We live in a wonderful age where we got to witness the birth and growth of the most complex character in the history of cinema. Iron Man 3 is the first superhero film that puts the emphasis on the person inside the suit, over the costumed alter ego. It is a wonderful character piece that explores some truly horrific themes, while maintaining a comedic tone, to prevent the obligatory Prozac. It functions as a true cinematic trilogy, with new backstory, call backs to the original, and it completes the story of Tony Stark. It’s basically Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, with a bigger emphasis on explosions.
So Iron Man is about Tony learning to be Iron Man, Iron Man 2 is about Tony learning to live by being Iron Man, and Iron Man 3 is about Tony learning to live without Iron Man. The story kicks off with a mysterious explosion, involving Happy (Tony’s former bodyguard), and Shellhead sets out to investigate it. So what starts off as just another routine adventure thrusts Tony into a plot rooted in his past, and he is without his armor, which, at this point, has become an obsession, as well as a crutch. Tony built the Iron Man suit, initially, out of desperation, but his true power was, and always will be, his resourcefulness. The non-stop one liners are the perfect indication of how he can think on his feet and always has a plan. It’s easy to forget that Tony isn’t just Robert Downey Jr. playing himself (which he kind of is), but actually a super scientist. Before the armor he was a military weapons creator, and he uses that expertise to raid a compound. The adversity of his prior adventures gave him the drive to be a hero, but his previous stint as a weapons developer gave him the know how to arm himself. Instead of being a science fiction action film, it is a tech-noir, buddy cop, comedy, with a conclusion very reminiscent of Lethal Weapon 2. Marvel has the unique talent of finding ways to shake up their own formula, and Tony is the perfect character to explore the human side.
If you remember the trailer for this film, you will remember that it looked to be the darkest film in the Marvel library, but it was actually the funniest one. The film deals with themes of vengeance, pride, PTSD, obsession, a man’s worth, but it takes these very adult themes and pads the film with good humor, but enough humanity to keep us focused on the plot and the characters. So the story is loosely based on the Extremis story arc, with some fun twists. Aldrecht Killian recruits soldiers who are psychologically and physically damaged from their tenures in combat, to volunteer for his think tank. Through genetic manipulation of plants, or something, the subjects become lava people, with regeneration powers, and the ability to explode at 300 degrees Celsius. There is a tragedy about preying on the fragility and hopeful nature of soldiers who return from the battlefield missing pieces of themselves. Because Killian was, metaphorically, in their shoes, he used the extremis on himself, and then created an army to get rich and pay back Tony Stark. Tony humiliated Killian in the past, and it warped Killian’s mind, creating a classic, comic book supervillain. I will briefly bring up the Mandarin, aka, Trevor Slattery. This is one of the best surprises/jokes in any film. Let’s face it, the threat of the Communist Chinese was important at the height of the cold war, but we’ve moved on. Sure, the modern day Mandarin in comics is a fresh reinvention of a dated character, but there is no way to modernize classic Mandarin in films. The best way to do it is to utilize Sir Ben Kingsley in one of his best performances. That is not a joke. I love him in this film. It allows just the correct amount of camp. We have a story with real issues, as well as a plot that is very comic book. It’s the main reason, frankly, why I adore this film so much.
A big part of why Tony is who he is, is his years of drunken, elitist, debauchery. Prior to being kidnapped and forced to build a weapon of war to survive his captives, Tony was a punk, who arrogantly talked down to everyone around him. He took nothing seriously, and made enemies. He never purged this trait, completely, which allows him great freedom to grow as a character. He is flawed but has a desire to better himself. He finds ways to, slowly, make his battles or choices to be about those near to him, rather than just himself, like when he started. What kicks off the first act is avenging (no pun intended) Happy, and the third act is saving Pepper. He doesn’t show it very often, but Pepper, Happy, and Rhodey are the things he values most because those were the things that got him through his most difficult trials and tribulations.
Iron Man 3 is a great buddy cop-esque comedy that feels very much like a comic book. It has a very silly plot but is grounded with great one liners, funny dialogue, and traumatic elements that real people experience. Tony Stark is the heavyweight champion of great characters on screen, at least for this century. While everything Tony says is hilarious, the other characters have their own moments for comedy, which keeps everything light-hearted. It’s nice to see something more than stock or by the numbers character development, and, somehow, Tony constantly evolves. He know longer considers himself the center of the universe, but Tony certainly is the center of the Marvel Universe.