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This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. If they choose, they also get to include some of their thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Bekah Lindstrom.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Written by Shane Black & Drew Pearce
Directed by Shane Black
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an all-encompassing behemoth at this point, and its existence marks a transformation of corporate-owned media. It’s hard to remember individual films with such a glut of content filling up cineplexes and streaming platforms, but some movies in the mix aren’t absolute formulaic dreck. Once upon a time, Marvel was a little less cohesive, which was a good thing. Not every film needs to provide plot points & Easter eggs for future films and long-running storylines. In this space, it was possible to hand a movie over to Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys) and let him do what he wanted, with an emphasis on superhero-ing things. It was likely seen as less in the shadow of the first Avengers movie, but Iron Man 3 is a very solid, entertaining flick.
In 1999, a pre-Iron Man Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), is attending a New Year’s Eve party and meets scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall). Hansen is developing an experimental regenerative treatment she calls Extremis. She’s being courted by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who has started a think tank called Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM). Jump to the present day, and Tony is struggling with PTSD from the Battle of New York. This has led to him being in a state of constant refinement of his armor resulting in dozens of suits. It’s also causing friction with his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow). In addition, a string of worldwide bombings has been linked to a terrorist figure who calls himself The Mandarin (Benjamin Kingsley). Aidan Killian also appears in Tony’s life again, making nice with Pepper. Our hero’s life is about to explode.
The thing that works best here is Shane Black writing for RDJ. Black had already proved this in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, so Iron Man 3 was simply the result of Black showcasing it in that film. RDJ does best when he speaks with a certain rhythm. It’s a mix of arrogance and urgency, his self-doubt creeping in and wrestling with that arrogance. Black’s balance of these elements leads to the relationship between Tony & Harley (Ty Simpkins) in the film’s second act. The director is also not afraid to embrace the feel of 1990s action flicks, which is why Iron Man 3 feels so different from many of the movies around it. Going back to a slightly dated style of storytelling ironically feels fresh in the MCU.
Now that I’ve praised what I liked about the film I have to admit you should just watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This is that movie, but with telegraphed emotions and constant displays of digital special effects to see Tony’s armor flying onto his body. I lost count of how many “change into Iron Man” scenes are in this single film, but it is a hell of a lot. The third act is a complete ball of nonsense with all of Tony’s suits flying around, remotely controlled to fight the Extremis-powered villains of the picture. Meh. It’s not the worst set piece in a Marvel movie, but it is nothing memorable.
I would argue that this is the best Iron Man movie, but it continues a trend of having lackluster villains. The Mandarin has been an infamous addition, revealed within the film as an actor posing as a terrorist for AIM’s goals. This, of course, has been retconned by the Shang-Chi movie where they tell us the Mandarin is real; it wasn’t that guy, it was this guy. It had been so long, I forgot AIM was even in this movie, and yet we never get a scene of scientist foot soldiers in matching yellow hazmat suits sending their deadly creations into battle against Iron Man. It’s more a name-drop than anything else. With MODOK showing up in the new Ant-Man & Wasp movie, maybe we’ll see a bigger, deadlier AIM in that picture?
Rebecca Hall is the most wasted actor in the mix. This is not the first, nor the last, time Marvel wasted an actor in their films, but this one annoyed me. Hall is a fantastic actress who has just gotten better with every film; see this year’s Resurrection for what is the best performance I’ve ever seen from her. Her character, along with Adian Killan, acts as a sort of shadow to Tony & Pepper or at least had the potential to be. Unfortunately, the movie never goes down that route and thus misses a fun opportunity. Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley are also quite wasted because Tony’s character arc takes up so much of the film. The Extremis/Mandarin subplots feel like they are happening primarily in the background until the end of the second act.
If you have never seen a Marvel movie, it would be odd to make this your first one. But I also would never recommend the first Iron Man movies; I didn’t like them. So I would just say watch another one of Shane Black’s movies. Again, the humor will be this but even sharper, and the story will engage you and be even more entertaining. It was nice to let Black play with the Marvel toys, but this is not his best work.
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