Perhaps the biggest question going into Marvel's Iron Man 3 wasn't whether or not the film was going to be good but instead if audiences would be willing to go back to a film focused on a single hero after seeing the ultimate team up adventure flick, The Avengers.
Turns out so long as your film stars Robert Downey Jr. the answer to this question is a resounding yes. Iron Man 3 is not without flaw but the overall experience is well worth the price of admission. Welcome to phase 2 of Marvel's extended universe.
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The first film famously ended with Tony Stark proclaiming that he is indeed Iron Man. By the time the 3rd film rolls around, Stark clearly isn't so sure anymore. Who is Iron Man? Is it the armor he created or the man living inside it?
Does the suit of armor define Tony Stark or does Tony Stark define the suit of armor. These are the films central questions and by the time it's all said and done you'll know the answers to each.
I applaud the films writers for taking this opportunity to show Tony Stark growing as a character and attempting to make him more dimensional, without going the easy route and telling the 'demon in a bottle' storyline. Iron Man 3 pushes Stark in directions that we haven't quite seen before and it was an enjoyment to see how the character reacted.
Of course nobody wants to watch a movie that deals just with Tony Starks insecurity issues. Enter the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) as the films main antagonists. Both of whom act as Iron Man's biggest foes to date. And that includes the alien force from The Avengers.
Perhaps the biggest complaint with the second film was that Whiplash seemed to serve only as a minor distraction to Iron Man. Never really posing anything more than a minor threat. Mandarin and Killian dish out punishment in spades and best Stark a number of times, the likes of which we haven't seen up until now.
And they do so in ways that are different from anything else we've seen thus far in a big budget comic book movie. I won't spoil one of the films major plot points but I will say that while hardcore comic book fans might not like the way Mandarin is presented on screen, it fits the films narrative structure and makes sense within the context of the connect universe Marvel has worked so hard to create.
As for Ben Kingsley, he is absolutely brilliant as this version of the Mandarin. Kingsley is such a strong actor and he brings Mandarin to life in a way that we've never seen before. This is not just simply Bane stuck into an Iron Man film. It's a full fledged character. Written for and adapted to the big screen specifically for Iron Man 3.
Guy Pearce is no slouch either, making Aldrich Killian one of the more interesting characters to be presented on a Marvel screen. I loved Killian and the evolution that he goes through. Ultimately ending the picture as a sort of badass, uber version of the T-1000 from Terminator 2.
Tony Stark (the character) needed someone who could challenge him not only physically but mentally. Aldrich Killian is able to pull this off and almost succeed in doing so. Clearly this is the farthest we have seen Iron Man pushed and exactly what the film needed to live up to the high standards set forth by The Avengers.
The rest of the films (main) cast is rounded off by the returning Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Don Cheadle as War Machine/Iron Patriot and Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan.
It's nice to see all of these actors return to the franchise and by this time in the series each of them knows the different nuances to there respective characters. It allows for some very nice comedy beats and very organic exchanges between them.
My only complaint here is that once again it feels like Don Cheadle gets short changed. Despite the fact that War Machines armor has been "re-branded" to a new Iron Patriot look, Cheadle doesn't really do a whole heck of a lot throughout the course of the film. Why even bother putting him in the movie if your not going to use the character?
I expected much bigger scenes involving War Machine this time around and ended up leaving more than a little disappointed with how this character was handled. As for the Iron Patriot rebranding of War Machine, it's another one of those instances that works really well within the context of the film, despite being entirely different than the source material.
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This was never going to happen in any Marvel movie. For a number of different reasons, but chief among them being the fact that the cinematic rights to the Spider-Man franchise currently being owned by Sony Pictures.
Marvel couldn't include Norman Osborn in an Iron Man film even if they wanted to (which they probably don't) ... but they are free to use the Iron Patriot likeness all they want. Consider it an awesome piece of fan service but try not to concentrate so heavily on the characters origins and instead stop and think about how it fits into the Marvel Universe, as established by the films that came before it.
Which to be perfectly fair, the same thing can be said for the Mandarin character in Iron Man 3.
Speaking of the expanded Marvel Film Universe, Iron Man 3 does a pretty good job of fitting in with everything that came before it without overloading the audience with information pertaining to the prior films.
You can go into Iron Man 3 without having see a single Marvel film and still walk away enjoying the final product. Obviously the more you know the better but it doesn't beat you over the head with details that happened in the five films prior to this one.
Which isn't to say it is ignoring the events of what happened before it. You can very clearly ready between the lines and see how The Avengers has shaped not only Tony Stark but the world around him.
It is important to remember that Thor's arrival in the Marvel Universe is a literal game changer. Here is someone who perceives himself as a literal god from another world, that has descended into ours. This alters everything. As you watch the film, keep this in mind and I think you'll gain a better understanding of how deep Mandarin's character really is, and quite frankly central to Iron Man 3.
Overall the film delivers on all fronts. You'll run into a select few scorn fans who seem to think this is the worst Marvel film ever made (clearly they don't remember Ang Lee's Hulk) but don't listen to them. Iron Man 3 delivers by all accounts.
4 1/2 out of 5