Iron Man 3 is more downgrade than upgrade. As the seventh installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man 3 dealt with the aftermath of The Avengers. I wasn’t sure how to accept solo adventures after such a game changing crossover. Turns out the financial high of The Avengers was enough to make Iron Man 3 another billion dollar success. Iron Man 3 marked the official start of Phase Two of the MCU. A phase that addressed the fundamental plot hole of all shared universes. Why doesn’t every Avenger assemble when a new threat arises? Iron Man 3 answers that question by making Tony Stark’s struggle a personal one. When Jon Favreau opted out of directing, Christmas loving action director/writer Shane Black completed the trilogy.
The new director was brought on board at the insistence of previous collaborator Robert Downey Jr. Black’s fresh direction seemed to promise a true tale of suspense. The dark atmospheric trailer indicated the most serious MCU film yet, but that was complete false advertisement. Iron Man 3 is much more joke heavy than it let on. It’s called Iron Man 3, but it should really be called Tony Stark 3. The surprising lack of Iron Man action made the threequel a bit of a personal disappointment. My excitement for the movie was nevertheless met to a degree. I was still in school in 2013, so I had to avoid spoilers from my friends who saw it before I did. Iron Man 3 made a lot of controversial decisions that didn’t affect much in the long run…
Iron Man 3 is the final MCU movie to open with a Paramount Pictures logo. Disney may have been the permanent distributor, but a deal was made with Marvel Studios to allow The Avengers and Iron Man 3 to keep the logo. Despite the kid friendly studio at the helm, the threequel maintained the adult edge of the previous Iron Man movies. The director change was noticeable since Shane Black set Iron Man 3 during Christmas for no reason. Unlike other unconventional Christmas movies, there’s hardly any direct seasonal influence. Iron Man 3 also opens during New Year’s Eve 1999 to the tune of “I’m Blue” by Eiffel 65. This is sadly the only Iron Man movie not to feature an AC/DC song, but we do get a “Jingle Bells” remix. In order to personalize the story, Tony Stark narrates how he managed to create his own demon.
Iron Man 3 is primarily based on the 2005-2006 storyline Extremis created by Warren Ellis. The modern armor and Afghanistan setting were a big influence for the first movie. Other parts of the storyline included characters like Aldrich Killian and Maya Hansen. Iron Man 3 really feels like every last minute Iron Man character being repurposed to fit the narrative. The New Year’s party is important for establishing Killian’s persistent business proposal, giving Tony a former flame, and finding a place for Ho Yinsen to meet Stark before they were imprisoned in a cave. Months after the Battle of New York, Tony Stark has kept himself busy creating suit after suit. Robert Downey Jr. is a bit more muscular and subtly serious than he was before. I always enjoy Stark’s smartass charisma, but I never asked for this much. Despite over 42 armors being built, Tony is kept out of his suit for far too long. I don’t want to see a Tony Stark action thriller. I was entertained, but stripping a hero of their power can feel cheap sometimes.
Although there’s an entire hall of armor in the basement, the main focus is on Mark XLII. The suit is mostly gold with red accents. Stark implants himself with sensors that allow J.A.R.V.I.S. to assemble the armor on his body mid-air. Despite Mark XLII being a faulty prototype, he continues to use it in even the most dire circumstances. Unlike the comics, Stark is no longer dealing with persistent heart problems. Instead, the Chitauri invasion and narrowly escaping a wormhole gives Tony severe anxiety attacks. The Avengers are only mentioned in passing or by someone calling Thor the “Big dude with a hammer.” That’s why they’re not around to help Iron Man face his archenemy. Iron Man 3 was finally the time to introduce The Mandarin. In the comics, the Mandarin is a Chinese megalomaniac with ten rings of power. In the movie, the part-Indian Ben Kingsley has a long beard instead of long hair and is draped in a green & yellow robe. At first he’s depicted as a behind the scenes terrorist threat who delivers ominous lessons on TV. I was just happy to see Iron Man’s greatest enemy front and center after his previous omission.
After her inclusion in The Avengers, Gwyneth Paltrow makes her fourth appearance as Stark Industries CEO Pepper Potts. She’s now a much more confident career woman and loving girlfriend. Pepper is just frustrated by Tony’s distraction of making suits. It only gets more messy when his remote controlled suit activates in the middle of the night. After his unexplained absence in The Avengers, Don Cheadle made me completely forget that he’s a replacement. Rhodey’s War Machine armor is redesigned by the military as an all-American symbol. Although originally meant for Norman Osborne, Rhodey is the one donning the red, white, and blue Iron Patriot armor. Bizarre cameos from Bill Maher and Joan Rivers even comment on the outfit change. You’d think Iron Patriot would make up for the lack of Iron man action, but Rhodey is just as shortchanged. He may not be directing, but Jon Favreau is still around to get laughs as head of security Happy Hogan. He’s the one who first suspects the other antagonist Aldrich Killian is up to something.
An extremely obscure comic book villain is made the center of attention with a charismatic Guy Pearce going from goofy nerd to slicked back supervillain with an attraction to Pepper. Killian’s motivations are almost exactly like Syndrome’s from The Incredibles. He was once spurned by Stark and now seeks revenge with his own groundbreaking inventions. His Extremis formula is now part of the think tank Advanced Idea Mechanics. In the comics, A.I.M. soldiers are dressed in yellow hazmat suits. In the movie, they kind of just use the name. Along with the names of several lesser known comic villains repurposed as superstrong veterans with fire regeneration. Fire spouting Extremis soldiers are certainly different than another villain in a suit of armor, but it’s still a very weird direction to go in. Eric Savin is the more annoying Extremis henchman who keeps popping up and Ellen Brandt is an unassuming Extremis assassin who also makes an impression.
