The plot seems straight forward enough- Tony has been traumatized by the events of The Avengers- he nearly died, he realized that the universe is a much bigger and more dangerous place than he ever conceived, etc. While he is suffering from his anxiety (which is causing him personal problems with Pepper), he is faced with problems from two fronts: the first (and seemingly lesser) threat is from Aldrich Killian, a scientist/businessman who may be giving Tony some competition in both business and love; the second threat is that of The Mandarin, the leader of the terrorist organization The Ten Rings, who has stepped up his terrorist threats against the US, even putting Tony Stark in his sights.
What follows is a movie that has a lot of humor, a bit of mystery, and a strong amount of action, some of it cartoony, some of it a bit gritty, as it turns out (The Air Force One scene is fantastic). Tony is stripped bare here, and he must realize what it really means to be a hero, without the money and tech that he relies upon so much. For a good chunk of the movie, he must rely on his brain, his wits, and his stubborn determination. The help he gets from Pepper and Rhodes and even Jarvis is limited, and he really is on his own for a while. The stakes are high, not just for Tony but for America and even the world as a whole. We don't need Chitari- humans are bad enough- I appreciate the scale of the threat, and it is an appropriate challenge to Tony at this stage of his superhero career. The best part of the movie is an underlying, subversive message about terrorism. Agree with it or not, it is a fairly strong idea for a comic book movie- while it doesn't quite reach Nolan's Batman in that department, it is nice to see some bigger themes here. This is clearly not your average, run of the mill comic book sequel. I'll take on these themes in the spoilers after the main review.
The problem is the movie is a bit too twisty-turny for its own good. A few too many reversals, a few too many "What the fu- is he thinking?" moments, a bit too convoluted. The movie is smart, no doubt, but like Tony, may be too scatter-shot for its own good. It has some real serious themes (again, in the spoilers), but the movie is so stuffed with things that doesn't quite deliver on those themes (at least in my opinion). They get lost in the shuffle. Further, some of the action bits are really odd/implausible. See, IM 1, 2, and The Avengers set up some rules for Tony and his suits- this one seems to disregard them all- as these suits seem to defy all logic and physics. Tony can seem to go in and out of them at will- in the air, on the fly (literally in mid air)- all at mind bending speed, and with incredible ease. Thus, while your eyes were taking things like that in, you felt that Tony was not in any danger, no matter what. He almost didn't need the suit, he seemed so indestructible in those final action scenes. This hurts the movie, taking away the sense of danger and risk.
The actors are all good, with one exception. Downey again proves that he is the perfect choice for Iron Man- a mixture of bravado and doubt, a genius who doesn't have all the answers, and in this- an inventor who can't simply invent his way out of this mess. He goes through an impressive character arc- his anxiety isn't really about the Chitari in New York, I suspect; its Tony knowing that he isn't the end all be all anymore, that there are things bigger than him, and he many not be worthy of these challenges and rewards. Downey does a great job of realizing that arc, even when the movie itself seems to forget it. Paltrow, Cheadle, Hall, and Faverau do great supporting work, each are up to the task of matching Downey's sarcasm, and they bounce off him effectively. Kingsley is great, but I have to talk more about him in the spoiler section. Unfortunately, the weak link is Guy Pearce. Now he's a fine actor (Memento anyone?), but he's kind of blah here. Perhaps its the nature of the role (again, spoiler section), but he never quite energizes the screen. I didn't feel for the character (neither hate, nor awe, nor pity, or anything else). His character just never came together for me. This is really bad, since so much of the plot is tied to him, thus hurting the movie.
I want to get into a few spoilers, so let me just say that Iron Man 3 is a very enjoyable Marvel movie, one that certainly is better than Iron Man 2. I give it 3 out of 4 Marks of Chaos, though I feel it is a notch below Iron Man and Thor. The best part is that they could have played it safe, with a basic plot and basic villain, but instead they went for somewhat riskier territory. I appreciate that very much. I only wish they had streamlined it a bit (taking out some of the twist-turns and asides), and I do wish that Pearce's acting/character had a bit more dramatic weight behind it. If you want some spoilers, check below after the ratings and pic...
OK- so let's get into some spoilers...
This movie has a fairly interesting and big theme. Tony's opening narration lays it out very clearly: "We create our own demons". Before he became Iron Man, Tony was an asshole. A callous, indifferent asshole who only cared about himself. He certainly didn't care for those around him. For all his genius, he failed to grasp the consequences of his actions. In a flashback to the 1990s, Tony is indifferent to the disabled Killian- who learns "desperation" due to Tony's treatment of him. Further, Dr. Hansen is simply used by Tony for sex- her brilliant ideas for the supposedly regenerative Extremis experiments are nothing to Tony, he just wants to bed her. Both Hansen and Killian want a scientific breakthrough, and Tony is the only one who can help them. Instead, he just uses Hansen, and gives a big FU to Killian, and then goes about his drunken way. He doesn't care.
