Iron Man 3, directed by Shane Black
Midway through The Avengers, Captain America and Tony Stark have an argument. Cap asks, “Take away that suit and what are you?” That conflict is never really resolved in The Avengers. Though the two men are able to work together in the big battle of New York, the question still lingers after the credits roll. Iron Man 3 is the spiritual continuation of that argument, taking Tony Stark out of his suit and seeing how he functions as both a man and a hero.
Directed by Shane Black, screenwriter for the classic action movie Lethal Weapon as well as the director for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3 feels different than its predecessors. Iron Manwas the origin story, introducing us to Tony Stark and showing us what made him become Iron Man. It was a funny, relatively low-budget film, and put Marvel films on the map as a studio that could reinvigorate characters. The most important thing was that it had a clear character arc for Tony Stark. He went from being a playboy billionaire who couldn’t care about anyone into someone who could be an actual hero, risking his life to save the lives of many.
Then two years later came Iron Man 2. A better title for that movie would be Everyone Gets a Robo Suit and Shoots Each Other with Lasers! It was a loud action movie, but the action never had any emotional depth. It still had the same charming characters and brought in Don Cheadle to replace Terrence Howard as James Rhodes, Stark’s buddy sidekick, and Sam Rockwell as a rival industrialist. It went to an extreme, having almost every major character jumping into an Iron Man suit and shooting other Iron Man suits. It was big and flashy but there was nothing underneath those big beefy robotic suits.
Then came Iron Man 3, which jumped in the complete opposite direction from Iron Man 2. In this 135-minute movie, Stark was in the suit about fifteen minutes (that time does not include a fantastically choreographed fight scene when he has on only bits and pieces of the suit). It felt more grounded, more human. Those words get thrown around a lot, but here it actually means something. We see a man who has everything. Money, a loving girlfriend, a cool best friend, brains, a kickass robo suit, a good job — and he even saved the world. Take all that away, and what is he? Well, when an evil organization uses a virus to make people overheat and explode, that question is answered. We see Stark making friends with a young mechanic kid, who lost his father just like Stark, in a mountain town and building some very imaginative weapons. Even when he has nothing, brains beat brawn. Thankfully, the kid never becomes a substitute sidekick. This isn’t Last Action Hero, another movie Black worked on. The kid isn’t reunited with his estranged father and has to be saved all the time; he serves a purpose and the movie moves on. Every character serves a specific purpose. Don Cheadle and Robert Downey Jr. also emulate some good old Lethal Weapon techniques, with both of them running around an oil rig in polo shirts with guns. The influence of Black’s career is seen throughout these small references, and feels incredibly welcome while still staying somewhat in the background.
In any good action movie, memorable villains are a key part of the equation. Villains like Alan Rickman in Die Hard, Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element, and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight all add something that makes them different from a generic villain. They bring both humor and charm to a dark, evil person. Iron Man 3, without giving anything away, had me completely surprised and excited about the Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley. In the comics, the Mandarin was just a Chinese professor who found ten magic rings, shot people with those magic rings, and was always stopped by Iron Man. He was a boring villain who never seemed to go anywhere. Iron Man 3 changed that, making him much more relevant in today’s world as the leader of a terrorist organization called “The Ten Rings.” He’s a scary guy, seen only through dirty video cameras and terrorist videos. Ben Kingsley gives a terrific performance, slurring his voice and just being a menacing guy in general. He’s ruthless, manipulative, and a killer, and the fact that he is still scary and we don’t even really meet him until halfway through the movie is a testament to Kingsley’s performance.
All in all, Iron Man 3 is the most fun Iron Man movie. The action is well choreographed with shades of ’80s action movies, the acting is as strong as ever with Robert Downey Jr. still stealing the show, and the plot is just comic book-y enough to keep a big comic book nerd entertained while also being accessible to people who don’t care so much about comics. Iron Man 3 comes out of the Avengers strong, keeping the Marvel movies on the upward trajectory they have been on ever since the first Iron Man.