With their Phase One films, Marvel took over Comic Book Movie Mountain. If Iron Man Three is any indication of what's to come with Phase Two, they intend to keep it. Actually, they might even be building an addition.
Iron Man Three is not the Avengers' scrumptious dessert, but rather a full meal. It competes with the first half - but only the first half - of Captain America as Marvel's best narrative thus far. To oversimplify the matter, the film delivers a funny, exciting, and action-packed story that focuses with relative precision on Tony Stark's likability as a character. You won't regret seeing it.
Iron Man 2 was also a story built around Tony Stark's personality, but it focused instead on what a dick he is, an easy note to hit since Robert Downy Jr.'s portrayal of Stark walks such a thin line between charming and abominable. I sort of respect Iron Man 2 on paper, but it's not an easily watchable film.
This is different. Stark doesn't sink quite as low as the trailers for Iron Man Three would have you believe, but the film does focus on a triumph he seizes from the bottom of the barrel thanks only to his wits and optimism, backing the character's endless cockiness up with deeds. After the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark suffers from PTSD, which gives him frequent panic attacks (these are executed well, by the way, and somehow manage to feel real while not killing the film's humor or narrative flow). But even with such probing pop psychology at play, this remains a hilarious thrill-ride rather than a mournful one.
I honestly can't believe Shane Black pulled all this off. Iron Man Three feels like a cohesive, well-paced action film, but when you take it home later, a lot of weird things become clear about it. For one, it's a film built in chunks, with many of these bits taking on shades of other action sub genres. Normally this would imbue the film with a sense of aimlessness and shallow depth, making it a movie flailing for tone but failing to land on anything. But that's not the case at all. Iron Man Three is a buddy-cop film. It's slightly a revenge film. It spends time deep in the dangerous trenches of a cop-kid action comedy. It is very much a James Bond riff, a much more successful one than Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. And it supplies one of Marvel's precious few massive modern action set pieces (the big finale), as well as yet another of Marvel's really good medium level action sequences (the airplane set piece).
Furthermore, Black makes use of Iron Man's stable of characters in such a way that all come off as heroic and therefore a cool team in their own right. Rhodes is finally as awesome as he was always supposed to be. Don Cheadle now owns the role and erases lingering memories of Terrence Howard's version of the character. You Pepper Potts lovers out there (me included) are going to be really pleased with what happens with her character. Even Happy Hogan, while still a comedic sidekick, gets to step into the hall of badasses here. I'm not sure this is a movie about heroism, but it does happen to feature a ton of heroism.
And villainy. This is where Iron Man Three gets really interesting. Stark not only has The Mandarin to deal with, a very fun Ben Kingsley, but a bevy of (I'm not sure how else to put this) super fire people. Finally, Iron Man can fight something other than just other Iron Men. Every one of these guys Stark goes up against feels about ten times more lethal to his suit than Whiplash's lame weapons from Iron Man 2. As a result, each fight has more weight behind it. Tony Stark's not exactly the underdog, but you do wonder and get caught up in how he's going to succeed.
Cool as the villains are, however, I'm not sure how much sense shakes out of their ultimate aim and motivation. It may all add up, but I couldn't really follow it and didn't really care. Maybe that's appropriate since I have that problem with James Bond films as well.
There are also troubling implications that come with Stark's giant army of Iron Men who supply the film with its big action ending (which takes place at a shipping dock, by the way, proving that this really is a badass action film). As everyone likely knows by now, the big thing with Iron Man Three is that Tony Stark can now control his suit with his mind. But the sight of forty Iron Man suits all battling on their own kind of emphasizes a weird byproduct of all this awesomeness: Tony Stark really isn't Iron Man anymore. Jarvis is.
That might be an intentional point since Robert Downey Jr. spends most of this film kicking ass without the aid of a suit but also without any diminishment of excitement. In fact, watching Stark storm a villainous lair with nothing but a handful of quickly-rigged weapons might be the most thrilling scene in the whole series.
But for all Iron Man Three does right, its success does seem to indicate the end of a series which we know will continue, if only in further Avengers films. Both for Tony Stark's character and his technological weaponry, this feels like an exhaustion of possibilities. Whoever writes the next one will have their work cut out for them.
There are so many Iron Man Three reviews out there already. Even here at BAD we have a spoiler review, a non-spoiler review, and a non-review about spoilers. It's not quite the event this deluge of reviews indicates, but it is a really good movie that inspires a lot of enthusiasm thanks to its energy and willingness to exist somewhere outside the mainstream box. Marvel could easily have rested on their laurels, but they're still reaching with this stuff, and it's exciting to see. Unlike many of its ilk, Iron Man Three deserves its inevitable success. Its problems will reveal themselves tomorrow, but for now it's a ride you don't want to miss.