Iron Man 3: The Prodigal Son Returns

Despite the fact that there are some awesome movies coming out this summer, I think I can say with certainty that Iron Man 3 has already proven itself to be the biggest summer blockbuster. You don’t think so?

Did I mention that Iron Man 3 took in $175 million during its opening, claiming the second biggest opening weekend ever? If you understand Hollywood and movie productions, you know that this is a HUGE deal because Marvel now has the #1 and #2 biggest openings of all time—the first, of course, being last summer’s The Avengers. Essentially, what this means is that Marvel will not be slowing its franchise any time soon. In fact, the money that Iron Man 3 brought in (and continues to bring in) will only get recycled into the Marvel movies, which will mean several greenlit productions for the next couple years. I’m picturing the executives over at Marvel doing the “make it rain” dance right now (while DC Comics executives weep and pray for Man of Steel to deliver this summer). But enough about money, let’s talk about the movie…

If we’re comparing the three Iron Man films to each other, here’s how I see them: Iron Man (great), Iron Man 2 (good but not as great as the first), Iron Man 3 (best). But that’s the funny thing—these films weren’t meant to be stacked up against each other. Technically, the Iron Man trilogy is one story in an overarching universe of stories (That would be the universe of Marvel’s superheroes, my friend). So when viewed as a whole project, it doesn’t matter which films were better than the others because, together, they make up one fantastic facet. Let me explain…

With every trilogy, the first film is typically the most solid. Why? Because it sets a new stage for a character we haven’t yet gotten to know. After the movie ends, we know the character, and we expect things of that character’s story. This is where the following sequel usually has problems (unless that sequel is Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back). The sequel not only has to show us the same character we now love, but it also has to deliver a new story that will push that character to change just enough so we don’t feel like we’ve watched the same movie twice AND leave us with a cliffhanger leading into the next film. Enter the third film of the trilogy, which I consider to be the make-or-break moment. Considering that the third film is the end of the story, it needs to be the culmination of everything that has happened to the character in the trilogy, as well as end with a bang.

But Marvel doesn’t go with the standard trilogy. Sure, there are three Iron Man films, but as I said above, they are a facet of the overarching universe. Understanding that, take a look at the Iron Man trilogy. Iron Man introduced us to Tony Stark and showed us how he became Iron Man. In terms of being a sequel, Iron Man 2 was a little similar to the first film, but since we’re viewing it as more of a setup for the film that follows, then it actually did its job well. But wait a minute? Wasn’t the cliffhanger at the end of Iron Man 2 about S.H.I.E.L.D and The Avengers Initiative? Yes. Yes, it was. Because Iron Man 2‘s true “sequel” wasn’t Iron Man 3. It was The Avengers.

Chronologically, Tony Stark’s story goes in this order: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3. This is why Iron Man 3 was so good. Because it didn’t pick up where Tony left off in Iron Man 2; it followed who he became after Loki’s attack on New York in The Avengers. Talk about uniting your franchise (Take notes, DC Comics).

By following The Avengers, we saw a changed Tony Stark. He still had the sass, brilliance, and narcissism of the old Tony, but he was a different superhero now—a more humanized superhero. He couldn’t sleep, he kept having nightmares about falling out of the wormhole (in Avengers), and he was suffering from anxiety attacks most likely caused by PTSD. He even admits to it early in the film: “Nothing’s been the same since New York.” This is where you can see Robert Downey Jr.’s acting skills. Some of the best scenes with Tony were those where he had been up for 72+ hours working on his suits or when he was having an anxiety attack triggered by someone asking him about New York. I don’t know how RDJ did it, but I was both laughing and worried for Tony.

I’m pretty sure most of the reason why RDJ gave an awesome performance (besides just being RDJ) was because of director Shane Black, who also directed him in the crime-comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Clearly, the two work well together. Black’s assistance with the screenplay gave Iron Man 3 quick-tongued wit (more than it usually has) and really balanced the entirety of the film’s action, humor, and emotion. For those of you wondering what happened to Iron Man/Iron Man 2‘s director, Jon Favreau, don’t worry…he returns to Iron Man 3 to play Happy Hogan, Tony Stark’s bodyguard and Downton Abbey-lover (Yes, we get to see this).

Now, let’s talk about Pepper and Tony (Can we please call them “Peppertony”?). I do not like Gwyneth Paltrow, but the moment she and RDJ unite, I forget how much I don’t like her. God, they have good chemistry, both onscreen and off. I seriously think they are Pepper and Tony in real life, minus the romance. He’s the snarky show-off, and she’s the one who keeps him in line. And Iron Man 3 only deepens this relationship.

