Third Time Awesome!

Iron Man 3 poster from Comics Beat

Now that I have filled my indie historical drama and artsy fancy-pants musical quotas, it’s time to go back to reviewing movies about things blowing up.

Iron Man 3 is a movie in an interesting position. The Avengers was such a huge risk, and such a huge success, that it seemed like the sort of thing you simply couldn’t top. At the same time, a slew of sequels becomes pretty much inevitable when you win more than a billion and a half dollars at the box office. Marvel Studios, director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), and writer Drew Pierce (No Heroics) faced a real conundrum: how should they approach this follow-up to such an epic movie?

It turns out, the answer is to dial back the “epic” substantially and make a more focused story about a small handful of characters. Instead of expanding the scope, Iron Man 3 shrinks it. Instead of being about bigger and badder enemies, this movie is very much a personal tale about Tony Stark/Iron Man as a character, as he adjusts to the “new normal” and tries to figure out how to handle it.

The film opens with Stark telling the audience “We create our own demons”, and the story clings tightly to that theme. The villains are all people from Stark’s past. Stark finds himself in a very personal, inner conflict, trying to balance going after the bad guys and protecting those that he cares about, and he doesn’t always succeed. The filmmakers even made a surprising decision: to show Stark struggling with PTSD after the events in The Avengers.

Also, he crash-lands in blue snow.

Also, he crash-lands in blue snow.

If that sounds deep, it is, but before you go thinking this is some dark melodrama, let me reassure you that this movie is still fun and has plenty of light-hearted moments. This movie proves that “going darker” doesn’t have to mean “always taking itself too seriously” or “trying to copy The Dark Knight“. It has plenty of the humor, silliness, and slapstick that made Iron Man so fun in the first place. After all, how dark can a movie be when the hero takes out some bad guys with Christmas ornaments?

Robert Downey, Jr. is back in prime form for what has become his signature role. Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle both are clearly having great fun reprising their roles as Pepper Potts and Col. Rhodes, respectively. But the real show-stopper is The Mandarin, a staple villain of the comics who in this film has become a terrorist leader played by Ben Kingsley (yes, the guy who played Gandhi in the 1982 movie). Without spoiling anything, this film takes The Mandarin in a very interesting direction that nobody could possibly expect.

In essence, this movie makes all the right decisions – it doesn’t try to cram in too much the way Iron Man 2 did, it doesn’t try to top The Avengers and thus start a cycle of constantly trying to top oneself and eventually burning out (I’m looking at you, Pirates of the Caribbean), and it strikes just the right balance between action and character development. It is a great summer blockbuster and a great sign that the Marvel films are still in the right hands. If you like comic books, or if you just like a good action movie, I highly recommend this film.