A Self-Made Superhero Gets an Upgrade in Iron Man 3

Due to financial problems beyond my control last summer, I have begun to catch up on all the box office fun I missed just a few months ago. First up: Iron Man 3, the concluding chapter in the trilogy about Marvel's resident techno-genius Tony Stark and his super-powered alter ego.

Iron Man 3 opens with Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.) still reeling from the events in The Avengers movie. Overwhelmed by the many possible threats that could doom humanity, he has become obsessed with upgrading Iron Man--and himself--to counter any and all future menaces. Further complicating the picture are the appearances of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a terrorist mastermind who has been orchestrating a series of surprise attacks around the world, and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a corporate rival who threatens to topple Stark Industries through his own "think tank" called Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM). When a surprise attack by the Mandarin forces him away from home and friends, Stark has to rely on his intelligence and resourcefulness to stop the Mandarin and uncover AIM's secret agenda.

Long story short, I loved Iron Man 3 and I regret not seeing it in 3D on the big screen. It's everything a high-octane superhero film should be: witty without being campy, compelling without being ponderous, and thrilling without being shallow. It succeeds as a sequel, building upon the events in The Avengers and the previous Iron Man movies to reflect how Stark and his two closest allies Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) have changed over the course of the stories. It also has a plot that makes ample usage of many characters and ideas from the Marvel universe (e.g., AIM, Extremis, the Mandarin, etc.). If Iron Man 3 is any indication of how Marvel plans to develop more movies based on its vast universe of characters and settings, then I think that superhero movie fans are in for many more blockbuster treats in the summers to come.

As I mentioned in my review of Iron Man 2, superhero stores are at their most compelling when they act as parables of power. As such, Iron Man 3 brings Stark's personal crisis about his responsibility towards others to a complete circle. In Iron Man, Stark bowed out of the international arms race because he felt that he could do more good as a superhero; in Iron Man 3, Stark has to come to grips that he never really left the arms race at all, that by becoming Iron Man he just exchanged his participation in one arms race for another. This is an intriguing dilemma for a superhero movie to portray, and Downey's performance as Stark is up to the challenge. (In light of the film's plot, I think that putting Stark on movie's poster as a falling Icarus was a nice touch.) The fact that the film is able to tell an entertaining story by largely keeping Stark outside of his Iron Man armor--working out his problems without routinely resorting to superheroics--speaks to how well made Iron Man 3 is. I also liked the film's jab at how the modern military-industrial complex needs to create villains for the sake of maintaining profit. In fact, given his role in RoboCop, I suspect that the inclusion of Miguel Ferrer in the cast of Iron Man 3 was a deliberate wink to Paul Verhoeven's dark satire of America's militarism.

I'm sure that Hollywood's current infatuation with superheroes will eventually reach a point of diminishing returns, but Iron Man 3 indicates to me that we are far from that right now. Until DC and its corporate masters at Time Warner come up with a better series of superhero movies, I'll be happy to make mine Marvel.


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