Robert Downey Jr. was born to play Tony Stark, the coolest of the Avengers, Iron Man? No?!? What's wrong with you? The first movie, released in 2008, started up a superhero franchise that was fun and exciting and action-packed with lots of cool characters. The series is almost a perfect companion piece to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy in all their cynicism and darkness. Now it's five years later and we've got our third flick for Downey, 2013's Iron Man 3. Will it be the last?
It's been several months since Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) helped the Avengers turn back Loki and his alien minions in New York City, but Tony is still struggling with what he saw and did. He hallucinates, can't sleep at night and exhibits all sorts of signs of PTSD. He may have found something to bring him out of his funk and in a big way. A mysterious terrorist dubbed the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is unleashing attacks all across the world, defying anyone to stop him. Governments can't stop him, countries just waiting to be attacked. Tony steps up to the plate, telling the Mandarin to come and find him. Iron Man will put an end to the worldwide tyranny. Tony gets more than he bargained for when an attack is unleashed on his coastal home. His life is torn apart and he is feared dead by everyone who knows him as well as international media outlets. Forced to work from the ground up, can Tony rebuild from the ashes to take down this new, seemingly unbeatable enemy?
Now heading into this third Iron Man installment -- this one from director Shane Black -- I was under the assumption that it would be the last of the series, excluding the Avengers sequels. Downey Jr. has said he won't continue with the Iron Man series, but he'll be there for the Avengers 2 and 3. Good news there! I went in here with mild expectations. I liked Iron Man 2, but on a second viewing liked it a little less. Reviews were fairly mixed for this third installment, but that didn't seem to matter. It is currently the fifth highest-grossing film of all-time. Woo, money! I came away disappointed with this one though and can't quite put a finger on it. It's entertaining enough if a little long. Self-indulgent? Sure, most superhero movies are. Something else is missing though. It's more than a little schizophrenic, wasting a deep cast and some really solid moments.
What's above questioning? Though the script doesn't know what to do with most of the characters, Downey Jr. steps up to the plate. This is Tony at his most human. He's been beaten down, and even though he helped the Avengers win in NYC, it took a physical and emotional toll on him. Once the Mandarin unleashes his debilitating attack, Tony/Iron Man almost has to start over. It's cool and refreshing to see this other side of a character you feel like we've gotten to know pretty well. What sets it apart is somewhere in Tony's head is the smarmy, smart-ass, ultra-billionaire Tony Stark we all know and love. This is a great character however you cut it. Black's script has its issues, its flaws from the get-go, but delving into a familiar character in a way we haven't seen before certainly makes it a worthy film.
The rest of the cast is loaded, however misused or underused. Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Pepper Potts, now in charge of Stark Industries and trying to work out her relationship with Tony as much as possible. She's given little to do for much of the movie, but gets her chance at the badass spotlight late. Don Cheadle is basically completely wasted as Rhodes, Tony's friend who's been tasked with piloting the Iron Patriot, the military's version of Iron Man. Jon Favreau returns as Happy, Tony's former bodyguard, but it's a background part here. Paul Bettany also returns and has some fun as the voice of Jarvis, Tony's robotics assistant. Young Ty Simpkins has a good part as Harley, a young boy who comes across Tony at his lowest.
Maybe the weakest part of 'Man 3' is in the Villain Department.The always solid Guy Pearce plays Aldrich Killian, a brilliant scientist who has developed the technology to manipulate human DNA and create super soldiers. Pearce is a good counter to Downey Jr., his cocky demeanor a worthy foe to Tony's similarly cocky attitude. Kingsley is a great addition to the franchise too as the underused Mandarin, a mysterious international terrorist with no qualms about death on massive levels. Rebecca Hall plays Maya Hansen, an engineer who worked with Aldrich in the past and is now caught in the middle between right and wrong. James Badge Dale is perfectly creepy as Savin, Aldrich's enhanced henchman. Two separate twists disappoint but for different reasons. One is really, truly stupid and messes with the whole tone of the movie while the other doesn't come as nearly a big a surprise as it had to be intended.
It's a superhero movie. The technology is supposed to be goofy and not in any way reality. Somewhere along the way, this one really disappointed me. Aldrich's super soldiers are a cool concept, seemingly indestructible killing machines brimming with dangerous amounts of energy in them. Maybe it's taken too far, maybe it's the relatively unexplained motives of all the bad guys (other than POWER and WORLD DOMINATION), or just the general excess of the finale, but I didn't go along with this movie as much as the previous two. The action-packed finale at a cargo shipping yard has about 50 automated Iron Man suits and Tony and Rhodey and Aldrich and Pepper and everything going on. It was just too much.
There were parts I liked, most of them dealing with Tony. The intro scene goes back to Bern in 1999 as we meet a younger but still cocky Tony, including a nice nod to the first Iron Man as we meet Shaun Toub's Ho Yinsen who we later meet in a cave with Tony in Afghanistan. Stark's monologue at the beginning and end is fitting, a man learning who he is and how he get there. Mostly, I felt like this was wasted potential. A somewhat disappointing conclusion to the trilogy (if it is the conclusion) but still worth watching for the always fun Robert Downey Jr.
Iron Man 3 (2013): ** 1/2 /****