Iron Man 3 (2013)

Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark in Iron Man 3, one of the more inevitable sequels in recent memory. And thanks to it effectively being the first sequel to the mega-hit The Avengers, Iron Man 3 now stands as the fifth highest grossing movie of all time.

And really, I doubt anyone who paid twelve bucks to see this in the theater felt particularly burned. It’s certainly not boring like the previous film; there’s plenty of action, and plenty of Tony being Tony. But somewhere along the way, the Iron Man franchise caught Dark Knight Disease, wherein everything has to be darker, grittier, and more violent.

It would appear this disease has infected the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe: Thor is about to enter a “dark world”, and Captain America is set to fight a soldier in “winter”. After several upbeat, high-flying adventures, it seems Marvel is deliberately trying to make this next round of films a lot less fun.

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Oh, Iron Man 3 tries to be fun; it’s full of your typical Tony Stark one-liners. But only a couple of these quips garner more than a slight chuckle, most likely because a great deal them come in the midst of Tony killing loads of faceless henchman. And not just with his Iron Man weapons—Tony Stark brandishes a gun a few times, which is a bit jarring for a superhero flick. I mean, just try and imagine a Superman movie where Clark Kent shoots people.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

The change in tone is due in no small part to the loss of director Jon Favreau, who’s only here to briefly reprise his role of Happy Hogan (reportedly, Marvel forcing a bunch of SHIELD crap into Iron Man 2 made Favreau not so “happy”—zing!). In his place is Shane Black, director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and writer of the first Lethal Weapon. Which explains a lot, actually. Violent gunfights peppered with one-liners work just fine for Riggs and Murtaugh; not so much for Iron Man.

But the worst symptom of Dark Knight Disease on display here is the need to make everything unnecessarily complicated, solely for the sake of setting up lots of “mind-blowing” plot twists. But whereas The Dark Knight was still more or less a coherent film, Shane Black and writer Drew Pearce have only succeeded in giving us a murky plot and a villain with even murkier motivations.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

The movie begins in Bern, Switzerland on New Year’s Eve, 1999. Years before becoming Iron Man, Tony is attending a tech conference at a hotel and inviting Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) up to his suite. It turns out she’s an organic chemist who invented a compound called “Extremis” that could potentially help people regrow limbs (when it comes to one night stands, Tony aims high).

Iron Man 3 (2013)

On the way up in the elevator, they’re accosted by a dorky scientist named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Killian wants Tony to join a think tank he’s starting up called AIM, as in Advanced Idea Mechanics, as in an organization that should be familiar to readers of Marvel Comics. Tony blows him off, which is a move that should be coming back to haunt him in, oh, about 13 years or so.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Also at the conference, there’s a brief cameo from Dr. Yinsen (Shaun Toub), who you may recall sacrificing himself to save Tony in the first movie. And sure enough, back in the first movie, Yinsen did actually mention meeting Stark at a tech conference in Bern. His cameo is a puzzling one; it’s shot like it’s meant to generate a laugh, but it only brings back memories of his poignant death scene. Not knowing whether to laugh or be bummed out—the whole movie is sorta like that.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Cut to present day Malibu, where Tony is suffering from extreme insomnia due to the events of The Avengers. It’s never made clear what has him so shaken up; he certainly didn’t look all that rattled at the end of that film. But he can’t sleep, he’s obsessed with protecting Pepper (now his live-in girlfriend), and whenever anyone brings up the battle in New York City or what he experienced during his brief trip through Loki’s wormhole, he experiences a panic attack.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

His sleeplessness has given him plenty of time to work on new suits, including the “Mark 42” prototype. Each section of this armor has its own rocket, and the pieces can fly through the air and assemble themselves around Tony (and in some cases, around Pepper as a defensive move). The movie is really, really in love with this special effect, though I’m afraid the novelty wears off by around the twentieth time we see it.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Meanwhile, a terrorist named the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is orchestrating bombings around the world, and hijacking TV signals to broadcast professionally-produced packages in which he claims responsibility. Going by the name, one would expect the Mandarin to be Chinese, but he speaks with a Texas drawl (whenever he says “America”, I’m pretty sure it was literally written out in the script as “‘Murrica”) and bears a striking resemblance to Guru Tugginmypudha, also played by Kingsley.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

