To say there is a lot riding on “Iron Man 3” would be an understatement. After a disappointing sequel in the eyes of many critics and fans, Tony Stark appeared in the smash hit “The Avengers.” All eyes have been on his third solo outing to see if lightning will strike again.
Fans can rest easy, because “Iron Man 3” is a spectacular return to form for the wisecracking hero, combining the sharply written dialogue the franchise is known for alongside some wonderful new supporting characters and an overall darker tone that nonetheless keeps the spirit of Iron Man intact.
The story cleverly ties directly back to “The Avengers” as Tony Stark (once again played expertly by Robert Downey Jr.) is experiencing the emotional ramifications of the massive fight against aliens in New York City. His issues are taking a toll on his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow), whom he has let take charge of most of his company’s operations. And then, there is the villainous terrorist Mandarin (an awesome-as-always Ben Kingsley) and a scientist named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who is trying to convince Stark Industries to invest in a product that uses the brain to bring about limb regeneration.
The numerous side characters, plot twists and complications should all add up to an “Iron Man 2”-sized mess. But the third outing works better because it stays grounded where it should: in the character of Tony Stark and his struggles. His internal conflict is more compelling here than in previous films, as he struggles with panic attacks and PTSD after the events of “The Avengers.” The film stays more literally grounded in the fact that, for the majority of the film, there is no Iron Man. With Jarvis down for a good portion of the film, Stark is forced to resort to some pretty cool Punisher-style guerilla warfare tactics (with the help of his friend Col. James Rhodes, played by Don Cheadle). Some might find an Iron Man movie without much Iron Man to be a betrayal, but most of the intrigue of this universe comes from the character of Tony Stark, not the exploits of his superhero counterpart.
That’s not to say that the suit tech is absent. Tony has created some impressive new gadgets, including implants that allow him to control a suit remotely as well as allow the suit to fly directly onto his body. By the end of the film, the promise of action is delivered through several spectacular aerial set pieces that outshine anything seen in the previous films. In fact, I would go so far as to say that some of the sequences here rival the best in the entire Marvel film universe.
There are a few aspects of this film that may irritate fans. The first is the amount of seemingly superfluous supporting characters that seem to pop up whenever Tony needs help. I would have found them annoying had they not been so well written. When Tony comes across a seemingly annoying child sidekick (played by the wonderful Ty Simpkins), it results in the funniest dialogue (and one of the best characters) in the entire series. These characters help to alleviate some of the murky plotting that plagued the second Iron Man and is still somewhat present here.
The major flaw of this film is, unfortunately, the villain. In a post “Dark Knight” superhero film landscape, a lack of a truly strong villain seems like a tremendous letdown. The blow is softened by the fact that Tony Stark is perhaps the strongest hero in the history of superhero films, but Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin, who starts out as a truly intimidating antagonist, devolves by the film’s end. A particularly lame plot twist leaves us wondering exactly what the villain’s motivations are and why we’re supposed to care. I really was hoping for more from Tony’s foil here.
Thankfully, Tony’s internal conflict is enough to carry the day here. “Iron Man 3” keeps the spirit of the franchise alive with stirring action, heavenly dialogue and the enigmatic man at the center of it all. I truly believe Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal will go down as one of the greatest combinations of character and actor ever to be put to film. To think of anyone else in this role is heresy. If this franchise is to continue further (either via “Avengers” or “Iron Man” movies), Tony Stark and Downey Jr. can never be anything less than a package deal.