I will defend Iron Man 3 from haters for the rest of my days. I’m not even remotely kidding when I say that.
When I first saw the movie in theaters, I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a marked improvement from Iron Man 2 in so many ways and it was a great start to the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe after The Avengers. For the most part as far as I knew, a lot of people seemed to agree with me on that.
Over the years the perception of that movie started to turn nasty and now I’ve seen people that flat out hate it and consider it to be one of the worst if not the worst MCU film ever made. This prompted me to watch it again a few times to see what the deal was.
I still don’t get it. Ok, that’s not entirely true. I get it, as in I know why they hate it. I just couldn’t disagree more with it.
The biggest complaint by far about this movie is the Mandarin twist, right? That’s what it looks like to me. We spend about half of the 131-minute runtime thinking that Ben Kingsley’s turn as a Marvel villain is completely legitimate. We were shown that and told that in the trailers and TV spots. We had that chilling scene in the movie where he made the President call him to save a guy’s life and then he shot him anyway on national television, and that was after he sent an army of helicopters to decimate Tony Stark’s home right after Tony challenged him in public.
Then we find out he’s just an actor named Trevor Slattery that’s been working for Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian, a psychotic, formerly disabled scientist who has found a very unstable way to regenerate people’s limbs by hacking the brain. Well he didn’t figure it out, Rebecca Hall’s Dr. Maya Hansen did but he took control of it and now he’s making Tony’s life a living hell all because Tony snubbed him so many years ago at a New Year’s Eve party.
Sounds a little convoluted but the movie really does a great job at spelling it all out. The best thing they did right off the bat was make Tony the narrator so that we could get caught up on exposition in the beginning without getting terribly clunky with it. It works in my opinion and we are up to speed pretty fast. He burned Killian, slept with Maya, never called her back and forgot all about it. Then the Mandarin shows up a year after the Battle of New York and claims responsibility for several bombings against the U.S., one of which severely injures Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan and draws Stark’s ire in the first place.
So, what’s so bad about the Mandarin twist? Is it just because it affected a potential connection to The Ten Rings organization from the comics that was introduced in the first Iron Man movie? Was it because “defiled” one of Iron Man’s greatest villains for the sake of a joke? Yeah, I’m not feeling any of that because the twist made perfect sense for the story. The truth was that Killian’s Extremis concept he got from Maya was unstable and the test subjects they were using had a tendency to explode and take people with them. The Mandarin was his fake terrorist cover to hide those accidents, as well as a ploy to control both the U.S. Government since he was in league with the Vice President and other military officers, and the war on terror being that he had the most dangerous threat in the world in his pocket. It’s a logical plan for world domination that makes use of modern day threats and situation to illustrate it.
Alright, let’s say you don’t care about the Mandarin twist. What else about the movie bothers you if you don’t like it? The jokes and humor are pretty much on par with the first Iron Man movie, it’s paced very well with no dragging and some solid decompression in between awesome action sequences, the VFX is excellent throughout the movie, especially during the Iron Legion scene where Stark is literally jumping from suit to suit fighting Killian and the Extremis soldiers, and there’s even a great subplot with Stark suffering from major PTSD in the wake of the Battle of New York.
Wait, is that what bugs you? You don’t like the PTSD subplot? I’ve actually had people complain about this because they consider it to be an insulting portrayal of PTSD in a movie. I’m not a doctor and I’m not someone who knows about PTSD up close and personal, but for how it was portrayed in the movie with Stark’s anxiety attacks, it seemed to fit his character very well and again also fit the story. Iron Man 3 is arguably the most grounded and personal of the Iron Man movies, maybe even of the MCU in general. Tony’s flaws are on full display mentally and emotionally and he’s at his most vulnerable here in the wake of his first stint as an Avenger. His world has changed and he’s not having a good time dealing with it. We see that clearly throughout the movie and it’s a nice layer of character depth to have instead of just making this a standard action movie with him and his suits for two hours. There’s some complexity here that makes the story worth the watch. Never mind that they all but toss that development in the garbage for the rest of the franchise. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Iron Man 3 manages to pick up where Phase 1 left off before The Avengers season finale. At this point the franchise was still telling more serious stories with a smattering of jokes and humor sprinkled throughout it. Tony is not in the suit nearly as much in this movie as he is in the previous two movies, because it’s a more personal story about his vulnerability and we can’t forget Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts here because while there are times when she seems to play a damsel in distress, she gets the upper hand in the end when she ultimately saves Tony from Killian after both of them thinking that she has died. Yes, I know that sounds convoluted too but I’m not making excuses here. Somehow this crazy story of PTSD, terrorism, revenge, greed, experiments gone wrong and fake bad guys just works really well in my opinion.
You know what part of it is? Brian Tyler FINALLY giving Iron Man a recognizable theme. No disrespect to Ramin Djawadi or John Debney for their work on the other two movies but how come Tyler couldn’t have written this theme in 2008 for them to use in all of the Iron Man movies? It’s solid and would have given his trilogy more continuity in the long run. Ah well, better late than never.
Iron Man 3 is seriously another one of the MCU’s triumphs, despite the fans that think it’s the worst movie in the franchise for whichever reason. Up until Black Panther, it was the only non-team up MCU movie that grossed over a billion dollars and yes part of that was Avengers residual as well as Iron Man buzz, but it was still a hugely successful start to Phase 2 for the franchise and for now, they are still telling more serious stories. We’re only two movies away from that big turn, though.