Iron Man 3 – Review
By David Baldwin
A man who refers to himself as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is terrorizing Europe and Asia, and making very real threats against the United States. With S.H.I.E.L.D. evidently pre-occupied from the fallout of an alien invasion in New York, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) takes it upon himself to take this mad man down. But after getting cocky and giving him his address, Stark’s home is destroyed along with the majority of his technology. With time dwindling and the sudden appearance of a mysterious project called “Extremis”, Stark begins searching for clues – all the while rebuilding everything he has lost.
It sounds like a lot to swallow, but Iron Man 3 does a more than admirable job righting all the wrongs Iron Man 2 committed back in 2010. 3 may be a follow-up to Joss Whedon’s wildly successful The Avengers, but it is very much its own film. It centres on Stark and any mentions to other heroes or films not titled Iron Man are very few and far between. They are mere dialogue snippets that most audiences may not even register as references.
Downey Jr. proves again that Tony Stark was the role he was born to play. He is perfect in every instance, and makes something of even the slightest of scenes. He has gotten to the point with this character that he it is like breathing for him. There is never any wavering, never any hesitation. Gwyneth Paltrow is given even more to do this round as Pepper Potts (some more of a stretch than others), and she is just as reliable and fun as always. Don Cheadle drops in as Stark’s friend James Rhodes/War Machine again, but he seems a bit stifled in the role. It is a very thankless one that Cheadle seems more than game to accept, but I cannot help but think he could have been so much more useful if he was not the butt-end of so many jokes.
Kingsley is just as fantastic as you imagined he would be as The Mandarin. He is downright terrifying in most instances and is truly a sight to behold. While some fans have taken offense to some elements of his characterization, it does not seem to matter because of how great he is. Kingsley wisely gives the character an element of theatricality (not unlike Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker) which lends to the aura that surrounds him throughout the film. His work is complemented by James Badge Dale as Eric Saven and the absolutely despicable Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian. Dale does a great job as a glorified henchman, truly making the most of an otherwise forgettable role. But from his very introduction, Pearce is on fire. He takes a bite out of as much scenery as he can find, acting circles around almost everyone (Downey Jr. notwithstanding). His lousy overacting in Prometheus and Lawless is instantly forgiven with his deliciously villainous turn here. He is having a blast, and much like Sam Rockwell in Iron Man 2, practically steals the film.
But with all of that said, my main gripe with Iron Man 3 is that it never seems sure of what it wants to be. Yes, it is unlike any film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe up to this point (at least until James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy next summer), but it struggles from the very beginning to balance various interests and ideas. At times, it feels like a goofy kid-friendly action romp; in others, a treatise on domestic terrorism. And in other instances, it feels like a pulp fiction-esque detective noir. It even goes so far as to masquerade as a buddy comedy picture – one that could act as a pseudo sequel to Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (including Downey Jr. narration!). I realize this is Black’s first studio picture, but as much as I enjoyed what he does here, he stumbles more often than he succeeds. He displays the skills of a studio veteran, but some of the action is so chaotic and sloppy that you begin to wonder if the film should have been directed by someone with a bit more experience.
From the film’s opening narration right onto the closing credits, he creates a wildly shifting tone that never quite corrects itself at any specific point. The popular “Demon in a Bottle” storyline is referenced but barely used as it has in the past, benched this round in lieu of a half-cooked PTSD subplot stemming from the ending of The Avengers. It is an interesting and heavy character building element for Downey Jr., but it is one that fades away almost as quickly as it is mentioned. Contrast that with the propaganda The Mandarin spins across American televisions multiple times throughout the film. His tactics are extreme and often brutal, going so far as to murder an innocent man during a live telecast (off-screen in the film of course). Somehow Disney and Marvel deemed it more appropriate for children than a subplot involving alcoholism. How that could be possible is beyond me, but it is just another means for the tone to shift on a dime.
What this all proves really, is that despite the success of The Avengers, Marvel is still chasing Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. They want to be taken seriously, and they want to be seen as creating the definitive comic book adaptation. Thematically, Iron Man 3 is a lot closer to Dark Knight than I am sure most people would like to think. It is dark, violent, and deals with heady issues that are quite simply absent from all of the films that have proceeded it. It makes me excited for what is to come next with Thor and Captain America, but it takes away the spark of what made Iron Man so wildly enjoyable in the first place. Do not get me wrong – the fun, the excitement, and the wise-ass Downey one-liners are all still here. But they are only mere traces sprinkled throughout the lengthy story.