A franchise is only as good as its last installment. “G.I. Joe” nearly died at the gate with a lackluster premier and “Batman & Robin” actually killed off what had been a particularly healthy brand of films until Christopher Nolan swooped in to save the day. Thus far, Marvel has managed to be the Pixar of superhero franchises with each film bringing in big box office and converging into the mega-hit “Avengers”. So, that could be the reason why “Iron Man 3″ is so important: it’s the first post-”Avengers” film released by the studio and what very well may be the final installment of the popular series. Expectations are sure to be higher than any one film can deliver, but if anyone can beat the odds it’s Robert Downey Jr., right?
RDJ reprises his role as Tony Stark, billionaire playboy/world savior, who can’t readjust to his already crazy life after the “Avengers” attack on New York. He’s become an insomniac, suffers from crippling anxiety attacks and even worse for the tech genius, seems unable to build anything that works properly. Tony Stark is no longer Iron Man, but Iron Man has become Tony Stark. He’s so consumed by his alter ego, that he’s even built a remote controlled suit a la Shelbot from “The Big Bang Theory” that serves as a virtual presence as he stays in the isolated safety of his workshop. Not only is his physical and mental health being effected, but so is his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) who can only stand by helplessly watching Tony lose himself.
Then comes The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a terrorist hell-bent on punishing the United States for its wrong doings. After several bomb attacks on civilian targets, including one that sends Tony’s friend Happy (Jon Favreau) into a coma, Stark publicly declares war. But The Mandarin isn’t one to be pushed around. He quickly launches a full scale attack on Stark’s Malibu compound, leaving him with nothing but the semi-functional prototype Mark 42 suit to work with. Unfortunately, there’s more to this than terrorism and The Mandarin’s Army aren’t regular folks. Without the aid of his fancy toys, Tony needs to find himself again and rely on the help of others to stop his enemy from destroying everything that truly matters in his life.
“Iron Man 3″ is the first in the series not to be directed by Jon Favreau, which may have some fans skeptical going in. While I think it’s safe to say that director Shane Black delivers a film that is easily on par with its two predecessors, it does feel a little different. First, there’s a strong “Dark Knight Rises” influence on this film with the hero spending most of his time as his civilian self. He’s trying to come to terms with his identity and as all moviegoers know, true strength lies within. There’s also much less tying the series in with the Avenger Initiative now that that film’s been released. Aside from referencing New York and the PTSD Stark suffers from, there’s no appearance by Thor or phone calls from Nick Fury. I, for one, am OK with this – it’s not like other heroes stop in on every issue of every comic book title. Some battles need to be fought only by the character on the cover and this would be one of those situations.
Black, who also co-wrote the script with Drew Pearce, pushes a clear message that fits Tony Stark perhaps better than any other vigilante, masked or otherwise: there’s beauty in imperfection. Facades are often thought up and perfected to push more dubious agendas. War Machine is now branded “Iron Patriot” because it sounds less aggressive to the public. It reminded me of my last visit to McDonalds for an order of “Freedom Fries”. Tony Stark could be the most flawed protagonist of any superhero movie and that’s exactly why audiences love him. He’s real. So when we see him stripped to nothing, the narcissism and flashy bravado reduced to panic and self-doubt, we connect. We can relate to fearing for the ones we love. We can related to feeling helpless in situations larger than we are. We bond to the shortcomings and want him to overcome his obstacles and triumph. Yes, there’s beauty in imperfection so there must be beauty in all of us.
But aside from all that “character stuff”, there’s plenty of spectacle in “Iron Man 3″. Action packed battles punctuate the film with over 40 unique Iron Man suits fighting indestructible forces that enjoy slicing through armor like hot knives through butter. Never has Tony been more powerful or more vulnerable, providing some relentless, nail biting confrontations. While the 3D is fun, I’m not so sure you’ll miss anything seeing the 2D version. There really aren’t any moments that will have you dodging phantom objects flying at your face, or anything.
“Iron Man 3″ earns a score of 3.5 out of 4 angels. It’s the perfect film to kick off the summer season and a fitting 3rd chapter in the series. It’s been hinted that this movie could be the final installment of the stand-alone series and unfortunately there’s evidence to support that thought. I’d like to hang on to some hope that maybe we’ll see Robert Downey Jr. sign on for another outing or three. After all, he is Iron Man.
Thankfully, we still have “Avengers 2″ to look forward to.