Iron Man 3 opens up the first chapter in the run up to the next Avengers movie in 2015, with Thor set to return later this year, Cap in the summer of next together with the members of SHIELD, with you-know-who already primed to give them all a run for their money. Shane Black takes over the helm of the Iron Man films from Jon Favreau, and in some ways it's quite timely, given the post-Avengers Marvel cinematic world which has just woken up to a new reality that they're not quite alone out there, and an opportunity for a fresh new direction and perspective to the character, following to some degree the Extremis storyline from the comic books.
In this world that's newly aware of its place in the universe, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr,) now experiences some serious anxiety attacks with a hit to his ego that he's just a man in a tin can amongst the rest of his super-powered friends. This has caused somewhat of a strain on his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who still continues as CEO of Stark Industries, leaving Tony plenty of time to continue tinkering with his toys, building up to the Mark 42 variation of his metal armoured suits. The threat this time comes from The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a global terrorist hell bent on creating chaos ala Batman Begin's League of Shadows, while new characters who hark from Tony's wayward past in one night stand victim Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) and another person he stood up, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) of A.I.M, all come back to haunt him, with a variation to the super-soldier serum.
To tell you more about the story will be a great disservice, because whoever cut the trailers, did the perfect misdirection, with what you think you know from the trailer, being very much farther away from the real truth. So that's that. What was expected though, was how closely this narrative ties in as post-events to the Avengers, with Tony Stark now elevated to more than a hero status, instantly recognizable amongst plenty of geeks, and with countless of references back to his exploits in the finale of that movie. It's one thing being recognized, and another thing having to grapple with the reality that there are threats larger than life now, which is Tony Stark's perennial bug bear in this installment. A pity of course, since it's supposed to be the parallel of his pain and addiction to the bottle, which will never see the light of day with Disney as owner.
Fans of Robert Downey Jr, will rejoice with this better than expected installment, since he spends most of the time outside the suit as Tony Stark, battered, bruised and worn out, no thanks to the reckless stunt he pulls as part of personal vendetta, but putting his loved ones at risk and under fire. One cannot get enough of the actor's charisma on screen, and at this point, it's inconceivable to think of any other actor stepping into the role other than Downey Jr, who owns the role, and makes his "I am Iron Man" declaration all the more a truth. There are franchises that get tired after a while, but in Downey Jr, who is portraying Tony Stark/Iron Man in no less than 4 feature films already, there's no lack of enthusiasm, and it shows. Having him outside of the suit for the most parts, is also that breath of fresh air, especially well when it got written into the plot with his tinkering having brought him to a stage where he can be inside, or outside the suit, remote controlling portions of it, and having both an arsenal to count on, plus his street smarts when backed to a corner, and having to design really rudimentary weapons with items from a hardware store.
Jon Favreau continues his role as Happy Hogan, given a lot more to do this time round since he's given up the director's chair, while Gwyneth Paltrow will be that Pepper Potts we have all yet to see. The appeal of Iron Man 3 is how it takes apart the status quo without feeling like it needed to just to stand out from the crowd, but doing so in a fashion that makes it seem like natural progression. Even Don Cheadle as Colonel James Rhodes / War Machine / Iron Patriot also had the character pick up pace from the midway point, combining once again with Tony Stark / Iron Man as an effective team. Paul Bettany remains the unseen but often heard voice of Jarvis, although I thought this time he sounded a little more baritone than in the earlier films. And the standout amongst the supporting cast would be Ty Simpkins whose Harley, a kid whom Tony Stark befriends, plays something of a pivotal role, which once again brings back a little bit of the sharp wit that the previous Iron Man film seemed to lack.
The action here's slicker than what we've already seen from the earlier movies, from its large set action pieces as already seen in the trailer set to pump up some adrenaline, while Iron Man 3 pretty much showed that Tony Stark had put in dutiful hours in the gym and picking up a slew of martial arts along the way. Especially useful since he spends quite a significant amount of time outside of the suit. And the CG got kicked into high gear especially when the arsenal of Iron Men came out to the open, which is fun to watch, but ultimately really cursory and brief, which was my main gripe about it. And it's no surprise too that humour was well placed throughout the film, even when this was darker in tone amongst its predecessors.
Those of you who have been up in arms about this film's kowtow to the Chinese studios, may want to take note that the scenes involving the Chinese actors Wang Xueqi, and Fan Bingbing, were nothing more than a glorified blink-and-you-miss cameo for the former, and a non-appearance by the latter. While there exists an alternate, longer cut of their scenes for the China market, I doubt their characters were written with that much depth to have caused any real impact to the narrative, since they can be so cleanly shaven off from the international release. I am curious however, as to what those scenes exactly were, so I guess one can wait for the discs to find out how, if their scenes get re-entered as deleted ones.
We see more of Tony Stark in this Iron Man film, which is a good thing, but one which also bode some closure to the franchise if it show chooses to end on a high note at this point, no thanks to the finale in having a key cause removed. Something like The Dark Knight Rises having to come full circle with its characters. But it's really never-say-never since Avengers 2 is a go, so there's one more real outing before anyone can call it quits to bidding RDJ and the rest of the cast farewell for starting what had snowballed into the definitive Marvel cinematic universe. Stay tuned, as you would already know by now, until the end of the credits for a scene that neatly bookends this movie, since it began with a narration, and would reveal that bit of a surprise with the post credits stinger. A no-brainer recommendation for Iron Man / Avengers fans everywhere.