IRON MAN THREE is a super weird film. When Shane Black was first announced as the writer/director, he said he wanted to do a story that was more of a spy thriller and he more or less accomplishes this. The most important thing about the Iron Man franchise is how Tony Stark deals with his problems outside the armor and that is the most successful thing about this movie.
The movie starts out with a flashback to New Year’s Even 1999 that is off-putting for several reasons. The first being it called back Eiffel 65’s Blue and no one needed that. Second, because it brought back Yensin from the first movie for no reason, and it got me all sorts of excited for what sort of mysterious origins would be revealed for The Mandarin, finally getting put on the big screen. More on that later. The most interesting of moments in this flashback, is that it sets up Guy Pierce’s character, Alderaan Gillyweed, Tony’s main rival for the movie. He shows up looking exactly like Edward Nygma from BATMAN FOREVER, and saying the exact same things Edward Nygma said to Bruce Wayne at the beginning of that movie. This was kind of shocking as there is no way this wasn’t on purpose. He wants Tony to partner up with him on this new technology that will manipulate the brain. This is the plight of someone who manages to watch BATMAN FOREVER once a year. Things like this drove him to near insanity.
Also, in this flashback, we set up that Not Jessica Chastain has done experiments on plants that make them re-grow their plant limbs. Problem is, they keep exploding. At no point does she think of how much money she could make in the novelty item business. Okay, now onto the present! Tony Stark has severe anxiety problems following the events of THE AVENGERS, that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is known as The Battle For New York. Tony had enough problems that now he has to worry about gods and aliens showing up at anytime and threatening the things he loves the most. Mainly Pepper Potts, his one true. Tony is not sure how he can keep her safe in the way he wants to. This is all fine character development for Tony at this point and probably was something Marvel wanted to tap into. The thing is, Shane Black had other ideas.
There are a lot of points in this movie that show a passive aggressive disregard to Marvel’s mandated plot points. One of them being the handling of Happy Hogan. He is played by Jon Faverau, the director of the first two Iron Man movies. In this, Happy is rendered mostly useless and given a figurehead position within Stark Industries to keep him busy. I can’t help but think this is a comment on how Faverau is now seen by Marvel. They put his name on THE AVENGERS and this movie because he had a lot to do with how they were set up but they don’t really need him anymore. They even send him to the Chinese theater to get blowed up and dispatched for the rest of the movie.
In the first two Iron Man movies, The Ten Rings was set up as this terrorist organization that was using Stark Industries weapons to take over small Middle Eastern territories and gain a strong foothold of power. This was an allusion to The Mandarin, who wears ten magic rings on his fingers of alien origin that each give him a special deadly power. He was set up to be the leader of this organization. A perfect juxtaposition to Tony Stark as two men who’s obsession with technology can make or break the world. Well, The Mandarin finally reveals himself in this movie and he is bombing the hell out of everything with these special bombs that leave no forensic evidence of its physical nature. This is where Happy gets caught up in his paranoid security concerns and almost ends up dying. This is the catalyst that puts Tony on the case. He declares a public challenge to The Mandarin and tells him his address and that if he wants a fight they can have it there. Well, The Mandarin accepts and bombs the shit out of the Stark Mansion and Tony is presumed dead.
Well JARVIS sends Tony, unconscious in armor to Tennessee because that was the last known flight plan Tony had made in an effort to investigate a potential Mandarin attack. It’s this huge chunk of the movie that can at least be described as not ripping off a single thing from any movie ever. Maybe Shane Black’s discarded drafts of LAST ACTION HERO. I don’t know. So Tony’s armor no es working and he befriends a local boy who’s got his own penchant for building things and hides out in the boy’s workshop. Actually, this is also MONSTER SQUAD now that I think about it. This is the ultimate Shane Black movie. Tony starts investigating the Tennessee bombing and the supposed soldier that was supposedly involved but never found. Here’s where Shane Black tries to make Tony a detective but unfortunately the mystery is completely transparent. At this point, the audience is way ahead of Tony in knowing that Guy Peirce’s fireman technology was taken from Not Jessica Chastain and given to The Mandarin to blow things up with. Any further sleuthing at this point is kind of boring, but two fire bad guys show up and shake up things in the small town. This is still cool because I love when Tony has to figure out how to fight super powered beings without his suit. He also gets away with the best line in the movie before he blows a lady up. It’s a shame, because in the comics she is actually Man-Thing’s wife. Poor Man-Thing.
