Arguably the most polarizing installment in the MCU up to this point, Iron Man 3 is Shane Black’s vision of a superhero movie. And the central reason it is so polarizing is because of that Mandarin twist that occurs during the halfway point of the movie. While some found that twist to be a genius subversion of expectations, others, especially comic readers looking forward to the Mandarin getting accurately portrayed on the big screen, hated that the Ben Kingsley villain wound up simply being a punchline. Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian is the real central villain of the picture. Where do I stand on this movie? Let’s find out. Cue the music.
Iron Man 3 (stylished onscreen as Iron Man Three) was the first post-Avengers MCU film. It kicked off “Phase 2”, and was quick to explore the psyche of an Avenger following the alien invasion in New York. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr, of course) is still his egotistical self, but he’s now dealing with panic attacks. Paranoia has lead him to build dozens of Iron Man suits. Meanwhile, a terrorist known as the Mandarin has been linked to a string of bombings. The culprit of these bombings winds up circling back to an experimental regenerative treatment known as Extremis, which is being tested on injured soldiers. When their bodies reject the treatment, they explode. This leads to Extremis developer Aldrich Killian hatching a faux terrorist plot in an attempt to hide the flaws of his creation.
It’s easy to see why this movie draws some groans from people whenever they hear it referenced. Remember that dark first trailer that featured the Mandarin voiceover saying “Some people call me a terrorist. I consider myself a teacher. Lesson number one: Heroes, there is no such thing.”, followed by him sending helicopter gunships to destroy Tony and Pepper Potts’ home? Hell, remember the eerie propaganda videos in the first half of the movie? Yeah, that guy that looks like Ben Kingsley is actually just an actor working under Killian’s command. It’s certainly a middle finger to fans of this character from the comics, but as that subversion of expectations, it’s kind of brilliant. Not only for throwing the audience off guard, but Tony as well. It’s this revelation that makes Killian one of the better villains the MCU has had. As a physical force, Killian’s a bit underwhelming (even with his own Extremis abilities), but his ability to manipulate the War on Terror makes him a fascinating mastermind.
This being a Marvel movie, there’s a fair amount of lighthearted moments. A good portion of which involve Stark and a young boy he crosses paths with, Harley, played by Ty Simpkins (also of Insidious and Jurassic World fame). At first, Harley’s a bit of an annoying character, but he grows on you like he grows on Tony. The two happen to share something in common in that they both were fatherless in their youth. One of the funnier lines in the film comes from Tony when Harley mentions his father leaving six years ago to go to 7-Eleven to get scratchers (lottery tickets), only to never return to him, to which Tony responds, “Dads leave. No need to be a pussy about it.”. Harley essentially becomes Tony’s stay-at-home sidekick. I look forward to seeing how Harley’s grown up in Avengers 4.
I was glad to see Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) have more to do in this movie (probably helps that Favreau wasn’t dealing with directing duties at the same time), and I’m glad they didn’t kill him off. Then there’s Rebecca Hall, who shows up as Maya Hansen, a geneticist involved with the creation of Extremis. She also had a fling with Tony back in the day – and let’s be honest, Rebecca Hall is an upgrade over Gwyneth Paltrow (though Gwyneth did look good in that sports bra at the end, not gonna lie). James Badge Dale is a bit cartoony as Killain’s Extremis-powered henchman. I didn’t even realize that was JBD until the credits told me so (by the way, those end credits are awesome).
And let me leave you on this jarring comparison. Iron Man 3 did for Iron Man what Star Wars: The Last Jedi did for Star Wars. In The Last Jedi, director Rian Johnson played with the Force. A Star Wars movie had never explored abilities like force projecting before. Prior to Iron Man 3, we had never seen anyone but Tony wear a model of the Iron Man suit that Tony created. In the scene where Tony’s mansion gets attacked, Pepper receives Tony’s Mark 42 suit, which saves her and Hansen from being killed. It’s an awesome action sequence, and it’d be the best one in the film had the plane rescue scene not been equally-thrilling. Then there’s the introduction to Stark being able to remotely control his suit, even when he’s not physically in it through J.A.R.V.I.S.’ technology. Dude, I just realized that’s Iron Man 3‘s version of force projection, isn’t it? What I’m trying to get at is both movies are examples of directors given creative freedom to take chances in a pre-existing blockbuster franchise. To boldly go where these movies have never gone before.