To fight this threat, the U.S. government enlists the help of Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who evidently got to keep his War Machine armor at the end of the last movie. For little reason other than to sell more toys, he’s been given a red, white, and blue paint job and rechristened the “Iron Patriot”. At one point, Rhodey jokes that the name tested well with focus groups, and it would be funny if it weren’t so very close to actual reality.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Aldrich Killian resurfaces, now looking suave and handsome (if anything, Killian makes an excellent advertisement for cosmetic dentistry—get your teeth fixed, look like Guy Pearce!). He meets with Pepper, still CEO of Stark Industries, and tries to get her interested in Extremis (presumably, he hooked up with Maya Hansen at some point). But Pepper sees the potential for Extremis being “weaponized” and turns him down.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Following this meeting, Happy, now head of Stark security, tails Killian’s right hand man to the TCL Chinese Theatre (yep, that’s its official name now), where he meets up with an army vet whose face is glowing orange from the inside. The glow builds up, until the vet literally turns into a human bomb, exploding onto Hollywood Boulevard and killing several innocent people. As we learn later, this is one of the unfortunate side effects of the Extremis formula, along with bloating, weight gain, severe dizziness, and thoughts of suicide.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

The Mandarin takes credit for the bombing, drawing a tortured analogy between the Chinese Theatre and the faux-Chinese nature of fortune cookies, which to me says only one thing: Panda Express, you’re next.

Happy gets caught in the explosion and ends up in a coma for the rest of the movie. This inspires Tony to make it his one-man mission to take down the Mandarin, even directly challenging him on TV and giving out his home address, which makes no sense given how much he’s been obsessing over Pepper’s safety.

Maya Hansen unexpectedly shows up at Tony’s place, giving us a funny bit where Tony thinks he’s about to meet the 13 year old son he never knew he had. But actually, Maya used to work for Killian, and claims to be horrified at what he’s done with her Extremis formula (though later, in a pointless twist, it turns out she’s still working with Killian and is really here to get Tony to help perfect the formula).

Oh, and at some point, Tony felt compelled to buy Pepper a giant stuffed rabbit with large boobs. I’m pretty sure this is never explained in the movie, and could not possibly ever be explained in all the time remaining between now and the heat death of the universe. (Yes, I know those are supposed to be the rabbit’s stubby paws, but I will never be able to look at this and not see an amputee bunny with big boobs.)

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Suddenly, several helicopters belonging to the Mandarin show up, and stage a Godfather III-style assault on Tony’s mansion. All of his Iron Man suits get blown up, and eventually the attack sends the entire mansion sliding into the ocean.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Tony, left with nothing but the Mark 42 prototype on his back, travels to Tennessee to investigate a bombing that took place before anyone heard of the Mandarin. But the new suit runs out of power by the time he gets there (I thought the arc reactor in his chest was the power source?). Luckily, he just happens to find a shed full of electronics, which belongs to some random kid. Tony and the boy bond over their love of science and hatred of bullies, giving this movie its very own Cute Kid Subplot. Admittedly, he’s nowhere near as annoying as Cute Kid sidekicks of movies past, but this is a trope that really should have stayed in the ‘90s.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

After some poking around, Tony finally thinks he’s figured everything out: Aldrich Killian used Extremis to regrow the limbs of amputee vets, but he wasn’t able to stabilize the formula. So he decided to sell it to the Mandarin, who’s now using it to create super-soldiers who can then be turned into human bombs. But the truth is something else entirely.

Spoilers follow, but if you don’t know the twist by now, exactly which rock have you been living under?

Tony tracks down the “Mandarin” and finds out he’s really a British actor and drug addict named Trevor Slattery. He’s being paid by Killian to play the part of a terrorist, in order to cover up the (accidental? intentional? no clue) explosions caused by Extremis. Killian is essentially hiding behind this manufactured Mandarin character to make himself less of a target, which doesn’t really work out, seeing as how Tony and later Rhodey are able to track him down anyway.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Killian’s men subdue Tony and tie him up to a bed frame for some reason, and soon Killian reveals that he abducted Pepper and is currently injecting her with Extremis. But his ultimate plan is to kidnap the president and assassinate him in the name of the Mandarin, leaving the country in the hands of a vice president who’s under the sway of the Extremis project (solely because he has a daughter without a leg?). Cue a massive battle in a shipyard as Tony and Rhodey try to save the president and rescue Pepper.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that Iron Man 3 is a huge improvement over Iron Man 2, simply for the action scenes alone. And unlike the previous film, we have a villain who actually seems like he could inflict some real damage.

But the story falters due to too many plot twists that raise tons of questions. Why exactly does Killian want to control whoever’s in the White House? I get wanting that kind of power, but what does Killian intend to do once he becomes the de facto U.S. president?

