Review: Iron Man 3

by Tom Ingram

Iron Man was an above average superhero movie. Iron Man 2 was was a joke. But those were on the far side of the singularity that was The Avengers. The future of comic book movies has been uncertain ever since last year. It seems like a bubble just waiting to pop, and after pulling out all the stops for what was ultimately a debut effort, it looked like Marvel and company would not be able to follow it up convincingly. Especially since the next scheduled release was Iron Man 3, a movie for which I and many others had understandably conservative hopes.

As it turns out, Iron Man 3 is a great movie, perhaps even better than The Avengers. The big open problem of how to follow up something so huge is developed logically and worked out in a way that is, for possibly the first time in any comic book movie, ultimately satisfying. The mix of sci-fi gadgetry, corporate intrigue, politics, and warfare that is so characteristic of Iron Man is finally just right. Everything is big enough to make a convincing gesture but small enough to be open-ended and easy to follow up—the perfect comic book-style episode. Events are treated with a combination of gravitas and humour that is becoming of comic books, which are fundamentally about cities being levelled by cackling villains who are then defeated by men in their underwear. And unlike the previous movie, it is actually funny.

After the events of The Avengers Tony Stark is suffering from anxiety attacks and insomnia. His tinkering with the Iron Man suits becomes obsessive and his behaviour becomes even more erratic. He gets pulled into the schemes of the Mandarin, an international terrorist with a flair for the dramatic and a very silly voice indeed.* His house and workshop are destroyed in a helicopter attack after he challenges the Mandarin to single combat on live television, and he is forced to go into hiding while he repairs his suit, discovers the source of the Mandarin’s untraceable bombs, and investigates the larger conspiracy connecting him to an American defense contractor.

The setpiece scenes are astonishingly well made, with fight choreography that is nothing short of artistic. The script is tight and witty. The characters are well-rounded and developed. The movie is essentially distilled comic bookery of a purity not seen before, but that doesn’t stop it from having its own identity. It’s as if we have finally gotten past the idea that a comic book movie must be nothing more than a semi-realistic film with elaborate costumes, and we are finally able to have adaptations of comics in all their gleeful silly glory. This is the legacy of The Avengers, and if the inevitable superhero crash comes now we can at least console ourselves that we saw Iron Man 3.

* The filmmakers have wisely chosen to avert the issue of racism by taking “Mandarin” in the sense of “wise man” rather than “Fu Manchu”. If only the makers of the Lone Ranger adaptation had the same foresight. [return]