Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is now a shadow of his former self. He’s overwhelmed by the reality of seeing aliens; he’s struggling with the fact that he nearly died during Marvel’s The Avengers. And he can no longer seem to to put himself in his Iron Man suit. He’s a manic, depressed man, suffering from crippling panic attacks and insomnia. Even his relationship with the woman he loves, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), is on the rocks. This should have been the most interesting take on Iron Man ever; Tony Stark in denial that he’s a good person, obsessed with making sense of the inexplicable things he’s been through over the last few years, and coping by constantly trying to improve his Iron Man alter ego.
But this is not the most interesting Tony Stark we’ve seen – far from it. With one line of dialogue Tony is reminded he is a “mechanic” who fixes things, and all of a sudden he goes from being in desperate need of therapy to a competent hero in seconds. And herein lies the problem with Iron Man 3 – none of its good ideas ever seem to pan out into anything substantial, making this outing feel hollow when compared to its predecessors. This is a bad way to start off the second round of Mavel films, which presumably will culminate in another Avenger’s flick sometime in the future — and that future is looking bleak.
The plot of Iron Man 3 seems to crumble under its own weight, obsessed with providing twists and turns that add more confusion than interesting complexity. It begins on New Years 1999, Tony is partying with scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) when he approached by inventor Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) in a hotel lobby about a business proposition. After embarrassing Killian and disposing of Maya after a one night stand, Stark sets into motion the painfully-obvious wheels that will lead to his potential demise later in the film.
Killian goes from socially-awkward goofball to criminal billionaire in only a few years time, and he still holds an extreme grudge against Tony for shaming him over a decade ago. He begins working on a human mutation project known as Extremis, which seems to have something to do with an elusive terrorist known as The Mandarin, who is baiting Iron Man into a game of cat and mouse.
At first I loved the new take on The Mandarin – the classic Iron Man villain from the comics has updated to fit in a real-world setting. He’s been turned into a Middle-Eastern terrorist, which really is a genius idea that plays into current fears perfectly, and could have undoubtedly lead to a bittersweet climax – that is, if it wasn’t for a bizarre plot twist that some have called “bold”; I just think it’s grossly unimaginative.
Essentially Iron Man 3 had a better story already written for itself, but the filmmakers decided to throw in a wacky twist for no reason. The Mandarin has no meaningful impact on the film, and the real story seems to center around an Extremis army vs. an army of Iron Mans. I was left wondering why The Mandarin was included in the film at all, if not just for advertising appeal. I actually felt deceived by director Shane Black, who created a coherent trailer and a truly baffling film.
Not everything about Iron Man 3 is terrible; there is some big-budget fun to be found here. Black is able to produce some cool action sequences, most notably a scene that involves people falling from an airplane, with Iron Man struggling to save them all in the nick of time. It’s an awesome scene that uses stunt divers as opposed to green screen, and it’s absolutely worth commending.
But, sadly, the good doesn’t outweigh the bad for this one. It pains me to say this…but Iron Man 3 is the worst Iron Man yet, and one of the weakest films Marvel has put out. We were given a potentially complex Tony Stark, an updated Mandarin, a phenomenal cast, dazzling special effects – and they were all squandered by a script that is convoluted and uninspiring. If this is the direction Marvel is going to take with Iron Man, I hope this is the last time we see Tony Stark on the big screen.