An outsider’s take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe: ‘Iron Man 3’ (2013) (Movie review)

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his blog series chronicles my first viewing of the complete MCU movie saga. I’ll examine each film under various categories that reflect popular discussion points. Next up is the seventh film, “Iron Man 3” (2013):

STRENGTHS

After the solid original and pointless sequel, the trilogy capper is finally a great “Iron Man” yarn. We get a full picture of his development from playboy to hero in the twisty-yet-ultimately-logical fashion of Shane Black, whose style wonderfully matches Robert Downey Jr.’s superhero. Amid the engrossing plot, the film also services a supporting cast I’m beginning to like more (Pepper, Happy, Rhodes and even the computer voice Jarvis), and finds time for Tony to bond with a young admirer at Christmastime without being saccharine. The score by Brian Tyler is a big step up from the first two, as this film eschews the heavy metal standards but gives Tony a heroic theme that alludes to that genre.

WEAKNESSES

I’m a bit unconvinced that Tony needs to give up his gadgets in order to focus on his relationship with Pepper. A healthy life has balance.

(Note: As comic-book fans know, this film doesn’t give us the “real” Mandarin, but for an outsider like me, it’s not a problem, which is why I’m not including that as a weakness. For more on the real Mandarin, check out the 2014 MCU short film “All Hail the King.”)

We get a full picture of his development from playboy to hero in the twisty-yet-ultimately-logical fashion of Shane Black, whose style wonderfully matches Robert Downey Jr.’s superhero.

HEROES

Iron Man inspires the next generation of mechanically inclined heroes when he crosses paths with young Harley (Ty Simpkins) in a backwater Tennessee town, where he is recovering and continuing his investigation. Don Cheadle’s War Machine, rebranded as the Iron Patriot, has a plot purpose for the first time, and Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) seems to enter the superpowered fold at the end – having been altered into a lava-being by the bad guy’s Extremis program – but then a quick voiceover montage tells us she’s been restored to normal.

VILLAINS

Guy Pearce plays the MCU’s best villain so far: Aldrich Killian, who aims for a slice of the military weapons pie. His end goal is stereotypical, but I like his rejiggered plan of using an actor playing “the Mandarin” (Ben Kingsley) to take credit for “terrorist acts” that are actually Aldrich’s restored, previously wounded soldiers blowing up when the biotech fails. If he can package these attacks into a perceived bigger threat in the American president’s eyes, he can cash in. Rather than a grand scheme to take over the world, Aldrich is making lemonade out of lemons — a delicious departure from the Big Bad norm.

WOMEN

A past one-night-stand of Tony’s named Maya (Rebecca Hall) warns him that her boss, Aldrich, is up to no good. When she tells Pepper about this, “Iron Man 3” passes the Bechdel Test. And one of Aldrich’s lava-powered henchpeople, Brandt (Stephanie Szostak), is a woman.

MIRROR TO REALITY

“Iron Man 3” peppers in some parody of the American security state and its attendant propaganda with the rebranding of War Machine to the Iron Patriot, since the name “tested better in focus groups.” Overall, the film is a nice illustration of the lengths a theoretical bad actor could go to get some of those sweet military industry contracts.

BEST ACTION SCENE

Tony remotely uses one of his suits to save 11 people in freefall from Air Force One. As is often the case in the “Iron Man” films, the staging and the technical verisimilitude makes me believe it, and the sky-high perspectives make this sequence especially thrilling.

BEST COMEDIC MOMENT

Kingsley doesn’t get to chew scenery as a Big Bad, because “the Mandarin” is just an actor named Trevor. Still, the scene where Tony finds Trevor and (easily) gets him to spill the beans is delightful – maybe not so much for fans of the comic version of the Mandarin, but it works for me.

WORLD BUILDING

Iron Man is struggling to sleep and having anxiety attacks in the wake of the events of “The Avengers,” and he actually kind of needs this adventure to get back on track. He blows up his suits at the end – although the film closes with “I am Iron Man” – but I don’t dwell on that too much, as I’m sure he’ll return to action if S.H.I.E.L.D. asks nicely. This has the least world building of any MCU movie so far. The post-credits scene is a funny gag with Iron Man trying to use Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) as his shrink, even though he’s not that kind of doctor.

FINAL THOUGHTS/EXPECTATIONS

How does the MCU follow the epic “Avengers?” With another epic, but focused on one character. “Iron Man 3” is a perfect summation of Tony/Iron Man (who has emerged from the “cocoon” as a single entity by film’s end), and leaves me at a point of liking him more than ever. Unfortunately, I have no more Iron Man films to look forward to, but least he’ll be around for the team-ups.