Iron Man 3 does a lot of things really well—it knows exactly what it is supposed to be, and then proceeds to fall into that niche in some places and completely buck it in others. In other words, it does a nice job of taking some unexpected turns while delivering some of the classic Iron Man standbys we have come to know from the franchise. That being said, these tweaks can be a little hit-or-miss, and the result is a really good flick that falls just short of being truly exceptional.
Tony Stark is back this time around with a whole new set of problems, both internal and external. For starters, he has the terrorist Mandarin (played by the stellar Ben Kingsley) calling out the good old U.S. of A. in the midst of a bombing spree, Pepper Potts not really feeling the whole living-with-a-superhero thing (by the way, Gwyneth Paltrow looks insanely good in this movie—her abs especially . . . but moving on), and a scientist named Aldrich Killian cooking up some evil of his own. On top of all of that, Stark seems to have some sort of PTSD-like symptoms from all the crazy stuff that happened in The Avengers. Yeesh.
It sounds like a lot, but the film actually balances all of the conflicts really nicely (unlike, say, Spiderman 3, because somehow this article just would not seem complete without some acknowledgement of the massive train wreck/Tyler-Daswick-dream-killer that was, indeed, Spiderman 3). Everything is well-developed and believable, and the central villain is the best out of the three movies thusfar. Iron Man is in danger, and it shows.
The only qualm I had with any of the conflicts came with Stark’s PTSD. It served the movie well in terms of adding some complexity to Downey Jr.’s usual cocky-playboy-millionaire shtick, and it was good acknowledgement of The Avengers, but I thought it was somewhat random. There was no evidence of any mental trauma in The Avengers at all—they all just sat around eating shawarma at the end—so to have this suddenly thrust upon Stark seemed like more of a plot device than some genuine development in his character.
At the end of the day, however, this is a superhero movie, and you pay to see superhero-action. In this respect, Iron Man 3 delivers on all fronts. Without too many spoilers, just know this: Iron Patriot (formerly War Machine) is finally given his due, the armor variations that you see in the trailers definitely come into play in the best possible way, and the sequence with the airplane might be the best scene of the film. It is spectacular—people applauded in the theater.
Then comes the final battle. Without too many spoilers, it both proceeded and concluded with heavy, pivotal moments. The first one worked really well for me—some viewers might see it coming and some might not, but either way it brings significant impact. The closer, however, was quite the opposite. The ending of the final fight—which, mind you, is thusfar the final scene that we needed/expected in the first two movies—felt like a rip-off. Things are incredible up to that point, and then I was a little let-down. By no means is it a deal-breaker, it was just disappointing. One of the best pure one-on-one action sequences I have seen in a superhero flick was softened just a touch.
Regardless, what you have here is the best Iron Man movie hands-down. It has the best action, the best humor, wonderful balance, and the most interesting Tony Stark to date. Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley also combine to be the most threatening opposition our hero has faced yet. A few loopholes and a hiccup with the climax aside, this is what an Iron Man movie should be.
In the midst of a rise in realist-superhero flicks, Iron Man 3 is the perfect example of incorporating mature themes while maintaining an accessible, popcorn-style approach. Did it do enough to be great? No, but it was definite quality, enough to warrant a well-deserved 8/10.