Iron Man 3 starts off promising but then careens into bewildering plot twists and action scenes that lack the desired impact.
After Jon Favreau departed the director’s chair (but remains as Happy Hogan in this movie), Shane Black, writer of Lethal Weapon and director of the 2005 film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which also starred Robert Downey Jr., stepped up to helm and help write this entry. Black and Downey attempt to portray Tony Stark as a complete mess after the events of The Avengers, and they do so, successfully. The tension in Stark’s home life, the horror in his eyes, and his detachment from his girlfriend, Pepper Potts played by Gwyneth Paltrow, all indicate a haunted man.
Stark still makes quips and retains a façade of playfulness, but it’s clear more is going on under the surface, thanks to the nuanced performance and writing from Downey and Black, respectively. From here, a golden opportunity is missed to completely break down Stark and utilize the idea that “he is Iron Man” against the character; to develop him, to equate his numerous suits with the “demons” that Stark alludes to in a beginning voice over narration.
The fact that the film doesn’t do that is fine; not every superhero movie needs to be that dark. Iron Man 3 focuses mostly on being fun, but it also suffers from a lack of tonal consistency. Stark’s PTSD is basically abandoned halfway through the film without warning, and his vulnerability becomes limited to his lack of badass body armor. Speaking of which, there isn’t much Iron Man in this Iron Man movie. I have no problem with superhero films limiting their use of costumed antics in favor of characterization, like The Dark Knight Rises, but it needs to build to something. For the first half of this movie, that lack of Iron Man does work to its advantage, but later on, it just drags, with no satisfying payoff. There’s a trick with Iron Man suits, where they just fly to Stark on a whim, that Black abuses so much that when Tony Stark just throws dozens of AI-controlled suits at villains, it stops feeling exciting, even if it does show that Stark is just as much brains as brawn.
None of these are as problematic as the choices done with the Mandarin and Aldritch Killian, played by Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce, respectively. Both of these actors are phenomenal…in other movies. Here, they’ve got some bad roles. Pearce has clichéd dialogue and undercooked motivations, while Kingsley has what might be the lamest plot twist in years. I have no connection to the comic, so that is not the reason I dislike these changes to the Mandarin; what I don’t like is that, when the film shows you its cards, it becomes more straightforward and formulaic than it was.
I love fun movies. I loved The Avengers. But Iron Man 3’s numerous problems prevented it from being as fun as it could have been. Even when Stark’s most interesting aspects fall to the wayside, Downey entertains. And Paltrow has a lot more to do here than in Iron Man 2, and she does it very well. It could have been even more than just fun, though. And that’s the most depressing part of it.