Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark
Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts
Don Cheadle as Colonel James Rhodes
Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian
Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen
Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan
Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin
James Badge Dale as Savin
Stephanie Szostak as Brandt
Paul Bettany as Jarvis (voice)
William Sadler as President Ellis
Dale Dickey as Mrs. Davis
Ty Simpkins as Harley Keener
Miguel Ferrer as Vice President Rodriguez
Xueqi Wang as Doctor Wu
Directed by Shane Black
"Iron Man 3" features fantastic dialogue and great supporting characters. The action and special effects aren't too shabby either. But the handling of The Mandarin will be a topic of debate among fans.
After the events of "The Avengers," Tony Stark is shaken. He's seen aliens, faced off with Norse gods, and been near death after having gone through a wormhole in space. But even worse, he fears he can't protect Pepper Potts from the dangers of this new world that he has seen.
Unfortunately it's at this time that the world faces a new threat. A terrorist going by the name of "The Mandarin" has been setting off bombs all over the world. The US government and Colonel James Rhodes, in the newly rechristened "Iron Patriot" armor, have been unable to stop him. The Mandarin's terror plot hits Stark close to home when he sets his sights on our hero and his every fear is realized. But what Tony Stark doesn't suspect is that The Mandarin is linked to his own past and that he's finally reaping what he's sown.
"Iron Man 3" is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content.
Usually by the third film in a series, the franchise starts losing some steam. You start seeing the same old material rehashed, the script is weak and it seems like little thought is put into the plot. You feel like the studio is simply trying to wring the last few dollars out of it before moving on. Fortunately, none of that is the case here. Reteaming Robert Downey Jr. with his "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" writer/director Shane Black breathes new life into the series and that new energy is very apparent on the screen.
One of the greatest strengths of "Iron Man 3" is not the action or the visual effects, but the dialogue. Robert Downey Jr. delivers it and plays with it like how a master sculptor works with clay. He makes it look effortless. There is one great line after another in this film and quite often the audience was so busy laughing at one bit of dialogue you couldn't even hear the follow-up quip. And the great thing that writers Shane Black and Drew Pearce do is make sure all of the supporting characters have great dialogue as well. As formidable as Robert Downey Jr. is on the screen, everyone from the minor characters to the main co-stars have equally impressive lines and hold their own with Stark. This is the kind of film that you can watch multiple times and pick up something new every time. One example was in a scene at a party in 1999, we see Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan protecting Tony Stark from what he thinks is a bomb going off. After realizing there's no threat, he walks off the screen and you hear in the background, "It's OK. It's not Y2K." Most of the audience completely missed that, but my wife and I just started laughing at this little bit of humor thrown in on the side. The whole film is peppered with little jokes like that and it makes it a heck of a lot of fun.
Robert Downey Jr. brings the magic again as Tony Stark. This is his fourth time playing the character (fifth if you count the bonus scene from "The Incredible Hulk") and he is appropriately comfortable in the role, but we now see him as a more flawed character. He makes mistakes. His armor is glitchy at times, he has anxiety attacks, and more often than not he's left armor-less in the film. Black obviously likes leaving Stark as vulnerable as possible in order to prove the point – Tony is Iron Man, not the armor. And fortunately that puts the character in legitimate jeopardy that is more interesting than seeing him punch endless hordes of CG aliens.
Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Pepper Potts. While she is still the damsel in distress, she plays a bigger role in the action scenes as you probably saw in the trailers and commercials. This certainly makes her more interesting, but their relationship is not advanced beyond what it was in "The Avengers," unfortunately. Don Cheadle again returns as Colonel James Rhodes. He's good, but he's used about as much as he was in "Iron Man 2." He's also now in the Iron Patriot armor, but I can't believe Stark didn't comment on the fact that it looked like a ripoff of Captain America's costume. The cast is rounded out by Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian, Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen, Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, and Paul Bettany as Jarvis. They all have great performances, but the real standout among the supporting cast is Ty Simpkins as Harley Keener. He's the young boy that helps Tony Stark when his armor malfunctions and he's stranded in Tennessee. This could have easily been a major disaster for the film. Pairing a cute kid with an action star is a long standing staple of Hollywood. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. This is a case where it works. Downey and Simkins go toe-to-toe and it works perfectly. It's hard to imagine a kid matching wits with Robert Downey Jr., but Simpkins does so successfully. He also acts as the voice of the audience asking questions about the aliens, the wormhole, and all the events of "The Avengers." He's the voice and face of the rest of the world beyond our heroes' little inner circle and it's important to the plot.
