Normally I try to avoid spoilers when writing reviews, but there are certain aspects to Iron Man 3 that are definitely spoiler material, that I just couldn’t NOT talk about. So BE WARNED. If you don’t mind spoilers, trek onward. If not, you might want to wait until after seeing the film to read my take on the third installment of the franchise. Once again, BE WARNED: SPOILERS AHEAD.
And so we begin Phase 2 of The Avengers Initiative. Following a string of solo Marvel Superhero films, all leading to the marvelous tie-in mega superhero-fest known as The Avengers, we enter the Marvel world, post “Battle Of New York”, with Shane Black’s Iron Man 3. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is unable to sleep from the effects of the trauma following the events of The Avengers, and is put to his physical and mental edge by a new terrorist ring-leader named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) who may or not be working with a former rival of Stark’s named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who works with a fiery regenerative plant. Naturally, things explode, new technology and equipment is debuted, and Robert Downey Jr. is awesome. But can Iron Man 3 hold it’s own weight after The Avengers?
You see, that’s the thing about Iron Man 3. It’s a very conflicting film. At times, it truly does come close to the greatness of The Avengers, such as a sequence where Stark rescues thirteen airborne passengers of Air Force One who’ve been sucked out of the aircraft at thirty five thousand feet, thanks to a hole blown in the fuselage thanks to one of Killian’s henchmen. Then you’re stuck with such awkward garbage as having to watch Gwenyth Paltrow don the Iron Man suit and jump around, pretending that she’s not the worst person on earth. Or when Stark ends up in Tennessee where he, sort of(?), becomes friends with an annoying ten year old who apparently lives on his own because his dad’s been at the grocery store for six years, and his mom works at Denny’s. Or something like that.
Iron Man 3 is a film full of duality. For every horrible line of dialogue, it’s counterbalanced with a perfectly snide comment from Tony Stark. For every cheesy action sequence (the president being captured and tied up in an Iron Man suit painted like an American flag titled The Iron Patriot), there’s a totally engrossing edge of your seat action sequence (The Mandarin destroying/sinking Tony Stark’s house).
And then there is the film’s biggest problem, and ultimately most unforgivable mistake: The Mandarin. Presented as an intensely threatening terrorist performed expertly by Ben Kingsley, that had potential to be on par with Heath Ledger’s Joker or Tom Hardy’s Bane. Key word “Potential”. After two brief, yet amazing, appearances via propaganda pieces, The Mandarin is suddenly, and I mean SUDDENLY, reduced to a South Park character. In the blink of an eye, Ben Kingsley goes from being a threatening figure, to a frail stoner with a Monty Python-esque accent.
It’s revealed that Killian had hired an actor named Trevor to be the face of The Mandarin, and all of those great Propaganda videos were all faked and that the much less threatening Killian is the REAL Mandarin. So the whole thing ends up feeling like what South Park would spoof the character with, by having him make poop jokes and acting like a stoned 12 year old. Except that’s what really happens. I sat there dazed and almost more confused than Stark is upon the big reveal, trying to wrap my head around what just transpired on screen. It’s like if in The Dark Knight Rises, there was a scene where Bane casually takes his mask off, listening to Limp Bizkit while he eats a bag of Cheetohs and playing Angry Birds in that underground lair of his. It was a truly baffling creative decision from writer/director Shane Black, and one that just absolutely kills the vibe of the entire rest of the film. It truly says something when the worst thing about your movie is not that it opens with Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee)”.
I still can’t completely write the film off, though. It’s that whole duality thing I was telling you about. Despite some huge missteps, there is still some great material to be had in Iron Man 3. Don’t believe me? Stick around for the post credits scene that awesomely and hilariously explains the strange narration that Tony Stark does throughout the film.
In terms of the Iron Man trilogy, Iron Man 3 is probably the least best of the bunch, and certainly doesn’t hold a candle to Whedon’s Avengers. Had The Mandarin been handled differently, this film could have been a lot higher on the scale. The best thing about these Marvel flicks, though, is that there’s never long before the next one comes out, so here’s to hoping for a better rest of Avengers Initiative: Phase 2.
I give Iron Man 3 a 3 out of 5
By Richard Pepper