Movie Review | Iron Man 3
Movie summary: When Tony Stark's world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution. (IMDb)
For some, Iron Man 3 is thought of as one of the weakest links in the chain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe - although I don't agree. The only reason I can think of is that this is very much a Shane Black movie and might not quite be what people were expecting - especially following on from the insane crowd-pleaser that was The Avengers.
And, despite what some people said and still say about Marvel Studio's 'creative control', this is very much a Shane Black movie along the lines of the excellent Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys. Stark and Rhodes are the 'buddies' this time out, bickering and teasing constantly thanks to the contrasting personalities of the pair - and the story is set at Christmas too!
I love the two Black movies that I mentioned, so Iron Man 3 was fine for me and I enjoyed seeing Stark having to survive without the suit for lengthy spells. It makes for better drama by making the hero more vulnerable, in addition to making Stark more relatable as he struggles with PTSD after the Chitauri attack on New York the last time we saw him.
There's no escaping in his suit and being able to hide his anxieties behind a metal mask, having to deal with panic attacks that he can't hide. I don't think that this movie gets enough credit for showing how even the most cocky and confident people on the planet can still suffer from crippling mental health issues - issues that are still plaguing him by the time Thanos arrives in Infinity War.
It also shows how those around you can help someone with mental health concerns: JARVIS is clinical in delivering his diagnosis; Rhodey is concerned for his friend, but also prepared to snap him back to reality if he thinks that Stark is going over the top; and Ty Simpkins' Harley is perfectly naive and not really understanding why a superhero is having problems being heroic.
All of that stuff is great and I really wish that the movie could've focused more on the interactions of these three characters, but this is a superhero movie and that means a villain for the hero to defeat. Unfortunately, Ike Perlmutter would hamstring Black and the movie as a whole: Rebecca Hall's Maya Hansen was supposed to be the real villain, but Perlmutter demanded her role be changed as he thought audiences wouldn't accept a female antagonist.
How much this changed the roles of other characters is impossible to say as a result, but it's an intriguing thought experiment regardless. Was the final plan the same? Would the climactic battle have played out in a similar manner or would it have been drastically different? How would a female villain have affected Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts?
We'll never know, but this 'decree' by Perlmutter clearly hampered Iron Man 3 enough that the ending just... happens. It's a big battle with a lot of (great) CGI work and the usual snappy banter you'd expect from either a typical Black or MCU movie, but it is lacking an emotional core to make everything feel like it matters.
I don't want to spoil the story for those who are yet to see this movie, but the villain and hero do lack that personal connection beyond what you'd expect from an average action movie. Hall's Hansen is removed from the story earlier than expected, and Guy Pearce's Killian plays a larger role than expected but it's Ben Kingsley's Mandarin who steals the show.
There's also a certain reveal about Kingsley's character that completely changes how you view his character - one which may have upset some comic book fans. In fact, it's pretty much a certainty that these extremely vocal whiners are responsible for why so many people don't view Iron Man 3 so fondly and it's a crying shame.
I would like to point out that I've read a lot of Iron Man comics in my time and I had no issue with how the Mandarin was dealt with here. Kingsley is brilliant in the role and completely subverts what you'd expect from such a big name villain: both before and after the twist, Kingsley is great and the highlight of the move 'conventional' side of this film.
The only issue you can have with the Mandarin reveal is that it does add to the weakness of the third act - not due to any fault of Kingsley's, but because it just adds another layer of awkwardness to an already-wonky finale. There were clearly plot threads that were set up for one ending and hastily re-written to fit another, and the Mandarin feels like a victim of those changes.
This is a great film for the most part, with Robert Downey Jr and Don Cheadle in fine form - and dealing with some serious character issues too. It's the superhero side that lets Iron Man 3 down, and that was mostly the fault of someone who - thankfully - no longer has any power over Marvel Studios. I can only wonder how the movie would've turned out if Black could've made the movie he wanted.
Iron Man 3 is a good film that mocks people who claim all MCU movies are alike, as this is unquestionably a Shane Black film. It's nowhere close to Black's best - or Marvel Studio's - but is still a fine film in its own right and one I can enjoy watching almost any time. The villain isn't great, but Downey and Cheadle's chemistry more than makes up for it.