Written by J.T. Johnson
When “The Avengers” was released last year, it was an astonishing send-off to Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the first team-up movie successfully released, it was also going to be a tough act to follow. Marvel’s Phase Two, though, is off to a good yet rockier start with the latest “Iron Man” film.
The movie starts off with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) recalling a moment in 1999 with scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), the inventor of a new regenerative treatment called Extremis. She quickly becomes one of Tony’s one-night stands and he also has a run-in with Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), another fellow scientist who is also rebuffed by the arrogant playboy.
The story then shifts to the present day and Tony is experiencing crippling anxiety attacks after the events in “The Avengers”. Instead of sleeping, he is spending hours at a time building several new suits and ignoring his girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) in order to deal with his posttraumatic stress. In the meantime, the world is also being terrorized by a string of bombings led by a terrorist known only as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) who claims he has bigger plans in store for the country.
Of course, Aldrich ends up returning on the scene as the head of Advanced Idea Mechanics or A.I.M. for short. He seems to have harnessed Maya’s Extremis technology, but it quickly becomes apparent that Aldrich’s experiments and the Mandarin are somehow connected. After Tony invites an attack on his home, he finds that he is left with nothing and must figure out a way to bring down the Mandarin while dealing with the situation without his suits for the most part.
Tony’s personal demons make up the central theme of the movie and this is what ultimately keeps the film afloat. Unlike previous movies where the hero has to deal with crippling psychiatric problems, director Shane Black legitimately focuses on Tony’s struggle to find out where he fits into the world after “The Avengers”. It also helps that Downey, Jr. is back in the role as well.
With a fair bit of drama while not forgetting the signature sarcastic humor, Downey, Jr. again steals every scene that he is in. There are even standard, bland scenes that under any other actor would have been boring, but with a clever line of dialogue here and there, the actor saves the day. Some of his best scenes don’t even take place during the action, but with a small boy he runs into along the way.
That’s right, Tony ends up recruiting the help of a kid named Harley (Ty Simpkins) after losing everything and some of the best exchanges of dialogue happen between the two characters. Usually, introducing a kid into the middle of things can be annoying, but here it ends up working thanks to the comedic and dramatic timing of Downey, Jr. and Simpkins.
Still, like all superhero films, the action is what audiences really want to see. In regards to “Iron Man 3”, the action is entertaining but not as good as the epic scenes found in “The Avengers”. There are scenes such as the attack on Tony’s mansion and the finale that will excite audiences, but there are other minor action sequences that are just a little disappointing.
Then there is the main threat of the film’s overall plot. While the story surrounding Tony is handled successfully, the plot’s main threat is a bit thinner than the things Tony had to face in both “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2”. It takes a bit too long for the story to explain what the ultimate goal is for the villains and there is even a twist that may upset some of the purists comic book fans out there. While Tony’s personal struggles are faced head on, the villains are ultimately left feeling a little lackluster in comparison.
Finally, there are a couple of characters that end up getting outright short-changed. The biggest of which is James Rhodes, once again played by Don Cheadle. Since the last film, his War Machine armor has been rebranded and the government has transformed him into the Iron Patriot. That’s really all that is established about the character and nothing more is really explored. They don’t even try to explain where he was during “The Avengers”.
Ultimately, it looks as though Black and Downey, Jr. had a great time working with each other once again. Unfortunately, this movie is not one of the stronger films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Iron Man 3” has decent action sequences and good performances led by its main star, but the movie is also crippled by a weaker story that makes it a weaker entry into the MCU.