Tony Stark cannot sleep. The arrogant genius behind Iron Man has seen a lot since he began to don the red and gold suit. From his initial escape out of the Middle East and facing corruption within Stark Enterprises against Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) in 2008’s original “Iron Man.” To later facing his own technology engineered against him with Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) in 2010’s “Iron Man 2.” And since joining “Earth’s mightiest heroes” in the 2012 film “Marvel’s The Avengers,” Tony even faced death when he used his brash attitude for good in an attempt to save New York City from being wiped in a nuclear strike. And while his act of heroism brought the fight to an end and destroyed Loki’s Chitauri army, the effects of his trip through the wormhole and momentary death would be long-lasting. So what is wrong with Tony Stark? He can’t fully grasp what he witnessed in NYC. An alien army led by a god from another galaxy? The weight of this event may be too heavy for Tony to handle.
And so it begins: Phase Two of Marvel Studios’ master superhero plan. Phase One introduced fans to Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, and the members of S.H.I.E.LD., including Nick Fury, Agent Coulson, Black Widow and Hawkeye. All of this was capped off with a monumentally successful film that many fans thought was too good to be true, “Marvel’s The Avengers” (which currently holds 28 box office records, including biggest opening weekend domestically with $207 million). Yet here we are, barely one year later, beginning another journey that will put into motion Marvel’s plan to hit moviegoers and comic fans with an astounding 5 films in only three years.
In his fourth outing as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. returns in “Iron Man 3” with very big shoes to fill: his own. His character’s heroic actions in “Marvel’s The Avengers” have left us with a very different Tony Stark than we have been used to. Rather than being the usual cavalier flying cowboy, Tony is suffering internally, and it is beginning to show on the outside as well. His near-death experience has left him with insomnia, and he has become obsessed with perfecting the Iron Man technology. But all of his innovation still leaves him unsatisfied and hollow inside. All the while, a new terrorist who calls himself The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is plaguing the nation with threats against the government and continuous attacks on foreign and US soil. And a man from Tony’s past, Aldrich Killian (played devilishly by Guy Pearce), has come back around after he has found government funding in developing the Extremis virus, which alters human DNA. Could the timing of his return be a coincidence? Or does he have ties to The Mandarin?
Without divulging too many plot points and secrets, I just want to say how much I really enjoyed “Iron Man 3.” This film felt like a natural continuation from the previous 2 films and “Marvel’s The Avengers.” Tony Stark has always existed in these films with very little regard for his actions. But now, his cage is clearly rattled. The actions taken by the villain are not only very real, but personal. And for the first time, I actually cared for the characters in the film. The set pieces and action sequences were well thought out and grandiose, without being over-the-top. And as much as I enjoyed the ending of “Marvel’s The Avengers,” I felt that it was a bit absurd and a near (though much better done) rip-off of 2011’s “Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen” finale. But the ending of “Iron Man 3” was quite satisfying, and is going to leave director Joss Whedon with quite a challenge to outdo it when he releases The Avengers sequel in 2015.
And speaking of directors, previous “Iron Man 1-2” helmer Jon Favreau has stepped away from the camera and into the executive producer role, making room for newcomer Shane Black. Now while Shane is fairly new to directing, his writing credits date all the way back to 1987’s “Lethal Weapon.” Shane knows how to cut together an exciting action sequence, while mixing the appropriate amount of dramatic dialogue. And while “Iron Man 3” takes what I consider to be a much darker tone, it is not devoid of humor. Everything is well mixed.
While none of the performances are going to garner any sort of nominations, all of the principal actors are in good form. Downey Jr. adds a whole new layer of depth to the Tony Stark character, grappling with inner turmoil and concern. And Gwyneth Paltrow also plays a more important role in the plot as the beautiful but tough Pepper Potts. Don Cheadle returns as Colonel James Rhodes/Iron Patriot. And while I enjoyed his actions scenes, I felt his character was a bit underused. Jon Favreau and Paul Bettany add humor and some heart as bodyguard Happy Hogan and computer voice Jarvis. Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley join the cast, and are both superb in their roles as Aldrich Killian and The Mandarin, each taking on a physical transformation that personifies their characters’ true intentions. Other newcomers include Rebecca Hall (“The Prestige,” “Frost/Nixon”), James Badge Dale (“The Departed,” “24”), and Stephanie Szostak (“We Bought A Zoo”), all very good in their supporting roles.
Overall, I was impressed with “Iron Man 3.” I felt that the story was much more compelling than its predecessors, both of which in my opinion lacked strong endings. And while all 3 films are incredibly important to the developing Marvel universe, this film ends and leaves the audience wondering what may come next. The team behind “Iron Man 3” faced an uphill challenge after last year’s blockbuster, but it seems all of these franchises are in good hands. Marvel Studios…bravo.
If you have the opportunity to do so, make sure check out the film in IMAX 3D or in a theater that features Dolby ATMOS™. The experience is well worth it. And as always, stay through the credits.