Film Review - Iron Man 3 | The Salvation Army

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Film Review - Iron Man 3

The latest instalment of the highly successful Marvel series.
Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man 3
Posted May 3, 2013

Following on from the huge success of The Avengers, the latest Marvel release sees the return of brash but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man.

Fighting against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds, Stark’s personal world is destroyed, which causes him to embark on a harrowing quest to find those responsible.

Iron Man has always been the smartest and wittiest of Marvel’s film franchises. From the very beginning, it matched Robert Downey Jr.’s effortless charm with a subtle hint of social commentary. For this third part, Shane Black (The Long Kiss Goodnight) takes over the director’s helm from Jon Favreau. The film is much better for it—mainly due to the screenplay showing Black’s trademark humour and irony.

Iron Man 3 opens with Stark in the midst of crisis. The events of The Avengers have left him suffering PTSD, insomnia and anxiety attacks, which seriously affects his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow in her best role in the series so far). 

Of more pressing concern is Iron Man’s latest nemesis, a man calling himself The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley who is both brilliant and baffling). He is a shadowy terrorist warlord regularly forcing his way onto US airwaves to threaten dire ‘lessons’. No one knows his identity or location or where he will strike next, but it’s clear he really hates America.

When Stark’s best friend is severely injured in a Mandarin attack, Stark calls him out, only to suffer the wrath of The Mandarin himself. This leaves the world to believe its superhero saviour has been killed, so, alone and with nothing more than a broken prototype suit, Stark sets out to find those responsible. This is a new, vulnerable side to the playboy-philanthropist—he’s on the run, in the corner, pausing between quips to suffer breathless anxiety attacks. 

The series’ villains have always been an issue and this film is no different. Drawing on the comic-book’s ‘Extremis’ storyline (a 2005-06 run by Warren Ellis), Iron Man 3 pits Stark against a squad of super-soldiers who can regenerate body parts and survive astounding damage. They’re visually interesting, but their motivation is murky and unconvincing. 

As mentioned before, Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin is one of the best parts, but overall the film never really delivers on the promise of the initial setup, which is quite frustrating. Guy Pearce, who plays think tank founder Aldrich Killian, is equal parts slick businessman and angry geek, but the conflict there feels surprisingly hollow as well, which is a shame.

What don’t disappoint are the action scenes, which are brilliantly executed. From an attack on Stark’s flash Malibu home to a scene where a team of Iron Man suits show up ready for a scrap, the battle scenes  and visual effects are crisp, bright and a lot of fun. A mid-air rescue sequence involving Air Force One is simply phenomenal, but probably not great for those with a fear of flying.

As well as the customary Downey Jr. wit, there are numerous sight gags, bits of slapstick and even some Downton Abbey references. The ominous introduction of a boy sidekick in the second act turns out to yield some of the best banter. And Don Cheadle’s Rhodes/WarMachine, a character who barely made an impression in the other films, is skilfully tweaked to add a nice dimension to the proceedings.

As with the first two parts of this franchise, there is an element of a battle between good and evil without many shades of grey. Themes such as self-sacrifice, redemption and responsibility explain the appeal of the Iron Man series. This makes them stand out from other films with less noble heroes.

Iron Man also appeals in terms of its stance on justice, for fighting corruption and fighting for truth and exposing lies. That is one thing that people really like about Tony Stark's character, he says it the way it is. Now, he may be dead wrong, but at least he's got the courage of his convictions.

Successful superhero sequels tend to bring the hero back to a human level where they can fail. These heroes must also must face greater challenges with each film, though those challenges don't always have to be external.  In this film, taking Stark out of his element allows him to veer away from the swaggering playboy shtick, and sets the stage for a real story of rebirth. As he fights his way back, Stark discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: Does the man make the suit, or does the suit make the man? 

Iron Man 3 is a great fun film that’s well executed, with more character depth than the first two. For that reason, it might be the best instalment of all three. And if this does turn out to be Downey Jr.’s final solo outing, it’s a very strong exit.

Review by Martin Barratt

Iron Man 3
Genre: Action 3D
Director: Shane Black
Rating: M (violence)
Run time: 2 hours 10 mins