At the end of last year’s The Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) was by far the most changed by everything that had happened. It was Tony, as Iron Man, who nearly gave his life by flying the nuclear warhead through the mysterious wormhole in the sky that essentially saved earth. How does one come back from something like that? In a world where gods walk among us with hammers that call down lighting, scientists can turn into monsters, and men can be frozen for decades and return good as new, it was the act of a human being in a suit made of Iron doing something super-heroic that won the battle.
And his scars run deep.
Iron Man 3 picks up months after the events in New York. Tony can’t sleep and spends his time tinkering with new improvements to the Iron Man armor. In fact, after a brief sojourn to 1999 to set up the story, Tony is working on the Mark 42 armor. To put that into perspective, the suit in Avengers was the Mark VII (7). Things are off in his brilliant mind and even Jarvis (voice of Paul Bettany) begs Tony to take it easy. His relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) isn’t much better as Tony’s preoccupation and lack of rest is taking its toll in every facet of his life.
To add insult to injury, The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) and his terrorist organization, the Ten Rings (last seen in the first film), is waging a war with the U.S. and President Ellis (William Sadler). There have been suspicious bombing attacks, which drags in Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and the newly branded Iron Patriot (War Machine didn’t test well in focus groups) armor to try and find the terrorist before he can cause any more destruction.
While all of this is going on, a mysterious man from Tony’s past, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who has created an international think tank called Advanced Idea Mechanics, or A.I.M., resurfaces to offer Stark Industries, and Pepper Potts as the acting CEO, a chance to invest in his new project, called Extremis.
These three paragraphs alone contain more story and exposition than either of the first two Iron Man films, and that is why Iron Man 3 is easily the best of the three films.
Directed by Shane Black (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, and writer of Lethal Weapon and Last Boy Scout) and written by Black and Drew Pearce (the upcoming Pacific Rim), Iron Man 3 tells a complicated story of lies, deceit, power and revenge. The bad guys are bad. Bad as in blockbuster movie bad, and bad as in comic book bad, with nary a line drawn between the two. Tony Stark, as Iron Man, has never fought villains like this, and this is coming after the Chitauri invasion from The Avengers.
Stark is taken to the brink on countless occasions. It’s a far cry from the same old, same old of him fighting other Stark Tech suits of armor or even a crazy Mickey Rourke, and even he devolved into another “guy in a suit” at the end of Iron Man 2. The Mandarin/Ten Rings are viscous and unrelenting, and with an underlying revelation that I will not spoil here, the world may never be the same again if Tony fails.
While I can go on and on about the pacing and characterization, Iron Man 3 continues to excel by adding humor throughout without confusing itself as a comedy. And that boils down to incredible performances from all involved. Downey continues to amaze as Stark, and Jon Favreau (who gave up directing duties, but retains a producer title and his role as Tony’s driver/bodyguard/now head of Stark Industries Security, Happy Hogan) is the perfect vehicle for comedy. After a rocky Iron Man 2, Cheadle has settled in nicely as Rhodey Rhodes, and Paltrow is given more to work with here than in the previous outings. Kingsley is a welcome addition to the Marvel mythos, and Guy Pearce is near perfect as Killian, who is essentially the Anti-Tony Stark.
This is also the first Iron Man film shot in 3D. Some of the action scenes look amazing with the field of depth that the 3D offers, including the assault on Tony’s Malibu home, and the climactic battle on an offshore oil rig. It’s not distracting, and works to enhance the presentation, as it should.
Iron Man 3 signifies the beginning of what Marvel Studios is calling Phase Two (Phase One ended with The Avengers). Much like 2008’s Iron Man, which kicked off this wonderful surge of smart, thrilling, action-packed films based on comic books, Iron Man 3 is poised to do it again. Somewhere between 2008 and present, “comic book movies” have become some of the best movies out there. Marvel Studios has figured out how to weave an incredible tapestry with it’s characters (the ones they still own the rights to, at least), and we, as fans, are treated to magnificent wide-screen storytelling that breaks all barriers and most resembles the source of all of this: comic books.
Iron Man 3 is rated PG-13 and opens nationwide on May 3, 2013.