Iron Man 3

In 2013, the superhero known as Iron Man had already cemented a place in everybody’s hearts courtesy of two standalone movies and a blockbuster that united him with his Marvel stablemates. His third solo outing does little to abate that adoration, but for those unfamiliar with the hero, their patience will be tested somewhat.

One year after thwarting an extra-terrestrial invasion, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is an emotionally fragile man, unable to sleep and suffering from anxiety attacks. He now spends the majority of his time refining his famous Iron Man suits, having built several variations of the current design, developed technology that allows the armour to be attached without tools, and even found a way for the suits to operate autonomously.

Stark’s genius truly knows no bounds, and it’s for that reason that he continues to be the envy of others, like fellow industrialist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who has invented a cure-all treatment that renders Iron Man obsolete – it heals wounds, regrows severed limbs, and provides super-strength to those who consume it. Elsewhere, an international terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is making threats against the United States, being a potential danger to Stark and those he loves.

Iron Man 3 sees Jon Favreau vacate the director’s chair in favour of Shane Black, despite the critical and financial success of the two films that proceeded it. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about Black’s helmsmanship, with the Christmastime setting being the only notable motif of his; but he is to be commended for maintaining the continuity of Favreau’s pictures, emulating his style and tone to ensure that fans of the first Iron Man (and to a lesser extent Iron Man 2) aren’t disaffected by his efforts.

Favreau isn’t removed from proceedings entirely though, as he does get an Executive Producer credit and return to play Stark’s personal assistant Happy Hogan, albeit briefly. Those blessed with more significant roles include Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, who’s now CEO of Stark Industries; Don Cheadle as James Rhodes, now bodyguarding the President of the United States with his Iron Patriot armour; and Paul Bettany, again voicing Stark’s A.I. assistant JARVIS.

But of course, it’s Robert Downey Jr. who’s the real star here. In the short five years he’d been playing the role, the veteran actor had become so closely associated with Tony Stark that the character seemed an extension of his own self, a belief that is more than evident in Iron Man 3. Downey provides plenty of Stark’s trademark wit and playful banter, which has always been a delight, and even gets to demonstrate a more vulnerable side of the hero – though isn’t wholly convincing in doing so.

The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), the central antagonist of Iron Man 3

The film is visually delightful too, even when judged against subsequent Marvel films. Put forward as the showstopper on this occasion is the destruction of Stark’s oceanside Malibu mansion, a rather tense sequence that sees Tony and Pepper frantically try to escape the crumbling building as it falls into the sea. The special effects utilised on those injected with Extremis also impress, while the computer-generated suits of Stark and Rhodes appear lifelike as always.

Regrettably, there are some flaws to be found in Iron Man 3, most prominently the screenplay – co-written by Black and Drew Pearce. For one, its story requires audiences to be familiar with not just the first two Iron Man flicks, but also The Avengers; hence, those who haven’t seen any of those instalments will find themselves lost. There’s also the reveal of The Mandarin’s true identity that displeases, being so ludicrous and left-field that the viewer cannot help but feel sorry for Ben Kingsley.

Yet the overwhelming issue with Iron Man 3 is that it fails to answer a burning question, one posed by the story and the marketing material: Why is Tony Stark worthy of being Iron Man? Throughout the film, there are multiple instances of characters wearing and using Stark’s armour with relative ease, and suits that don’t even require a human inside them to function, thereby negating the need for Tony to be the steel-clad superhero. And by film’s end, there’s no argument offered that compels otherwise.

While the script could use some refinement, Iron Man 3 is certainly not the worst of the MCU films, for there is some fun to be had. The visuals are more than decent, the action satisfying, and the returning cast members all charming, qualities that will leave Marvel fans pleased and everybody else intrigued at the very least.

Final rating:

3.5 stars

This film was previously reviewed for YO Bendigo.

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