In last summer’s Avengers film, during a heated argument between Captain America and Tony Stark (Iron Man), Cap calls out the “billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” by telling him, “Big man in a suit of armor. Take that off, what are you?” Well, in Iron Man 3, the latest addition to the Marvel movie universe, we find out if Tony has what it takes to be a hero without that expensive metal suit.
The new Iron Man movie plot is loosely based on the 2005 Extremis comic-book storyline (written by Warren Ellis and one of the best Iron Man tales ever) where Tony becomes telepathically attached to his armor through the nanotechnology of the Extremis serum. Unfortunately, the toxic medication gives its nefarious users super-strength, the ability to regrow lost limbs and makes their body temperature hot enough to melt steel or even explode.
Iron Man 3 starts at a New Year’s Eve party in 1999 where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) casually blows off a proposal by an excitable scientist, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), to invest in Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.). Stark is too busy partying with his date, biochemist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), to give the irritating man a second thought and he intentionally leaves the young scientist waiting for him on the roof while the Y2K New Year rings in.
Flash-forward to present time and Tony is a mental mess after the alien events that took place in the Avengers film. He’s suffering from the superhero version of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and cannot sleep, but spends most of his time building new and improved suits of armor, including thought-command versions that he can control remotely via microchip implants he has injected into his body (one of the many alterations from the original Extremis story.) He is obsessed with building an arsenal that will be able to protect the one thing he holds dear, the pulchritudinous Pepper Potts (as played by Gwyneth Paltrow.)
Enter a new terrorist group lead by the Mandarin, a bearded madman of undetermined ethnicity who takes to the television airwaves threatening the American people and their way of life with all manner of malevolent violence. Iron Man purists beware – the only thing this villain really has to do with the comic-book version of the character is that they look somewhat similar and that they are both evil-doers.
Aldrich Killian also reappears on the scene and it turns out that Pepper also knew him from back in the day. He and A.I.M. have now become very auspicious and he tries once again, unsuccessfully, to convince Stark Industries (now run by Ms. Potts) to partner up with him. It’s obvious that Aldrich has a vendetta against Stark for the way he was treated on that New Year’s Eve over a decade earlier.
Stark’s best friend and former chauffeur and bodyguard, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, the director of Iron Man and Iron Man 2), is injured during a Mandarin terrorist bombing and Stark challenges the villain to come and get him – which he does, completely destroying Tony’s beautiful seaside mansion, his workshop and his collection of armor – not to mention almost killing Pepper and Maya, who has shown up to warn Stark that Killian, who is now her boss, is working with the Mandarin and using her Extremis formula for evil inappropriate purposes.
Tony is almost killed in the attack on his home, but he narrowly escapes and while unconscious from his injuries the armor auto-pilots him to Tennessee, where he had planned to investigate an earlier Mandarin bombing. He wakes up just before crash-landing in the woods, then drags the broken armor suit to a workshop shed he commandeers to make repairs.
A young boy, Harley (Ty Simpkins), finds Tony in the workshop and decides to help him, infatuated by the Iron Man armor, as a kid of any age would be. The world thinks Tony Stark is dead and while he tries to fix his damaged suit, he continues his investigation of the Mandarin without his armor, but with the help of the witty young boy.
For at least a third of the film Tony is without his super-powered suit and relies only on his brain and ingenuity to go up against the bad guys. There is plenty of Iron Man in this film as well, maybe to the point of overkill, but for a while the movie becomes a fun, old-fashioned, eighties-style action flick with Stark out-MacGyvering MacGyver and proving that he is in fact still Iron Man – with or without the suit.
When I attended last summer’s San Diego Comic-Con I sat in on the Iron Man 3 press panel where director Shane Black told the crowd that they were not above putting out misinformation regarding the films plot, and I can say that this is true in that I’ve read things about this movie that are absolutely not correct and intentionally misleading. But that’s fine, and part of the fun of this film is the surprises it contains – therefore I’m not going to delve any further into its story. (There are a few well-marked spoilers at the very end of this review though – if you are inclined to read them.)
It is no surprise that you will see some cool new armor in this film, and if you are an Iron Man techie I’m sure you’ll be trying to see how many versions you know by name. If you’ve seen the trailers then you know there are also some awesome action sequences that will have you on the edge of your seat. The climatic end of the movie is a little over the top for my taste, but in for a penny, in for a pound.
Don Cheadle returns as Colonel James Rhodes, AKA War Machine, AKA Iron Patriot (the red, white and blue version of War Machine in this film.) Cheadle and Downey have great chemistry together and the script, as written by director Shane Black, harkens back to his early work as the writer of the Lethal Weapon series of films. In fact, I expected at any time to hear one of the lead characters say, “I’m too old for this [expletive]!”
As if to emphasize its old school action feel, the movie wraps up with a 1980s-style credit sequence that has a montage of each of the stars with a final freeze-frame pose together with their name title. It’s corny, but a lot of fun and of course you must wait until all the credits run for the requisite final after-credit sequence (although hardcore fans might be a little disappointed in that there are no hints as to what’s coming up next in the Marvel film universe.)
There is an overriding theme to this film, which is verbalized more than once, that we create our own demons, but the movie also touches on technology gone awry and how machines are eroding our human relationships. Iron Man 3 is like the Tony Stark character in that beneath its gaudy grandstanding it is actually a very intelligent entity.
In comparison to the other two Iron Man films I have to say this one is my least favorite, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t “ironclad” entertainment. I liked this movie a lot and I’m delighted that Iron Man 3 covered some new ground in a new offbeat way. I’m looking forward to watching it again. Grade: 8/10
*** WARNING *** SPOILERS & SPECULATION ***WARNING***
If you are a hardcore Iron Man comic fan, you’re going to have to give some ground on this one in that it wavers heavily from its source material. The Mandarin in particular is not at all what he appears to be and writer/director Shane Black has taken a lot of liberties with this character. To even call him the Mandarin is really a complete sham. I’m okay with the sleight of hand maneuver, but not at the expense of a well-established character. This is my biggest complaint with this film, but the way it plays out does have its own charm – so I’m going to be forgiving.
This film (and the rumors surrounding it) also leads one to believe that this may be the last time we see Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark. The film wraps up with Tony tossing his chest piece into the ocean (after finally having the shrapnel removed from his heart, and saying to himself that even without it and the armor, which is all destroyed, he is still Iron Man. There is also an ominous piece of text during the credits that says, “Tony Stark will return.” Does this mean just the character will return? Without the armor? Will Tony still be played by Robert Downey, whose contract is up after Iron Man 3? There’s no telling what’s going to happen.
Unlike the other Iron Man movies, this one does not have any apparent lead-in to any other upcoming Marvel films. It ends with a closing chapter that does not hint at any kind of continuation at all. I can’t imagine anyone but Robert Downey Jr. playing this part, so it makes me wonder if Iron Man will even play a role at all in the upcoming Avengers 2 film. I’m sure speculation will run rampant before we know what direction the future of the Marvel movie universe takes, and Iron Man 3 has proven that the studio has fun planting rumors and playing on them, so it will be interesting to see how things turn out. Here’s hoping we haven’t seen the last of Downey as Iron Man.
Photos © 2013 Marvel