Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is the current poster child for cool. Much like Bruce Wayne/Batman, he’s remarkably intelligent (quite possibly a genius) and his bank account has lots of zeroes in it, to the left of the period. But unlike Wayne, Stark doesn’t keep his identity a secret. He believes wholeheartedly that because he and the Iron Man are one being, that he’s untouchable and that his loved ones won’t ever be in trouble, either. And that’s where Iron Man 3 kicks up its new storyline.
Taking place after the events of The Avengers (2012), Stark has developed a case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He refuses to believe it but the proof is indisputable. While dining out with his best friend James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), his senses are suddenly heightened and he receives a panic attack. He jumps into his Iron Man suit and has Jarvis run tests on him; Jarvis concludes that Stark does indeed now suffer from PTSD. In this film, it’s not a gimmick. It doesn’t simply appear whenever it’s convenient (in which it’s never convenient); it appears whenever director/co-writer Shane Black develops Stark’s character further, placing him a recognizably real world and turning him into a relatable human being rather than just a comic book character (which he is).
The plot of this film goes back to a previously non-existent flashback that takes place during the ‘99/‘00 New Year’s Eve, in which Stark meets with an intelligent albeit acned and crippled nerd called Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Killian wants to speak to Stark and Stark, the playboy that he is, characteristically ignores Killian. Fast-forward almost 14 years and Killian now returns as a handsome and terrifically rich scientist who wants to recruit Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow), now Stark’s woman, into the company that he’d developed throughout the past couple of decades.
Iron Man 3 is a darker film in looks and tone than the previous two films because here, Stark learns of the consequences of running one’s mouth. A terrorist who calls himself The Mandarin (played brilliantly by Sir Ben Kingsley) suddenly appears and makes murderous threats on live television, blocking out current broadcasts; he seems to have come straight out of the Al Qaeda school for terrorists. When Stark takes things to heart, he reveals to The Mandarin, also on live television, what his actual home address is and awaits an attack. Well, he gets one. As a result, his home is destroyed; all of his previous Iron Man suits (in which there are now 42 versions available) are buried deep beneath tons of concrete and rubble; Pepper’s life is at risk; and Stark ends up on the opposite side of the continent having to “find” himself.
The film juggles the notion of terrorism and the puppeteering that’s behind it; the secret identity of a superhero and why its secrecy is important; and the importance of paying attention even when the topic or the speaker is really boring. Stark, here, is even more fascinating than ever before. Throughout the middle of film he’s teamed up with a young kid who acts as catalyst for what’s wrong with him [Stark]. He learns why he’s developed PTSD; learns why he’d built 42 versions of the Iron Man suit and why he can’t sleep at night; and also figures out what’s going on with the new and improved version of Killian.
Then there’s The Mandarin. I won’t say anything except that Kingsley’s personification of the character is beyond impressive, and often hilarious. And when the “special moment” comes, you’ll dig it quite a lot.
I love Iron Man (2008) for its near-perfection and its similarities to the great Batman Begins (2005); I dislike Iron Man 2, for reasons that can be found in my (and Helen’s) theatrical review of it (found here); and I like Iron Man 3 quite a lot. Downey Jr. delivers an excellent, multi-layered performance, and a very realistic depiction of a person who suffers from PTSD; Kingsley is utterly wonderful; Pearce and Paltrow delivers great work, as well; and the reteaming of Downey Jr. and Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), their first and terrifically excellent teaming) is more than welcome.
Yes, Iron Man 3 made lots of money and yes, the CG and other special effects are terrific to look at (as can be expected from ILM). But this is a very good film mostly for its rapid-fire, Howard Hawkes-like dialogue and the further development of the terrifically entertaining Tony Stark. Shane Black proves that he can visually and excitingly tackle the action/superhero film genre and his camera work is mostly really good. But the way in which the story centers on its characters and their actions rather than just the plot elevates Iron Man 3 from “good action flick” to “really, really good film”.
It’s fun, it’s funny, and it’s often exciting. I can’t wait for more of Stark’s adventures with or without the Iron Man suit.
There are several interesting special features but most importantly is the Audio Commentary that contains director/co-writer Shane Black and co-writer Drew Pearce.