Iron Man 3 Review
The highly anticipated film more than disappoints, and becomes one of the worst comic book films of all time.
I’m used to disappointment. As a comic book fan who lives for comic book movies, every time I walk into that theater, usually at midnight, I am running it as a 50/50 shot that the film will satisfy.
Of course, with Iron Man 3, I had every reason to believe that it would. After all, this was a Marvel Studios film! Ever since getting enough money to make a slate of independent films, Marvel Studios, currently run by Kevin Feige, has shown themselves to simply be a group of comic book nerds who want to make the films that nerds want to see. So I was surprised that the film fails on absolutely every level, and is one of the worst comic book films to ever hit theaters.
The Series Until Now
The first Iron Man, back in 2008, marked a new high for comic book films in terms of it’s high-quality story, closeness to the source material, and incredible cast. Marvel Studios followed suite with similarly handled character-based stories in “The Incredible Hulk,” “Thor,” “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and, of course, “The Avengers.”
The weakest link in this chain was, of course, Iron Man 2. It certainly was not a terrible film, but people were disappointed in the somewhat poorly told story. I myself couldn’t get over how shoddily paced it was at times, with simple jokes or bouts of comic relief continuing on for minutes at a time, and people never simply shutting up (I have come to know this phenomenon as “Transformers syndrome”).
The big news, of course, was that Jon Favreau was not returning to direct the third installment, and that it would be in the hands of Robert Downey, Jr.’s good buddy, longtime Hollywood screenwriter Shane Black. And it was soon announced that The Mandarin would, at long last, be the villain, as played by Ben Kingsley.
The Mandarin is, of course, Iron Man’s arch-nemesis. The Joker to his Batman, the Doctor Doom to his Fantastic Four. With most comic book film series, the arch-villain is introduced in the first film, and the series then continues down a descending ladder of villains.
Jon Favreau, in fact, initially announced that The Mandarin was to be the villain in the first film, but the script was later rewritten to take him out. Instead, he is merely hinted at him, with the terrorist organization who takes Tony captive known as “The Ten Rings.”
So, after the disappointing “Iron Man 2,” we were excited to hear that The Mandarin would finally be getting the big screen treatment. It seemed fitting. Trilogies usually tend to bring back some unfinished element or villain from the first film, in order to bring things full circle. The Ten Rings making a comeback, with their leader finally shown, would be something to do just that.
As far as how he would be handled? The Mandarin has always been criticized as a somewhat racist villain, being a sort of Chinese caricature, and not something filmmakers were having an easy time portraying onscreen. So, they came up with what seemed like a brilliant idea: Cast Ben Kingsley! The portrayal that Ben Kingsley showed in his brief clips in the trailer, and the character poster later unveiled, showed a Caucasian man obsessed with Asian culture, who sort of saw himself as the ultimate warlord, incorporating aspects of different world dictators into his look, but maintaining a feeling of a wannabe Asian. This came off as somewhat self-parodying, but actually, in that same way, became very threatening, something assisted by the fact that it was one of the most legendary screen actors of all time. I was excited to see it. I could only hope he wouldn’t be a total behind-the-scenes terrorist, and get the chance to actually fight Iron Man.
More than anything, of course, what I expected to see was a trilogy-ender. Something that brought a note of finality to the series, and the journey of Tony Stark.
I was immediately worried when the highly anticipated first film of the Marvel Cinematic universe phase 2, the Iron Man trilogy ender, began with the Marvel logo coming onscreen accompanied by “Blue Da Ba Dee.”
The film begins with a flashback to New Year’s Eve 1999, which of course means that Happy Hogan has a cartoonish hairstyle that has nothing to do with the time period. But it is there that Tony drunkenly rejects the appeals of a brilliant scientist named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and first sees the work of Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), who is developing a genetic program called “Extremis,” which can offer incredible powers of healing to people, but ends up with them blowing up. Neither of these encounters really matter, and the fact that he has met these people before adds little to nothing to the story.
Back in modern day, Tony is having issues, coming down with panic attacks every time someone mentions New York, or his trip into the alien wormhole. This is obviously the writers trying to give their hero some sort of psyche issue, to dramatize the film, but this one just doesn’t seem to matter. It doesn’t add anything to the plot, or to the character’s growth, or lend any weigh to the story that he gets occasional panic attacks, or has trouble sleeping, and is simply brought up every now and then at different points in the film, so that it can appear to be more character driven than it actually is.. And given that it’s due to something as arbitrary as his trip to the wormhole, it’s obviously just a ham-fisted attempt to somehow attach this film to the events of The Avengers.
