** MILD, MINOR SPOILERS **
Let’s face it — no matter which film was next in the Marvel line-up, there’s going to be a bit of a disappointment involved, post-Avengers. Once you’ve Assembled, it’s going to be difficult to appreciate getting just one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for your ticket price.
Marvel Studios wisely put this burden squarely on the armored shoulders of their red and golden boy, Robert Downey Jr. Unarguably the brightest star in their firmament — talent aside, it’s the one that’s been burning the longest and most often — Downey’s spot-on embodiment of Tony Stark seems truly invincible at this point.
No one’s going to blame RDJ for a ‘bad’ Iron Man film, that’s going to be heaped entirely upon the screenwriters and director for failing to live up to the audience’s expectations.
Iron Man 3 co-writer and director Shane Black dealt with the challenge of following Avengers by going against conventional wisdom and not playing the film as the prototypical last entry of the trilogy, thereby demanding mass amounts of spectacle . . . because there’s no way to out-spectacle an ensemble film like Avengers.
Rather, Black focused on the personal aftermath of that encounter by giving Tony a dose of post-traumatic stress disorder, (or maybe more aptly in this case, Shellhead shock). Most of the Avengers were veteran warriors accustomed to high stakes battle, so Thor, Cap, Hawkeye and the Black Widow aren’t going to lose much sleep over the invasion and partial destruction of New York City by extraterrestrial aggressors, and Bruce Banner’s day-to-day existence is just slightly less nightmarish and stressful than that scenario.
Of course, they also didn’t engage in what was essentially an individual suicide run to save the day, either — nor were they the most unlikely member of the group, personality-wise, to do so.
Having a superhero experience a near-crippling anxiety attack is something that is very fresh and new to the genre, and doubly powerful in the case of Tony Stark and his seemingly unflappable ego. This is key to what defines the Marvel characters: not the amazing powers and abilities, but the all-too-common flaws and frailties they need to overcome to be heroic, and Black, as well as Robert Downey Jr., absolutely nailed that within the confines of the film.
In the interest of spoilers, I won’t go point-by-point over the film as not to ruin it for those who haven’t had a chance to make it out to see it just yet. It was definitely a crowd-pleaser, and I enjoyed it, even the twist with the Mandarin character that has many crying foul.
(To skirt around the issue without giving it away, let’s be realistic, folks — as a character the Mandarin is not all that far removed from the racist ‘evil Oriental Fu Manchu’ stereotype that unfortunately was common in comics early on, and given the global audience for these films, you can’t expect that not to be addressed and dealt with.
While comics fans may not like it, it’s just something that the films can’t quite pull off: no matter what effort was put into the Mandarin, there was still going to be questions of the motivation. It’s along the same lines of the fact that Marvel and Disney will probably not explore Tony’s alcoholism with adapting the classic ‘Demon in a Bottle’ story — Iron Man is too huge and kid-friendly of an IP to ever go in that direction now.)
The one thing that I found a little lacking with Iron Man 3, however, is the lack of connectivity with the larger picture. SHIELD was omnipresent in the first phase of films, and only gets a single one-line name-check here. Granted, now that the lid has been blown off the idea of keeping these strange and powerful beings secret in the interest of national security, SHIELD doesn’t need to lurk behind-the-scenes and pull a black-ops shroud over them, but there was really a missed opportunity to tie in with the PTSD plot by having Nick Fury tell Tony that they pretty much predicted that would happen to him, which was one of the reasons they wanted him as a sideline consultant to the Avengers Initiative and not a core field operative.
This is going to be one of Marvel’s challenges going forward — now that they’ve built this construct and gotten a non-comic audience to think in terms of continuity, they can’t just use it when it suits them. There are certain logistics and expectations that go with it. While the Avengers haven’t yet been formally established beyond a strikeforce that gathers in an extreme crisis, it would’ve been very apt given the character-driven plot to have Tony sit down with Steve Rogers for a scene and swallow his pride, asking Captain America for advice on how to deal with post-combat issues.
Not to mention that they missed out on a great gag by getting Cap’s reaction to the ‘rebranding’ of James Rhodes’ War Machine as the red, white, and blue ‘Iron Patriot’.
That nitpicking aside, Shane Black did a great job being handed a pretty complex assignment — a film that isn’t necessarily the final act of the franchise, but still needed to deal with the fact that the exact future of said franchise is murky, so there can’t be much in the way of dangling and unresolved plot threads.
Iron Man 3 felt less like the end of a trilogy and more like the end of the first story arc, bring the elements of Tony’s origin full circle and leaving a clean slate for the future, whether it involves Robert Downey Jr. or not.
(Click on image to jump to review.)
Thanks for stopping by Public Domain! Kind of dissatisfied with the Iron Man 3 post-credits scene? To be honest, so was I. Our homegrown one is much cooler. Click on the image below to check it out:
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