"I loved you in A Christmas Story, by the way."
In the end credit sequence, the words, "Tony Stark will return" pop up on the screen which is appropriate, as IRON MAN 3 is very much a story about the man inside his reinforced alter-ego. Since the climactic battle at the conclusion of THE AVENGERS, Stark is at his most vulnerable. He suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, occurring from his near-death escape from the intergalactic wormhole. As you do. His panic attacks are sudden and distressing. For a man that has battled gods, swarms of aliens, and metallic monsters, a psychological disorder seems beneath him.
A new age terrorist, The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), erupts into our consciousness. Wearing robes and Ray-Bans, he confesses to a series of bombings that leave many victims, yet little evidence. Stark is also confronted by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a man from his and Pepper Potts' (Gwyneth Paltrow) past. He promises improvements to the human genome, yet, even lesser minds know there's something sinister afoot. The story allows for many deceptions and red herrings. Some are clever, but with such a rich history of source material at the disposal, the most significant remains questionable. After his confidant, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is injured in an attack, Stark issues a televised threat and is quickly answered with a volley of missiles that decimate his coastal property. This sends Stark on a personal mission, both to find the answers behind his new villain and a perhaps a cure for his own demons.
Director Shane Black made his mark in the late-80's writing fun and cutting dialogue for fan-favorites like LETHAL WEAPON I and II, THE LAST BOY SCOUT, and the unforgivably underrated, THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT. His first charge was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, another Downey Jr. venture. IM3 follows the same cinematic approach and is unmistakenly a Black film. (Narration! Christmas!) He has turned an established action product into a detective buddy-comedy.
Playing the role of the sidekick is Jim "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle). Unlike Stark, Rhodey is a weapon of the government. His suit is adorned with the stars and stripes, and is nicknamed the Iron Patriot. His old moniker of War Machine tested worse with the general public. Stark's newest invention is an armor that that comes when its beckoned, like an obedient dog. More than a few times, the "Mark 42" flies unmanned, crashing into various things and disassembling. It's amusing at first, but the humor wears thin swiftly. This comical aspect of Black's vision is at the same time refreshing and frustrating. Tony Stark is the perfect vessel for Black's talented mind, but too often the plot becomes overly jokey and goofy. When a rogue has dragon tattoos on his chest and literally breathes fire, a line into absurdity has been crossed.
It can be argued that it was Downey Jr. that has led to this ongoing Marvel juggernaut. In 2008, the actor was very much an afterthought through various run-ins with authorities and mediocre choices. Downey Jr.'s snark and presence fit perfectly with Tony Stark's ego and bravado. Both were compensated with a career resurgence and a box-office haul of half a billion dollars. Other characters from the universe followed, a character reboot of the HULK, plus the much anticipated introductory appearances of THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA. While each character fared well, it was IRON MAN that stood above the rest* when it came to reception. Here, Downey Jr. is his usual charismatic self. His Stark spends a lengthy portion of the film removed from his outer shell. He speaks to it like it's a real person. This displacement allows for more face-time, and for others to don the iron apparel. The overabundance in this regard is troublesome.
*None of these individual efforts of course hold a candle to the behemoth that was THE AVENGERS. It raked in an absurd 1.5 billion, and while it was a culmination of The World's Greatest Team Up, Tony Stark/Iron Man was undoubtedly piloting the ship. Audiences have come in droves for his snappy dialogue and one-liners, hurling insults at friends and enemies alike. Downey Jr. has been rewarded handsomely for his efforts--50 million alone for THE AVENGERS on a back-end payout.
Tony Stark lives an extraordinary life. For such a succcessful and impenetrable figure, he remains isolated. At the end of IRON MAN, he stepped into the limelight and announced his secret identity to the world, perhaps as a way to form any type of collateral connection. This third installment has brought about a form of extreme escalation. Dozens of Iron Men litter the sky, each with their respective factors. One has jackhammers for arms; another has a hoist on its back. As Marvel movies go, the climactic battle is visually impressive, but once again, the ending in an IRON MAN feature collapses under its established weight. When the fight for survival is superior being versus superior being, the importance of the characters' humanization gets lost in the shuffle.