"Big man in a suit of armor — take that off, what are you?"
That's a question Captain America asks Tony Stark/Iron Man during "The Avengers" movie. Of course Stark fires back one of his trademark snarky replies — "Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist" — but he's not forced to seriously consider that question until "Iron Man 3." The first two "Iron Man" films were all about Tony creating the suit and coming to grips with his new identity, but the third is about his search for the answer to Captain America's question — without the suit, is he still a hero?
"Iron Man 3" (released in theaters May 3) takes place after the events in "The Avengers." Tony helped the band of misfit superheroes save the world, but he's having trouble dealing with the aftermath. He's haunted by panic attacks, and he's struggling to cope with how much his world has changed. When a terrorist known simply as "The Mandarin" begins launching a series of attacks against the United States, Tony decides he's had enough. In his typically cocky manner, he releases his home address to the media and dares the Mandarin to come and confront him. Unfortunately, the Mandarin takes him up on that offer, and the battle leaves Tony's posh house in ruins.
Without his workshop and with a barely functioning suit, Tony is forced to face the threat of the Mandarin without many of the gadgets and resources he's come to rely on. He has to discover who he really is without the suit and without the "Avengers" to back him up. Can he rise to the challenge?
"Iron Man 3" is currently scoring about 77 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which is enough to certify it as "fresh" and is higher than the first sequel, "Iron Man 2." I personally found this to be a fun, action-packed film, and it's great way to kick off the summer blockbuster season.
Iron Man is my favorite film superhero, and I think the primary reason for that is Robert Downey Jr.'s performance. Iron Man is fascinating because he isn't like most other superheroes. While most superheroes agonize over what would happen if their secret identities were revealed, Tony throws a press conference and tells the whole world he's Iron Man with the same casual flippancy he'd use to announce he's buying a new jet. He spouts off one-liners almost faster than viewers can keep up with, and he's always trying to push himself and others to the limit.
Yet beneath all that devil-may-care cockiness, Tony does have his vulnerabilities. He's arrogant and narcissistic, but he's also capable of throwing himself recklessly into danger to save the people he cares about. I think it was a good idea for the film makers to require Tony to spend much of the movie without his suit, and I'm also glad the film addressed his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Tony Stark is never going to be altruistic or humble, but I thought his character did grow in this film, and he's becoming a better person.
There are some nice action set pieces scattered throughout the film, my favorite being the attack on Tony's house. I did like the next evolution of Tony's suit, and the fact he can now summon the suit to him using technology (that technology is also used for some comic relief when it malfunctions). Director Shane Black doesn't veer too far from the tone set up in the previous two films by Jon Favreau, but he does enough to keep "Iron Man 3" feeling fresh. Robert Downey Jr.'s rapid-fire wit is used well here once again, and the film is packed with plenty of humor.
"Iron Man 3" has proven to be somewhat polarizing, and much of the discussion on the blogs I've read has centered on a certain major "twist" that occurs toward the end of the film. I was genuinely caught off guard by this twist, and I do have to give the director credit for pulling off the surprise and for being willing to take such a big, unexpected risk in a comic book superhero movie. I haven't quite decided what I ultimately thought of the twist — and if you haven't seen the movie yet and want to be surprised, go ahead and skip to the next paragraph. My initial reaction was that the twist was funny and brought up an interesting point about the nature of evil and how powerful a symbol can be, even if that symbol is just an illusion. Still, I respect the fact the Mandarin is an important part of Iron Man lore for comic book fans, and the twist was perhaps a little too flippant. Perhaps a good compromise would have been to make the twist a "double blind" instead of a "bait and switch": Tony shows up to confront the Mandarin, finds he's really just a bumbling actor playing a character, writes off the Mandarin, then later on learns the Mandarin was just bluffing and truly is a dangerous threat.
There are places in the film I could be picky. It would have been nice to see more screen time for Aldrich Killian and Maya Hansen, Guy Pearce and Rebecca Hall's characters, and I wouldn't have minded seeing more of Don Cheadle's War Machine. I also missed Samuel L. Jackson's signature Nick Fury cameo. However, for me, watching "Iron Man 3" was so much fun none of the flaws really mattered. I like the fact the film was willing to take risks and do something different (after all, what other comic book superhero movie throws in a "Downton Abbey" joke?) "Iron Man 3" accomplishes exactly what it set out to do: it's just a fun summer popcorn movie, and it made me even more excited for the upcoming Thor and Captain America sequels.
So, what did you think? Did you enjoy the new "Iron Man" film? Did you like the surprise "twist"?