Why does Killian kidnap Pepper and inject her with Extremis? It’s hinted that they plan to use Pepper as bait for Tony, but that becomes irrelevant when Tony shows up on his own. Basically, Killian turns his hostage into a super-soldier for no apparent reason, which turns out to not be the wisest move.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

The twist involving Maya Hansen was pointless, but when you think about, Maya Hansen herself was kind of pointless. They could have easily cut her out of the movie, and without her, there’s barely any need for the 1999 prologue, so that could have been cut, too. In fact, the intro makes the villain look lamer in retrospect; are we really to believe Killian turned evil just because Tony blew off a meeting with him?

And then there’s the big plot twist with the Mandarin, which seems to only exist so the movie can have a big plot twist. A lot of fans of the comics were pissed off (evidently, the Mandarin is like Iron Man’s Lex Luthor), but for me, it didn’t make the movie noticeably any better or worse. I’m pretty ambivalent about the whole thing, though I do believe a good plot twist should kick a movie’s energy level into a higher gear, whereas this one just brings things down into bathroom humor territory. Also, the trailers did a pretty good job of setting up the Mandarin as a Bane-like villain who was going to bring Iron Man to his knees, so I don’t blame anyone for feeling a bit cheated.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

It’s possible the twist came about because the filmmakers feared the Mandarin was too much of an outdated, racist Fu Manchu caricature, but that shouldn’t have mattered. The first movie had no problem taking Iron Man’s hopelessly dated origin story from the comics, relocating it from North Vietnam to Afghanistan, and making it timely all over again. I guess the one good thing I can say about the twist is that it spared us from getting one more big hero vs. villain fight; instead of having to physically defeat the Mandarin, Tony finds out he simply doesn’t exist, and we get to move on.

In the final battle, Tony suddenly summons dozens of Jarvis-controlled suits to come to his rescue, which left many people wondering why he didn’t do this sooner. Upon a second viewing, it appears it was established (but only in very brief hints) that Tony had extra suits in his cellar that would be freed up when they excavated the ruins of his mansion. But it still seems like a huge asspull. This highlights another big problem with this movie: crucial plot points are constantly blown through, and only mentioned in nearly throwaway lines.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

And the ending feels completely rushed and tacked on. Pepper gets infected with the Extremis virus, and Tony’s VO simply tells us that he “took care” of that problem off-screen. Just like that! And then he proves his love for Pepper by destroying all of his suits. Because clearly, there’s no reason to be prepared for some other supervillain showing up to obliterate his house. (And since we already know Iron Man will be in Avengers 2, it’s a bit of a meaningless gesture.)

And even worse, Tony up and decides to have the shrapnel removed from his heart. Are we to assume he could have done this at any time? Wasn’t the previous movie about how the arc reactor was poisoning him? Why did he have to come up with a “new element” to power it when he could have simply had the shrapnel taken out and gotten rid of his arc reactor altogether?

Iron Man 3 (2013)

On top of all that, Tony is barely in his armor in this movie—I honestly think Pepper wears it more. Is it that unreasonable to expect an Iron Man movie to actually feature Iron Man? On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with the idea of a film where Tony finds out he’s still a hero without the suit, but that really wasn’t how the movie was advertised.

There’s a big set piece where Iron Man rescues people who have been blown out of Air Force One. But after seeing so many henchmen get shot and/or blown up, I just couldn’t bring myself to care. Why should we be thrilled at Tony rescuing a dozen people when we just saw him blasting away at Extremis subjects, who for all we know aren’t really evil and were just seduced by the prospect of growing new arms and legs?

Iron Man 3 (2013)

And then the scene is completely undermined when it turns out Tony wasn’t even in the suit for this daring rescue. Nobody was in the suit. He can now just control the thing remotely. I’m assuming the next Iron Man movie will feature two hours of Tony Stark sitting in his living room playing with a Kinect.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Also, where the heck were SHIELD and the other Avengers throughout this whole thing? I don’t expect Thor and Captain America to show up in every Iron Man movie from now on, but when the President of the United States gets kidnapped by super-soldiers, you’d think at least somebody from SHIELD would get involved. Unfortunately, that’s one of the pitfalls of introducing a shared continuity: we expect it to be, well, shared.

(Actually, there is a guest star who shows up in yet another post-credits scene, and I feel sorry for anyone who sat there for ten minutes waiting for that.)

