Literally starting off with a bang, with an image of exploding Iron Man suits, Iron Man 3 kicks off the summer season by re-establishing why so many fell in love with this franchise in the first place. The film marks a significant moment for both the series and the Marvel cinematic universe as a whole. After The Avengers became such a huge hit, discussion turned to how the solo films, from several of the key characters, would survive? If Iron Man 3 is any indication, then the individual films will do just fine.
Free from the shackles of having to align itself with the other films in the Marvel cinematic universe, Iron Man 3 feels rejuvenated even though the man at the center of it all may not feel the same way. Loosely based on the popular Extremis arc from the comics, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has not been the same since the events in The Avengers films. He is not sleeping at night and is suffering from a severe case of panic attacks. To cope with this anxiety he spends most of his time trying to perfect his Iron Man suits. Obsessed with his work, Stark neglects to see the strain it is putting on his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). He is also blind to the fact that an old acquaintance, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), has re-emerged with groundbreaking research that could help to rebuild limbs.
Once disabled himself, Killian is now a suave businessman hoping to secure some time, both professionally and personally, with Potts. Killian’s appearance is the least of Stark worries though as a terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has been orchestrating a series of bombings worldwide. When The Mandarin’s latest attack strikes close to home, Stark makes it his personal mission to bring him down. However, The Mandarin is not easily rattled, as he possesses a weapon more powerful than anything Stark has encountered before.
Continuing the recent trend of superhero films focusing more on what makes a hero instead of the special abilities that they possess, Iron Man 3 offers up a tortured look at the sacrifices that come with heroism. To achieve this Shane Black, who takes over the directing reigns from Jon Favreau, opts to keep Tony Stark outside of his Iron Man suit for as long as possible. Similar to The Dark Knight Rises, many of Iron Man 3’s most engaging moments come when Robert Downey Jr. is in his fast talking Tony Stark mode. Even when Stark must put on one of his many Iron Man suits, Shane Black finds a way to ensure that these moments are brief.
This is not to say that Iron Man 3 does not feature some great Iron Man moments. While the film does not strive to be a pure action film, when Black does provide action it is nothing short of spectacular. There are two sequences in particular, The Mandarin’s attack on Starks home and the climatic fight towards the end, that will rank amongst the best in the franchise to date. Fans of the comics will be particularly excited to see several iconic Iron Man suits in the end.
One area where hardcore Iron Man fanatics may have an issue is with the portrayal of The Mandarin. The key thing to remember is that there are very few ways to tackle the character without turning him into a stereotype. Shane Black wisely realizes that the only way to properly adapt The Mandarin in this universe is to highlight what a caricature the character really is. For his part, Ben Kingsley does a wonderful job bringing both the grandeur and the absurdity of The Mandarin to life.
While it would have been nice had Shane Black given Rebecca Hall’s Maya Hansen more to do in the film, considering how prominent the character is in the comics’ storyline, there is much to enjoy in Iron Man 3. Black succeeds in making a quality film that more than makes up for the stumbles that Iron Man 2 had. By getting back to the basics of stand-alone storytelling, Iron Man 3 proves that the future is still bright for the Marvel cinematic universe.