While the dialogue and characters are great, the action is pretty impressive, too. You've seen much of the Mandarin's attack on Tony Stark's house in the trailers. It's equally impressive on the big screen and in 3D. And the final battle with all of Stark's Iron Man suits is also awesome. I've long been a fan of his Silver Centurion armor and it makes a brief appearance in this film. Then, of course, there's the mid-air rescue of the people falling out of the plane. It is brilliantly choreographed and is enhanced with the 3D effect as people plunge towards the ground. But as cool as the big effect sequences are, a fight scene where Tony is caught without his armor is one of the highlights of the film. He's forced to improvise weapons in a kitchen and you see his mechanic/engineer side much like you did early in the first film. It was a nice touch hearkening back to Stark's roots.
"Iron Man 3" has the expected bonus scene at the end of the credits. While the one in theaters may be different from the one at preview screenings, the one we saw did not feature "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Thor: The Dark World" or any of the other upcoming Marvel films, but it is still entertaining, it features another Marvel character, and it fits in well with themes presented in the film.
What Didn't Work:
Being a lifelong Marvel fan and a longtime Iron Man fan, I was very excited to see the Mandarin on the big screen. He's like the Joker is to Batman. He's our hero's main nemesis and I was expecting great, grandiose, dramatic things with the character, but the film takes a dramatic twist with the Mandarin that both horrified me and thrilled me. On the one hand I loved what they did with him, because it was just so utterly unexpected. It defied every expectation I had for the character. It's rare for a film to throw such an unexpected surprise and I was thoroughly entertained by where they took Mandarin. My movie fan side loved it. However, my inner comic book geek felt somewhat cheated by what "Iron Man 3" did with the Mandarin. I expected an epic confrontation between Stark and Mandarin and the mother of all battles between the two. That is not what this is at all. I felt like there was a lot of lost potential with the character even though I absolutely loved Ben Kingsley in the role. I've never felt so conflicted about a character and I have a feeling Mandarin is going to be a topic of heated debate in comic shops for quite a while. I was also disappointed that Mandarin was hinted at in the first "Iron Man" film, but that connection is not acknowledged at all in "Iron Man 3." I thought they had an opportunity to thread together all of the Iron Man and Avengers films through Mandarin and the Ten Rings and that was seemingly ignored.
"Iron Man 3" is also somewhat the victim of bad timing. A mere two weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings, we see the Mandarin executing bombings throughout the US. We see characters injured by the bombs, dramatic shots of them being killed, characters in the hospitals, and memorials at bombing sites. It's all a little too close to reality and it almost feels crass that it's the subject of a comic book summer popcorn flick. I was also a little offended that Marvel bent over backwards to make the Mandarin not be remotely Chinese. They were willing to change everything about the character for the sake of not offending major investors, yet they made the villains of this film injured US veterans. These wounded veterans become terrorists in their own country in order to regain lost limbs thanks to the Extremis technology. It's not something you think about at all while in the movie, but long after the credits roll the thought starts coming to you and it does become a bit offensive.
I was also disappointed that the commercials and trailers spoiled so much of the film. Most of the big final battle is ruined when you see the multiple armors in the movie posters and trailers. Pepper using the armor is spoiled in the commercials. Iron Man saving people falling from Air Force One was spoiled during the Super Bowl. They did save a little bit of the action for the film, but not a lot. I pretty much knew most of the film by having seen only trailers and commercials and I ultimately felt a bit let down by it.
"Iron Man 3" also has some pretty big plot holes when you start scrutinizing it. Inexplicably, Tony Stark opts to take on the Bin Laden of the Marvel Universe on his own rather than calling anyone for help. This happens multiple times. And when help is called in, they call individuals that defy logic (that's really vague, but I'm avoiding spoilers here). It also doesn't make sense that Stark is pulled into the conflict to begin with. If Aldrich Killian and the Mandarin wanted to have a successful scheme, they would have been incredibly successful without ever dragging Stark into it. You can chalk it up to revenge, but the characters make it clear that revenge is not really their motivation. There are several other plot holes that are easily ignorable, but they're present nevertheless and they could have been easily addressed.
The Bottom Line:
While I think that people saying "Iron Man 3" was better than "The Avengers" are way overstating things, I did enjoy this film a lot. In my book it's better than "Iron Man 2," but the original "Iron Man" is still my favorite by a slim margin. It's one of the better Marvel movies and a great way to kick off the 2013 summer movies.