Iron Man 3 (2013)
I have no idea if, when Iron Man initially came out, that Marvel was thinking in phases. Whatever the situation, Iron Man 3 marked the start of phase two of the series, as well as the last movie made by Paramount. Disney and producer Kevin Feige, in fact, were largely in control of the direction by this period, so the whole "phase" thing may have come about since, in a roundabout way, the preceding movies had finally led up to The Avengers.
It is fitting, then, that we begin once again where the entire series started. There were no threats from space and no union of superheroes, just a man coming to terms with the error of his ways and fighting to maintain control of his family legacy. It may not have been chock full of shiny effects, but it was solid story telling, as was the direct sequel. It also didn't try to shoehorn any unnecessary characters just to have cameos (Colonel Rhodes, aka War Machine, was always part of the story). Both movies had bad guys with normal motives, and mostly with vendettas against Tony Stark, or his father, to get them going.
Director Shane Black cowrote the screenplay with Drew Pearce, taking over duties from Jon Favreau, and to his credit endeavored to keep the story focused on Stark despite of all the major events that happened in The Avengers. It was back to Stark's evolution into becoming a decent human being despite his giant ego. He also remembered that terrestrial villains often are the best, as well as remembering that a good bad guy also has to have more than just a cameo appearance in the movie. Iron Man 3, in fact, is considered to be one of the pinnacles of the Marvel series.
But, then, so is Thor: Ragnarok, and I didn't think it was as great as it was made out to be, either.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is trying to get on with his life after the events in New York. A good portion of the city was destroyed by an alien invasion led by Loki, and Stark was able to fend it off by flying through a wormhole and aiming a nuclear missile at their invasion fleet, thus encouraging them to leave Earth alone. It was a major victory, but the destruction and loss of life has taken its toll on him, as Stark has begun to experience a series of panic attacks when thinking about it.
Unfortunately, he doesn't have much time to rest and enjoy his romantic time with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) as Christmas approaches, as the United States is dealing with a new terror threat in the form of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). He has been blowing up different targets, with no bomb residue left over. When Stark's former body guard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is almost killed in one of the blasts, a challenge is issued to the Mandarin to come get Stark if he wants him. Unfortunately, he sends an army led by his henchman Savin (James Badge Dale), who is virtually unkillable and is able to use his own extreme body heat as a weapon.
Things are also complicated because two figures from Stark's past appears: Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), a bioengineer who has been working on ways to regrow limbs, and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a business rival who Stark once left sitting out on a ledge waiting for a response to a partnership proposal. It soon becomes apparent that Killian may be in league with the Mandarin, however Stark finds himself without a suit and once again isolated form anyone that can help. In addition, Killian also has designs on Pepper.
Killian is a good villain, and is in enough of the movie that we get a feeling about who he is and what his motives are - even if they have him breathing fire at one point (something that is never brought up again). His ambitions are largely realistic and financial, even if he is largely backed by a bunch of people who can melt steel with their touch. The heat effects are iffy, and it seems like even when some of them go full burn (or, at one point, fall into an explosion), any pieces of clothing covering naughty bits seem to stay intact.
That is exactly where this movie falls short and, in fact, just becomes another hollow action film. It has a good twist that happens in the last third, especially since previous to 9/11 there were many people (including myself) that thought that the very situation that happens here was happening in real life. I am sure that's where Shane Black got the idea, and it is a brilliant one to include - and one, because we are talking an army of fire people, that has no payoff. Killian could have accomplished his goals by just showing up on the doorstep of the White House, breathing fire and demonstrating that the people shooting him were just wasting bullets. Without his minions, and his powers, the final twists in the film would have had much more of an impact, especially if the idea was to get across how corporations can manipulated governments for profit.
Instead, we have Tony Stark having to rely on his own resources, like in the first part of Iron Man, to survive and find out what is going on. This part works, especially when he strikes up a friendship with a kid named Harley (Ty Simpkins) to help get his suit back in working order. It was a great choice to put Stark in some real danger, or at least make it so he wasn't invincible. It also went to great lengths to show that Stark was more than just his suit. This is the one Marvel movie that I had not seen, and it develops Tony in a number of different ways that sets him up for his part in the upcoming films, and makes it (slightly less) like a series of cameo appearances.
I just wish that the movie didn't make the compromises it does when trying to get to a supervillain. A labyrinthine level of fronts and bad guys would have been more interesting than what we finally got, and Black is no stranger to actually providing us scenes in which the big boss fight counts. Here, it doesn't as much, even if it is nice seeing Pepper get to do something other than punch things into Tony's calendar on his phone. Everything is set up well with both Stark and Killian, but the in-between that makes the whole thing interesting (especially since you go in knowing at least Tony, and most likely Pepper, are going to come out with little more than a few strategically placed cuts on their faces) is sorely missing.
Do I dislike it as much as some of the worst of the Marvel canon? Not at all. It isn't something I would actively avoid watching, but I can't see really being interested in seeing it again. It does what it has to, it makes Tony Stark more of a human being, but in the end drops the ball on blending things in a way that they ever come to life on the screen.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Time: 130 minutes
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Ty Simpkins, James Badge Dale, Ben Kingsley
Director: Shane Black