In short, all the violence and death and mayhem (including the rather grisly effects of the Extremis virus) would have worked just fine in a standalone action picture with Robert Downey Jr. as a cop on the edge or something. But it all feels disturbing and out of place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

The movie tries to suggest this will be Downey’s last solo outing as Iron Man; The closing credits (which oddly play to music that sounds like Tony just got fired by Donald Trump) show a variety of scenes from all three movies, trying in vain to trick us into thinking we got a satisfying trilogy. Unfortunately, the Iron Man movies so far have been too uneven to feel like a complete story. And I seriously doubt Downey is going to turn down the tanker truck full of cash that Marvel is currently backing up to his house to reprise the role. So never fear, everybody will be back to do this all again in Iron Man 4.

Tag: Marvel Cinematic Universe

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  • T. Morrissey

    Did you also manage to keep track of how many times Tony”s suit gets destroyed during the final battle, so he jumps into another, it gets totaled, so he jumps into another from his inexhaustible supply? I lost count.

    • freddy

      No kidding sure hope Stark Industries isn’t footing the bill for those, or Tony’s going to have some VERY displeased board members to deal with.

  • Doc Skippy

    Frankly, I find the whole Marvel movie zeitgeist puzzling, which MAY be a more accurate indicator of my own aging than a read on the quality of the movies themselves. But I don’t really think so. I thought the first Iron Man movie had next to no Iron Man in it; how much less can this one possibly have, if Albe, er, I mean, Dr. O’Boogie is to be believed? Captain America was weird and boring; the Hulk movies did nothing for me, the Avengers was fair, I guess, but the final battle was a real letdown.

    • Fantasy Mission Force

      I agree with you, good doctor.
      I don’t get all the love, or even ‘non-hate’, for ‘Thor’, either. Just like your take on Captain America, I found it weird and boring, but it was probably even worse than Cap’. Everything felt rushed yet the movie dragged on and on, I literally had tears in my eyes from trying to keep them open. If it’s an age thing, it’s only due to the wisdom that follows such.

  • Thomas Stockel

    A good analysis. I could understand why there was not as much Iron Man in the first film because it was an origin story, but this one was a big letdown for me. Still, I don’t think it was as bad as the third Nolan Batman film, which was bloated and seemed so embarrassed of it’s title character you barely see him.

    • goldenknight

      “Still, I don’t think it was as bad as the third Nolan Batman film, which was bloated and seemed so embarrassed of it’s title character you barely see him.”
      I love how fan boys want batman to beat up superman, yet he can’t defeat bane. Oh, and apparently his armor is made out of paper, when the real villain behind the whole thing stabs him with a knife. “Robin” and Gordon did more than Batsy did.

  • MichaelANovelli

    Well, speaking from personal experience, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder doesn’t always hit right away. You could be perfectly fine for months or even years before the symptoms start to appear.

  • Jason Withrow

    “That’s one of the pitfalls of introducing a shared continuity: we expect it to be, well, shared.”

    That’s one of the interesting things about the DCAU, if only because it died when it did and they didn’t get the chance to mess it up. Essentially, Justice League started and, chronologically, there were no solo shows after that until Bruce got cranky and left. And they just kept going without Batman! I’m paring down a bit, but it’s like a bunch of intelligent people realized that working together was a good idea, and maybe they should keep doing that?

  • Muthsarah

    “And then the scene is completely undermined when it turns out Tony
    wasn’t even in the suit for this daring rescue. Nobody was in the suit.
    He can now just control the thing remotely.”

    One of the few things I know from the comics (meaning I read one issue, a long time ago) is that Tony Stark was once paralyzed and controlled the suit using a remote brain thing, all from a hospital bed. I thought it was interesting to have a quadriplegic, alcoholic superhero, especially if the series wanted to go in a darker direction. I wish the movies had focused more on that and less on Iron Man, ultimate playboy.

  • Really they could have just had Maya be the villain, and cut Killian from the movie altogether. She could had breathed fire and instituted a president kidnapping. Just have it that she took her own formula and went nuts just like all the people she gave limbs to, and they all formed a terrorist group.

    The Shared Universe:
    Thor wasn’t on Earth, Captain America is presumably doing other things, the President had been kidnapped for all of 24 hours before Iron Man rescued him so they didn’t call in the rest of the Avengers. They are other things going on in the world, not every Navy Seal is on the same mission in the same place.