But that’s all fine. Back to the plot. Or whatever you call this. It seems there have been a number of bombings around the world, and the man responsible is called The Mandarin. Much like what’s happening in the real world today, he doesn’t’ appear to have a goal, but just wants to bomb anything American. Now, in this entire time, there is never one mention made that the Mandarin’s logo is that of the Ten Rings, the same terrorist organization that took Tony hostage in the first film. Shouldn’t’ this be a subject for concern for Tony? Isn’t this something that could lend weight to his character’s arc, offer some plot-relative angst, and bring closure to the trilogy? No, let’s just skip that part.
Re-enter Aldrich Killian, who is both someone who met and was rejected by Tony (Jim-Carrey-Riddler style, not that that matters much) as well as someone who always used to hit on Pepper (because the screenwriters couldn’t choose one). He has perfected the Extremis program developed by Maya Hansen, which now is capable of making super-soldiers that sometimes blow up. Of course, Pepper’s apparent attraction to Killian also has no bearing on the plot, and seems to be added in for the sole purpose of being as cliché as possible.
Happy tells Tony he’s going to spy on Killian’s men. When he does, he ends up facing off against a couple of super-powered molten men. Here, and throughout the entire movie, these villains seems incredibly out of place in a film series which has had nothing to do with this sort of science fiction before. At any rate, Happy ends up being grievously injured in an ensuing explosion.
Tony, seeing this as the work of the Mandarin, offers a threat to the terrorist, and conducts his own investigation. Screw the FBI, CIA, and NSA. Super-sleuth Tony Stark is on the job! Of course, the fact that Hogan actually told him he was investigating Killian’s men has no impact on Tony, and he never seems to put it together that Killian is involved. He does somehow manage to track down the first place where an explosion such as this occurred.
In the films’ first giant set piece, Tony’s house is then leveled by The Mandarin’s forces, and, presumed dead by the rest of the world, finds himself in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with one suit of non-functioning armor, playing gumshoe. This does not play, as the filmmakers intended, as being a gritty stripping of the character to his bare essence in the style of “Daredevil: Born Again.” Instead, it just plays as silly and completely out of place for the character.
Remember how I said that Iron Man 2 suffered from poor pacing, where the jokes long overstayed their welcome?, this film leaves that one in the dust. It is far from the dark, serious third chapter the trailers promised us.
Tony meets up with a cute kid who becomes his sidekick, and their first meeting is a five-minute long comedy routine. Once again, does this kid’s relationship with Tony add anything to his character, or even the plot of the film? Does he serve any purpose. Of course not. He’s there to chew up screentime and be the cute kid in this film. Because the filmmakers didn’t get the memo that such plot threads do not work, and this is neither charming nor appealing
Tony faces off against a couple more out-of-place super-molten people who like to melt things before one more incredibly long comedy routine with an obsessed fan, which seems to go on for a few more hours. Finally, however, he discovers the Mandarin’s hiding place.
So, naturally, rather than calling up his buddy Rhodes, or, I don't now, the government, Tony decides to single-handedly raid the compound of the world’s most wanted terrorist, armed with some homemade exploding Christmas ornaments and an electric glove. If that sounds like a joke, it isn’t. Or maybe it is, and I just wasn’t laughing.
Up to now, I had obviously been disappointed in the direction the film had taken, but at this point I literally flipped off my 3D glasses and buried my head in my hands. However, if I thought the film could get no dumber, I was in for, to say the least, a shock.
I honestly feel “Ben Kingsley coming out of the bathroom” should be the next “Nuke the fridge.” In that moment, when Sir Ben comes stumbling onscreen talking about his bowl movement, a little part of me died inside.
Again, I have been disappointed by comic book films before. But never before have I been just downright lied to, to this extent. A plot twist is one thing. We’ve seen plenty of those. But this was something different. The entire film that we had been promised, the film that so many of us were looking forward to, was a total prank. Kevin Feige and Shane Black totally punk’d us all.
How long have we been speculating about The Mandarin’s portrayal, talking about how Iron Man’s arch-nemesis would finally be getting his due, anticipating the great Sir Ben Kingsley as the ultimate villain who would finally be a match for our hero? And it turns out, Ben Kingsley doesn’t play The Mandarin at all. Sir Ben has nothing more than a glorified cameo as a drunk British actor named Trevor, who has been used as a dupe by Killian. This, in spite of the fact that the Ten Rings was a very real terrorist organization in the first film.