So with the help of the little boy, Tony manages to track down The Mandarin’s hideout, which is right here in the good ol’ USA in Miami, Florida. The government has also made War Machine into a new guy called Iron Patriot. No mention is given as to why they dressed him up like Captain America and Cap is also never mentioned. Bad form, Marvel Phase Two. Iron Patriot is also looking for The Mandarin but the US government keeps getting fooled by the wild goose chase he’s being sent on and he eventually gets captured. Anyway, in a very BOGUS JOURNEY like fashion, Tony buys a bunch of materials at a hardware store and fashions all these weapons to infiltrate The Mandarin’s hideout. Again, very cool. In fact, it also reminded me of Axel Foley. Now the next thing is probably the movie’s biggest flaw. It doesn’t necessarily ruin the movie for me but is a huge disappointment in terms of the build up the last two movies had and the way Marvel decides to handle one of the biggest villains in the Marvel Universe that they had no idea how to adapt into a movie character.
They reveal that The Mandarin is an actor hired by Peirce to provide the illusion of antagonist to the government so that he can play them against each other when he got Iron Patriot and the President in his pocket. The war on terror would never end and he would make millions with his fire tech that makes people evil and explodey. This I could not jive with. I know that The Mandarin has been portrayed as more of a symbol than an actual character in a bunch of Marvel Comics stuff but they had their own Bane/Joker and they completely played it off as a joke. A joke that wasn’t even funny. Marvel has still yet to provide actual threatening and interesting arch-rivals beyond Loki and they could have given Tony Stark a pretty cool antagonist. Guess not. And I also find it really hard to believe that Guy Peirce was behind all that mess in the Middle East in the first movie. Again, I know what Shane Black was trying to do but the twist didn’t yield a good enough result to try it. Why was Yensin at that party? I kept thinking that they were gonna have some explanation but it never came. I just don’t think Shane Black wanted to deal with him.
So Pierce kidnaps Pepper (ugh) and is gonna use her as a bargaining chip to make Tony fix the fire virus and make it less unstable. This is really the only point where they could have connected him to being the Mandarin, as this tactic was used in the first movie, but if he knew what happened in the first movie and how Tony used it against them, he probably wouldn’t be making the same mistake again. Guy injects Pepper with Chimera and then sends the newly in his control Iron Patriot to go kidnap the president and blow up Air Force One. This is where the movie kicks into gear though, because Shane Black turns it into Lethal Weapon with Tony and Rhodey. But at this point, I realized that a lot of the cool asides and tricks that Shane Black wanted to do were ruined by Marvel’s marketing department by putting every cool thing that happens into the trailer. They full on break into Guy’s oil rig base with guns blazing like it is freakin’ DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE up in here. This is a good thing. When I first heard of Shane Black’s involvement in this I thought that we were finally gonna get the big budget fantasy story that he’s been working on for ten years at Warner Brothers but could never get made. It’s actually the reverse, he’s telling this story the only way he knows how. Through 90’s action beats that he has perfected over the years. It was kind of a cool surprise. Tony fights the fire army with his armor army and some great action caps the movie.
Tony’s anxieties about Pepper are never really solved. In fact, they kind of would be solved if they left her a fire being that could defend herself but in the end they have her fixed back into a regular person. Tony also goes ahead and decides to take the shrapnel out of his heart that his power chest has been protecting him from. Was this only an option now? Would have come in handy when his blood was being poisoned by the arc reactor in IRON MAN 2. In fact, that movie actually has a resolution to Tony’s eroding sense of self that this movie doesn’t. JUST DO ‘DEMON IN A BOTTLE’ and stop tippy toeing around Tony’s problems, Marvel. It would be great for the characterization of this guy and the new equilibrium would yield plenty of other places to take him. This movie more than any other Marvel movie convinced me that Marvel is not as ‘stick to a plan’ as their press would have you believe. And that’s not a bad thing, but they blew some great opportunities here. At the end of this movie, Tony takes his power heart and tosses it into the ocean because he has decided that the Iron Man was inside of him all along. He destroys all of his armor at the end as a way of saying that he’s going to spend more time with Pepper and less with saving the world, which is driving him nuts. I guess in a world that has already proved there were plenty of alternatives to him in the hero department, Tony has decided to take it easy for awhile. But that isn’t exactly the Tony Stark we have come to know in three other movies. Still, I very much enjoyed it. The Shane Black style was fun and entertaining and made for a great end credits sequence. It was very much it’s own film and since it was filmed pre-AVENGERS success, don’t look for this any time soon. I think the rest of Phase Two is gonna be very referencey and part of a much bigger picture.
Which brings me to the post-credits sequence. There has been a lot of speculation at this point about what it would be. Would it hint towards some particular GUARDIANS of our GALAXY or give us some much needed ANT-MAN like antics? No. But it was still great because during the movie I thought to myself how much their needed to be some sort of result to Tony Stark’s weird fascination with Bruce Banner and having him tell the story of the events of this movie to a completely uninterested Banner was not only great, but hints at great things to come. I give this movie:
***1/2 out of *****