    • kamenrideramerica

      “Thor wasn’t on Earth, Captain America is presumably doing other things, the President had been kidnapped for all of 24 hours before Iron Man rescued him so they didn’t call in the rest of the Avengers.”
      Thor- getting in bar fights about his perfect hair.
      Hulk- talking to his shrink
      Cap- crying over his 80 y/o girlfriend
      Fury- didn’t get paid enough to show up

  • racerx

    “I mean, just try and imagine a Superman movie where Clark Kent shoots people.”
    Or kills a super powered being hell bent on destroying earth, pissing off people left and right. Sorry the boy in blue didn’t bring his red sun tanning booth from Superman 2.

  • Cristiona

    “Why does Killian kidnap Pepper and inject her with Extremis?”

    Considering Extremis causes the person to explode 9 times out of 10, I viewed at Killian fucking with Tony by, essentially, putting his girlfriend in a death trap.

    • freddy

      Not to mention giving him ample incentive to fix Extremis. Remember that before injecting Pepper, he tried, again, to get Tony to join AIM.

  • Cameron Vale

    I don’t see where people got this impression of Mandarin as a physical threat in the Bane vein. He’s a bearded ideologue who takes credit for terrorist attacks and decries American decadence in rambling video screeds from a secure location; personally, I would have been quite surprised and puzzled if Bane was what they were driving at. Is there an alternate trailer I didn’t see which downplays that aspect?

    • freddy

      I think it was all the bits about how Mandarin was going to teach Tony/the US a lesson, much like Bane claimed to be educating the people of Gotham/the world/Batman through his actions.

  • Gallen_Dugall

    Fun read as always. You made me smile and you made me think – good on you!

    I don’t think any of the Marvel films was great but they did manage to do some interesting things. Iron man showed us that it is possible to make an enjoyable mass audience super hero film in the modern age, the second Iron Man film showed that the Super Evil CEO meme has been so overused that it has now officially gone way past silly, Thor showed us that it is possible to have magic in a movie without making that sort of hand waving pixie-faerie nonsense the driving force of the movie (something Hollywood once knew but has forgotten), Captain America showed us that modern audiences will accept a character holding to the ideals of the USAlund without having to excuse every second of its history, Avengers showed us that it is possible for a super team up to work within the time constraints of a major motion picture, and lastly Iron Man 3 showed that if you explain things quickly instead of hand holding your audience through the minutia they’re going to miss things.

    That’s my big nit-pick with a large percentage of the critiques of IM3, it mostly comes down to the person missed something. If you missed a plot point because you were texting or searching for that rouge jujube that got away – that’s entirely on you. If you want actually nonsensically convoluted for comparison try Mighty Jack

    As mentioned in this review, they have tone problems and I suspect that this is because they crammed in too much stuff just like with IM2, or perhaps more accurately they didn’t feel that any one element (or two or three or four) carried the film by itself.

    One of the best things in IM3 is how they made extremis make more sense – when you see what they had to work with you may find it in your heart to forgive a lot here. They have the motion comic on the free side of Hulu and if you can tolerate some truly hate filled two dimensional stereotypes about the limited government crowd, and equally shallow anti-military industrial complex research funding rants about the corruption of the government grant process – it’s actually a pretty good watch. But translating that directly onto the big screen? Marvel knows Iron Man isn’t one of it’s better characters (heck they just made him adopted to try to inject some depth) so they’re pulling from the A list of his material, which frankly isn’t that great and is hugely inconsistent, and they have the same problem with Thor where Beta Ray Bill (his horse faced alien counterpart) is almost universally regarded as the more interesting and character.

    Now if only they can avoid a forty eight minute long song and dance routine in the next Captain America film…

  • Arakasi_99

    I walked away from this movie wondering what keeps Tony from building a 100 (or 1000 or 10000) suit army and using it to replace The Avengers. Then if any supervillian pops up, she’ll be hit with a couple dozen Mark 50 (or whatever) suits.

    I do admit, though, that part of me wants to see a movie with Tony Stark as The Mechanic

  • Lilgreenman

    Considering how Shane Black handled Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (which is about the closest you can get to “Tony Stark as a cop on the edge”), and the fact that Tony was the pre-eminent source of one-liners in The Avengers, I actually interpreted this as a stealth spoof of The Dark Knight Rises; The plots are broadly similar, but it’s all done with self-aware winks at the camera and hunorous subversions that it really elevated the movie for me.

    The ending battle was still stupid, though. It bugged me that when Don Cheadle flew away in his Iron Patriot suit, with the president in tow, we never saw him again after Tony blew up all his suits. I just assumed he had inadverntently murdered both the President and his own government-appointed minder – which would be an interesting starting point for Iron Man 4.