That Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, is capable of saving the world from mass destruction has already been proven in Iron Man, IronMan 2 and The Avengers, not to mention his popular 50-year run in Marvel Comics. What the superhero hasn’t always been shown capable of, at least not in the hit movies, are the more mundane but equally beneficial roles of serious romantic interest, partner/husband and father or father figure.
Iron Man 3, now playing worldwide to the tune of nearly $600 million in a little over two weeks, devotes as much time to Stark’s growth in these relational areas as it does to his evil-defeating heroics. Indeed, Iron Man spends much of the new movie without his armor. Stark (once again played winningly by Robert Downey Jr.) is largely forced to rely on his own, more limited physical strength in his fight against The Mandarin, a seemingly all-powerful mega-terrorist intent on destroying the good ol’ U.S. of A. Oscar winner Ben Kingsley makes The Mandarin a truly frightening specter, aided by very disturbing videos.
The Mandarin is hardly Stark’s only foe in Iron Man 3. Aldrich Killian (an initially unrecognizable Guy Pearce), a scientist rebuffed by Stark fourteen years prior, has developed a well-intentioned physical therapy called Extremis that enables lost limbs to regenerate. The therapy, however, has some unique side effects that pose a serious threat. To the extent that the plot’s potency hinges on Extremis, I found it the least explained and ultimately somewhat silly dimension of an otherwise taut screenplay by Shane Black and Drew Pearce. Still, Extremis run amok makes for a visually impressive, wham-bang finale that also involves dozens of remotely-operated Iron Man suits.
I have found each of the Iron Man films a marked improvement over its immediate predecessor (not including The Avengers, which outshines pretty much every superhero movie to date) primarily due to the trajectory of Stark’s relationship with Pepper Potts (returning Gwyneth Paltrow) and the series’ more fearsome recent villains. Many critics would disagree with me but I encourage them to re-view 2008’s Iron Man and witness how woefully insipid most of the banter between Tony and Pepper is, as well as how weak a nemesis Jeff Bridges’ deceitful (and laughably named) Obadiah Stane turns out to be even with his own hulking iron casing. Largely thanks to co-writer and director Black, working on the franchise for the first time, Iron Man 3 makes Potts a smart and strong equal to Stark. The Mandarin and Killian, meanwhile, nearly reach the pinnacle of big-screen bad guys currently occupied by Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter and the Wicked Witch of the West.
The beating (magnetized?) heart of Iron Man 3, though, is Stark’s embrace of his humanity. Already suffering anxiety attacks in the wake of The Avengers’ battle with alien invaders, Tony has to further endure the destruction of his sea-side Malibu pad by The Mandarin’s forces and finds himself banished to (gulp) rural Tennessee. In his friendship there with a fatherless boy and separation from Potts, who thinks him dead, Stark begins to accept that what matters most in life is not money, pride, power or superheroics. Rather, he learns that sympathy, compassion, eye contact and loving self-sacrifice can be the best attributes for any man — iron or otherwise — to possess.
Iron Man 3: B+
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest, Rage Monthly Magazine and Echo Magazine.