Happy is severely injured during a Chinese Theater Mandarin attack and Tony makes the dumbest decision he’s ever made by giving the terrorist his home address. Apart from casual use like attempting to woo Pepper, the Mark XLII armor is finally used as a precaution to defend his home. It’s at that moment that Tony’s one night stand Maya Hansen drops by with suspicions of her boss Killian working for the Mandarin. Rebecca Hall does well in her small but crucial role as the creator of Extremis. She was originally meant to be the main villain, but Marvel opposed the idea. The first major action scene was worth the wait as Stark’s Malibu mansion, Mark I-VII armor, and robots are all destroyed by helicopters. Pepper dons the armor for the first time as Tony uses it to protect her. The destruction is full of suspense as Iron Man sinks to the bottom of the sea with debris falling on top of him. Stark is presumed dead, but J.A.R.V.I.S. manages to save him last minute by charting a course to rural Tennessee. Although Tony is there to investigate a previous Mandarin bombing, it’s more likely that they just wanted to have snow in this “Christmas” movie. At least it gives us the image of Tony dragging his disabled armor through the snow.
Killian is later confirmed to be working on the Mandarin broadcast as they become more threatening when the President gets involved. Fortunately they make the wise decision to have William Sadler play the fictional President Ellis. Although I wasn’t crazy about him at first, I must admit Ty Simpkins is a good comedic foil as original character Harley Keener. He’s a kid with a potato gun who helps the mechanic Tony on his journey. Their banter is surprisingly funny and Harley turns out to be pretty useful with trying to fix the suit. When femme fatale Extremis Brandt attacks Stark, he finishes her off without his armor. When Savin grabs Harley, he’s blinded long enough for Tony to use a repulsor device. The next exaggerated character Tony meets is a superfan named Gary who’s covering a local beauty pageant. A beauty pageant being judged by an excited Stan Lee cameo. Using an A.I.M. password, Tony views footage of the Extremis formula in action. It’s around this time that Maya sells Pepper out to Killian and Extremis soldiers capture Rhodey for his Iron Patriot suit. When Tony has another panic attack, Harley suggests he build something to help. So he once again doesn’t wear a suit while using store made weapons to infiltrate the Mandarin’s hideout.
The biggest twist in the movie is either really clever or really stupid. I’m somewhere in the middle. It turns out the Mandarin was a bumbling British actor named Trevor Slattery all along. On one hand, the reveal is comedic gold and Kingsley is pretty hilarious. On the other hand, I hate that they wasted such a menacing villain. It turns out Killian is the true main antagonist who created the Mandarin as an intentional stereotypical terrorist to distract from his own nefarious purposes. In case it wasn’t already so similar to The Incredibles, Killian explains it all to Tony as he’s tied up. He wants Stark to perfect Extremis in order to save Pepper and he kills Maya when she opposes him. The armor action finally kicks in again when Tony summons his rebooted Mark XLII suit. Guards are humorously taken out and Tony meets up with Rhodey. His Iron Patriot armor is used by Savin as a trojan horse to kidnap the President aboard Air Force One. Trevor gives them the details and they take his boat to the location. Iron Man takes care of Savin, but is too late to save the President. At least it leads to one of the best superhero rescues in the MCU. Iron Man saving a bunch of Air Force One passengers from falling is extra awesome when you discover the stunt was performed by professional skydivers. Moreso when Stark is revealed to have been remote controlling the armor all along.
Killian’s final Mandarin statement involves a Roxxon oil rig. The company had been seen several times in previous MCU projects, but this was its most prominent appearance. Even in the epic climax Tony and Rhodey are far more reliant on guns than armor. All that sort of changes when J.A.R.V.I.S. activates the “House Party” protocol. New armor is still the highlight of any Iron Man movie and we’re given a grand total of 35 distinct sets of armor. My biggest source of anticipation was seeing the suits in action, but even the most heavily marketed suits are given a few minutes to shine. My personal favorites are “Heartbreaker,” “Silver Centurion,” “Igor,” and “Starboost.” Props to whoever came up with this many unique Iron Man suits. Rhodey isn’t given armor as a joke, so he has to save the President a more creative way. As Tony tires to save Pepper, Killian shows his true colors with a dragon tattoo and calling himself the Mandarin. He’s not the best villain, but at least his arm is sliced off for the first of many times in Phase Two. Tony hops from suit to suit until he has Mark XLII blow up Killian.
When he survives, an Extremis fueled Pepper Potts in a sports bra uses a repulsor ray to finish him off. Just like the previous Iron Man movies, I was ultimately confused and/or frustrated by the ending. It was a little painful to see Tony blow up all of his suits. He also has the shrapnel removed from his chest in a procedure performed by Chinese doctors. I only know that because Iron Man 3 has a bizarre Chinese director’s cut with additional footage starring well known Asian actors. Tony makes a promise to Pepper, Trevor is imprisoned, and Harley is given a bunch of upgraded tech as a Christmas present. Ending with a CGI Tony Stark double throwing away his arc reactor and saying “I am Iron Man.” The credits show clips from every Iron Man movie and the after-credits scene reveals Bruce Banner to be the one listening to Tony’s story all along. He humorously nods off much like the audience probably did. I’m happy Iron Man 3 exists, but it could’ve been so much better. At least it encouraged more universe expansion. It was at this time that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was premiering. Plus the Blu-ray exclusive Marvel One-Shot Agent Carter that would also influence its own TV spin-off. Iron Man 3 went out with a suitable bang.
Preceded by: Iron Man 2