One must fill in the blanks a bit, but based on what was said by several characters, AIM became this huge tech and weapon corporation, with Killian at its head. Of course, at some point, Killian becomes truly unstable (or, perhaps, greedy and ego driven, as Tony had been). Killian and AIM actually create the menace of The Ten Rings terrorist organization- it is meant to drive up demand for regular weapons and bio-weapons like Extremis, while also allowing Killian a way to hide his failures.
But what of The Mandarin? Therin lies the rub. Ben Kingsley is great as this "character". He is odd, speaking in a stilted manner. He is outlandish, but menacing. He is also a figurehead. Just as The Ten Rings was invented by Killian, so was The Mandarin- a "face" to this manufactured threat. The Mandarin is just a face on TV, an actor- when it is revealed, my jaw hit the floor. Kingsley then plays him like a drugged out foppish actor, who seems to not get the consequences of his actions. It was a move I didn't see coming, and I bet it pissed off fans of the comics. But, did they really expect 10 magical rings and a Fu Manchu style of bad guy? An Asian villain that is so stereotypical just wouldn't work, and I give the creators credit in how they made The Mandarin a manufactured threat- his name, his image, his style, all designed to create fear. The Mandarin is Osama Bin Laden if he had been created by focus group surveys and marketing researchers. It is bold, and I loved it. Heck, it only adds to the subversion that the guy isn't even Asian ("The Mandarin") or even Middle Eastern- he's a British actor, and that it kind of says that Americans are so afraid and they can be fooled in such an easy manner. While this take on The Mandarin is ballsy, it means that Killian is the real bad guy of the film, and frankly he made for a much more bland villain, and this weakness keeps the movie from becoming great.
As a side note, Harry on Aint It Cool News posited an alternate theory (http://www.aintitcool.com/node/62211). He suggests that the actor IS a terrorist. That The Mandarin is real, and that he has been pretending to be a simple pawn. Harry believes that he is the puppet master, and that Killian just thinks he's holding the strings. While Harry makes a compelling argument, I must disagree. Killian seems to be in charge throughout, and there are several statements from him, Hansen, and even the vice-president that confirm this. The bigger problem is, if Harry is right, it would undermine the entire theme of the film- "We create our own demons". The Mandarin would not be a creation of Killian, who was ultimately a creation of Tony's callousness. Thus, Tony would be wrong, he would have learned nothing, and the bigger theme wouldn't work. Part of me would love to be wrong here, as I would enjoy seeing Tony actually fight The Mandarin- a real face off between the Kingsley and Downey would blow my mind. However, doing that would negate this whole movie, since its subversive themes and events would be ruined.
The subversive implications are quite straightforward. The movie could be seen in this light: Tony is the USA- brilliant, dynamic, but often too cocky and arrogant. Tony's past arrogance has caused the creation of this threat, and now he must deal with the consequences. One could argue that American economic and foreign policies ultimately created the threat of terrorism we now face. Our foreign policies pissed off these people, and American big business profits from the chaos and war. I don't know if I agree with that (terrorists may or may not have legitimate gripes with the US, but they ARE responsible for their own actions in any event)- but it is a compelling theme to be in a comic book movie. Certainly the idea that they changed War Machine to the Iron Patriot is NOT just for the heck of it- this move supports the US/Tony theme. However, the movie doesn't, in my opinion, develop these issues to a full conclusion, and instead relies upon the typical big action scene climax.
However, what if Tony were able to really grasp his notion that we created our own demons? Look at the chronology: Tony is a dick, and thus makes Killian into a monster (forget that Killian bares his own responsibility for his subsequent actions for the moment). Killian creates AIM and The Ten Rings. Obidiah Stane will come to work with The Ten Rings (selling weapons to both sides, unknowingly copying AIM), and then hires that organization to kill Tony. Of course, this kidnapping makes Tony into Iron Man- he realizes the errors of his past, and tries to redeem himself by becoming a hero. He takes out the terrorists in Golmira, stops developing weapons, and defeats Stane. He then goes on to defeat an alien invasion of Earth, saving the world. Finally, he must confront his demons, and does final battle against The Ten Rings/Mandarin (really just Killian/AIM), and defeats them. That is quite a circle of events here, but it doesn't get fully realized in the movie. Does that mean when we create our own demons, can we overcome them? Do we inadvertently get strengthened by the demons we create? Again, compelling themes, but they don't get the attention that they deserve.
I don't know if I'll see IM3 in the theaters again, as I must save my hard earned cash to see other movies and pay for my 40K addiction, but I will certainly see it again when its out on Blu-Ray. Knowing the twists and the bigger ideas, I want to see the movie in that light.
Until next time.