Iron Man 3 Shows The Dark Knight How To Rise Better
I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone decided they could do a better job of telling a superhero story about the consequences of hubris or just plain bad decisions than Christopher Nolan did with his much-maligned final chapter of the Dark Knight saga, but I have to admit that I never imagined it would happen in the form of an Iron Man sequel written and directed by Shane Black. Nevertheless, here we are, and because I hate leaving people waiting until the last 30 seconds of the broadcast for an actual verdict, let’s just lay it out right here: not only is Iron Man 3 the best of the Iron Man movies, but it’s probably one of the best realized superhero movies to date. And yes, it’s better than The Dark Knight Rises. I’ll tell you all the reasons why after the break–and don’t worry, I’ll keep it spoiler-free.
One of the chief problems any superhero movie series has, once it’s moved past its initial episode, is in trying to remain grounded enough to be relatable to the audience. Iron Man 2 almost entirely failed to achieve this, which left many of us worried about how its inevitable followup would stand up. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises struggled significantly with this problem while also trying to deal with a major problem created by the brilliant ending of its predecessor, and the results were decidedly mixed. Part of that was because the “solution” to the problem of its predecessor was half-baked, but most of it was that the protagonist and his situation were so far removed from the causes of the situation (leading to many plot holes), not to mention the character’s former modus operandi, that it became hard to relate to, much less follow with any consistent interpretation.
Iron Man 3, while not a perfect movie, handles a similar situation in which the character, having made a bad choice in the past, must unexpectedly deal with long-term consequences he couldn’t have imagined. You probably already know the essentials: America is being harassed by a terrorist who calls himself The Mandarin, and Tony Stark, after watching his friend Happy Hogan (what a great fucking name, right?), makes the incredibly unwise move of calling out said terrorist. He promptly has his ass handed to him, and thus the movie begins in earnest. In order to keep myself on the “straight and narrow” of spoiler-free writing, I’m going to frame the rest of this review in terms of likes and dislikes that don’t give anything away.
Tony’s unexpected relationship with a young boy who helps him by tormenting him with endless kid questions. Really, I can’t say enough how this little piece of relationship development brings some real heart and soul to the film. It grounds Tony Stark’s character in a way that’s relatable and, owing to the kid’s humble circumstances, tethers him back to the real world in a way that most anyone can understand.
The surprisingly sparse usage of the Iron Man armor for a large portion of the movie, and they made it work to their advantage. Whereas The Dark Knight Rises‘ lack of actual Dark Knight for most of the movie is actually a little annoying, here it works to great effect by leveraging both the aforementioned relationship and putting us back in touch with Tony Stark the thinker, the “mechanic” who figures things out, does his research and comes up with an innovative plan as a result.
The twists. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there’s a twist or two that you probably won’t expect, and I encourage you not to spoil those for yourself because they’re actually quite clever and amazingly ballsy. I’m actually a little surprised that Marvel let them go with one of these twists, but it works to great effect.
It’s a political thriller that isn’t preachy, and yet it gets you to think about one of its core ideas because of the smart way in which the subject was handled. You won’t see this in the trailers, I’m happy to say, as they paint it as a fairly straightforward “terrorist is the bad guy, now go get revenge” story that could appear in just about any superhero movie ever. Because I promised not to spoil anything, I’ll leave it at that.
Grounding Stark. As you certainly have seen in the trailers, Tony Stark has been busy making just about every permutation of Iron Man armor conceivable, utilizing his not inconsiderable genius to think about things from many angles. What you won’t see in the trailers is that he’s also made some pretty serious miscalculations that directly affect the utility of the armor he spends most of his time working with. This is a great idea for many reasons, but one of the more obvious ones is that it takes the man out of the can and forces him to think and act within the confines of his own physical abilities for a lot of the movie. This works to great effect.
Pacing. At 2 hours and 10 minutes, Iron Man 3 is neither immensely long nor terribly short, but what’s impressive is that it moves at such a good clip while still managing to develop characters, provide reasonable motivations for their behaviors and show them actually pause and react to their trauma. Obviously this is most true of Tony Stark, but it’s true also for Pepper Potts, for Rhody, and even for the film’s villain(s). I want to say more, but again, spoilers. Go see it.
Even excellent movies have their flaws, and Iron Man 3 is no exception. One of those is that it successfully wraps up so many loose threads in this character’s life that it leaves one to wonder if there’s anything left to explore. Now, to be fair about this, a good writer can always find something new and worthy to explore about a great character, but they really did wrap up this character neatly by the end. Maybe a little too neatly. It’s not necessarily a terrible thing, though.
Hmm. Well, there were a couple items I didn’t care for, but unfortunately they fall under the heading of spoilers, and I hate spoilers, so I’m not going to list them. However, I’ll say this: whether these things are genuinely negatives or not is up for interpretation, so I encourage you to decide for yourself after you see the movie.
Iron Man 3 is an excellent and surprisingly satisfying third movie in the series, and I look forward to the nearly inevitable Iron Man 4, or at least, definitely inevitable Avengers 2. It’s a superhero movie with a political thriller built in, and manages to also explore to a surprising depth the trauma of a man who’s seen things that run counter to anything he ever believed possible before. It’s a movie about a man, first and foremost, who finds that the hero he can be is less about the tools he uses and more about the mind and heart that drive those tools to whatever purpose he’s aiming toward. Go see it. You’ll probably love it.