This time last year Marvel Studios kicked off the summer movie season with the pinnacle superhero movie experience in Marvel's The Avengers. The culmination of that multi team franchise cross-over exceeded all expectations, broke box office records, and concluded 'Phase One' of Marvel's Cinematic Universe in epic fashion; validating all the franchises that made it possible. This year Marvel Studios returns to the May opening weekend slot with Iron Man 3 to both begin another summer season of blockbuster movies and pave the road to another Avengers film.
Sadly both the summer movie season and Marvel's 'Phase Two' are off to a bad start.
That's right fans and fanboys Iron Man 3 is a disappointment. Whether you are a fan of the previous Iron Man films, a fan of the comic book, or a casual movie fan just hoping to enjoy an over budgeted action flick the disappointment is still there. How much so entirely depends on your point of view. And you haven't skipped reading this review after seeing the low 2 out of 5 star rating at the top of the page you're in luck because I'll break the film down for each of those demographics. But first a brief synopsis.
Roughly six months after the 'Battle of New York' that was The Avengers, Iron Man 3 opens with an anxiety riddled Tony Stark. In the aftermath of that event Tony turns to working on his suits to cope, Pepper runs his company, and Rhodey takes Tony's former position of America's go-to superhero as the Iron Patriot. While Tony has been lost in his workshop a new villain known as the Mandarin has come into the frame; executing terrorist attacks all over the US. Tony quickly takes notice after the Mandarin attacks him and those around him, and from there the personal vendetta begins.
Ok so this one has lots of problems but let me point out the few positives before I put down this latest adaptation of my favourite superhero. Fans will be happy to see Robert Downey Jr. can still bring it with that witty quick comeback sense of humour for Tony and his chemistry with Gwyneth's Pepper Potts has only gotten better. Much of that humour can be attributed to Downey being reunited with his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director Shane Black. Black proves again he can get the best out of Downey, while also showing he can handle big action sequences on a franchise level. That mid-air Air Force One rescue scene was pretty killer.
The arenas of the film I thought I'd hate actually turned out to be some of my favourites. Those being the liberties producer Kevin Feige, Black, and company took when loosely adapting the comic's Extremis story-line into the film. Without going into a lot of geek speak about the comic's arc they basically toned down the comic book element of the story, made it more realistic (except for that whole bad guys breathing fire thing, they kept that in), and even expanded on minor characters like Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian. In the comics Pearce's character only exists in 2 frames before he commits suicide so giving Killian an actual backstory and adding to the Iron Man mythos was a welcome addition in my books. Last on the positive side was the 180 they pulled for Rhodey's War Machine suit by giving him a new paint job and a new name as the Iron Patriot. The change worked considering the Iron Patriot is actually a similar suit worn by a Spider-Man villain in the comics (Norman Osborn) it doesn't even matter because the suit change is easily overlook-able after hearing the funny banter between Tony and Rhodey about it being focus grouped before the red, white, and blue re-branding.
I've just spend the last two paragraphs singing Iron Man 3's praises so how bad could it really be? Well the best way I can put it is the way parents guilt trip their kids after them screwing up. I wasn't mad, I was just very disappointed.
I'm a comic book reader and huge fan of the Tony Stark/Iron Man character. Have been since I was a kid. In my collection I personally own over 500 issues of Iron Man comics and even have the character tattooed on my body for the rest of my life. Even with taking all that into account I still consider myself a fan without ever going to that level of fanatical status over every minor detail they did or did not include when bringing the character to the big screen. But what I can't get over though is the mishandling Iron Man 3 did with Tony Stark's greatest villain, the Mandarin. I can't get too much into it without spoiling the film but the version of the Mandarin, Ben Kingsley portrays cheats the audience out of what could have been a truly iconic character. Not to the fault of Sir Ben, he played the role the movie intended him to be. It was the direction, or lack thereof, which Marvel Studios decided to take with the Mandarin which was the problem. The causal movie goer will be soured after the characters final reveal, but comic book fans will be crushed.
As unsatisfying as it was to see them fumble Iron Man's greatest villain nothing was more frustrating than what Iron Man 3 did to its own franchise and didn't do for the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Playing off of some dialogue from the first film, Iron Man 3 recreates part of Tony's past in a flashback. Instead of adding to the movies' mythos with additional information, they contradict the character's origin story, rewriting the history the previous two films established just to make sense of the third. Hints of the 'Ten Rings' that go back to Tony making his first suit in the cave fade away in this rewrite, tainting the entire franchise to a certain level.
When Jon Favreau first brought the character of Tony Stark and Iron Man to life in the first film he not only showed an origin story, he set up the story and universe for Marvel's 'Phase One'. With the second film Favreau continued Tony's story but also introduced characters like Nick Fury and the Black Widow that extended beyond the franchise to further the goal of a road to The Avengers. This third film was supposed to kick start the next stage and usher in 'Phase Two' for a path to an Avengers sequel. Instead the film cuts all ties from the surrounding franchises and all but closes the book on the armoured Avenger completely. I'm not ruining any endings here but they wrap up Tony's journey in a way that if Downey wants to call it quits he can. Don't worry not all the doors are closed but Downey was only ever signed on for 3 Marvel films and since last year's Avengers wasn't part of that deal they had to go eight figures deep into the Disney vault (a crazy $50 M) to get him for that one, so he could be back for Avengers 2 if they are willing to do that again.
I've already gone on for long enough so I won't go into the lack of effort and detail that was put into the suits in the Hall of Armour. Or touch on the how the film over-played the snap on, snap off, gimmick for the Mark 42 suit. Or how Don Cheadle seemed to get less screen time than the last film. Or even go into the randomness that was Tony's 10 year old Tennessee sidekick. What I will say is lower your expectations for this third installment. I, like most people probably should, went into Iron Man 3 knowing it wouldn't come close to compare to the experience last summer's Avengers was yet still thought it might be better than Iron Man 2. Sadly it's not true. To those hoping to find a silver lining from this movie in the secret scene after the credits will only find some laughs, no promises for the future.
Iron Man 3 might break some box office records but it will undoubtedly break some fanboys' hearts.
Andrew Burns loves film and comics, and can be found writing about when those worlds converge. You can follow him on Twitter at @myAndrewBurns.