The Marvel Cinematic Universe all began with the 2008 release of Iron Man (which is a film I don’t think any other in the series has eclipsed yet) and so for the beginning of the MCU’s Phase Two it just seemed right that they would turn back to the big metal guy and the lovable narcissist behind him to kick it all off. Iron Man Three (as it is written in the film) may not reach the heights of Iron Man but it is a strong conclusion to the Iron Man Trilogy.
Iron Man Three picks up with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in the aftermath of the events of The Avengers. Tony is a mess as he is suffering from PTSD from the battle with the Chitauri (the aliens from The Avengers). Matters only get worse when a scientist from his past (Guy Pearce) tries to court Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a terrorist going by the name of Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) begins to orchestrate bombings. Barely hanging in, Tony tries to find out how the Mandarin is orchestrating all of these attacks in order to stop him. The film is directed by Shane Black (who helped kick start Robert Downey Jr.’s comeback with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and is written by Black and Drew Pearce.
Kevin Feige (the mastermind producer behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe) once said in an interview that Phase Two is going to be about taking the characters we already know and putting them in different genres. While Iron Man Three is still a blockbuster action film in line with its predecessors, this is definitely a film that is a large step away from the norm for Iron Man films. Shane Black does a fantastic job in bringing a sense of freshness to the series without losing the things that make Iron Man great (funny banter masking the horrifying events that are only a step or two away from being from real life). Not only are these attributes amplified under the direction of Black (the film somehow finds a way to be the funniest and darkest of the trilogy) but they are added with the usual zaniness and crisp plotting of a Black film. Even when the plot doesn’t work (which only really happens in the third act where the film gets a bit bogged down in the Extremis plotline), Black is able to pull out all of the stops with the best action sequences in the entire trilogy (a mid-air evacuation of Air Force One and a final battle featuring multiple Iron Men are the highlights).
It has been obvious ever since he first appeared onscreen in the suit that the defining role of Robert Downey Jr.’s career would be Iron Man/Tony Stark. Here he takes his performance to the next level. Downey Jr. brings a sense of vulnerability to the role that we have never truly seen before in the character and the film’s idea to strip Tony Stark down to what he really is does wonders for Downey Jr. It is one of the best performances of his career, let alone the Iron Man series. Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, (the criminally underrated) James Badge Dale and (especially) Ben Kingsley do great work as the film’s antagonists while Don Cheadle does his best work yet in the series. The most surprising performance in the film, though, belongs to Ty Simpkins who is able to evade the problems normally associated with child performances. The one weak link of the cast turned out to be Gwyneth Paltrow, who can’t quite handle her upgraded role.
Iron Man Three concludes with an odd sense of finality. I doubt this is the last we’ve seen of Tony Stark (in fact the credits say as much), but this film is a fitting conclusion to the character if it is.
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