”