Iron Man 3 settles for just being awesome

by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Iron Man

Iron Man 3
Galaxy Cinemas
3.5 out of 5

For a film expected to serve as the bridge between Marvel’s Phases I and II, Iron Man 3 is a remarkably idiosyncratic affair. The hero is outsmarted at every corner, his brothers in arms are nowhere to be found (even Nick Fury sits out this one), and Tony Stark spends a good portion of the film by himself, with no assistance (other than from a defective prototype).

But before you say “Christopher Nolan,” know that even at its bleakest, Iron Man 3 exists to amuse and entertain, not to offer up lessons about ethics and society. Sure, big corporations are evil, but that’s not exactly news.

We reconvene with Tony Stark just a few months after he helped save New York in The Avengers. But the billionaire playboy-philanthropist-superhero almost died while doing so, and he’s going through a wicked case of post-traumatic stress, complete with panic attacks. The timing couldn’t be worse: a media-savvy terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley, channeling Osama Bin Laden) is causing havoc by detonating bombs that leave no trace behind except the shadows of their victims.

If that’s not enough, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) — a business rival with a grudge — is developing weaponized nanotechnology that seems likely to make Stark Industries and Iron Man obsolete. Killian is the very opposite of Stark, and not only from a moral perspective: while Stark has always revelled in public adoration, Aldrich goes to extremes to hide his true allegiances (which aren’t as obvious as you’d imagine).

Stark utterly fails to see the connection between the Mandarin and Killian, and he’s also clueless to the fact that his brash behaviour invites retaliation. Cut off from the world thanks to a villainous masterstroke and saddled with a malfunctioning suit, the erstwhile Iron Man is forced to rely on his resourcefulness and intrinsic decency.

Unlike the much-maligned second chapter of the saga (Whiplash? Seriously?), Iron Man 3 features excellent villains, with Kingsley as chilling as Pearce is smarmy. The Al Qaeda iconography hits close to home and, for a portion of the film, the Mandarin is as unsettling as the Joker in The Dark Knight.

Midway through, though, the topicality disappears courtesy of a twist that’s at once brilliant and castrating. Iron Man 3 may leave you with a bitter aftertaste as a result; it’s remarkably entertaining, but doesn’t live up to its full potential.

The intensity and body count in Iron Man 3 is quite high for a family-friendly franchise. Writer/director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon 1 and 2) knows how to keep the stakes high and the action compelling. He’s also got the advantage of working with established characters and actors fully immersed in them. Tony Stark is basically a second skin for Downey Jr. these days, and Paltrow is effective enough as Pepper Potts, to remain the only love interest in the Marvel galaxy that audiences give a damn about. I’m still on the fence on Don Cheadle as War Machine, though; Terrence Howard was a far more engaging Major Rhodes in the first Iron Man.

The most disturbing element in Iron Man 3 is its conclusiveness: they quite literally burn the house down. Downey’s current contract is up and given how successful the enterprise has been thus far, he’ll likely be asking for a ransom worthy of a Bond villain.

Here’s betting — and hoping — he’ll get it.