Returning after the event of The Avengers, Robert Downey Jr.‘s Tony Stark has a solo adventure in Iron Man 3, which proves to be the best of the franchise, and one of the best Marvel movies yet. If it works, it’s partly because writer/director Shane Black understands the genre and good filmmaking, giving fun scenes and great stakes to this entry, while also advancing the characters. This is a summer movie par excellence.

The Players:

The Plot:

Following the events in New York, Tony Stark (Downey) is having problems sleeping. He builds more and more Iron Man suits, and advances the technology for remote controlled operation, but nothing is stopping his panic attacks.He needs to know he can protect Pepper Potts (Paltrow), the love of his life. There’s also a new threat: The Mandarin (Kingsley), a modern terrorist who uses video to create fear. Eventually The Mandarin upsets Tony, and Tony gives The Mandarin his address so they can fight. James Rhodes (Cheadle) is helping in his War Machine suit (renamed Iron Patriot for political reasons), but he’s of little use. And when The Mandarin destroys Tony’s home it becomes personal. After losing the first battle, Tony gets stuck in the middle of America, and investigates a bombing that’s connected to a recent one in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. It turns out someone has been developing Extremis technology that gives humans superpowers, but the technology is still very unstable.

The Good:

  • Shane Black Movie: There is always a fear when a talented filmmaker works in the big budget sphere that it will neuter their flourishes. And though Shane Black was originally a blockbuster screenwriter, his more recent years have turned him into a Hollywood outsider, and a deeply respected artist, even if his top dollar screenplays were action nonsense (good nonsense at that). But from the opening, which starts with narration from Tony, you can tell that this is much a Shane Black movie as it is an Iron Man film, and that’s good. From his development of The Mandarin character, to an opening flashback to 1999, where Tony meets both Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), to a fight in the Mandarin’s lair where Tony’s suit hasn’t all shown up yet, there’s a lot of playful fun ideas in the mix. But it’s also about a man who loves so much he puts his life on the line to save the thing he cares for most, though that too is given a twist at the end.
  • The Cast: Black also seemed to wake Downey up,w hich is good news, as he’s been getting a little lazy and less invested in his work. More than anything Tony Stark feels like an exention of RDJ at this point, which may be why he seemed slightly bored in the last Iron Man film. But here he seems totally engaged in the material, and though it pays homage to the character’s debauched ways, Tony doesn’t drink or screw around much in the film. Paltrow does the most with a character who’s become more than a damsel in distress, and all the players get to have a moment or two of fun, even Jon Farveau’s Happy Hogan, who gets a great introduction in the film, and we find out one of his personal obsessions.
  • The Action: Often the problem with superhero movies is that you go into the third act knowing that the hero will go up against the villain and then they’ll smash some things for a couple minutes before the good guy eventually triumphs. Here, there’s way more going on in the final fight sequence and though it can’t build to the spectacular conclusion of something like The Avengers, it still delivers enough wow and excitement to make for a great conclusion.

The So So:

  • Check it off: As a third entry with ties to so many other different films, there’s a lot of ground to cover, and the film gets into it’s biggest problems in covering all of what’s going on. It raises questions that any reasonable viewer will understand (there are no other Avengers in the film, and with agent Coulson supposedly dead, there’s no mention of S.H.I.E.L.D.), but it also feels a little choppy as it goes from set piece to set piece. This likely has more to do with just having to get so much out of the way than any inherent trouble in the material, and it may also be due to Iron Man 2 not being all that good, so there’s a sense this is more of a direct sequel to The Avengers than the first two films (which is fair enough). Perhaps at this point, it’s just more of a stand-alone than anything else, another in a continuing series of adventures featuring Tony Stark.


Marvel deserves a lot of credit. They went through some growing pains building up to The Avengers, and made some movies that functioned more as a stop-gap than anything all that interesting, but Iron Man 3 shows the studio is smart about their best franchise, and put it in the hands of someone who could deliver a great story and great performances. The biggest problem with the franchise is that now that we’re aware of how good Downey can be in something like this, it’s easy for him (and audiences) to expect it, to take it for granted. But this shows that as long as the material is there, it’s impossible not to love his Tony Stark.

Rating: 8.5/10

Iron Man 3 opens in theaters May 3.