Phase Two of Marvel’s Avenger’s Initiative begins with a bang with “Iron Man 3.” After the disappointment that was “Iron Man 2,” the adventures of Tony Stark got back on course with “The Avengers” which could have been called “Iron Man and the Hulk and Friends.” The appeal of Iron Man struck audiences when his first solo film back in 2008 managed to be one of the best superhero films around. It was also the first building block for Marvel’s cinematic universe that would eventually lead to last year’s “The Avengers.” Looking back at the after credits scene in which a rather Nick Fury-looking Samuel L. Jackson came onto the screen to announce to the world Marvel’s plan, it’s still hard to swallow just how successful Marvel’s plan was; a millions-of-dollars gamble that ended up not only being a cash cow, but the movies turned out pretty good for the most part, too. Sure, the aforementioned “Iron Man 2” was a disappointment, but even that wasn’t terrible. “The Incredible Hulk” didn’t resonate as well with audiences as the studio would have liked, but it wasn’t a complete failure, and spawned a Hulk in “The Avengers” that stole the show. And while “Thor” and “Captain America” weren’t the box office smashes the Iron Man films have been, they managed to be enjoyable and successful enough to garner sequels.
The point here is that this entire Avengers thing wasn’t a sure bet, but Marvel managed to pull it off. It wasn’t perfect, but the pay off with Joss Whedon’s super hero extravaganza was well worth it. Now that the dust has settled and Marvel is rolling in cash, the next phase has begun to prepare for part two of the Avengers. Iron Man 3 kicks things off well enough. It’s not fantastic, and doesn’t live up to the first film, but it’s steps ahead of “Iron Man 2” and feels like a slightly different take on Iron Man than what we’ve seen. Director Shane Black steps in to replace Jon Favreau, who directed the first two films. The change in direction is felt throughout the film, but the Iron Man character, or should I say Tony Stark, manages to stay intact.
What I’ve always liked about the Iron Man films is that it’s not just about the super hero. From the beginning, the films have done a good job of focusing on the man in the suit while also staying true to the super hero roots. With a talent like Robert Downey Jr. playing the character, it’s hard to not peel back the suit as much as possible. It can be argued that “Iron Man 3” spends too much time on Tony the man and not the super hero, but it delves a little deeper into his demons and brings the trilogy full circle in a way. When we are introduced to Tony Stark in the first film, he is a egocentric, womanizing billionaire, and we have witnessed him mature throughout the franchise.
But where the films have played up Tony Stark, his supporting cast has never really gotten the spotlight they may deserve. The same can be said here, but it’s an improvement. Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts finally gets some things to do rather than just being Tony’s secretary and lover, the damsel in distress that every mainstream super hero movie seems to need. She’s still sort of that, but becomes more of an aggressive character than what we’ve seen. And Don Cheadle’s Jim Rhodes gets a complete makeover, making the transition from War Machine to Iron Patriot. In the comics, Iron Patriot was the altar ego of former Green Goblin Norman Osborn, who formed his own team of “dark” Avengers, which was comprised of villains posing as super heroes. So the film puts a very large twist on that. I don’t exactly know if it was completely necessary. The U.S. government already has a star-spangled superhero in Captain America. But in the context of the film I suppose it makes sense; they don’t exactly want a weapon of mass destruction being called War Machine at a time when a terrorist is threatening the country.
That brings me to the villains. The film plays heavily on our fear of terrorism. Iron Man’s greatest foe in the comics, the Mandarin, is presented in a new light as an international terrorist gunning for Tony Stark. Ben Kingsley has fun with the character and I personally wish he could have gotten more screen time than he did. Alrdrich Killian is the second villain, a businessman working for the Mandarin with his sights on ruining Tony Stark’s legacy and a connection to Extremis, a project that is turning amputees into super criminals. All the Iron Man films have featured a psychotic businessman in some way, but Killian is different and Guy Pearce infuses a good balance of charm and insanity into the role. The only thing I didn’t like about the character was that I don’t feel his motivations or goals were made all that clear. Does he want to destroy Tony Stark? Does he want to take control of the country? Does he want to fuck Pepper Potts? Why’s he so pissed to begin with? It can piece some of it together, but the rest is still a tad confusing. There’s a huge twist at a point in the film that I don’t think anyone saw coming that I am conflicted over. Part of me can’t help but be disappointed because this isn’t exactly the movie I signed up to see. But the other part respects Shane Black for making such a ballsy move.
So despite some missteps story wise, the film is a good character study of the title character in the aftermath of the battle with Loki’s army in “The Avengers.” He forms a special bond with a little kid that almost steals the show and reveals Tony’s humanity. But just because Tony spends a good deal of time outside of the suit doesn’t mean the action sequences aren’t up to par. In fact, they’re the best out of all three films. An attack on Tony’s home and a plane sequence are the standouts, the latter being exhilarating on the big screen. A big complaint about the first two films was that the final battles were both very disappointing and too fast. Black seems to have heard these complaints and went all out with the conclusion to this film. It’s an orgy of Iron Man armor, explosions, and high-flying spectacle.
Overall, “Iron Man 3” can be considered a risky departure from the first two films, and “The Avengers,” in terms of storytelling but never loses the appeal and charm of the character. Stark may be maturing, but he’s still as much of a wise-cracker as before. The film ends on a relatively questionable note, which becomes even more questionable considering the recent disputes over Downey’s contract. Whatever happens with the future of the Iron Man franchise, “Iron Man 3” can be considered a respectable conclusion to a trilogy.