Iron Man 3 (United States, 2013)

May 02, 2013
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Iron Man 3 Poster

In the wake of the massive and massively successful The Avengers, Iron Man 3 wisely doesn't attempt to outdo its immediate superhero predecessor when it comes to big-time action, pyrotechnics, and special effects. Instead, it opts for something a little more small and intimate - at least as "small" and "intimate" as a movie expected to earn $1B worldwide can be. Fans of mayhem need not worry, however. There are a couple of lengthy sequences that would make Michael "blow things up real good" Bay smile, so the movie hasn't entirely abandoned summer film conventions.

Iron Man 3 is the darkest of the Iron Man pictures and it also feels like the final installment of the series (although the expected strong box office performance may result in a full-court press to bring back Robert Downey Jr. for #4). Iron Man 3 boasts more exposition than either of its predecessors and focuses a little more on Tony Stark (the man). In fact, there's considerably less "Iron Man" action than in either Iron Man or Iron Man 2 and the primary villain isn't just another guy in a bigger suit. Pacing-wise, the film is uneven, plunging into draggy sequences in between some spectacular peaks. There are plenty of small inconsistencies and plot holes that have the hallmarks of resulting from explanatory and/or transitional material being left on the cutting room floor.

Iron Man 3 begins shortly after the events depicted in The Avengers. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has returned to Malibu from New York with a case of insomnia. He also suffers from anxiety attacks. Instead of spending his nights cuddled up next to the love of his life, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), he tinkers with new versions of The Suit. When an attack from a terrorist known only as "The Mandarin" (Ben Kingsley) puts Stark's faithful bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) in a coma, Tony vows revenge. This puts him in the crosshairs of The Mandarin and his henchman, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who has discovered a way to create a new breed of suicide bombers. One of Tony's old girlfriends, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), approaches him with insight into Killian's plans at precisely the time when The Mandarin launches an all-out attack on Stark's mansion. With Iron Man apparently dead, the only one left to stop The Mandarin is "Iron Patriot" (Don Cheadle), who is given his marching orders directly from the President (William Sadler).

Iron Man 3 runs into some credibility problems that result from this being a standalone adventure taking place in the Avengers universe. It seems more than a bit strange that, with The Mandarin blowing up buildings and targeting the President that none of the other Avengers steps in to help Tony. The explanation - that this is a "patriotic" thing that needs to be handled in-house (by Americans) - doesn't make sense when considering that one of The Avengers goes by the name of "Captain America." The absence of S.H.I.E.L.D. is also odd (although they get a brief mention), especially remembering how ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury was in the pre-Avengers standalones.

The ending, while undeniably spectacular, is really a deus ex machina followed by a battle in what seems like a huge Rube Goldberg machine. It's fast-paced and energetic but doesn't make a lot of sense. On the plus side, it's a way to vary the finale from what we got in Iron Man and Iron Man 2 but it also cheats outrageously in attempting to provide an emotionally poignant moment. It's one of those instances that proves the screenwriters lack guts. Compare Iron Man 3 to The Dark Knight and you'll understand what I mean.

The level of acting, at one time viewed as negligible in a superhero movie, is top-notch and no one seems to be mailing it in. Ben Kingsley (unsurprisingly) is the standout, stealing scenes from Robert Downey Jr. , who's more low-key here than in his previous outings as Tony Stark. The character is subdued and introspective and Downey follows suit. Gwyneth Paltrow gets a chance to do a little more than play the love interest - she even gets to put on the suit at one point. After a rocky start taking over for Terrence Howard in Iron Man 2, Don Cheadle has settled into the role of James Rhodes. Guy Pearce, the current go-to guy for sleazy charisma mixed with sadism, does what's expected of him. James Badge Dale is the secondary villain whose inevitable comeuppance provides a mini-climax. And Rebecca Hall is criminally underused - those who want to see the actress' true capabilities should check her out opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in Parade's End.

Iron Man 3 becomes the first of the Iron Man movies to open in 3-D and it's not a move in the right direction. While the film's compositions are fine, many of the usual problems with converted 3-D are evident, especially images that are too dark and motion blur during action sequences. By the final half-hour of this 130-minute production, I felt the eye strain. From a strictly practical standpoint, the 3-D adds nothing. One can make a compelling case that recent films like Oz the Great and Powerful are enhanced by 3-D, but that's not the case with Iron Man 3, which seems to exist in 3-D simply because that's expected from a big summer tent-pole. Save your money and go for the 2-D version.

When it comes to spectacle and narrative, Iron Man 3 delivers on its promise and provides a workable post-Avengers standalone superhero storyline. There's one especially compelling, surprising twist that may shock the faithful (and could be controversial). It's a brilliant way to twist the story and offer social commentary. Director Shane Black, who previously worked with Robert Downey Jr. in the underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, slides seamlessly into Jon Favreau's place behind the camera. Perhaps because there was nothing distinct about Favreau's directorial style, it's hard to tell there's been a change. The Christmas setting calls to mind the first two Die Hards, although the Christmas carols aren't used as effectively.

If this is Downey Jr.'s last stand as Iron Man in a solo movie (as he has indicated in interviews), it's a solid way to end the series. Considering some of the logistical and plot-related issues that plague Iron Man 3 in the wake of The Avengers, it's probably best if Stark only shows up in the context of those multi-superhero extravaganzas. There's an amusing post-credits sequence that, while not adding a whole lot to the previous 130 minutes, is enjoyable in its own right. (Whether it's worth sitting through 8 minutes of names and generic music is an individual decision.) Iron Man 3 has the stuff to please the devotees and divert everyone else, which is pretty much what's expected from the curtain-raiser of any summer season.

Iron Man 3 (United States, 2013)

Run Time: 2:10
U.S. Release Date: 2013-05-03
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1