Iron Man 3 is improbable in a lot of ways. No, not the story or the way it completely turns some of the most-beloved tropes of the Iron Man iconography completely on its head, no. It’s the fact that after the creative disappointment that was Iron Man 2, not only did Iron Man 3 wind up correcting course to become the highest-grossing film of the trilogy, it also proved that in the increasingly lucrative franchise that is the Marvel Universe, there is still a lot of creative juice left in its engine.
Read the behind-the-scenes reports and its no surprise that Jon Favreau was none-too-pleased with how Iron Man 2 turned out, Marvel execs continually pushing him to add things like Black Widow into the mix simply so they could establish characters and situations leading up to The Avengers, which, as we now know, became one of the highest grossing films to date. So while fans weren’t too impressed with Iron Man 2 (it wound up making just about as much money as the first one, not necessarily a good sign for a blockbuster sequel), Downey used his considerable pull to bring in Shane Black.
Black is a screenwriter who had one one other directing credit to his name: 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a much-beloved comedy-noir classic that, despite a financially anemic initial run, has become a large cult favorite. Indeed, it was one of the key stepping stones leading up to Downey’s epic post-millenial comeback. Black can write for Downey like no one else can, and with Iron Man 3, he proves to be the perfect man for the job.
The smartest thing that Iron Man 3 doesn’t do is play as a direct sequel to Iron Man 2. Hell, it doesn’t even acknowledge any of the events of that film. Instead, it works as a spinoff to The Avengers, Downey’s Tony Stark trying to deal with the fact that the alien attack he helped stop in The Avengers left him in this state of emotional unrest that has rendered him an insomniac, some members of the public even thinking that he’s actually dead.
In working through his issues, he grows cautious of longtime flame Pepper Potts’ (Paltrow) recent run-in with Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce, who finally seems to have found a good agent), something that ignites Stark’s bodyguard Happy Hogan (Favreau) interest, soon leading to an explosive encounter which leaves him in a coma. The person who claims responsibility for this act of terror is the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), the most famous villain from the Iron Man universe bar none (and briefly alluded to in the first film).
While there are many thrilling set-pieces and memorable action sequences to Iron Man 3, one of the most pleasurable aspects of the film is how, part-way through, it removes everything that makes Tony Stark who he is: his home, his immense wealth, and even his actual Iron Man suit. For a decent (but not overlong) stretch of the film, he is just down to his instincts and cunning, at one point breaking into a Miami mansion using nothing but MacGyever-esque devices he constructed out of things found in a local hardware store. It’s a great thing to see how the brilliant Tony Stark is still able to be heroic even without his militaristic toys, although it does not disappoint those expecting to see robotic pyrotechnics in the least; the finale is, quite literally, nothing but that.
The performances are all-around good, although a particular shoutout needs to go to Ben Kinglsey, who is still capable of brilliant work despite his seemingly endless slate of paycheck-only projects that he has undertaken in recent years. His work here, alternatively terrifying and also wildly funny, is an out-and-out highlight of the film. The great Rebecca Hall is also brought in for a minor role, but as Black and co-writer Drew Pearce note in the remarkably candid (and quite funny) commentary to this disc, Hall’s character is greatly underutilized: a character exists to further the plot and does nothing else.
While the commentary track is not filled up with a lot of behind-the-scenes stories and workings, it does feature Black and Pearce talking about earlier drafts of the script, philosophical underpinnings of some of their decisions, and what exactly the thought process was for a lot of the bold choices that they made. Some of these decisions lead us to the decent amount of deleted scenes on the disc, which includes a more poetic death sequence for Rebecca Hall’s character (an explosion leading to her shadow being plastered on a wall, which is a nice echo to some earlier scenes in the film), and also an extended riff from Joan Rivers about the rebranded “Iron Patriot” armor. Rivers makes the Marvel Universe seem fun and relatable. but also manages to get a decent Ke$ha joke in there, to boot. Most of the other scenes are amusing at best but largely for diehards only (also, with someone like Downey on board, it’s amazing how blasé the gag reel to this disc is).
The behind-the-scenes featurettes on this disc are serviceable but are still self-important bits of studio-fluff (the most fascinating being the amount of effort that went into the “barrel of monkeys” skydiving sequence), and the “Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter” on this release being a short involving Captain America‘s Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) desire to establish herself as a real agent, shoved into a code-breaking desk job following the conclusion of Captain America. It’s a serviceable piece of action fun, but nothing to write home about (also, they were calling it “S.H.I.E.L.D.” by that nickname all the way back then?).
Ultimately, Iron Man 3 is a very fun romp that corrects the errors of the trilogy’s second installment and provides a great blend of character development and action, alternatively funny and dramatic in just the right amounts. Shane Black has previously discussed how, for his second directorial effort, he had the responsibilities and expectations of creating a gigantic summer tentpole (and was grateful to be working with some of the best special effects teams in the business). He pulls it off with such charm and grace that it’s hard to think of how anyone else could’ve done better.
It’s great to see Tony Stark back in action, although despite the promise in the credits that “Tony Stark will return”, one has to wonder if he’ll be in a film that’s even half as entertaining as this.