It’s tough to be the director of a Marvel film. You have to construct a good film — intelligent plot, engaging characters — but you also have to help the entire franchise along as well, which means countless constraints. You can’t kill the main characters. You need to fit the narrow evil-villain-tries-to-take-over-the-world superhero model. You need to include tons of side characters, and even introduce new ones. It’s a Herculean task, really. Which is why I’m happy with Joss Whedon and Shane Black, who are able to juggle it all and still turn out decent films.
Overall, Iron Man 3 was okay, with occasional flashes of awesome. The spoilers were negligible, I’m happy to say, so the film was not ruined as I thought it might be. I’ll put an entire spoilery review below.
Shane Black’s approach felt like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang combined with a generic action movie. So, a good thing combined with a bad thing, respectively. The plot twists were clearly aimed at avoiding the typical superhero-flick problems, and I loved that. The Mandarin being a cover for the true villain was an original way to shake up the story, while keeping it fun and irreverent. Shane’s always irreverent so he’s a good choice for the Marvel universe, which is more fun than that grumpy-pants Nolan Batman series or the upcoming Man of Steel film. (Which are great, sure, but just have a different feel.)
The irreverency continues across the plot, as Tony accidentally flies to Tennessee and spends a half hour stuck there, as he mocks a kid instead of succumbing to his charms, and as a suit prototype returns in a critical moment, only to fail instantly. The film is at it’s best whenever it goes for the unexpected and cynical choice. Sadly, Shane must ultimately bow to the demands of his genre and give us a generic villain and a ton of fighting. The coolest action scene shows Tony using his brain to rescue a bunch of people falling out of an airplane, but few scenes manage to match its tension.
Pepper Potts didn’t have much of an arch, which annoyed me. Her past films showed her to be a strong and independent, a characterization that she definitely still had in Iron Man 3, but which she didn’t get to do much with. She was pushed around by the plot throughout the entire film, which is a downer considering she’s probably the most interesting female Marvel film character. Rhodes, too, gets relegated to a reactionary role. His suit plays a larger role than he does. The characters are well-done, but don’t have enough screen time to justify their presence. It’s annoying that the Iron Patriot character hasn’t had a big arch in three films. Even Spider-Man 3 knew enough to throw Harry Osborne in as a villain after building him up for the past two films. Maybe in a future Iron Man film…
Also, I really hope this whole film is setting up Tony’s Extremis suit for The Avengers 2. He hints at using the technology to remove his shrapnel at the end, and with that tech, this film is a perfect way to set up a rousing return. But if that’s what they’re aiming for, they really should have revealed it at the end of Iron Man 3. It would have justified the shrapnel-removal scene — which otherwise undermines the past two films — and would have naturally and epically admitted what we all know: Tony’s not done with his Iron Man role.
Fun fact: Dr Yinsen, from the first film, meets Tony in the 1999 flashback, a scene he goes on the mention in the first film, even though Tony doesn’t remember him. It’s an epic Easter egg. Good thing Yinsen wasn’t one of the apparently multiple vindictive scientists at that one conference.
One more thing… remember the scarred female Extremis soldier from Tennessee? Tony mentions her scar, which we assume is due to whatever accident led her to become an Extremis soldier. But she’s named Ellen Brandt… which means she was the wife of the Man-Thing. My money’s on her return in the SHIELD TV show, hopefully with a story line about the Man-Thing. Ah, man, that would be fun.