Did you freak out over "Iron Man 3"?

I love the Iron Man series. The blockbuster summer of 2008 was fantastic because we were treated to perhaps the two greatest superhero films of all time (easily to that date). This series served as a launching point for the Marvel cinematic universe and renewed Robert Downey Jr.’s career. Iron Man 2 has its proponents and detractors. Perhaps setting up the rest of the Marvel movies was a problem, but I think it had a villain problem. Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer was a good addition, and I liked the character of Ivan Vanko better than the threat of Whiplash. Like Jeff Bridges in the original, once you put the bad guy in another suit, it’s challenging to create drama when two heavily armored men fight each other. It’s cool at first, but can wear thin at times. Iron Man is a great hero, the challenge is to match him with a great villain. That was the promise of Iron Man 3. Finally, Tony could square off with his comic-book nemesis, the Mandarin.

Warning: This is a post-viewing discussion of Iron Man 3. If you haven't seen it yet, turn back now.

I was excited to see what was in store for Tony when he met up with The Mandarin. The translation of the character to a terrorist was interesting. Although magic powers may not have translated well (but apparently aliens and Thor are fine), I felt that Ben Kingsley’s performance brought a sense of dread to the story. While not someone in armor or a business leader, The Mandarin felt like a worthy adversary for Tony Stark. For all of Tony’s preparation and technology, it was hard to keep up with such a smart villain who had the world in fear.

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Meanwhile, I was very happy that Guy Pearce had a role in this as well. I was blissfully ignorant of what his role was, but I’d bet most of us knew going in to the movie that we was our secondary villain. If not, the opening scene from 1999 cleared that up for us.  In fact, my ignorance was so blissful that I wasn’t concerned with the problems of having too many villains in the movie. Even worse, I assumed incorrectly that Guy Pierce was the secondary villain.

Can you guess where Iron Man 3 started to fall apart for me?

While the packed theater chuckled as Ben Kingsley made a joke about the smell he left in the bathroom, I silently began pleading with the movie. “He’s a body double, right? Please tell me this is a trick. Please, please let the Mandarin be real”. As he cracked open another beer, I hoped that this was just like the moment where John McClane offered Hans a cigarette. Nope, the Mandarin wasn’t acting in that moment, but he was an actor.

This is the point of the movie where I began to learn not to trust what I saw. For a moment, I bought it when Iron Man got hit by a truck after saving the passengers on Air Force One. Never mind, that was a “gotcha” move; as Tony somehow had the remote control headband from earlier in the movie (let’s assume one was stored in the armor). So just the suit was smashed to bits, not Tony. The sense of danger left the movie. Somehow, it didn’t feel like a threat that the President was held captive, or that the VP was in on it. That should have been huge, but it didn’t feel that way. By the time Pepper fell to her death, I don’t think anyone believed it.

While my primary frustration with Iron Man 3 is that I personally hated the twist, there was much more to take away from it. I enjoyed many elements of the movie, but was also left with a number of questions.

I enjoyed a number of ideas that they played with in this movie. Having Tony fight his personal demons was a smart more. Sometimes his demons were internal, such has his anxiety attacks, inability to sleep, or fear that he couldn’t protect Pepper. Sometime those demons were people, such as Aldrich Killian or his botanist friend. In any case, I enjoyed watching our hero try to live in a changed world that wouldn’t let him forget his past.

Opening the movie with a scene with Tony from that 90’s was a great idea. In addition to the surreal feeling of watching he Marvel logo fade in to Eiffel 65, this was our chance to see the old Tony. Sure, we like him better now that he is a changed man, but we fell in love with his flawed former self. I loved that they Yinsen brought back, and the glimpse of the past was a good way to set up a the story.  Side note: For a changed man, Tony sure talked about killing a lot in this movie. I know he isn't Batman, but Tony’s usage of guns and open comments about killing his enemies stood out to me. In that case, it didn’t seem like the same Tony that halted the creation of weapons at Stark Industries.

But I digress…

We were treated to some spectacular action in this movie. The whole Malibu house attack was thrilling. We knew it was coming, so I was surprised that I was so caught up in the drama. Watching the robot “Dummy” fall into the ocean was perhaps the saddest moment for me (and I loved that Tony went back for him at the end). The action was well done and the whole sequence felt very fresh. This was also the moment where we got to see the coolest trick of Tony’s ability to command the Mark 42 armor to save Pepper, and eventually back to him.

While the new armor was pretty cool, we saw a number of cases where Tony’s tech fell short. His main suit, a prototype, always seemed to be on the fritz. I never quite figured out what was wrong with Jarvis either. Heck, when did the arc reactor in his chest become just an electromagnet that couldn’t help power these things? Perhaps in the effort to have them fight on their own they needed their own batteries. In any cases, the army of suits at Tony’s disposal sure didn’t last long. Iron Man has been established to be pretty tough. Those suits took a beating in the past. So why did they get shredded like aluminum foil in this movie?

As always, Marvel included plenty of references for the fans. The different suites of armor, Mandarin’s ten rings, the inclusion of Roxxon oil. I loved the self-aware banter about the Iron Patriot name. While I wish I saw a point for Mandarin’s Captain America tattoo, I imagine that I will enjoy catching more of the subtle references in later viewings. Speaking of the dialog, Shane Black was a great choice to voice the characters. Shane Black gave Tony plenty of good one-liners, and made sure that we didn’t just enjoy this film for the special effects.

Am I being too hard on Iron Man 3? Maybe, but the original taught me to think better of this series. The Avengers had its share of confusing elements and plot holes, but it was still an incredible experience and a lot of fun. This movie was fun as well. I think it’s a good example of borrowing elements from a popular comic book storyline (Extremis) and adapting the parts that work into a fun film. I feel like Iron Man 3 did a better job than the second of exploring Tony Stark as a character, it just didn’t always make sense to me.

There are lots of things that don’t add up to me, but perhaps I need to adjust my perspective. After all, I haven’t questioned that Tony injected himself with some stuff that made the Mark 42 armor fly to him by thinking. I just accepted that. Perhaps I should go easier on the Extremis powers for varying so much, the uselessness of the Arc Reactor in Tony’s chest, or Pepper’s sudden ability to kick ass in the finale. Leave a comment about your thoughts.

I am happy that this film is doing well at the box office, and I hope to see much more from Iron Man. The ending did feel a bit like a clean way to let Robert Downey Jr. walk away while letting the franchise live on. I hope that isn’t the case, as he brings so much to the character, but I know that day will come. This character, and likely this series, will continue for some time. That’s a good thing. For now, we have a few open questions to ponder about the future of Iron Man.

Love or hate the movie itself, Iron Man 3 accomplished something very important for the Marvel universe. Iron Man 3 went where I want more current superhero movies to go. It didn't feel like it was building to anything. It wasn't an origin story. It was simply an Iron Man story that could have stood on its own. This is the film that made me believe the franchise could go on eight, or as many films as they can dream up.