So yes, let’s talk. It would, of course, be one thing if this film were made by the typical Hollywood elite, the type of people who up until twenty-four years ago, thought Batman made funny sound effects appear onscreen. But did Kevin Feige, the world’s most powerful nerd, he who has been with Marvel Studios from the beginning, and has ensured comic book films made for comic book fans, featuring characters and stories so pure and true to their essence, did he really think that this played?
So, Thor gets his Loki and Captain America gets his Red Skull, both played marvelously by brilliant actors. Iron Man gets Trevor. I can’t even look at Ben Kingsley’s image on the epic-style poster, or the “and Ben Kingsley” credit, without cringing now. It’s literally a joke.
How much money do you think Sir Ben got paid to come in to have a fun day playing a buffoon, and then spend the next few months promoting his portrayal of Iron Man’s arch-nemesis in the press? Somehow, if that’s how The Joker had been done, I don’t think it would have come off very well.
Now, as for the rest of the film, all I can relate it to is a bad nightmare that it was impossible to wake up from. It just kept going on and on. The Mandarin is just a front used by Killian as an excuse to blow stuff up. To what end? I honestly never understood the villain’s scheme. He has this incredible super-soldier weapon…And….He wants to take out the president. Okay.
So Tony is taken captive along with Rhodey, and has a heart-to-heart with Maya Hansen, who, oh yeah, is a bad guy now too, before she says she wants to be a good guy, and says Killian’s plot won’t work without her, before Killian kills her. So much for his plot not working. Whatever it was. Another completely useless character out of the way, with only ten minutes of screentime and two plot twists wasted on her.
So after some truly cringe-worthy comedy shticks that go on for ages more, Tony’s armor now works, and he and Rhodey escape and head out to save the president. Oh, and the vice-president is evil. I’m not sure why we included that two-minute scene in this film, or why Miguel Ferrer needed to play the part. But there you go. The Vice President is evil.
After an action sequence with Air Force One, Tony demonstrates how his new ability to control his armor remotely (which means he will never have to be in danger again, so goodbye film series), the president remains captured, another scene remains completely pointless, and, worst of all, this film is still not over.
But, finally, we come to where Killian has both the President ready to be killed, and Pepper captured and being put through the Extremis process. Tony then uses his newly repaired armor to remotely activate his ultimate secret weapon. He has an army of Iron Man armors that can control themselves! So again, so much for the Iron Man series! Anything and everything he can do remains entirely moot now, because all he has to do is summon his robotic army, which goes entirely against his sensibilities to even create.
After another long, tedious action sequence where Tony puts on and takes off his armor more times than most people do their socks in a given week, he finally blows up the bad guy. Who then is somehow still alive. Until he gets blown up again. And this time, I think it works.
Just before that, of course, the filmmakers make a desperate plea to appease the fanboys they know they have pissed off by having Killian scream at the top of his lungs “I am the Mandarin!” to which I personally wanted to respond to by screaming “No the **** you’re not!”
Well, at least that’s over. And in the midst of all that, was there even one shred of growth in the journey of Tony Stark to make this actually matter as an entry in the series? No. But that’s just the film’s final insult. After all is said and done, Tony gets nice little surgery he has, and we cut to him no longer having to use his chest piece. This massive part of the series’ story is removed totally out of nowhere, and in a quick, narrated montage at the last possible minute. And just to show that there was no talent used in this screenwriting process at all, Tony caps it off by narrating “So now I’m a changed man.”
Oh, but of course, we forgot about the post-credits scene. We may have had to sit through this garbage, but at least we’ll now see the first tease towards the coming Phase 2 films. This might all be worth it. Let the online blogging begin! What’s it going to be? Nick Fury talking about a new threat? Well, actually, it’s a funny little gag with Tony Stark treating Bruce Banner like his own personal therapist. Ha ha. Go home.
Iron Man 3 is a complete mess, with an incomprehensible plot that is so bogged down by so many useless characters and scenes that, even if the storyline itself wasn’t a total insult to fanboys everywhere, would just be plain unentertaining. It drags on an on far past the point where I gave a crap at all, or had any continued interest in sitting in that theater.
If this is where the Marvel Cinematic Universe is heading, we are in big trouble.
RATING: 0 / 10
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