Robert Downey Jr. returns as adorable bad boy Tony Stark in the third, presumably final solo film about Marvel Comics’ Iron Man. The first film kicked off the current run of (mostly) enjoyable Marvel movies, after some letdowns in the form of X3, Spider-Man 3, the Fantastic Four and so on. The first Iron Man film proved that with the right cast and script and attitude, the public will embrace a character they don’t necessarily know as well as, say, Superman. The second Iron Man film proved that Downey was not enough.
The third is not as fresh and invigorating as the first – how could it be, really? – but it is a definite improvement over the second. Nor is it anywhere near as exciting as the Avengers film, which it references regularly, so if you are one of the few people on the planet who missed it, you might want to check it out first.
Some minor spoilers may follow, so be warned:
I had mixed feelings about this film by the end. There are some very fun moments, especially during the action set pieces, and Downey is on his game throughout. I also enjoyed how the plot is, in a way, a poke in the eye to The Dark Knight Rises, with Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin seeming at first to be an analogue for Bane’s weirdly-accented terrorist. The true villain is Guy Pearce as the chief of AIM (who are, disappointingly, not wearing yellow hazmat suits); he has developed a bioweapon called Extremis that allows people to become undetectable living bombs, detonating themselves at key moments.
When one of the bombs hurts a friend, the American public is eager for Tony Stark to strike back at the terrorists, and he obliges by challenging the Mandarin on camera. The Mandarin replies by sending some of his people to destroy Tony’s Malibu home, leading to a long middle sequence of rebuilding and investigating.
It is that middle where the film loses its way a bit. Tony befriends a young boy outside of Nashville, shares some ham-handed insights on absent fathers and standing up for yourself, and learns to cope with the post-traumatic stress that has dogged him since The Avengers. Meanwhile, I was checking my watch, and I don’t wear a watch.
On the bright side, the finish of Iron Man Three (and I’m not being cute by spelling it out that way; that’s how it is spelled in the titles) is stronger than the finish of Iron Man 1 or 2, both of which were clunky and confused. The conceit of Tony being able to control his suits remotely, and depend on Jarvis for situational awareness and quick changes, is used to good effect. I enjoyed seeing a swarm of different suits designed for different jobs.
But, on a less bright side, when the credits rolled and turned into a kind of victory lap for the series, I realized that the ensuing montage of clips was more engaging and energetic than most of the previous two hours. So, while Iron Man Three is certainly not the letdown that other third instalments have been from Marvel, it is something of a limp to the finish.