Does the suit make the man? This is the fundamental question Tony Stark is asking in Iron Man 3. Well that, and how on earth do you live in the world when you know there are aliens and you were almost killed by them?
You see, Iron Man is a bit of a wreck since the events of New York (see The Avengers). He can’t sleep, he’s obessed with building better and better suits — and he doesn’t know who he is without the suit(s). When his former head of security, Happy Hogan, is seriously injured in a bomb blast by a terrorist known as the Mandarin, he gives his home address to the media and says he’s not afraid.
While Tony is busy tracking down the Mandarin, said Mandarin dispatches choppers that proceed to blow up his home while he and Pepper are in it. The only suit he can get quick access to is the prototype suit that pieces itself together to fit over him. He saves Pepper and escapes, but his suit was damaged and he was knocked out. So the suit takes him on a pre-programmed flight to Tennessee — where Tony has planned to go to track the Mandarin.
He learns some disturbing things about a substance known as Extremis being used by the Mandarin wherein many of the test subjects die, exploding like bombs. And if they don’t die, they become extremely dangerous, violent, and have super powers.
It’s the Characters
Arguably, this Iron Man film has less action than the first two Iron Man Films (especially the second) but this is as good a film as the first, and far better than the second. And why is that? It will be no surprise to those who follow my work and read my reviews that I like this film for it’s character development, it’s time spent with Tony Stark as a man, not the time spent with his suite. Sure there’s fourty-something different flavors of the suit in this film, but that’s not the focus or the point. In much of this film Tony is operating without his suit, with just his mind and whatever he can conjure up along the way.
Of course, Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man/Tony Stark. Without him, this franchise would almost literally not be possible. And here we see him turning in his best performance yet. What would an anxiety attack look like for a guy as egotistical and crazy as Tony Stark? I’m sure I don’t know, but Robert Downey Jr. made me believe that his reaction, his means of doing it was the right one.
We also see that Tony Stark is afraid, possibly for the first time since we have ever known him from this series of films. It is obvious in the fact that he can’t sleep and all he can do is work on his force of Iron Man suits, some of which are automated, and by the fact that he’s obsessed with security. And we see him overcompensating by giving out his home address publicly for the bennefit of a terrorist.
It is gratifying to see the upward journey Stark is on. He had a lot to learn and a long way to come, and that’s what makes him one of the most interesting characters in the Marvel universe. Not to put too fine a point on it, but characters and heroes that are too perfect are not believable and are quite simply unrelatable. We are flawed and so fellow humans that are too perfect are unable to capture our empathy. And when your character is on the bottom rung of the ladder, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Speaking of characters, Kingsly is superb in this film. Without getting crazy spoilery, let’s just say there are some surprises as far as the villain is concerned and Kingsly’s performance, any time he’s in a scene is masterful. I loved it!
A New Director
For a franchise on it’s third outing, and particularly with the previous outing being entirely lackluster, I think it was a good move to bring in fresh blood. I often have mixed feelings about this, especially if previous outings were good, then new blood is brought in and the whole thing feels worse. But this is not the case with Iron Man 3. Instead, new-to-the-franchise director, Shane Black takes a step back and asks the same question that Tony Stark is asking, just what are the fundamental aspects that make Iron Man. Is it the techno-gadgetry the man generally surrounds himself with? Because that would be lame. So let’s strip that away and see what happens.
Also, the man is usually secure in who he is, he doesn’t do a lot of soul searching. He usually just quips ironically and/or sarcastically. And yes, that’s still here, that’s a fundamental part of who Tony Stark is, but the security is stripped away.
And Black manages to up the stakes. I never really felt that Pepper Potts was in any great danger before. Now we are made to believe the danger is real — and if you have a heart, you will likely even shed a tear or two during a scene regarding Pepper.
Action on the Rhode
But don’t let me convince you there is no action in this film because there is, and when there is it is well done. Not overdone, and not crazy. It’s all followable, but it’s also the thrill ride you would except. And too, we get to see Colonel Rhodes as “The Iron Patriot” in full swing. In the previous two films Tony and Rhodey can have somewhat of an adversarial relationship, but that’s gone here and that is entirely for the better.
For those simply looking for the comic book hero to throw a few bad guys about, doubtless this film will find entertaining moments for them.
But what additionally impressed me is that Rhodey was more well integrated into the story than either of the two previous outings. One of the great challenges in a super hero franchise can often come about when the writers feel the need to belittle or denegrate others so that the super hero stands tall in the midst. But that is no way to work it. And this film gets it right.
The Kid In All Of Us
One of the things that really makes this film stand out is that right about in the middle, just as you would expect our hero to be getting reved up, he’s knocked out and his suit takes him on a pre-programed detour. Tony Stark goes on a road trip.
On this road trip, he meets a kid — a pretty fun kid. It turns out this kid may be able to teach Stark a thing or two about life (because, you know, who else?). And I found it refreshing that this wasn’t a “child in peril” schtick because he never really is. And I’ll tell you this, the kid actor Ty Simpkins can act circles around a lot of talented, experienced, and well trained adult actors.
If I have a complaint, it’s that too much of the focus is on Stark, and not enough attention is given to Pepper, or for that matter, despite the fact that I felt better than ever about the character, Rhodey.
In addition, I found the villain a bit weak, even if I was happily surprised by the plot twists surrounding the villain. This seems to be par for the course though with Iron Man. For some reason the villains always leave me wanting a little bit more… something… Let’s just say the whole plot surrounding the wonder drug, “Extremis”, or if not a drug whatever it is, seems to be a bit lacking.
None of those minor complaints matter too much in the end. It’s a fun movie, worthy of the Iron Man franchise and you should certainly see it. Downey, as always, delivers the goods and leaves you feeling like you’ve watched him have the most fun in his life that he’s ever had. And to answer the question, “Does the suite make the man?” No, Iron Man is what he is because of Robert Downey Jr.
Oh, and be sure to stay until the very end of the credits (as you should with any good film anyway).