Brief, spoiler-free review: Not bad at all. Definitely better than Iron Man 2, but I’m not entirely sure it’s better than the first Iron Man. I’d rate it ★★★½
Robert Downey Jr. returns as “billionaire,
playboy, philathropist” Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, in this third installment of the franchise. But it’s a slightly different Tony Stark. This is a Tony Stark plagued by discomfiting uncertainty and questions after the alien attack on New York City, in which he nearly died after delivering a nuclear missile into enemy territory. He’s just a “man in a can”, he tells Pepper. A man subject to panic attacks and sleepless nights, which he chooses to spend building and testing new suits of iron instead. At the same time, a terrorist named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is threatening America with inexplicable bomb attacks where no one can seem to locate or detect the explosive device that creates the blasts. One such explosion puts Stark’s old friend and bodyguard on the brink of death, prodding Stark to declare war on The Mandarin. The immediate aftermath of that declaration is an attack on Stark’s home, and he ends up being separated from Pepper and from all his beloved technology, save his most recent suit – which definitely performs just like a prototype, to say the least…
And now a fuller review, with probably some spoilers here and there, though I tried not to reveal too much. (It’s hard! haha)
The underlying theme of Iron Man 3 seems to be “you create your own angels and demons.” Well, maybe “underlying” is not quite the right word. At the beginning, a voiceover from Tony Stark informs us that he created his own demons, and we see how Stark’s own callous behaviour in the years past have made him enemies instead of friends. Fortunately, there were no more obvious statements of that sort – it’s shown, instead of told. Stark made enemies, but he also made friends. And he made his iron suit. Stark saves the day in the end, not just because of his ingenuity but also because of his creations – his iron men, so to speak. From the opposite side, Aldrich Killian created his own downfall when he started down the Extremis path; further dooming himself when he lets spite and greed overtake him and he decides to use Pepper Potts as both bait and trophy.
That said, despite the comparatively sombre theme and start, the film never feels dark or gloomy. RDJ really does do brilliantly as Tony Stark, and he manages to play the character as being troubled but not depressed. (Almost a sort of Jack Sparrow, in a way.) In this movie, we get to see more of Stark away from his iron suits and when he’s forced to think and act outside the protective armour, the man without his machinery proves that it’s not the suit alone that makes him a “superhero” – it’s his brilliant mind and resourcefulness that make him the hero he is.
Since Iron Man is the titular character and main hero of this series, one can’t really expect any other superhero to show up. But here, I think, is where Marvel has created its own “demon.” The Avengers showed the formation of a team, and now that they all know each other, story-wise it would make sense for them to help each other out in times of trouble. Yet the solo movies have to stand alone within their own franchises, and at the same time merge with the larger Marvel movie universe. So how do you explain why the Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye don’t turn up at any point in time or even make contact with Tony Stark? Marvel has apparently adopted the approach of just leaving it as it is, unexplained – there was nothing I can remember in the way of explaination for that. This approach leaves the door open for answers in later movies, but at the same time it gives one a slightly dissatisfied feeling because it’s like a small elephant in a room: why were all the Avengers so quiet despite the huge threat posed by the Mandarin? Why leave it all to Tony Stark? (Even if Stark did bring it upon himself when he openly stated he was going to go after the Mandarin…)
On that note, it has been reported that Avengers director Joss Whedon thinks the final battle of Iron Man 3 so amazing that he thinks he will have trouble topping it in Avengers 2. Er… I didn’t find the final battle so very fantastic. Yes, it features a small army of Iron Men suits flying around and Tony Stark swapping suits from time to time. The wonder of the final battle is that despite the numerous iron suits flying around, the focus was still firmly on Tony Stark rather than spending too much time on the flying suits. Apart from that, I didn’t quite comprehend why people have sung such praises of that final battle. It is a good fight scene, but nothing more.
But the points that dissatisfy me with Iron Man 3 are minor. It is a fast-paced action film that does a couple of unexpected things (my favourite scene is the one where Pepper gets to put on the Iron Man suit – although I’d heard rumours she would get a shot at the suit, I didn’t expect it in the way it turned out), demonstrates RDJ’s strengths playing a character who has issues yet maintains his snippy and almost flippant persona, and shows us more of the mind of Tony Stark than the mechanical marvel of Iron Man. All in all, a pretty good superhero movie.