Perhaps no larger honor can be given to Robert Downey Jr. than the fact that so many fans are clamoring to see Iron Man 3 in theaters, despite the tepid response most viewers had to the last installment in the comic-book franchise. More than Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, more than Christian Bale as Batman; hell, maybe even more than Christopher Reeve as Superman, no other actor has come to be synonymis with a character than Downey as the iron-clad tech warrior.
So it goes that Marvel Studios rushed the character back onto the big screen after the wild success of The Avengers, perhaps to wash the bad taste of that misguided sequel out of moviegoers mouths. With Jon Favreau stepping away from the director’s chair, Shane Black was invited into the Marvel fold with his first directing gig since 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and only his second directorial effort ever.
When we first meet Tony Stark in IM3, it is apparent that he has been living an existence one step removed from a modern day Howard Hughes since the events that transpired in The Avengers; constantly tinkering in his basement and building new Iron Man armor, stricken with panic attacks over nearly dying while fighting off the alien invasion in New York, and managing to ignore his girlfriend/new head of Stark Industries Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). If that weren’t enough, he is quickly introduced to two new adversaries: Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), head of A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics); and Bin Laden-esque terrorist The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley).
The Mandarin’s unknown followers are responsible for at least nine known terrorist attacks, the knowledge of only three of which have been released to the American public. Tony is drawn into a battle with the Mandarin when an attack in Los Angeles leaves one of his closest friends in a coma. The battle between these two forces quickly draw others in, including the returning character of Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), old flame Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), and President Ellis (William Sadler).
The visual effects and action sequences are stunning, especially when Tony's Iron Man brigade takes flight. The costuming, however, is more hit-and-miss. Other than a brief sequence that involves Pepper donning an Iron Man suit in an emergency, the filmmakers seem to have no qualms leaving Paltrow to run around in a sports bra. On the other hand, the updates given to The Mandarin, with his ringed fingers and camo-via-Asia outfit, look terrific. It’s hard to believe this is the ridiculous character mocked by comic fans for decades.
The biggest surprise in the film is how easily Black puts his stamp on the franchise. Taking a character that has been given little more to do than create a flying tank and crack one-liners, Black revisits the characters of his creative past and brings a darkness to Stark that has been missing heretofore. A complexity is given to Tony, making us question if he would follow his personal demons into the dark if it weren’t for the neverending project that is being Iron Man.
Without giving too much away, Marvel has managed to tie up the Iron Man franchise with a nice bow at the end of this third film, not necessarily saying we will never see the character again, but definitely letting us in on the fact that it will be a while before Iron Man 4 hits screens. But with closure like this, I’m sure fans will eagerly await the new adventures of Tin Head in the meantime.