After concluding Phase 1 with The Avengers in 2012, Marvel Studios wrapped up Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) trilogy to kick off Phase 2 with Iron Man 3 the very next year. The MCU’s first Christmas movie serves as a segue way from world-ending events like Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his Chitauri army, to much more personal, albeit still grandiose, stakes.
Iron Man succeeds in transforming Tony Stark from a narcissistic, ego-obsessed weapons dealer into a superhero, while Iron Man 2 pits him against death and the sins of his father. Iron Man 3 offers a look at the man inside the suit and all the trauma he’s developed in his relatively short time as Iron Man. Although the film struggles to deliver a complete arc for Tony Stark’s mental health issues and becomes unnecessarily crowded and confusing by the third act, it’s still an immensely satisfying and entertaining conclusion to the Iron Man trilogy.
‘Iron Man 3’ Review: Robert Downey Jr.’s Performance As Tony Stark Fixes Imperfections at Every Turn
Iron Man 3‘s entire story is built upon the idea “we create our own demons,” which is remarkably prevalent in earlier Iron Man films, while also being a core concept throughout the Infinity Saga. The notion is far less subtle here than in other entries, as the movie opens with a quote from Tony paired with his shunning denial of Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Old problems seem to sprout up for Tony faster than he can fix new ones, and Killian is just the latest fly that needs swatting away.
But long before Killian is revealed as the true antagonist of the film, it’s assumed that The Mandarin, aka Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) is Iron Man’s new foe. This twist has long since been one of the most controversial MCU decisions, given Marvel’s excruciatingly complicated history with The Mandarin and The Ten Rings. Unfortunately for Iron Man 3, as the narrative threads of deception unspool, the story cannot pull them together fast enough to deliver a comprehensive villain arc. The “man behind the man” trope is sound in theory, but not well-executed enough to deliver a gratifying surprise.
It’s especially sad to see the extremely talented Guy Pearce end up as a flaming, one-dimensional villain by the film’s end, given his ability to deliver magnetizing dialogue throughout the first two acts. The Extremis storyline is entirely unnecessary to weaponize Killian against Stark. Someone as powerful and charming as Killian doesn’t need the ability to breathe fire and regenerate limbs just to gain leverage over Tony. The choice to have Killian use sheer power over the abundance of deceitful charm available from Pearce’s performance is a waste of Pearce’s talent.
Despite its narrative-based shortcomings, Iron Man 3 is incredibly fortunate to have Tony Stark to inject heart and deliver comedic relief throughout. Now in his fourth MCU appearance as Tony Stark (discounting the post-credit scene in The Incredible Hulk), Robert Downey Jr. has completely mastered the intricacies of playing Tony. He’s in a constant state of evolution and grappling with the fallout of his decisions, which is part of why the character of Tony has always resonated so strongly with audiences. Despite him being a filthy rich, fictional superhero, his humanity is never far from the surface.
Stripping heroes of their power is one of the most frustrating tropes in superhero stories, but Iron Man 3 understands that just because you take away Tony’s suit doesn’t mean you have to make him uninteresting. His partnership with Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins) is one of the most endearing aspects of the film, and proof that Tony doesn’t need all his toys to make things happen. The two action sequences set in Tennessee and Miami see Tony sans Iron Man suit but are still entertaining fight scenes due to Tony’s extraordinary ability to improvise.
What sets Iron Man 3 apart, for better and worse, is its willingness to dive into Tony’s anxiety and PTSD left behind from the Battle of New York. Robert Downey Jr. portrays anxiety and unease as genuinely and powerfully as expected from someone grappling with such trauma. Unfortunately, the film is unwilling to finish what it started. Following his panic attack on the road out of Tennessee, his anxiety isn’t mentioned again. Watching Tony struggle and not receive any support or resolution except a brief moment from Harley to suppress one episode is frustrating.
But like the other Iron Man movies to precede it, Iron Man 3 has a strong supporting cast to hold the film up and make it an entertaining watch. Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) both give outstanding performances as Tony’s confidants, both growing noticeably more comfortable with their recurring roles. Pair these performances with some fun and unique action and gorgeous cinematography, and Iron Man 3 comes out as a strong MCU movie and emotionally satisfying conclusion to the Iron Man trilogy.
The Legacy of ‘Iron Man 3’
Iron Man 3 serves as the final movie in Tony Stark’s trilogy, but it is far from the end of his journey. The final few minutes of the film feel very much like a conclusion to Tony’s story inside the MCU, but fortunately for everyone, he has a much larger role to play. Although Iron Man 3 may not have much bearing on where Tony Stark’s journey goes following this movie, it did have a profound effect on how the MCU handles its antagonists.
Three of the first seven movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe all feature twists with their villains. Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), Loki, and Aldrich Killian all enter the foreground as the primary antagonists in their respective movies (Iron Man, Thor, and Iron Man 3) after being initially introduced as either protagonists or at the very least, neutral entities. Throughout the rest of the Infinity Saga after Iron Man 3, the only movie to feature a surprise villain twist is Ego (Kurt Russell) in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. Marvel’s dismissal of the surprise, third-act villain twists can unquestionably be credited to the poor reception of the Mandarin twist in Iron Man 3.
Iron Man 3 will also be forever remembered as the first Christmas project in the MCU, later followed by Hawkeye, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. It marks the end of Tony Stark’s journey in his own solo movies, but he still has much left to accomplish in subsequent Avengers, Spider-Man, and Captain America films.
‘Iron Man 3’ Is a Loveable Good Time Despite Its Frustrating Flaws
The truth is, when your movie is led by the most iconic comic book casting of all time in Robert Downey Jr., you’re afforded a few more mistakes than you would be otherwise. Iron Man 3 is far from perfect, it fails to take full advantage of several meaningful concepts that are ultimately under-developed. However, it’s still a marvelous conclusion to Tony Stark’s solo journey in the MCU and a must-watch every year around the holiday season.
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'Iron Man 3' Review'Iron Man 3' Review
- Robert Downey Jr. is amazing as always
- Really unique fight scenes
- Beautiful cinematography across different locations
- Anxiety and mental health issues are not fleshed out enough
- Feels crowded during the third act