Director: Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley
Certain sayings, such as “Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it,” never lose their effectiveness, even if we forget who originally said them in the first place. For as long as we’ve gotten to know him, Tony Stark has been a man who, although he has never brushed aside his intense narcissism, has consistently tried his best to atone for past mistakes. Before being nearly killed in an ambush in Afghanistan, Tony was the sort of guy who was so wrapped up in his own genius, fame and fortune that he often saw himself as smarter and therefore more important than everyone else. The first part is still applicable (and winds up being true more often than not), although he’s made leaps and bounds in that second area, in particular since teaming up with the rest of the Avengers. One inescapable consequence of being a prick to so many people is that, eventually, you rub someone the wrong way.
As the world was saying ‘goodbye’ to the year 1999 and ‘hello’ to 2000, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) was giving that lecture previously alluded to in “Iron Man,” where he was said to have first met Yinsen, his fellow captor years later in Afghanistan… despite being too drunk to remember the encounter. At the same conference, Tony also hooked up with one scientist, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), for a one-night stand while humiliating another named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). It would be thirteen years before Tony would see Hansen and Killian again. Sometime in the interim, those two scientists began working together, combining Hansen’s tissue regeneration project called Extremis with Killian’s privately-funded think tank named Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM). Both had originally tried to gain Tony’s interest in and help with their projects, but were left out in the cold. Bad for Tony, and bad for a lot of other people, too.
Also arriving on the scene is the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), an Osama Bin Laden-esque terroristic villain who likes blowing shit up and shooting propaganda videos to gain the world’s attention. He leads the “Ten Rings” organization first seen in “Iron Man.” There’s more to him than meets the eye, though not in a Transformers sort of way. Not surprisingly, Killian is involved with the Mandarin as well. The suicide bombings that the Mandarin is taking credit for are actually people who’ve been “upgraded” with Extremis going KABLOOEY! One of those explosions takes out the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, and places Tony’s bodyguard and friend Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) in the hospital.
Even without the new line of threats piling up against him, Tony’s biggest stumbling block, and the movie’s most intriguing plot point, is the PTSD he suffers from as a result of his participation in the Battle of New York in “The Avengers.” Flying a nuclear missile through a wormhole in a remarkable act of selflessness will do that. The mere mention of words like “wormhole” and “New York” can send him into a full-blown panic attack. He barely sleeps at all anymore, because all he ever sees in his dream state are images from the battle. To compensate, he buries himself in his work, putting a strain on his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).
When the Mandarin strikes, he strikes hard, reducing Tony’s Malibu, California home to rubble, an incident which leaves the world believing that Tony/Iron Man may be dead. In reality, Tony has escaped to the town of Rose Hill, Tennessee, where he will lick his wounds, repair his damaged Iron Man suit and investigate one of the other known instances of a “suicide bomb” that left no trace of bomb components. This leads to a welcome cameo appearance from Knoxville-born actress Dale Dickey, perhaps best known for her work in “Winter’s Bone.” Once back on the Pacific Coast, Tony prepares for one of his toughest battles yet. How do you defeat an enemy that can instantly heal their injuries, both moderate and severe? Like Tony, the Extremis soldiers have limits to their perceived invincibility.
With Shane Black taking over the director’s chair from Jon Favreau, “Iron Man 3″ takes on a slightly darker tone from its predecessors. Tony’s sense of humor, which made “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2″ so much fun, is still present but dialed down a little. Accordingly, the soundtrack is less “fun” and more serious this time. There are no AC/DC songs, but there is a very strong score from Brian Tyler to play us through the action sequences. I still believe that Jeff Bridges from the first “Iron Man” is the series’ best villain, although it’s not from lack of trying from the actors present here, nor is it the fault of the writing, which offers a few twists and turns the audience cannot have come in expecting. “Iron Man 3″ offers some of the most memorable scenes in the entire series. Four of them stand out:
– Tony’s first panic attack when he is autographing a child’s drawing of the Battle of New York. Quietly, he scribbles the words “Help me!” He then gets upset when he breaks the crayon. Eventually, he’s so overwhelmed that he has to leave the restaurant entirely, jump into his Iron Man suit and fly away just to be alone for a while. Downey handles this and subsequent scenes containing panic attacks so well that it feels real.
– The attack on Tony’s Malibu home. After Tony calls out the Mandarin in fron of live TV cameras, giving out his home address, he had to expect this. But I like this scene because it is eerily reminiscent of a similar scene from “Lethal Weapon 2,” where the trailer that Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs calls home is also attacked by enemy helicopters. Ironically, Shane Black was the creator of the Lethal Weapon franchise, but dropped out during production of “Lethal Weapon 2.”
– Tony comes face to face with the Mandarin. Everything in the movie feels as though it’s been building to a confrontation between Iron Man and the Mandarin. After all, the Mandarin is known to be Tony Stark’s greatest foe from the comics. But it’s how their inevitable meeting plays out that elicits the majority of the film’s mixed reviews. I think it’s brilliant, but it’s also one of those things that I can’t justifiably talk about around anyone who hasn’t yet seen the movie.
– The “barrel of monkeys.” With the kidnapping of the President (William Sadler) and the destruction of Air Force One, Tony is left to rescue the aircraft’s remaining passengers, who are plummeting to the ground below with no parachutes. Tony gets them all to join hands, the only way for him to save everyone. It’s a truly spectacular stunt. To top it all off, like the Tony/Mandarin scene, this one ends in a most unexpected way, in this case with the Iron Man suit turning out to be a drone remote controlled by Tony. Amusingly, it gets smashed by an oncoming truck as it passes a nearby bridge.
For now, Iron Man’s solo adventures appear to be at an end. Overall, I still favor the first “Iron Man,” though “Iron Man 3″ definitely grows on you. I’m still lukewarm in regards to the ending, although I am relieved by the knowledge that this is hardly the last time we will see Tony Stark/Iron Man. First, he’ll re-team with his super-powered comrades in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (opening in less than two weeks), and he’ll also join the party in “Captain America: Civil War,” which is due out next year. Add to that his likely involvement in “Avengers: Infinity War, Parts 1 & 2″ and it’s clear that everyone’s favorite genius billionaire playboy philanthropist isn’t going away anytime soon. I can dig it.