As Tony says, the only thing he truly cares about—the only reason he keeps putting on the Iron Man suit—is to protect Pepper. Now, ever since Twilight associated “protecting the person you love” with “being a dominating creeper,” I kind of don’t like hearing that line in movies. But Tony protecting Pepper doesn’t establish who’s dominant or submissive in their relationship. Tony is Iron Man, sure, but Pepper is Tony’s equal in her own rights. For one, she’s running Stark Industries like a pro. And, well, there’s that climatic harbor scene where she dies. “WHAT? SHE DIES?!” you cry. Technically, yes. But only for a few minutes. Then she emerges from the flames unscathed, thanks to Extremis (We’ll get to that in a moment). Then she kicks the shit out of The Mandarin in order to rescue Tony. And she did it all in a sports bra like a true badass.

Did you know The Mandarin was actually supposed to be the villain in the very first Iron Man film, but they thought he was too ambitious to kick off the trilogy? After seeing this film, I totally agree (If you need a point of reference, I’d say his villainy is on par with The Joker or Bane in that he’s a homicidal maniac who thrives on mass fear and chaos). Throughout Iron Man 3, The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is shown in news clips and broadcasts threatening the U.S. President in a manner akin to Osama Bin Laden. Of course, since Kingsley wears a long beard, robes, and is a race other than Caucasian, we immediately assume that he’s the villain. This would be the Iron Man 3 writers playing on the American fear of Muslim extremists, if you didn’t notice. But what’s truly funny about this criminal profiling fodder is that it’s the movie’s ultimate red herring.

The man who you believe is The Mandarin for the first half of the movie is actually just a chatty, British actor named Trevor who has been paid to be the “face” of the real Mandarin’s plots; meanwhile, the real Mandarin is actually a rich, white guy named Alrich Killian (If you feel like this is social commentary, that’s because it is). Killian (Guy Pearce), as it turns out, is an industrialist, like Tony Stark. But instead of creating weapons, he is in the business of medical advances. Along with scientist and former one-night-stand of Tony Stark, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), Killian has figured out how to tap into the brain and make the body immune to injury through regeneration. The injection, called Extremis, allows people’s bodies to heat up and instantly fix a broken nose or lost limb. Killian, himself, is a subject of Extremis, which makes him impossible to kill in the movie’s climax. And that’s where Pepper’s survival and ass-kickery comes in because, surprise, she was injected, too!

Well, since I’ve gone on long enough, let me just share with you my favorite part from this movie. In a scene where Tony escapes from Killian’s lair, he shoots at one of Killian’s henchmen (who never last, I mean, come on), and the guy drops his weapon and says something like, “Don’t shoot. I hate working here. These people are weird.” I found this extremely hilarious because I’ve always wondered how many “bad guys” working for the bad guy are actually just dudes trying to pay their mortgages and feed their families. Shane Black, you’re awesome for including this.

Oh, and don’t forget to wait after the credits for a quick scene with Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner!

Overall, Iron Man 3 was a great summer blockbuster. Explosions, technology, social commentary, wit, romance—it’s clear that director and screenwriter Shane Black knew what he was doing with this film and with his lead actor, Robert Downey Jr., who continues to deliver amazing performances as Tony Stark. After spending four movies (including The Avengers) with Tony Stark, we’ve really seen the character’s growth in his abilities as a superhero, in his relationship with Pepper Potts, and in becoming a better person. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts has the daunting task of keeping up with RDJ’s Stark, but she nails it once again in this film and even has the opportunity to show up her superhero love interest in an ass-kicking scene of her own.

I don’t want to say too much more because there are some major spoilers in this movie (If you read them above, then you know what I mean), so let’s just say this—if RDJ doesn’t sign on for more Iron Man films, I’m perfectly okay with that because he did a solid job with these; if he does, I will be very excited. Now, we just have to wait for more Marvel superhero films!

Iron Man 3: A+

4 thoughts on “Iron Man 3: The Prodigal Son Returns

  1. As a comic fan, I’m not crazy about how the Mandarin was handled, especially when considering the Marvel cinematic universe as a whole. But in the context of this standalone movie, it worked and this was definitely a fitting follow-up to the Avengers.

  2. “I’ve always wondered how many “bad guys” working for the bad guy are actually just dudes trying to pay their mortgages and feed their families.” – I remember this was addressed in one of the Austin Powers movies, where at one point after redshirt henchmen were killed by the hero someone from BadGuyOrg’s human resources dept rang up the widows at home to advise and commiserate.

    But yes, in general you imagine how Bad Guys manage to find so many compliant henchpersons willing to die, none of whom are undercover cops or leak info to the authorities.

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